Should You Spend 90% Of Your Writing Time On Headlines?

HeadlinesIn an interesting article on Hubspot, Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré mines an Inbound.org AMA by Joanna Wiebe, a “conversion copywriter”, for useful advice on writing web content and copy. It’s a great article chock full of useful advice, but there’s one part I take issue with:

“Spend 90% of Your Writing Time on Crafting Strong Headlines”

I hear this little snippet of advice a lot. It’s variously phrased, but the implication is that the headline is way more important than the content that goes below it. I think that’s misguided. Of course, as with most business writing online, we could just dismiss this advice as a hyperbolic statement that really means: “Headlines are important so spend time on them,” but given the quality of lot of online writing, it seems that writers have taken this advice to heart.

Headlines are important. They’re important for grabbing attention. They’re important for social sharing. And they’re important for SEO. A great article with a badly-written, unappealing headline will be seen by almost no one. A shoddy article with a great headline will likely be clicked on by a lot more people. In fact, I’d agree that 90% of the traffic an article generates will be because of the headline.

But it doesn’t follow that 90% of an article’s value is in the headline or that 90% of the time spent creating it should be devoted to the headline.

Why? Because generating traffic is not the only job of articles on business blogs and sites. Business sites exist to convert, to influence visitors to take an action that benefits the business: a sale, a sign-up, a subscription — now, or at some point in the future. Getting traffic to the site is a big part of the conversion process, but if you make people click with a great headline and present them with content that isn’t worth their time, all you’ll have increased is your site’s bounce rate.

For content marketing, great headlines have to be coupled with great content. Otherwise the time you’ve spent laboring over the headline is wasted. The writer gets to say: “Look how much traffic this generated!” and if the business owner has any smarts, they’ll reply “Yeah, but where are my sales?”

Attention is the commodity we’re all trying to capture. More attention means more likelihood of conversion, engagement, and brand recognition. The click generated by a great headline indicates the merest fraction of a second’s attention — an impulsive action. It’s the content itself that holds that attention and turns it into something useful to business owners. It’s the content that establishes relationships. And it’s the content that will make sales.

By all means, spend as long as you like on headlines, but don’t neglect the content.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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