They keep you coming back week after week.
They persuade you you'll miss something important if you switch the channel.
They get you to buy a series of books and drive users deeper into your website.
Cliffhangers. From the TV series Lost to news websites to copywriting, cliffhangers are an important writer's tool. And recently in another thread I touched on the idea but never really explained how to use cliffhangers.
Sites like MarketingProfs have taken to splitting up long articles. By placing a cliffhanger ending at the end of page one, you have a better chance of getting the reader to go to page two. In a similar fashion, cliffhanger copy drives a reader deeper into a site of any type.
Contrary to popular opinion, your home page is not there to get your designer more work or sell the latest copy of PhotoShop. Very often visitors are deciding whether or not to surf to another site or dig deeper into yours.
If Nobody Cares It Doesn't Matter What Happens Next
The TV series Lost has a very convoluted, and just plain obscure, plotline. People still tune in -- week after week. Why? Because people care about the characters.
The reason is simple. Well developed characters have interesting personalities, quirks and backstories. Unfortunately, most business websites do not.
For a business website, your personality is known by another term: Your brand. Customers don't form attachments to corporate policy guides or the cute PhotoShop effect in a layout or logo. They do form attachments to personalities, whether a character in a book or a branding initiative of a website.
People care about J. Peterman's adventures in retailing in a way they never will for most of what passes for "branding" today. What's worse is the almost total neglect of writing to create a business identity which lies at the heart of a brand. Or even plain old interesting writing.
Today writing is that thing keeping the keywords from running together or layout DIVs from collapsing. You start to engage the reader knowing who your reader is and writing for a target reader, not “visitors.” Real reasearch about the motivating hot buttons.
"There I Was; Both Engines on Fire and No Parachute..."
Once you have your target audience, create some drama. Conflict and obstacles can create the necessary setting, whether you’re writing fiction or hard-hitting sales copy.
For example “Are Prepared for the Japanese Invasion of Your Industry?” kicked off a direct response letter.
Here is an excerpt from a letter by Dr. Gary North...
"In 1996, Union Pacific had just taken over a smaller rail company called Southern Pacific. Their merger was supposed to be smooth sailing. It nearly caused an economic collapse. How?
Merging the two companies computer systems created a backup of 40,000 rail cars -- enough to make a single train 500 miles long. Deliveries were delayed by as much as 30 days... in some cases, they never happened at all. 24 million bushels of grain sat in Kansas and rotted for over six months. Millions of dollars were lost. Chevron lost so muuch money thhey were forced to hire a fleet of trucks to make up the difference. All because of a "little" computer glitch."
Drama sets up the reader to become very interested in just a little computer glitch.
Cliffhangers are irrelevant if you’re just trying to please google. But until googlebot gets some A.I. and spending money, you’re going to have to appeal to humans at some point.
Buffy teaches us how to write a cliffhanger Poynter is not known for fiction, but journalism and news writing. With a few tweaks, cliffhangers are just as applicable for journalism as fiction or sales copy.
Super Branding ...and a cape. Great way to look at branding from a writer's perspective, and sets up the idea of the cliffhanger. Especially useful when most corporate websites put generic boilerplate into pretty layouts.