They’re ‘the most important thing you can do’ online
Think of subheads as the icing on the cake.
Skimmers look at subheads to learn what content you’re offering on a webpage, blog post or news release. This creates the layer cake eye-gazing pattern: On an eye-tracking heat map, it shows up as a series of horizontal lines.
That helps visitors find what they want quickly.
Without subheads to guide the way, web visitors either skim the first line (or less) of top paragraphs or hunt around the page for individual words. Both of those approaches are inefficient.
“By far, the single most important thing you can do to help users consume content is to use meaningful [subheads],” write the authors of How People Read on the Web.
And no wonder. In addition to changing visitors’ eye-gazing patterns, good subheads can help you:
- Draw readers in. A compelling subhead can turn skimmers into readers.
- Help people find what they want quickly. Web visitors skim webpages, looking at subheads first to find sections of copy they’re looking for, before reading the paragraphs below.
- Break copy up. Good subheads break copy up into accessible, bite-sized chunks. And when your message looks easier to read, more people will read it.
- Keep readers reading. “Subheads increased reading for skimmers and for those whose attention was beginning to wane,” according to The Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack III study.
- Communicate to nonreaders. Well-written subheads can convey your key ideas to flippers, skimmers and others who won’t read your paragraphs, no matter what.
- Help visitors read and understand. Subheads “make it vastly easier for users to read and understand web pages,” Pernice, et al., say.
- Make your message more memorable. “A writer who knows the big parts can name them for the reader” with subheads, writes Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute. “The reader who sees the big parts is more likely to remember the whole story.”
Don’t drop the subheads.
So don’t drop the subheads.
“If you are not calling out sections of your web pages or prose on those pages with subheads, you are making a big mistake!” write Pernice et al. “If you take nothing else [away], please take this: Use subheads and subsubheads.”
Lift Ideas Off the Screen
Web visitors read, on average, 20% of the words on the page. But which words — and how can you put your messages there?
If so, please join me at Reach Readers Online — an online web-writing workshop on Oct. 5 - Nov. 9.
In this mobile web-writing workshop, you’ll make sure even flippers and skimmers can get the gist of your message — without reading the paragraphs.
Save up to $100 with our group discounts.