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Stand to attention: why an effective standfirst is key to your content

An effective standfirst can make all the difference when it comes to reader engagement and the shareability of your content.

The fact that you’re reading this sentence means that the standfirst – nestled between the title and text of this article, decked out in bold – did its job. You want to know exactly how an effective standfirst can make all the difference, so you’ve read on. In an online world with an Everest of content, populated by hyper-short attention spans, that’s half the battle won.

Also known as the ‘sell’, ‘kicker’, and more blandly the ‘summary text’, the standfirst is a familiar feature of online blog pieces, originating from print newspaper and magazine articles. Its purpose is, essentially, an amalgamation of its various names– it summarises the article, kicking the reader forward and ‘selling’ them the content. That’s a big job for a short piece of text, so it’s crucial to get it right.

There are a few common features of the standfirst to adhere to. It should always engage with the article in some way, either by lightly summarising its contents or posing a question that it will answer. Brevity is key; a clunky standfirst might put off rather than draw in the reader. You should also avoid repeating the headline and main body text as best you can – use the opportunity to offer something creative.

Standfirsts should always be tailored to the subject and the target demographic. If the article considers the pros and cons of investing in the buy-to-let student housing market, the standfirst should be formal, and speak directly to potential investors, following their thought process. It might look something like this:

Buy-to-let student housing can be a lucrative long-term investment – but is it more trouble than it’s worth?

Here, a positive statement is followed by a troubling question, spurring the uncertain investor to click on the article and find out the facts they need to make an informed decision.

Now imagine that, instead of writing for buy-to-let investors, you’re writing for the students about how to find the perfect student house. One approach adopted by Buzzfeed and popular student news site The Tab is to structure the standfirst as an offhand, humorous remark. For instance, if the headline reads “10 tips on finding the perfect student house”, the standfirst might look like this:

It would be nice to actually have a table.

A thought familiar to student renters, this standfirst speaks directly to the reader’s experience, reassuring them that the article won’t be patronising. It is far more casual in tone than the previous standfirst, reminiscent of a tweet or Facebook comment. This increases its shareability as the article is likely to appeal to the reader’s followers and friends.

When writing your own standfirst, always keep your audience in mind. Make the most of it, too – it might just be a sentence, but it’s prime digital real estate with the potential to get that perfect article read, shared, and acted upon.

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