How many of us write an article, or a sales email, and only write the headline, or the subject line, at the very end? (Glances around audience) Yep, thought as much – that’ll be quite a lot of us.
Although it goes against some of what I learned on my journalism training many years ago, I now firmly believe that every article or sales letter we write should start with the headline. Here’s why. Firstly, there’s a reason we’re writing the piece. If we know what that reason is, we can summarise it in the headline before we begin. If we don’t know why we’re writing it, we need to go away and think why. We should not use the article itself to develop our ideas – we should have them clear in our mind beforehand.
Secondly, the headline (or subject line) may be the only thing our audience reads. If it’s a bad headline, it’ll almost certainly be the only thing they read! If we don’t start with the headline in place, our article is more likely to meander, and we’ll compound that mistake when we write the headline by trying to cover everything we’ve written in the article – which will result in a woolly headline, and fewer readers. Now there’s a vicious circle.
Finally, sales and marketing copywriting is all about delivering on our promises. It’s all about building trust with our audience. After all, who would try to get a sales appointment by saying: “I’m not going to tell you what I’m selling, but let me come and talk to you and then I’ll explain what it’s all about”?
If you’re commissioning an article from a journalist or technical writer, it’s a good idea to give them the title of the piece you want as part of the brief. If you’re writing the article or sales letter yourself, it’s great discipline to write a brief for yourself in the same way.
For further reading, Why You Should Always Write Your Headline First is the very first article in an excellent series on this important subject from a couple of years ago on Copyblogger, called How to Write Magnetic Headlines.