The Better to Tease You With

“Don’t be such a tease,” Mom chided every time I poked fun at my older sister’s high-school crushes. I was relentless. When it came to preserving my sister’s sanity, Mom was right. But Mom wasn’t right about banning teasing entirely.

Teasing is often very good.

Many sites forget the art of a good tease in their rush to hit the right keywords and satisfy harried Web users. Teasers are the two or three lines below the headline that tell more about what’s inside. They hint there’s good stuff in there. You can tease for special site features and updates to your regular content.

Consider the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. There’s always a woman with a décolleté neckline and those amazing teasers:

Who’s That Guy Without His Shirt?
Find out how one of Cosmo’s 2003 half-naked hunks can help you win $10,000!

Carnal Counselor
How to Mesh Your In-Sack Styles

Sex Tips From Guys
Tugging on my earlobe just a bit with your teeth makes me lose all sense of the English language.

Granted, they’re the product of a one-track mind. But they’re good.

Take PeopleSoft’s Web site. Granted, we won’t see “Hot Software Sex Tips” or “How Hot-Tubbing Helped Me Achieve Corporate Goals.” But content still can have spice. Most readers won’t madly rush to “See What an Integrated Learning Plan Can Do.” But they may be tempted to dig deeper if presented with:

Learn how our software program helped one company save $5 million and complete training ahead of schedule.

It’s intriguing and provides quantifiable, impressive results up front.

Most home pages are cluttered with unfocused content from competing departments. Or, they’re the product of an overworked Webmaster who’s given up teasing and opted for vanilla: “Learn More About Our Organization” or “Check Out Our Many Locations.” Yawn.

Of course, writing a terrific teaser is an art:

  • Don’t engage readers in a game of “Clue.” Teasers don’t shroud information, they entice. A good teaser tells readers what they’re about to read, “sexing it up” a bit.

    Instead of, “Learn why our 2004 model is designed with the space age in mind,” try, “Try our strong, silent type. You can’t hear our amazingly quiet machine, but you’ll experience its awesome power with every wash.” That’s a washing machine I may want to see.

  • Keywords count. Use keywords in your teasers; they’re an important part of Web writing. Include synonyms for keywords (“fashion” and “trend”; “automobile” and “car”; “mobile phone” and “cell phone”). Just don’t overdo keywords. Readers and search engines are all too familiar with such tricks.
  • Tell a story. Journalism schools teach the power of leading with an interesting story. Consider the following teaser:

    When the last profitable business in Cattle Horn, Nevada, needed to boost sales or fold, XYZ Software heard the cry for help. “These guys are getting a parade down Main Street,” says Mayor John Brown. “They helped our business and saved the town.” Granted, your company may not have saved a town, but it probably has something interesting to say. Hook ’em with a great teaser.

  • Make your storytelling brief. I have to applaud Cerner Corp. for trying to make medical software exciting. Yet its teasers need slashing by the plain-speak patrol. They’re too long. Good teasers are three sentences, maximum.
  • Avoid “Learn More” and “Click Here.” Using these isn’t a sin, but these phrases have clearly lost pizzazz. Most users know to “click” to “learn more.”

Want more insights into writing head-snapping Web content? Page through my long list of archived columns. You’ll find tips on targeting key audiences, writing in a distinct voice, copywriting, and more.

Mom was right. I love to tease!

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