It’s a boring Sunday night. You decide to browse Netflix for the perfect movie. After an eternity and miles of scrolling, you find yourself with a choice between two award-winning titles. One preview shows a lush, green field set to tranquil music. The other shows a house on fire complemented with dramatic music.
Which one do you choose? Well, that depends on what you’re in the mood for.
That means the first moments of the preview have to grab someone’s attention. The producers had to know the audience they wanted to attract and set the scene to draw them in. They knew they had a short window of time to convey a certain message.
Now imagine if these previews started with a shot of an empty parking lot. Or a bunch of bananas. Would that draw you in? Would you feel compelled to stay and watch what happens, or would you just skip it?
Even if the movie has a great story, the preview has to capture the audience’s attention in the first few moments. Otherwise, the audience won’t stick around. After all, time is valuable and attention spans are shorter than ever. Why waste two hours on something that might turn out to be terrible?
You can use the same logic for your copy. Sure, you researched and wrote with attention to detail, but will your audience stay around long enough to read all of it? I hate to break it to you, but they won’t.
Here’s where the hook comes in. The hook of your copy captivates your reader, which leads them into the meat of your copy. It’s the only way to guarantee anyone will make it to your CTA at the end. Keep reading to find out how to write a compelling hook and grab your audience’s attention.
The word “hook” is used in both music and fishing. Those two things might seem as different as possible. They are — but they have something in common. The hook. It does the same thing in music and fishing, only in different senses.
Another word for the hook in music is “earworm”. That’s an unpleasant image, but it gets the idea across. The hook is a melody that makes its way into your head and won’t leave. It’s the most important part of a song in a sense. Think of the songs you get stuck in your head and how many of them you don’t even like. A good hook is hard to forget.
In fishing, the hook lures the fish in with something attractive (food). Then it drags the fish along to where you want it. The fish gets something it wants and, with some luck, you catch the fish. Trickery at its finest and most effective.
Deception isn’t the goal of a copywriting hook, but the concept is similar. The real purpose is to captivate the reader from the start and bring them into the rest of your copy. No lying, no exaggerations. Good copy is all about persuasion, not manipulation.
Let’s look at what a good hook has to do.
Maybe you’ve seen statistics about how the human attention span has shrunk over the years, all the way down to eight seconds. Some say our attention span is now worse than that of a goldfish.
Is that true? No. First off, the goldfish statistic is off. There’s no proof they have short attention spans in the first place. There’s also no proof our attention spans have gone downhill. That logic tends to fall apart when you account for long drives or lectures.
The truth is more complex. Many factors contribute to myths about short attention spans. One of the biggest factors is the task-dependent nature of attention spans. Certain things require you to focus for a long time. Other things, like comedy videos, are more fast-paced and don’t need to hold your attention for long.
Part of the confusion comes from the fact that people consume and engage with a massive amount of content daily. So much of that happens online. Open any social media platform and you get bombarded by a wealth of personal updates, memes, professional content, and marketing.
If your attention span hasn’t shrunk, then what’s changed? What goes on in the human brain?
People crave stories. Relatable, human stories. Research shows attention spans haven’t shrunk, they’ve evolved. As a marketer, you have to evolve as well if you want to be effective.
People are pickier nowadays. You have to craft the pointiest, most alluring hooks to get their attention. The goal is to convert them by the end of your copy. To do that, you can’t waste time. You have to make them interested as soon as possible.
You won’t drag your audience anywhere in a literal sense. You don’t want them to feel like they’re fish, caught on a hook with no say in the matter. You might not want to take the musical approach for your hook either. Because remember, there are some songs you wish you could get out of your head but they’re too catchy. They made an impression, but not a good one.
Instead, think of it like a fairytale: breadcrumbs in a forest. Make the reader think, “Where do all these pieces lead to?” Engage with curiosity and then reward the reader with the loaf of bread. Narratives and classic story structures work well in copy. There’s a reason so many stories have followed the same formula for so long.
Your hook should pass the baton off to the rest of your copy. They’re partners in crime with the same level of skill (well-written) and the same mission (conversion). Think about one of your favorite stories or books. Did you have to trudge through the beginning or were you on the hook from the start?
Chances are, the story had your attention from the start. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have much reason to read all the way through. Think of a hook as the introduction or start of a story. It’s a necessary part that brings readers into the rest of the copy.
Like runners in a relay race, the transition is smooth and effortless. It’s almost as if the same person runs the entire race. In the same way, a good hook takes the reader through the body copy to the CTA.
So how can you craft a hook like that? A hook that gets your readers to the finish line? It’s easy, as long as you put in the work and include the right information.
Legendary copywriter John Carlton once described a hook as detective work. A good hook doesn’t happen; there’s a pursuit. You have to do your research and find out what the offer is all about. It’s not enough to look at some features and tell a reader what they are. Readers want to know what those features mean to them.
For example, take Carlton’s famous hook about the one-legged golfer:
“Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks and Slices...And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!”
The story of the golfer was almost not shared because company founder Milt Wallace thought the story was told too many times. Still, Carlton was persistent, and good thing he was.
The thing is, Wallace could have just told Carlton about his product, the Triple Coil Swing. He could have rattled off statistics and features and called it a day. Instead, he dug into stories and ended up with a legendary hook.
The story is only part of it. You need to include certain elements in it as well. It doesn’t do any good if the story isn’t relevant. It has to speak to the reader and appeal to what they want. The one-legged golfer hook wouldn’t do any good if it didn’t provide benefits for the reader.
So how do you end up finding that golden nugget of a hook?
You can’t write a good hook without an idea of what it leads to. This means the CTA in copy. That’s the goal of any piece of copy and you won’t get any conversions if the reader doesn’t end up there. The only way to keep their attention is to get it as soon as possible.
You need to look past the surface. Ask around. Find the weird stories, like the ones you’d tell at a party. Think about something people would listen to. A story that interests them combined with the benefits they want.
Think about how you’d describe your product to a third-grader. What’s your core offer and what about it would make a third-grader laugh or lean in? You want to break it down and keep it simple. Make sure to keep your audience in mind as well. Not everyone will want what you sell, and that’s fine.
Zoom in on the big benefit. You can focus on different benefits, but it’s best to stick to one. It’s better to have a solid offer that only appeals to a certain group. Otherwise, you have a weaker offer that tries to appeal to more people.
Combine your offer’s benefits with some specific adjectives and dynamic verbs and watch what happens. Keep the benefits at the forefront. Your offer won’t do any good otherwise, even with the most interesting language in the world.
You wouldn’t bring sushi to use as bait on a fishing trip. No, you’d use worms or some other type of bait. You’d use what you know the fish want and crave. Sure, you like sushi more than you like worms but that’s not the point. You’re not a fish. Likewise, you’re not the intended audience for your offer. It’s about what the reader wants, not what you want.
The same goes for copywriting. You need to know your audience so you can address them in a way that makes sense. Specifics are key. Everybody responds to different things. You wouldn’t write a hook for medical professionals in the same way you’d write one for a banana enthusiast.
Look at Carlson’s golf hook and you can see how he used specific terminology that resonated with his audience. The people who want to improve their golf technique already have an interest in gold. All they need are concrete details and benefits to convince them to read on.
When you give the specifics (and best of all, numbers), the golfers will flock to that copy. You won’t get much interest from anyone outside that group, but that’s not a problem. Remember, you can’t sell to everyone. Focus on your ideal buyer and you’ll get the best results.
What about potential customers who don’t know they need your offer? They’re not a lost cause. You can still get to them if you have a sharp enough hook. You might need to change your angle, but who you target is up to you. Some offers are better for entry-level customers while some are best for experienced users.
Maybe someone didn’t know they wanted a banana smoothie. So how would you convince them that they need one right now? It’s not enough to tell them that it tastes good and is good for them. You know that, but they aren’t aware yet.
You have to hit them with some specifics and benefits. Describe the cold, refreshing feel of a banana smoothie in a glass. The mild, tropical taste that helps your mind drift away for a moment. How about how filling and healthy it is? Or even how good it could look on their Instagram?
Immerse your audience and they’ll be persuaded to read on. It all depends on who you want to sell to. No matter what you sell, you can rest assured someone sells it already. And chances are, someone has cornered a certain market. Try to find a unique angle and run with it.
In theatre, there’s a term called “breaking the fourth wall.” It refers to when an actor turns and addresses the audience. Maybe they whisper that the other character is a fool because they’re about to pull a prank.
Similarly, you can also address your audience. You should try to address them as much as possible. In other words, feel free to give them instructions, or flat out say “you”. Make them feel like you wrote that piece of copy for them and nobody else. For example:
“Take a look at this…”
“You’re about to see how to turn a handful of pocket change into a seven-figure fortune…”
“You think you know bananas… But you won’t believe this…”
“Tired of wasting time before work? Make your routine better with bananas.”
Any of these will jolt your audience. It’s as if someone stared right at you and called you out. This technique singles out readers and makes a deeper connection with them. It’s necessary if you want to write effective copy.
But don’t stop there. Call out any doubts. Take care of objections before the reader has a chance to think of them. The easier it sounds to get your offer, the more someone will want to take advantage of it.
“Maybe you think I’m bananas for saying this.”
“It sounds too good to be true… But it’s not.”
“I know, I wouldn’t believe it either…”
When you do this, you show that you know your statement is bold. The most important part is that you believe in it. That shows the audience that you’re aware of any counterargument. This awareness inspires confidence and pulls your reader further into the rest of your copy.
Now you know what goes into a good hook, but how do you write one? It’s not enough to only do your research. You have to know the structure of a hook. Which parts you need and why they work together.
There are plenty of ways to write a good hook. The more you write, the more methods you’ll figure out. You can find templates and formulas all over the place, but you still have to know when to use them.
You can’t always use the same type of hook for different types of copy or content. A hook that works for a blog post might not work for a landing page. That’s why formulas and templates are helpful, at least until you get more comfortable.
So, let’s take a look at a couple of formulas, one that works for some copy and one that works for some content. These are just a couple of many, but they should give you a good idea of how to write a hook. Once you have these down, you can branch out and get more creative with your hooks.
To clarify, these are formulas to write headlines. The good news: headlines and hooks aren’t mutually exclusive. Your headline is the first thing a reader sees, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get them on the hook.
Copy and content are similar but different in some key ways. Both fall under the umbrella term “copywriting” but they achieve different goals. Copy has the single goal of persuasion. Its purpose is to convince the reader to take action.
You need a few things to write a good hook for a piece of copy. You want your reader to do something, so you have to present it in a certain way. There’s no single method for this, but the goal is always the same.
One of the most popular and effective formulas goes like this:
In other words, the pieces of this formula are:
Don’t worry if you’re still not clear on what this looks like. An example always helps to illustrate how a formula works. With this formula, you could write a headline like:
“Start Your Day With A Banana To Stay Healthy And Save Time Without Breaking The Bank.”
A hook like that checks all the boxes. It calls the reader to action, makes the action desirable, tells how quick the process is, and explains that there’s no financial risk. It’s perfect for something like a landing page.
It’s easy to confuse copy and content, but they’re far from the same. Copy aims to persuade the reader while content aims to inform the reader. It doesn’t involve a call to action. Content is still part of the sales process, but it’s meant for people who aren’t ready to buy yet. That, or people who have already made a purchase.
A common hook formula for content is:
That translates to:
For example, you could write a hook like this:
“How To Use Bananas In Your Daily Routine To Improve Your Health (And Save Money)”
One of the main differences between this example and the copy example is the use of “How To.” Without it, this could work as a (somewhat weaker) headline for a piece of copy. Instead, it offers information that can benefit the reader.
A good hook makes your copy more effective. In fact, your copy won’t be effective at all without a compelling hook. You need a good hook for all copy. The rest of your copy doesn’t do any good if nobody reads it.
The only way to make sure your audience keeps reading is to start as strong as possible. This means your hook has to grab their attention right off the bat. Remember: time is valuable and attention spans are short.
Like they say in fishing, “hook, line, and sinker”. These are three important parts of a fishing rod and they make all the difference in whether you catch any fish. That’s the goal of your hook. It’s how you get readers on the line and reel them in. If your hook does its job, your readers will end up at your CTA.
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