When you write something for your business — a blog, a web page, an email or even an ad — you want people to stick around and read it. You can increase your chances of this happening by using subheads. These are single lines of text that work as mini-headlines and run throughout the page, advert or article. Adding subheads can have a big impact on how people engage with your content.
Subheads help people who scan read
Which is pretty much all people.
Due to the fact that everyone is busy all of the time, people search for ways to quickly decide if what’s on their screen is worth their precious time.
To see what I mean, take a moment and think about how many ads, articles and emails have crossed your path today. Now, how many of those bits of content did you read from start to end as soon as you landed on the page? Or did you quickly scroll the article, scan a few of the subheads and bold text and only when you were satisfied the content had the answers you want did you go back to the top and read it properly?
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
Scanning rather than reading is how 79 percent of people read digital content. It supports the argument that subheads are important, which is why you should aim to include them in your writing.
So, in this article I’m going to delve a little deeper into subheads and readability, using them as hooks and a simple technique to fit them into your own copy.
How subheads improve your copy
Making your writing scannable is one reason for using subheads. Another is because subheads are mini-hooks of tantalising copy that keep people moving through your page. While the headline and first sentence do the extremely hard work of drawing your reader in and convincing them to stay, your subheads keep people engaged and help readers progress through your writing in a way that flows and feels natural. (I’ll talk more about this in a moment.)
Using subheads isn’t a new thing just for digital
This isn’t a writing technique that suddenly emerged with the internet. Print media has been using subheads (or crossheads as you might hear them called) for centuries.
Adverts, advertorials and direct mail use them to quickly and easily highlight more of the product’s benefits, separating them from the body copy. Reading a long news report or magazine feature that isn’t broken up with subheads would also be weird.
In both cases, subheads give our reader’s eyes and mind a breather, allowing us to reset and understand we’re moving onto another development in the story.
I’m sure there’s more science behind this, I’m just yet to dig it out.
Two tips for adding subheads to your copy
Depending on how you like to write there are two different approaches to making sure subheads find their way into your work.
1. Write the heading and all the subheads first
Struggle with knowing how to structure your writing? This approach will help. First, write down your topic and the main aim of the piece. Next, list each discussion point or topic you need to cover in order to communicate your main aim. Each dot point is a potential subhead.
Let’s say I’m writing an article about why working in the library is great and why freelancers should try it. My aim is to get people to go to the library. So, I might plan my subheads like this:
- Intro – why I need to get out of the house
- How I feel when I get to the library
- Setting up – creating my office-for-a-day
- Benefits of working in the library
- Other people
- Change of scenery
- No distractions
- Close to great coffee shops and spots for lunch
- Call To Action – where do you work?
And there you have it. A whole article planned out with rough subheads. Of course, the exact wording can be polished up, but you have a clear structure and know where you’re putting your subheads.
(I also now have another article planned out for my blog. Winning.)
2. Write the piece and then add in subheads
This is the reverse of technique number one and works well if you’re the kind of person who needs to word vomit and brain dump everything before you forget it. You then go back and add subheads in as you re-read and edit. Look for a natural break in the copy where the subject changes enough that it warrants a subhead.
Is adding subheads easier before or after you’ve written the article?
I wish I could tell you I stick to one technique or the other, but I can’t. Personally, I’m a bit all over the shop when I write. For some stuff I lead with the subheads so I get a clear handle on the page structure and stop myself from falling down a research rabbit hole.
Other times, I’m the complete opposite. The only way to get started on a project is to pick a point, brain dump and worry about the structure later. This is especially true if it’s a piece that involves a lot of research and reading in preparation for writing.
My advice: don’t be afraid to switch between the two techniques depending on the subject.
Check if your subheads work
Subheads shouldn’t be dotted at random points. And they shouldn’t be obscure or overly clever. These little lines of text have an important job.
- They help people when quickly scanning your copy.
- They highlight benefits and important information.
- They give readers a breather if it’s long copy.
Reding each subhead without the body copy is a simple test to see if your subs are on the money. Does the page still make sense even though you’re only reading the subheads? As in, can someone understand what this page is going to be about if they only have these few lines of copy?
Ask a friend or family member to help you out. Give them the page with nothing but the subheads and ask them to explain what they think the main aim of the article or webpage is. If they struggle, it’s likely your subheads are too obscure. Remember, when it comes to copywriting and content marketing always aim for clear over clever.
More copywriting quick wins
Whether you’re a business owner looking for simple ways to improve your writing or you’re a fellow content writer, please feel free to drop me a line if you want any more advice on any of this.
You may also find the following copywriting quick win articles helpful.