First Impressions :: How Did Your Posts Start In 2008?

by derek on January 6, 2009 · 30 comments

Like it or not – first impressions can make or break you. With so many people and things competing for our time, we do often make snap decisions based on our first impressions and sometimes never look back. That isn’t the best way to do things but the truth is that we do it.
Therefore how you open your posts plays a key role in whether or not people will stick around and keep reading your thoughts. Earlier today I was reading a post by Kelvin over at Puppet Kaos that examined how he opened the first post of each month from last year.
Thinking that this would be a fun exercise, I too have looked back through my posts and have realized that this is an area that I could really use to improve moving forward.
Below is a recap of how the first post of each month opened, as well as a few additional thoughts that I have looking back at that now.

  • January :: Blogging For Money – December 2007
    The string of consecutive months with record earnings has come to a close as I failed to deliver on the 6th consecutive month in December, which was a little disappointing given that it was the holiday season.

    Probably not the best way to open the post, or the year for that matter, with a message of failure. However, one might be encouraged by the mention of record earnings and investigate back through the previous months. Not bad but could be better.

  • February :: Win $106.34 At Derek Semmler Dot Com
    COLD…HARD…CASH – who wants some?

    Get the reader’s attention with something that is of interest – and who doesn’t like cash? For a contest post, I think this was a pretty good opening and enticed people to keep reading.

  • March :: Speedlinking – February’s Most Vocal
    It is hard to believe that the calendar has turned to March already and this blog is closing in on the one year anniversary milestone.

    The sample posts that I pulled for this exercise included a handful of the “Most Vocal” Speedlinking series, which are probably not the best examples to use. The mention of the one year anniversary gives the reader a sense of timing, but this could be improved.

  • April :: NoFollow DoFollow YouFollow BlueFollow
    One of the things that I promised myself when I started this blog was to openly share any success with the readers that make an effort to be a part of this community.

    Decent opening that gives the reader a sense of connection as I am sharing a promise that I made to myself. Encourages the reader to continue on to see if I have kept my promise.

  • May :: Confessions Of A Lazy (And Shy) Blogger
    I’ve got a confession to make – I am a lazy and shy blogger.

    By exposing myself with a confession, I have made myself vulnerable. For some reason people seem to connect with that, maybe because they can picture themselves in the same situation. This is one of the better openings out of this sample in my opinion.

  • June :: Speedlinking – May’s Most Vocal
    The month of May was certainly exciting, as any month with a trip to Las Vegas will be, with a considerable amount of quality dialog within the community.

    Another “Most Vocal” update that is somewhat lackluster, although the mention of Las Vegas may catch the reader’s attention.

  • July :: Blogging For Money :: June 2008
    After a taking a few steps forward the last few months, June was a disappointing step backwards in terms of blogging for money.

    The two financial updates in this sample both start off with a negative tone, although again I first mention the positive news. Nothing special about this opening though.

  • August :: Reflecting On A Blogging Milestone
    Think back to when you first started your blog.

    Asking the reader to put themselves into a particular situation is good practice. It allows you to form a connection with the reader that will encourage them to continue reading. Nice and simple.

  • September :: Speedlinking – August’s Most Vocal
    There were some new and exciting developments that took place in the month of August, including the first guest post and the process of getting approved for an account with Market Leverage.

    Blah – yet another “Most Vocal” update lacking any pizazz.

  • October :: 2008 AL Central Division Champions
    As you might remember, I am a devoted Chicago White Sox fan; so you can imagine my excitement with the result of their game last night versus the Minnesota Twins that crowned the White Sox as the 2008 American League Central Division Champions.

    Not a great opening – but the White Sox had just secured the AL Central Division Championship and I wasn’t too worried about the opening here!

  • November :: Speedlinking – October 2008 Recap
    During the time that I was away on a family vacation, you were all treated to a change of pace with a variety of outstanding guest posts.

    Sharing a link in the opening can help encourage people to explore other posts on your site. Known as deep-linking, providing links to older posts is a good way to increase your traffic and is something you should strive to do regularly. The mention of the outstanding guest posts also alerts the reader that the blog does accept guest posts if they are interested.

Now that you have had a chance to review the opening lines from each of these posts, I would love to hear your first impressions. Please critique both the opening line, as well as the thoughts that I had to share about each.
Whether you decide to post or not, I highly recommend that you go through this exercise on your own blog as it might open your eyes to trends within your own posts.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jesse@SoLinkable January 6, 2009 at 9:54 pm

The contest you held in February is pure Genius. I was thinking of running my own contest, but it was going to be based on submissions/comments. That, however, is a MUCH better idea. I hope you don’t mind if I use it – I promise I’ll give you credit for the idea ;).
Did the contest end up being successful? What type of referral numbers did it bring in? How many visits did the winner bring in?
Jesses last blog post..Changes Coming to the iTunes Store — It’s going DRM free

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derek January 6, 2009 at 10:11 pm

You’re more than welcome to use that idea – although I recommend a few more rules on the type of referrals. Since I did not enforce any rules on the referrals, there were a few tricky tactics that were used.
As such, there was a boost in traffic but it was not as much as the numbers seemed to indicate.

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Nicole Price January 7, 2009 at 9:09 am

That is surprising. How did that happen? I would have thought that people who were part of the increase would have stayed on as regular readers.
Nicole Prices last blog post..New Year Resolutions to Help You Save Money

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

The reason the numbers were high but it did not result in more readers was due to how the winner had earned the referrals.
Rather than actually directing people here, Dave had put a hidden iframe on his site that loaded a page of my site every time someone visited his site. So technically it counted as a referral but there was never actually a visit to this site.
Since I did not exclude tricks like this, Dave won even though there were few people actually referred here.

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Jesse@SoLinkable January 7, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Ya, I found your old blog post about it and traced it back to his page about how he won the contest. Very tricky indeed.
I actually found a bunch of contests running on this theme of referrals. So I have a few with which I can draw up some rules.
Jesses last blog post..Pupils in Nepal conquer fear of computers

Nick@romandock dot com January 7, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I guess you’ll know better for next time huh?
Nicks last blog post..I’d go solar if the cells were cheaper and more efficient

Ling@Uptake January 6, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Mentioning money and free stuff contests are always a good way to start a post. And confessions too, provided they’re authetic. People can sense the authenticity when you open up true personality. You might also want to try ‘How to…’ in the title. Seems to be a big draw.

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:43 am

Yeah, the “how to” posts seem to get a nice response in most cases.

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Deanna @ Women's Travel January 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm

What an excellent idea to do a review like this! I know how important the lead is. (How many times have I stopped reading somebody else’s post when it didn’t immediately grab me?) But I never thought of doing a systematic review of my own blog posts this way. Thanks for a great suggestion!
Deannas last blog post..That’s when the joy happens

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:44 am

That was my reaction as well when I saw the post on Kelvin’s site and I am happy to pass it along here.

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Spot@affordable HDTV January 7, 2009 at 12:28 am

For what it is worth, your February headline grabbed me the most out of all of them. Why exactly $106.34, I wondered.
Maybe the best headline isn’t one that summarizes your post but leaves the reader with questions.
Spots last blog post..Play Music, Wirelessly, Throughout Your House

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

Headlines are an entirely different beast, as that really plays a role in what people will read (particularly those that read from RSS most often).
One of the best on the headlines is Brian Clark over at Copyblogger, I always love when he posts examples of rewriting headlines from “blah” to “killer”.

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Neil@PS3 January 7, 2009 at 2:42 am

The first post I saw when I first found the site was a speedlinking post. It didn’t really catch my attention but the second post down did. It was a post related to affiliate earnings.
I have been creating a new blog idea for a few months now and the affiliate schemes were something I was looking in to.
I do believe the start of each post has to grab the attention of the reader to keep them at your blog. Also the whole post should try to invoke some thoughts and opinions from the reader to tease them to leave a comment about the way they feel about a post.
Thanks Derek. The blog just gets better.

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:48 am

Fortunately that second post was there, as I am happy that you have stuck around and become part of the community.
Thanks for the feedback Neil.

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Kelvin Kao January 7, 2009 at 4:02 am

For me, doing a post like that was an interesting way of looking back at the previous year. For me, it’s like one of those “grab the nearest book, turn to page 56, find the third paragraph, and write down the second line” memes. It’s just for kicks. However, as I was looking through the sentences, I did think about how posts are opened. That was an unintentional effect for me.
Looks like you opened up quite a few months with those linking posts, eh? The one that mentions the White Sox… well, I don’t care what the rest of the post is about, but immediately after I see baseball references at the beginning (especially during playoffs time), my mind is automatically set to respond to that.
Kelvin Kaos last blog post..Goodbye 2008, Hello 2009!

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:51 am

It was surprising to see how many months opened with the Speedlinking posts. As for the one on baseball, as I read that one now all I could think about was that we are getting close to the day pitchers and catchers report!
Now, that “grab the book” meme is one that I have never heard of and sounds really interesting, so here you go:
“us. So the next thing to get rid of us Sludge Justification. The”
That is a line out of “Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It” by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, which I just picked up from the library last week.

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Andrea January 7, 2009 at 8:26 am

interesting post you have here. i like how you included a bit of the first sentences. I think i may take this idea (see Nick, you arent the only one i steal ideas from!)and sorta modify it. Give like a highlight of the few months i have been around.

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:53 am

Lol, reuse of ideas is what makes the Interweb such a great place.

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Nick@romandock dot com January 7, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Lol, I’m not sure whether I should be excited or disappointed that I’m not the only one.
However, I’m considering doing a similar post, not sure if I’m going to yet though.
Nicks last blog post..I’d go solar if the cells were cheaper and more efficient

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Nicole Price January 7, 2009 at 9:07 am

This is a great way indeed to review. I shall do so forthwith.
What they all did was to grab my attention and made me go through the entire post. I think that it is very important to achieve that which you seem to have done effortlessly.
Nicole Prices last blog post..New Year Resolutions to Help You Save Money

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derek January 7, 2009 at 11:55 am

It might be interesting to also look at the last post of each month to see if there is any difference between how you start a month and how you end a month.

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MLDina January 7, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Hey Derek! I like the idea of evaluating past posts…I think killer titles are important though, too! They have to be just as important as the opener, because sometimes that’s the only thing people will see when deciding whether to read or not.

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derek January 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Absolutely, I’d say having a killer title is more important than the opening sentence – although that doesn’t mean the opening isn’t important too.
I touched on this in my interview for the book Blog Blazers, as I said that the writing a great title is critical but there is not much point to writing a killer title for a garbage post.
Speaking of killer titles, one of my best was for Darren Rowse’s Killer Titles writing contest. Not only did it have a great title but the post backed it up, which is why that post hit digg and had insane traffic.
My Boobs Are Not Squeeze Toys :: 8 Tips For More Action In The Bedroom

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Nick@romandock dot com January 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm

It is interesting to think about how we open a post and I’m sure that having a strong opening might make people more likely to stick around. However, I think the title of a post/page is seen more often on the referring site which means that it is more instrumental in getting people to click-through.
On a related note, this could be done with the last sentence of each month to see how well you close your posts!
Nicks last blog post..I’d go solar if the cells were cheaper and more efficient

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Steve@trade show displays guru January 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm

hey Derek,
What a great idea for a post, and a lot of work. 🙂
I’m just glad I only have two months of blogging under my belt so I don’t have to do this yet. 🙂
Seriously though, I don’t think it can ever be said enough that “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” How you start a post is critical, and I will be the first to say that I can improve on that! This post is an excellent reminder, and an interesting read too. Thanks.
~ Steve, aka the trade show guru
Steves last blog post..Trade Show Booths and Duct Tape

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Cashmere Lashkari January 8, 2009 at 4:37 am

I think Feb was most catching. Eye and attention both.
Cashmere Lashkaris last blog post..Bargain Shoe Shops: Berry, Dawar, Ideal and Chor Baba

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Jessica W January 8, 2009 at 10:22 am

The contest is something that makes most attention surely. So you know my winner :). But no less value to other posts also, because from them you can learn a lot.
Jessica Ws last blog post..Why is Professional Web Design so Important

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The DVD Movie Fan January 8, 2009 at 11:43 am

I think you’re absolutely right about first impressions. These days, attention spans are really short. If you don’t hook a reader in quickly, they’re out the door and off to another site.
The DVD Movie Fans last blog post..The DVD release of “Babylon A.D.”

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Veronica Cervera@miami homes August 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Well, the headline Confessions Of A Lazy (And Shy) Blogger definitely caught my attention, Derek. It was very honest and direct and that made it interesting. A lot of headlines I see today don’t seem unique (and honest) anymore.

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