Article

Burial

Don’t Bury the Lead on Your Site

by: | September 23, 2011

When you’re writing copy for your website, get to the point. Then elaborate. With ever decreasing attention spans, website visitors these days skim over a lot of the content they see. Very few are going to sit and read through each painstakingly chosen word on your site.

Typically, visitors come to a small business website looking for quick information, and your business only has a few seconds to grab their attention. The easiest way to lose a visitor is by hiding the objective of their visit. Ensnare them by getting to the point THEN moving on to the details.

What is burying the lead? 

“Burying the lead” is an expression in journalism that refers to postponing the delivery of the main point of the story until much further down in an article. When journalists bury the lead, readers may stop reading the piece before they get to the main point of the article. With websites, if you lose the reader before they get to your point, they may leave your site before they know what your company does. That means lost opportunities for sales.

Lead with the lead

Instead, gain attention quickly by summing up the content quickly. In journalism, the lead endeavors to answer six questions: who, what, where, why, when and how, typically in 36 words or fewer. In web copy, you might not need to answer all these questions, but the sensibility still remains. Think about the key takeaway you want readers to leave with, and say it first.

Afraid you’re losing color from your copy with a plain start? It’s better than losing customers. If you bury the main point in the middle of the paragraph, your readers will have to search for what they’re looking for, likely frustrating them. They already found your site; make the rest easy on them. You’ll quickly lose readers if you make them work too hard, so give them the option to skip content they’re not interested in, and it may encourage them to delve deeper into the content that they are interested in.

Take this for an example. Which block of copy can you find the lead the fastest?

Here is your lead, the main point of the article; it looks great and reads well. Dove set out to brand itself as the company who cares about and celebrates “real beauty.” Their award-winning evolution video raked in millions of views, a series of parodies, and helped fuel a national dialogue about beauty and advertising. It also gave Dove a double-digit sales increase. This is a perfect example of evoking shock, outrage, and an emotional outpouring that helped fuel sales with a successful video campaign.

Or this

Dove set out to brand itself as the company who cares about and celebrates “real beauty.” Their award-winning evolution video raked in millions of views, a series of parodies, and helped fuel a national dialogue about beauty and advertising. It also gave Dove a double-digit sales increase. Here is your lead, the main point of the article; it looks great and reads well. This is a perfect example of evoking shock, outrage, and an emotional outpouring that helped fuel sales with a successful video campaign.

Obviously, the first one is much clearer to read in terms of your lead. You want to keep people reading, so captivate them up front and keep them reading the well-written copy that follows.

Here are some examples I pulled from bbc.co.uk:

“Parents-to-be wanting to find out their baby’s gender can be assured that a blood test on the mother gives an accurate result, say scientists.”

“US military scientists lost contact with an unmanned hypersonic experimental aircraft on its second test flight, officials said.”

 ”An “electronic tattoo” could herald a revolution in the way patients are monitored and provide a breakthrough in computer gaming, say US scientists.”

There’s no question about what these articles will discuss after reading the first sentence. That’s the impression you want your site visitors to have about your business.

Use headers for quick reading

Like it or not, your site’s viewers are skimmers. Have you ever gone to website with a dozen paragraphs with no breaks and scrolled down to see how long it was before diving in? Guess what, if that’s what your copy looks like, no one’s going to read it.

Using headers can help to break up long copy and make it easier to skim and, ultimately, digest. Break up your article or website copy into chunks and use headers to describe what those chunks are discussing. For an example, look no further than this article right here. You can also bold important sentences in cases where you can’t put the lead as the first sentence.

By immediately presenting your leads, you can help to increase how long visitors remain on your website and how well your visitors understand what it is you do!Marketing Zeus

Posted in: Analytics, B2C, Branding, Campaign Development, Content, E-Commerce, Usability

About the Writer:

Born in England and raised in the U.S., Charles Forster is the marketing director and partner at Vine & Grain, a company that creates management technologies for bars and restaurants. Prior to that position, he ran a graphic design company, Call Me Chaz, in Philadelphia, PA and Orlando, FL. He focused on branding, websites, print, video and marketing for small business clients up and down the east coast. He's a self-prescribed car nut and foodie. He's also the curator for This Is Visceral, a site devoted to poster art.

View Full Bio »

More Articles