The conductor raises his baton. A hush falls and the “downbeat,” the opening bars of the music, set the mood for the concerto to come. The equivalent in corporate blog writing? The opening sentence.
I thought about opening sentences and downbeats when reading the first sentence of a recent Indianapolis Business Journal article about potholes:
“Alignment shops and dentists started celebrating last September.” IBJ reporter Chris O’Malley goes on to explain, “That’s when contractors hired by the city began milling worn-out asphalt on downtown streets.
I grant you, the point to the article’s opener became apparent come the second sentence, but not before I had time to ask myself, “dentists and alignment shops? What does one have to do with the other?” To say I was baffled and thoroughly confused by this would be an accurate statement.
As a freelance copywriter, it’s always my goal to use keyword phrases in the title. I also want to make sure that the first sentence or two of each blog post coincide with search engines that match my content; keeping in mind the common search terms online readers use. Diane Corriette of Mindsetofablogger.com uses the 80/20 rule, with keywords in both the title and the opening sentence at least 80% of the time. This is a great rule to live by as a blogger not to mention an easy one to remember.
Robby Slaughter, a principal of AccelaWork, productivity expert and avid blogger, has shared his views on search engine optimization (SEO) over the years. In one of his articles posted on Deep Ripples website, Slaughter encourages bloggers to use and take full advantage of keywords that promote your particular business:
A considerable proportion of the content you produce as part of your online marketing strategy has a clear pattern. This may not be obvious until you open back the hood and examine text in more detail. For example, this blog post is built around a handful of key phrases. An SEO expert can readily identify them, but so can the casual reader—if they are paying attention.
That means that when you go to create content such as a blog post, you can start with the structured pieces, such as the keywords. This makes the entire process much smoother. You’re filling in the gaps between the structure with information that makes sense.
But search engine optimization aside, the press release aspect of writing for business dictates that the first ten words of any post be effective in engaging interest. And, when it comes to writing in general, Ruth Belena of Helium.com takes this idea one step further:
“The importance of an opening sentence,” says Belena, “is so great that many writers wait until they have completed a book, or finished a piece of writing before they focus on the first few lines. Some writers spend more time,” she adds, “writing, reviewing, and revising an opening sentence than on the rest of their writing.”
So how can blog writing for business make the most effective use of all this advice about amazing opening sentences? Sources such as The Happy Freelancer says opening sentences can:
- Raise questions in readers’ minds
- Illustrate a provocative scene
- Connect with readers
I think I can use the IBJ opener to add a fourth item to the list: Startle readers. (What on earth do dentists and alignment shops have in common?) Naturally, blog content writers are going to be upbeat about their own businesses. And strategically speaking, companies are going to use their blog posts as part of their marketing strategy and tactics development. But, in offering business blogging assistance, my Say It For You question has to be: is: Do your blog posts begin with a “downbeat”?