Lighting Fires With Bucket Brigades

When you think of bucket brigades, you probably think of a line of people passing a bucket of water down a line to put out a fire. And you’re right.

 

But in the context of copywriting, bucket brigades are a metaphor for words and phrases that keep your reader’s attention.

 

Copywriters don’t use bucket brigades to put out a fire. They use them to light one within their readers.

 

Here’s the deal:

To see if the top content writers are actually using bucket brigades, I typed “how to write interesting content” into Google. If a website’s page is in the top three Google results, they know something about writing content that keeps readers attention (as the longer readers spend on a page – the higher Google ranks it).

 

But I wasn’t looking for their advice, I was searching to see whether they use bucket brigades themselves…

 

  1. The top result is from Oxford-Royal UK. Sure enough, it features a bucket brigade in the first paragraph; “Let’s look at what they are.

 

  1. The second result is from Kissmetrics. In their first point they use the bucket brigade “Want proof?”.

 

  1. The third result is from Copyblogger. They use a bucket brigade in their introduction; “Don’t buy it?”.

 

It was three from three: bucket brigades are used by the top three websites who have proved they know how to keep reader’s attention.

 

What’s the bottom line?

 

Bucket brigades don’t just make your content more interesting, they can affect your Google rankings.

 

When someone lands on your article from Google, they either stay and read your entire article or leave before they finish it. When people stay on your page, Google knows you’re providing a complete answer for the term they searched. So Google boosts your ranking.

 

Bucket brigades make readers stick to your page like velcro covered in superglue…

 

But before we analyse why they make readers want to keep reading, let’s look at some classic bucket brigades. Here’s a list from SEO expert Brian Dean:

 

  • Here’s the deal:
  • Now:
  • What’s the bottom line?
  • You might be wondering:
  • This is crazy:
  • It gets better/worse:
  • But here’s the kicker:
  • Want to know the best part?

 

You might be wondering…

 

…why do bucket brigades hold reader’s attention? Why do they make readers curious enough to keep reading?

 

Bucket brigades create curiosity for the same reason movies cause us to ask “What will happen?”; mystery novels cause us to ask, “Who did it?”; and sports contests cause us to ask, “Who will win?.

 

As the behavioural economist from Carnegie Mellon, George Loewenstein surmised, “Curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.”

 

Here’s the kicker:

 

When you give your reader all the facts, you leave them satisfied—and like you have no desire to keep eating on a full stomach, your readers have no desire to keep reading when their curiosity has been satisfied.

 

Readers really do want to work for their reward. Just think how much people love straining for the final word in a crossword puzzle. When answers come easy, it’s boring. Too hard, and yes, we may give up. But when it’s challenging enough, when it makes us wonder, we capture readers attention.

 

Want to know the best part?

 

To make readers curious, we don’t need to go out and find new captivating stories or counterintuitive insights (although they do help). We can use the information we have, but change the structure of our writing to create and maintain our reader’s interest.

 

We simply need to present a problem or a question and hold back the answer. We must create knowledge gaps through our entire article. And every time we fill in a knowledge gap, for every answer we give, we must pose another question or reveal new information creating a knowledge gap.

 

Creating a knowledge gap is like ordering an item from the menu of your favourite restaurant. You’re going to stick around because you have a delicious meal coming. Knowledge gaps do the same thing, you keep reading because you know the article is going to satisfy your curiosity.

 

Just as we must continue adding logs to keep a fire burning, we must continue adding knowledge gaps and using bucket brigades to keep readers reading.