If there’s one thing that we as copywriters should take away from poets, writers, and novelists it’s the art of writing a powerful hook sentence.
A hook is something that gets the reader to continue reading. And when we’re writing any type of content online we want the reader to read at least long enough to click a shiny button.
Over 100 years ago, a Philadelphian named St. Elmo Lewis came up with something called AIDA. It’s an abbreviation for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.
It’s a classic copywriting formula used by marketers throughout the world to this day, and when we’re talking copywriting, I believe it’s a bit underutilized in twenty twenty-one.
See, I’m a firm believer that your title should get the reader’s Attention, and your hook sentence should pique their Interest to keep them reading.
But let’s backtrack a bit.
Writing a hook sentence and grabbing the reader’s attention is hard. People see five thousand ads per day.
And this doesn’t account for the hundreds of blog posts and the ass-naked models you follow on Instagram. Your brain can take in so much before it starts subconsciously ignoring every bit of content fighting for your attention.
That’s why powerful hook sentences are worth millions.
When done right, a hook sentence cuts through the noise and grabs the attention.
As a copywriter or a savvy business person, you want to cut through the noise (or hire someone to do it for you). But first…
What is a hook sentence?
A hook, or a hook sentence, is the first one to two sentences of an article, essay, ad, blog post, or landing page. It serves both as an introduction and an attention grabber.
In modern-age copywriting, this means you have to craft hook sentences as dangerous as Sugar Ray Johnson. In 2015, the average attention span on the internet was a mere 8 seconds.
And it’s shrinking.
We pay less attention because there’s an excessive amount of things online screaming “Look at me!”. This means your hook sentences should be shorter and mightier than ever.
They should be exciting enough to keep the reader reading and short enough for people to understand by simply scanning.
As with everything else, you have different types of hooks that you can use in your copy-arsenal. Question hooks, quotation hooks, statistic hooks and anecdotal hooks are the main ones.
Take for example this article. You could say that it starts off with an anecdotal hook. Question hooks are one of my favorites for “Mission” pages on websites. It helps readers imagine the bigger picture.
Why is a good hook sentence important?
The title serves a single function–get the reader’s attention. The hook sentence comes next, and it should be interesting enough to keep the reader reading.
But understanding why a hook sentence is important won’t help you increase your retention rate or get more people to read whatever you wrote to the end.
You have to write better hooks.
How to write a hook sentence?
The secret to writing a powerful hook is all in the story. The tricky part is choosing the right story to tell.
John Carlton once said the best stories hide from you. You have to seek them out.
You won’t find your hook sentence on your brochure, in your brand promise, or on the about page on your website. Instead, you have to actively search for them by immersing yourself in your customers and employees’ culture.
Listen to sales calls, read through reviews, find where your ideal customer talks about the pains your product or service solves and dive deep on the words and language they use.
Craft titles worth reading.
You can’t get someone to read your hook sentence if your title doesn’t grab their attention.
Think of your title as a tease to what they’ll learn from your article. Are you taking them on a journey? Helping them solve their current biggest problems?
Your title should be just a taste.
Enough to let them know it’s worth their time reading, but not enough to make them stop reading. Take for example Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” ad — a perfect example of a powerful hook that just gives a preview of what’s to follow.
Belief disharmony is powerful.
I’ve written before on advertising and psychology, but I’ve never shared one of the most important things I know about copywriting.
See, our brains thrive on mental shortcuts.
Also called heuristics, these shortcuts are a vital process that occurs every time we intake new information. They remain mostly subconscious, but they’re very much a part of our decision-making process.
A mental shortcut would be thinking “I don’t need [THING].” just because you can’t currently afford it.
Belief disharmony is introducing a new idea that says the exact opposite of what your reader believes.
As we read something we disagree with, out brains sends a shock signal. It’s similar to getting an electric shock. The reader’s mental shortcut was disrupted. Now you have their attention. They disagree with you.
Using belief disharmony in your hook sentences is powerful, but you have to mind the thin line that separates flaming one’s flames from quackery.
It’s not about writing anything in order to shock the reader. It has to be real, relatable, and obtainable. It has to be backed by an explanation.
Surprising statements work very well to cause belief disharmony in the reader’s mind. Grabbing attention with something the reader doesn’t agree with will make them read on to see how you’ll prove your point.
What to avoid when you’re writing a hook sentence?
While belief disharmony is a powerful weapon in any copywriter’s toolbox, there are still a few pointers that can help you determine whether or not your hook sentence will… well… hook the reader.
Steer clear from descriptions.
Hook sentences should be short and punchy. You have only a few words to get your point across, so try and make them as powerful as possible.
Don’t give out everything the reader needs to know in the beginning.
Instead, leave them with a question. It’s much more powerful to leave them wondering to keep them reading.
Make it stupid simple.
Things have to be simple. You want to get your point across in under eight seconds. Don’t overcomplicate your hook sentence.
I’d love to finish off the article with some groundbreaking revelation, but truth be told, writing a great hook sentence takes practice. Years of practice.
You can either do it yourself or join my tiny newsletter called Electric. It’s about writing hook sentences and getting hooked on the wrong (or right, don’t judge) things.