Which Comes First: Content or Headline?

Anyone in the online marketing world knows that content is king. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many keywords you stuff into a single article, how interesting your images and infographics are, or how exciting the design colours of your website turn out to be. What matters the most, and what will continue to matter for years to come, allowing your content assets to achieve an ongoing, evergreen effectiveness, is the quality of your content.

On the other hand, perhaps the second most important thing you need to consider when it comes to writing an online article is the headline. More than just the title to your article, your headline is often the strongest attractor, the one thing that will get people to click on your article, allowing them to discover the amazing content you have provided.

Since we know that both content and headline are of absolute importance, an interesting question to consider is this: which should you write first?

There are powerful reasons to start with your article’s headline, but, then again, the same can be said about the reasons to start with the content, adding the headline after the article has been written.

Let’s consider some of the reasons for each argument, and, along the way, we are sure to find some important tips for creating better content assets that are sure to boost effectiveness.

Why Go Headline First?

For many content creators, especially those of you that are working within a marketing team of a large company, the headline for your article may be set in stone before the assignment even makes it to your desk. In such a case going headline first is your only option.

For many other cases, however, either a specific headline has not been chosen for the content asset you need to prepare, or perhaps the assignment comes with the headline, but you have some wiggle room when it comes to adjusting that headline to either make it better or make it a better fit for the final product.

If you have the ability to change the headline, or if you have the absolute freedom to choose your own headline, why might you decide on a headline before even breaking into the first draft of the article? Here are a few reasons.

  • You stay on topic. If you are one of those writers that don’t like to outline their articles ahead of time, or if you simply slip into that coveted “writer’s zone,” you may find that the finished draft has a tendency to wander all over the place, so to speak. Having a solid headline at the top of the page can help you stay on topic throughout the article.
  • A strong headline boosts enthusiasm. If you ever face writer’s block, not sure how an article should begin, the real reason for your troubles may be that you are simply not excited enough about the project. Brainstorming a strong headline, promising something exciting in the content below, may boost your enthusiasm for the article, allowing you to write more quickly and passionately.
  • You know exactly what you promised. If you think about it, a headline is a promise to the reader, a promise that is kept when the content of the article fits with the headline. If the headline is a question, the content must provide the answer. If the headline promises “three steps,” “five amazing tips,” or “seven fantastic examples,” then you know exactly what you must include in that content before you get to the end of the article.

Why Go Content First?

If you are not required to start with the headline, and if the headline has not been given to you along with the assignment, could you simply choose to skip the headline and jump right into the content?

When some writers get excited about a new idea, that enthusiasm can only be satisfied if you jump right in and start crafting the first draft. Are there any benefits to writing an article with the content first, leaving the headline as the last thing you think about, the proverbial star on top of the Christmas tree? Here are a few points to consider.

  • A headline might tie you down. Have you ever started writing an article, planning for to go one direction, only to discover that the real gem behind your topic is in a completely different direction? If you spent several minutes, or even hours, crafting the perfect headline before you started writing the content, only to discover later that your article wants to be something completely different, you will be faced with a difficult decision: either stick with the headline and ignore an amazing possibility or follow your gut and have to rework the headline later, anyway.
  • A headline’s “scope” may be either too small or too grand. In a perfect world, word count would never come into play when you are creating amazing content. Unfortunately, your job may dictate that an article your writing be within a specific range of words. That may make starting with the headline more difficult. Either the “scope” of the headline may be too small, making it difficult for you to fill your word count with just “three hot tips” or “five easy steps,” or the “scope” may be so grand that doing each of those “three hot tips” the justice they deserve may put you way over your word count budget.

The Choice is Yours

As you can see, choosing to go headline first or content first is not a simple decision to make. It may be that your current job dictates the way you approach writing a article. Or it may be that your personality as a content creator causes you to default in one direction or the other. That is perfectly okay, because there are convincing reasons in both directions, and there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer here.

However, if you have always done things in one way, perhaps content first, it might be educational for you to at least try doing things the other way, perhaps headline first. You may learn certain things about your abilities as a writer and marketer, and the results may be surprisingly good or utterly bad.

In the end, whatever helps you create the very best content asset for your company or client, whatever process helps you create faster and more efficiently, and whichever order helps you create an article that perfectly fits your ideal audience, that must be the best option for you.

Now, if only the classic “chicken and the egg” riddle were as easy to solve!

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