Now that your reader has opened your email, what next?
You may have heard of the ‘seven-second rule’ for websites — where you only have seven seconds to grab a visitor’s attention and keep it.
With email, you’re working with pretty much the same time frame. You only have a few seconds — and a few lines — to grab your reader’s attention and keep them reading.
What is a hook?
In general copywriting terms, a ‘hook’ is an idea or a section of copy that has been carefully written to grab your reader’s attention and interest, and start creating desire.
They are frequently used when opening any piece of copy, but you will sometimes see smaller hooks sprinkled throughout longer pieces, like long-form articles and sales pages.
With email, the hook comes at the very beginning of your message to grab your reader’s attention and keep them reading. The hook provides a compelling reason for your reader to continue through to the end of your message, so that they see (and hopefully act) on your call to action. If they don’t keep reading, they can’t do any of that.
Here are four ways to hook in your readers so they keep reading your email.
#1 – Ask a question
Opening an email with a relevant, thoughtful question can be extremely powerful when it comes to getting our attention. That’s because we’re culturally trained that it’s rude or impolite to not answer a question like “how are you today?” and answers like “good” are an automatic reflex for most people. So when we hear questions, answering them is instinctive.
Plus, questions imply answers. Either your readers already know the answer, or they’ll continue reading to find out what it is. That’s because the human brain hates unanswered questions, and will relentlessly seek out the answers if one is not provided or promised for a later date.
These questions are known as “open loops”, and are why shows like Game of Thrones are notoriously addictive.
Screenwriters strategically place open loops to keep you on the edge of your seat, breathlessly waiting for the answers promised in the next episode. Open loops work similarly well in email, and you can use them both at the beginning of a message to hook your reader in, as well as at the end of the message, to keep them waiting for the next email.
#2 – The story hook
One of the most touted pieces of marketing advice today is “tell a story”, and there’s a very good reason for that. Our brains are wired to think in story, and we make sense of the world through story.
Grabbing someone with an anecdote or story is a great way to get them immediately engaged with your material, because stories have been proven, time and time again, to engage the emotional centers of the brain in ways that logic alone cannot.
This not only captures people’s attention, it can also move them to buy (or follow your call to action) far more effectively. Plus, you can also exploit the open loop technique with stories, hooking your reader in and promising resolution at the end of the email.
#3 – Make a promise
American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) famously teaches a sales copywriting formula known as The 4 Ps — Promise, Picture, Proof, Push.
They start with Promise because promises are attention grabbing. They’re interesting, and big promises make us curious. We wonder if what you’re talking about is even possible — and if so, how are you going to deliver on that promise?
That natural curiosity, similar to an open loop or the curiosity gap used in subject lines, pushes us to keep reading.
#4 – Remind them of a problem
Another tried-and-true copywriting formula that works well for creating an email hook is PAS — Problem, Agitation, Solution. To hook your readers, start by describing a problem that you know they have that your product or service solves. This hook is a bit more subtle and sophisticated than some of the others, but it can work very well.
When you hit on the right problem, your readers are instantly hooked because you’re showing them that you know exactly what they’re going through. This helps build trust, makes them feel seen and understood, and keeps them reading because they want to know how you dealt with this problem they’re experiencing right now.
The key to making this hook work is making sure that your audience actually has the problem you’re talking about, and is where segmenting your list and customer research plays a key role in your email strategy.
For an extra-intriguing hook, you can combine any of the methods above. Phrasing any of these hooks as a question, or working in a story will naturally command more attention than each strategy alone.
The point here is that you need to immediately grab and keep your reader’s attention if you want to remain in their inbox, keep being read, and continue to nurture your relationship with your reader.
This article is Part 2 of ‘The Anatomy of a High-Converting Email’, a series on using conversion copywriting techniques to write high-performing emails. Read the previous installment in this series: The 5 rules of highly-opened email subject lines.
Or check out the next installment: How to avoid the mid-email slump with better body copy.
Katie Callaghan is a Sales Funnel Strategist and Conversion Copywriter helping growth-stage startups turn existing traffic into more customers, users, and revenue. You can find her at www.startupfunnelstrategist.com.