Does Your Lede Actually Lead Readers In?

In the age of SEO and writing to appease Google bots, it’s a rare thing to actually consider your audience, even for a moment.  Imagine, if you will, a place where you could get any information you wanted, simply by asking, and it appeared, like magic.  Not only was that information easy to understand, it was packed in a way that you actually enjoyed reading it.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Well, the future is now, bitches.

For too long, we’ve been writing like machines for machines, forgetting our human element.  Trick headlines to draw people in to content they don’t really want to read has reached an apex, now we enter the age of user-focused content.  Are you ready for this?  I mean, really?  Or do you struggle with the ledes of your blogs and articles?  I won’t lie, the lede has long been my weak point, but those who can’t do teach, so the saying goes.

What Are Ledes and Why Should I Care?

Even before the Internet, you had to convince people that the content you’d produced was worth reading.  In newspapers and magazines everywhere, the lede was the thing.  It had the hook, it was the reason that the rest of the article was consumed.  The lede was the Alpha and the Omega.  The lede was everything, and if you couldn’t crank one that hooked, you were doomed.

Modern web copy isn’t much different, frankly.  Now that the age of misleading headlines is ending, we have to focus on the execution of the content.  We need to remember the old rules that kept readers reading and writers in jobs.

The lede is all about starting out.  You know the story you’re going to write, so how would you explain it to someone who might be interested?  That’s all a lede is, it’s just an introduction to your content.  It’s a top hat you put on to make it all neat and tidy.  Ledes also give your content cohesion since you can easily relate your conclusion back to them, tying it all up with a pretty bow.

I could leave it at that, but you know I won’t.  There are several different kinds of ledes that journalists and magazine writers use, they can all be applied to web content, as well.  This is where I explain them:

Summary.  This is probably the most common type of lede, but it’s gross unless you’re writing hard news.  It’s dry, it just states the basic facts of the story and it’s assumed that if readers want to learn more, they’ll read on.  It’s boring.  It’s done to death.  Again, unless it’s hard news, don’t do this.  Ever.

Anecdotal.  These ledes pull in anecdotes that illustrate the point of the article.  It can be very effective if executed properly, but is often not executed properly.  An example of how to use this would be something like “There was this one time I was walking along and found a dollar on the ground.  I was thrilled, but not half as thrilled as Dr. Hammer, who found a winning Powerball ticket yesterday.”  (Lame example)

Commentary.  Be careful with these, they’re a little dangerous. Unless you’re writing an op-ed, they probably won’t work at all.  However, you can lede with your opinion on the thing if the thing is something worth having an opinion on.  Also, people have to care about your opinion.  So far you’re 0 for 2.  Try it like this:  “Many people say the ocean is wet, but they’re totally crazy pants.  I firmly believe the ocean is composed of nanobots that create a mist to produce the illusion of a body of salty water.”

Pop culture.  If you’re writing evergreen content, don’t do this.  Ever.  Otherwise, it can be pretty effective if you know what kids these days are into.  I, clearly, do not.  My pop culture example:  “Pac-Man is good at chasing ghosts and eating endless amounts of fruit and pellets, but he’s got nothing on Bob Hunter, the new hotdog eating champion.”

Paint a Picture (aka. Scene-setters).  Paint a Picture is by far my favorite lede ever, ever.  I mean, it doesn’t work everywhere, but when it works and you write it properly, it’s a beautiful thing.  Here’s an example: “Imagine, if you will, sleek red curves, deep black shades and lots of cargo space — this is just the beginning of the beauty that is the Car-O-Matic 3000.  It’s everything you’ve ever wanted, but on wheels.”  Or “Fireflies blinking in a meadow call to me, bringing me back to my homeland, back to the rolling hills and lush, green grass of the cow pasture.  The doe-eyed animals were content to ruminate over fescue and hay while my brother and I walked the path to the dark woods and the small pond it sheltered on our property.”

Hey, Why Do They Call It a Lede?

No fucking clue, dude.  I even Googled around quite a bit and couldn’t find an answer that made much sense.  The closest reasonable explanation was that “lede” was used to distinguish the beginning of a story when it was sent via wire the old fashioned way.  That way it wouldn’t get lost, I guess.  But for me, it was what I learned, so that’s how I’m teaching you.  It was good enough for journalists of the old school, with our wax burns and mad X-acto knife skills, so I’m clinging to it curmudgeonly .

Now get off my lawn.