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Marketing Content: Start with the Headline

Back in high school, your English teacher might have told you how to construct your report, paper or essay the way English teachers always instruct, which is to write the body copy first, then come up with a title that fits the work.

When you are writing content for marketing purposes, however, you might want to ignore your English teacher’s advice and start with the headline (title). Here’s why:

Marketing isn’t high school English class

In marketing, the headline can be the most important component of any blog post, sales letter, or newsletter article. The reason is simple: The quality of all the other writing in a piece is a waste if the headline doesn’t get enough people to read it. You can have Pulitzer-quality copy, but if the headline is weak, nobody will read it. You end up with content that has little value to your business.

That’s why you see headlines everywhere that might be described as “click bait.” They might be cliché or corny, but they do get people to click on the content. In content marketing, the goal is to get the audience to consume the content.

Marketing includes a “hook”

That’s s the reason it makes sense to start with the headline, to come up with a good “hook.” Instead of writing all the copy, then picking a headline that fits, take the time to come up with a great headline (hook), then write the rest of the copy to fit that. It’s content marketing, remember, and most marketing includes a great hook.

It’s still important to make the headline and all other copy a good fit. You’re simply reversing the order of the process because doing so prioritizes the headline. Even if “content” is a bigger priority than “marketing,” it’s still just content without the latter.

Marketing content made easier

Starting with the headline can make writing the copy easier. For example, a blog post that you want to keep on the short side should be pretty concise and straightforward, probably just expanding and explaining the concept introduced in the headline. A longer piece might be a bit tougher, although you might simply include the headline copy near the beginning and then near the end of the piece, using the middle to accomplish the content’s purpose – providing information, establishing your authority or actually selling.

This way, the content fits the good headline, but your important content isn’t forced into the constraints of that headline.

For example, if you start with a headline of: “8 things all moms should know about school lunches,” which is specific, your copy is going to consist of those eight things. You’re going to introduce a problem, highlight some negatives about not knowing those eight things, then provide assurances that the eight things you provide are the solution to Mom’s problems.

But let’s say you’ve come up with what you think is a great headline but is less specific, like “How to make the most of your child’s school lunch.” This is a much broader headline that doesn’t give you eight specific things to explain. It will probably require some background information. It has to be written in a way that’s not too scary.

In this case, using the headline early and late in the piece will allow you to have more freedom in the middle to come up with compelling copy that might not necessarily be perfectly married to the headline. That might make the content seem less like click bait. But if you consider that all content is marketing, then it still might make sense to start with the headline.

One last thing regarding the flipping of steps in the headline process: If you’re not an outstanding writer, this might help a lot. What’s easier to come up with, 10 great words in a headline, or 1,000 great words in a content piece?

If you can write 10 great headline words, finding 1,000 great words to put together for the body of your content is less critical.

Omar Kattan
About Omar Kattan
Omar is MD & Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.
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