Locked door

It’s resulted in my highest email open rates and spurred enthusiastic messages from my readers …

It’s how Blockbuster movies keep you on the edge of your seat …

It’s the reason we click on Facebook posts and end up on crazy ad-heavy websites with crappy content …

It’s …


Or, more specifically, an open loop.

What Is an Open Loop in Copywriting?

An open loop is a teaser. It’s the beginning of a story – and the reader must keep reading in order to discover the conclusion.

An open loop is a mystery. It inspires curiosity and stirs anticipation.

Opening a loop in your content creates tension – and the only way the reader can release that tension is by finishing the story and closing that loop.

Our Brains Are Wired for Closure

In 1927, a group of academics were enjoying some beer and good conversation at a restaurant when they noticed something interesting.

Their waiter could remember every order perfectly, without writing anything down – even when there were many people at a table.

However, after the waiter had served the food, he couldn’t remember what each person had ordered.

One of the academics in the group, a woman by the name of Bluma Zeigarnik, was particularly fascinated by this phenomenon. She went on to study it further by performing a series of experiments – all of which resulted in the same conclusions.

  • When the study participant had not yet completed a task, his attention remained on it and the details remained in his short-term memory. When the task was complete, however, recalling details about it was much more difficult.
  • When a study participant was engaged in a task and pulled away before it was completed, he felt a strong pull to get back to it. His subconscious was anxious to achieve closure.

In a nutshell: When a task is uncompleted, when there is no closure yet, the human brain remains focused on it – remembering details about the situation is easy, and we are eager to finish what we started.

This became known as the Zeigarnik Effect. (Robert Cialdini goes over this in more depth in his new book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, if you’d like to read more on the subject.)

This is why the open loop is so effective at getting and keeping your audience’s attention. Our brains are wired to seek closure — so we stay glued to the page until we’re satisfied.

How to Use an Open Loop in Your Content – Successfully

Many content writers use the open loop technique in their headlines – but they stop there. The result is a headline that reads like click-bait and leaves the reader unengaged with the rest of the content … and unsatisfied.

If you’re going to use an open loop in your content, I encourage you to go beyond the headline whenever possible. Start the story in the headline, sure – but then take it into the body.

Set the stage.

Look how Shuki Mann does it in this blog post for Conversioner:

Conversioner blog - open loop

Or make the content a mystery story in and of itself.

Here’s a great example from UK retailer Marks and Spencer:

Weren’t you just dying to know what Mrs. Claus delivered?

Delay gratification.

You can also delay the closure to keep your audience salivating. (Just don’t delay too long or your readers will go from excited to irritated.)

Leave an open loop at the end of your marketing email, to be closed (the mystery will be solved) in the next day’s marketing email.

Or break a blog up into a series of posts and leave an open loop at the end of each blog in the sequence – like Groove did here. They started their open loop with the headline — The Story We Haven’t Shared: How Our Startup Almost Died — and they kept the loop open all the way through.

Groove blog - open loop

Create a Mystery That Readers Are Dying to Solve

Remember, an open loop is a mystery – and a mystery triggers the reader’s brain to want closure.

But to really get results from an open loop, make it a mystery your readers would benefit from solving.

Consider that Groove blog post example above. Groove’s readers are business owners and startup founders. They look to Groove not only for a great helpdesk software solution, but also as an example of a successful business. The open loop that Groove used at the end of that blog post would make their specific audience salivate. These business owners and startup founders are dying to know how Groove became so successful – and Groove was about to share it with them in the next blog post!

Your Turn

For the next piece of content you write, consider how you can keep readers engaged using an open loop.

I’m dying to hear your results!


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