How to Keep Your Audience Reading

How to Keep Your Audience Reading

Reader Comments (53)

  1. Demian
    Love the term ‘internal cliffhangers’. Many traditional copywriters recognize certain examples of these as the ‘bucket brigade’ technique or ‘grease-slide’ copy.

    For those not familiar with it, the term ‘bucket brigade’ comes from the idea of passing buckets from one person to the next to get water to a fire. So what you’re doing with your copy is continually passing the reader on from one paragraph to the next.

    Grease-slide copy is pretty self-explanatory, I guess.

    Whenever you see expressions in a blog, such as ‘So have we got that straight?’, ‘Here’s the problem …’ and ‘Why is this so?’ you know that the author is using a bucket brigade phrase.

    So what?

    Well, just make sure you make a note of them in your own swipe file. And make sure you use them yourself.

    Thanks for the deeper insight into this, Demian.

      • Demian

        I’ve no idea who originally coined the expression ‘greased-slide copy’. But, while trying to find out, I noticed the alternative ‘greased-chute’ (as in ‘copy that flows like a greased chute’.)

        And, just taking your points even further, there’s a big difference between the type of greased-slide copy you’d use in a classic Sugarman direct mail letter and that which you’d use in a blog post.
        (A topic for a follow-up post perhaps Demian?)

        • I feel like I missed something in the conversation. I’m guessing based on some quick Google research that Sugarman = Joseph Sugarman, correct? Would you fellas recommend any title of his in particular?

          • My All-time favorite book of his is The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters. He talks a lot about the “Slippery Slide” in this one.

  2. Once you have a reader’s attention you can’t assume you’ll keep it for the duration of your content. Attention spans are short, so if you want your longer content to work you need to make your audience want more with every sentence.

  3. Great post. You’ve got to work to keep people reading. If all you have is a strong headline, or strong first paragraph, that won’t be enough. These are all good ways to keep people going through that very last sentence.

  4. I am very curious how much time you spent coming up with outrageous scenarios and audacious statements when working on this article. Is there a list somewhere of all the ideas you went through before you got to “Cyclops getting ready to throw a chicken across the street?”

    Here are a few of the internal cliffhangers I caught:


    The aforementioned cyclops line

    The many ellipticals in paragraph 5

    “What to do next?”

    I could be here all day, so I’ll stop there and let others fill out the list.

    You should have also challenged people to go find internal cliffhangers in some of your past posts to see more of the technique in action. Copyblogger homework?

  5. Great post!

    It was the combination of the headline and picture of Larry Hagman, aka J.R. Ewing that hooked me. I LOVE the new Dallas and how the creators are keeping J.R. alive by incorporating his death into the current story lines and cliffhanger. Good call on using Larry’s image to accompany this post. 🙂

    Internal cliffhangers in the post are:

    “Sound like a good time? Then let’s go …”

    Uh oh… the dog’s barking to go out. I’ll copy the post into Evernote and highlight the internal cliffhangers later.

  6. Okay, I counted 17 cliff hangers in this post (really, I read the whole thing).

    My take is that readers get the sense that what they are taking part in is a conversation… here’s what I mean. They get seduced when they feel the topic was written for them, you know, really addressing their needs. It is a common understanding of your reader’s question in a conversational tone that will get them to read the whole post and build credibility.

    • Look at you go, Doug!

      And you right: keying into what the reader wants, cares about, fears will pull him along … and will feel like you are talking to her, and her alone.

    • Yes, I agree with Doug. I like conversational blogs that sound like a real person having a chat with me. Anything that gets too commercial turns me off i.e. some style blogs start selling ads and doing sponsored posts then lose their honest feel.

  7. I run both a business and personal blog and these tips are great. I use cliffhangers to some degree but these pointers will just add some improved touches. good to see you talking about the fact it’s not all about SEO these days and how important CONTENT and QUALITY are over trying to hit a bunch of keywords.

  8. Great post Demian. It kind of reminds me of a quote I recently heard “When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive” –James Gleick – Way to much BS for folks to wade through these days, so much so that the good content sometimes has issues getting any real notice or reach as it gets lost in the noise. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great post Demian.

    Don’t forget another, perhaps more subtle use of the cliffhanger. Images can be used as well. A reader may want to find out what a certain picture has to do with the headline. For example, I had to read a good deal into your post before I realized why you chose the particular image you did. (I’m old enough to remember what a cliffhanger the whole “Who Shot J.R.?” storyline employed.)

  10. Here are a few more internal cliffhangers from the post:

    Listen …
    Sound like a good time? Then let’s go …
    And one of the ways to create compelling content is to use the Internal Cliffhanger.
    Why? People like to read dialogue. We gravitate to the words on the page that are surrounded by quotation marks because we know that two humans are going to interact … and we’re drawn to it.

  11. I checked Facebook four times while reading this (I just published a new post and it was getting some action)…but I came back.

    You had my curiosity. I was learning, growing, thinking, laughing. It was an emotional thrill.

    I also pictured the X-Men Cyclops hurling a chicken. Not sure if that was your intention, or if you’re going for the Greek variety, but I enjoyed the mental image.

  12. A great reminder that you gotta earn your reader’s attention every sentence along the way.

    I think bloggers need to be wary of overusing these kinds of tips too though–they can be overused to the point that they stop driving readership and push readers away by making your content feel too formulaic. I’ve stopped following blogs for this reason before.

      • I agree. It is important to write in a natural speaking tone. In addition, if you write about a topic that is important to your readers, they will keep reading and come back for more. That is true, even if your writing is sometimes a bit too formulaic.

  13. I was just reading about how to make sure your blog post is ready to go over at ProBlogger so it’s rather interesting you bring this up here.

    I think we’ve all fallen into the trap of spending so much time on our headline and then forgetting to keep the reader interested once they start reading, if they do.

    And you’ve given some great ideas on solving this with cliff hangers and so fourth. If the post is no good after the title, then the title is wrong in the first place, in my opinion.

  14. One of the biggest problems is the blogosphere is being overwhelmed by junk produced by a team of captive monkeys located in the lower wing of the Bit Intelligence Team Excelsior Meeting Expo.

    It is only made worse by the influence of the echo chamber that is created by bloggers who are unable or unwilling to come up with their own ideas so they produce posts that are virtually identical to a million others about how to become a better blogger.

    Some of these people would be better served with a lobotomy than a course in internal cliffhangers. At least they would have an excuse for their content.

  15. I remember when TV shows would present their season finales leaving you hanging over the summer of what was going to happen. There were many times when the storyline did not match the hype.

  16. Fantastic post, Damien.
    I read the entire post waiting for the “a-ha moment” as it were; those last few common examples in the bulleted list. Very clever, indeed. JR also reeled me in, I have to admit.

  17. Fascinating. I actually started with the first sentence, continued to the second.
    Let me explain..
    Silly? No. Let me explain..
    Here’s what I mean..
    Let’s see if I implemented it correctly in my posts 🙂

  18. Hi Demian,

    funny thing is that the first name to came to my mind when you introduced the “internal cliffhanger” was that of Dan Brown even before you mentioned it 🙂 I must confess that I’m aware of this powerful tool, but I’ve never considered implementing it into blog articles; it’s a great idea! Still, I think that you can pack it up, if you’re not gifted enough to attract the attention of the audience. It must be natural and a pleasure to read – like this article.

  19. Just read the Ingrid story you linked to. I have to say that was one of the most engaging posts I have ever read in the history of Copyblogger — don’t know how I missed it.

    My favorite internal cliff hanger = a great story. Especially a story where I feel like I’m in it. For example, I felt like Milton even though I’m in my early twenties and not yet married. You did a great job weaving useful copywriting info that was educating, fun and easy to consume.

    I like the fact that this post helps breakdown a key component of great writing.
    It’s all a part of mastering the craft.

    Great job Demian.

    • Indeed, and it takes time. I actually sat on the Ingrid story for about two years before it came together. Thank you for the kind words. It’s one of my favs, too.

  20. Great article, Demian! I see we share the same “passion” for good ole JR Ewing! You’re so right about the internal cliffhangers! Never thought of it this way! Very clever way of putting this idea forward! I have to say I was first intrigued when I saw JR and that title appear on my Facebook! Then, reading it made absolute sense!

    I often find myself getting caught by a particular title and then, the article is just EMPTY! Waste of time! You definitely have to keep the readers wanting more! I think I referred to writing an article like a screenwriter writes a movie once, so I suppose I was on the same wavelength as you here!

    No cliffhangers, not a good movie ( even in the “boring ones” you get little twists that can get you to watch them until the end)! Same applies to article writing!

    Thanks for posting this article.


  21. Great piece Demian

    I studied for a screenwriting MA a couple of years ago, and I find the more storytelling techniques I use in my copywriting – the more effective my copy becomes.

    Not only making use of cliffhangers, but also emotional peaks, action led storytelling and emotive internal imagery all help to create compelling content that tends to convert at better rates than more ‘sterile’ copy. People buy based on emotions after all 🙂



  22. I have understood your point. Using words in such a way that the attention of the readers is captured from the first sentence of the article to the last sentence. I read somewhere this quote and pondered over it, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Words become drugs in that readers can be addicted to them, they’re eager to find out more and more information when the author uses internal Cliffhangers just the way you have explained. They’ll return to the blog or website to find out what new content has been published on it so as to read it. It is keeping the readers to be interested always.

  23. All are good tips.

    I’m a newbie copywriter, but I’m realising it’s more of an art than a science. I think good sales copy should impact and even imprint on a potential customer’s mind.

  24. Great post. Thanks for your contribution here and keep up the good work.

    Larry Hagman was great as J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” but I especially treasured his role in Sidney Sheldon’s “I Dream of Jeannie.”

    I was deeply saddened by the news of his passing: such a talented actor.

    Yes, I agree: readers love to read dialogues. Many of us love decent quotes too. That is really a hook that can win you the game–no doubt about it.

    Have a good one.

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