Subheads — those mini headlines sprinkled throughout a piece of content —are the zen masters of copywriting tools, because they never let you forget the big picture. Once you worship at the alter of subheads, your reader’s comprehension will become smooth, grasshopper.
Readers want to read web content that is concise and clear. The only way to write such copy is if your thoughts are as organized as Martha Stewart’s linen closet. That means you must have a good idea what you’re going to say before you dump it on your blog like a pile of dirty laundry.
Orderly thoughts and ideas are like level stones underfoot. When your reader can read with speed, there’s a better chance she’ll consume your entire post or article. Subheads are the key to consumption when it comes to copywriting.
Subheads make it super easy for your reader to grasp the big ideas.
As a writer, it’s your job to organize those big concepts. When your head is spinning with ideas, use outlines or mind maps to help you sort them before you write. That way, you hit all the important parts and leave out the chaff.
As much as you may love nuance, your reader doesn’t, especially on a sales page or other direct response piece! Leave out the confusing, unimportant points, even if you think they add interest and detail. If they don’t support the main idea, your writing probably doesn’t need them. Save those tangential ideas for another post — or your novel. Not only will your reader thank you; she might even revisit your website!
Use subheads to bring order and clarity to your writing.
Start with your main point. Once you have your dominant idea, pull from it a few others that support and relate to that idea.
Think of this time management analogy: You fill your glass with large (important) stones first before adding pebbles, sand and water. This will ensure that you include what’s absolutely necessary to your article or sales page.
Many people just want to plunge into the writing part. They want that ugly first draft done so they have something to work with. But I’m proposing doing some background work first. Before plunging into your writing, take stock of all your options. Then work in the large, must-have ideas before tacking the smaller points.
If you fill your content with the inconsequential points first, you’ll never get to the important things, and you’ll lose your reader in the process. On top of that, you won’t have a nice framework on which to hand those supporting points. So make sure your main points are in plain sight, like mountain peaks poking above the clouds, before writing the rest of your draft.
Even if you go long, at least you’ve included the big ideas first.
Your outline or mind map should reveal your “large rocks.” If it’s an outline, it should look like the main stump of a tree. If it’s a mind map, it should look like the center of a ripple from which supporting ideas flow.
A well written piece of copy is really that organic! You can’t escape these natural laws.
People crave order. Even a mind map that looks like a bowl of linguini becomes orderly once you follow the connections.
And once you understand those connections, think how easy it will be to describe them to your reader!
That’s where your writing finesse comes in.
Identify your main ideas, then write mini headlines for them.
Now, I want you to name each “large rock” or each of the strongest branches protruding from your tree trunk. Give each one its own headline. You can come back and rename them later if you want.
When you take the time to write subheads that support your headline, you’ll find that you start getting really good at writing headlines. Why? Because in condensing ideas down to short, punchy copy that tells a rich story in one swoop, you’ll become a better copywriter.
Ideally, you could take your five best headline ideas and use them all within one piece, giving top billing to the strongest one. I’ll show you how in a minute.
The best thing about subheads? The better they can each stand alone, the easier it will be to write the copy that follows each one. This way, you give yourself a purpose; sort of like a mini assignment to flesh out each idea and tie it into your story. The structure you offer your reader aids in her understanding, and ultimately helps her to do what you want her to do when she reads your copy.
By providing your reader with simple, organized structure aided by subheads, you measure out neither more nor less than the reader needs to understand the main idea within each part of your piece.
Subheads function as agreements, keeping you, the writer, on task; while promising one clear benefit to the person willing to invest time and energy to that particular section.
As a writer, I just love the boundaries a good subhead demands. It makes things so easy!
What makes a compelling subhead?
Remember that a subhead’s purpose is not to introduce a new original thought, but to support the overarching thesis of your piece. You are not introducing a new idea with each subhead and ensuing paragraphs. Rather, you are supporting the main idea. AWAI copywriters Michael Masterson and Bill Bonner suggest using the 4 U’s (Unique, Urgent, Ultra specific,Useful) to write killer bullet points. Your subheads follow the same criteria.
Make it Unique.
A powerful subhead, for example, explains one unique part of your subject in a detailed way. In this post, for example, my point is to explain how subheads provide clarity and structure to your web content and copywriting. My job is to circle the wagons around the big idea of clarity and structure. How do I do that? I name each wagon, without repeating myself. Each section beneath each subhead is different from every other. They are all unique tangents, and they work off a single idea.
Make it Urgent.
Second, a subhead should be worthy of it’s job. You’re going to put some copywriting lipstick on it (adding bolding, or a larger or different font), so it should do more than just transition your reader to the next section.
By the way, the practice of inserting bold or italicized transitions to visually break up the copy is fine — writers do it all the time — as long as you understand those are not subheads, they’re just sexy transitions. A bona fide subhead urgently directs the reader to the content below it. It tells the reader, “To skip this next part would be a mistake!” It commands attention.
Make it Ultra Specific.
Third, it provides specific reasons to continue reading. When you quantify an argument or point with details like statistics, proper nouns, places and numbers, the value of your content hits home because it satisfies the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the ruler of logic and reason. So go ahead and say “Two out of three nursing students know this easy memory trick” to pull your reader in. Specific details make for delicious copy.
Make it Useful.
The only reason your audience reads your blog posts, articles, and web pages, is to get something they can use. Remember that most readers scan your copy to ensure that they’re in the right place to get it. Great subheads show them quickly why they should invest some time there.
Subheads are reader friendly. They allow you to lob key ideas to your audience so that they can quickly pick them up.
Without actually reading the whole thing, your reader could probably carry on a casual conversation about the topic on a plane or at a dinner party, thanks to you, dear writer.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the value in providing awesome copy to readers of your blog or sales copy. If you’re like most entrepreneurs and small business owners creating content, you may get ridiculously caught up in the numbers of visitors we get, where traffic comes from, and how many new subscribers we attract. We want our website to be popular, and we want it to convert in some way.
Subheads help conversions, but they also keep your reader interested.
Ultimately, if you serve up juicy content to readers in search of information, some will recognize it and return to your blog, allowing you to build trust and loyalty with your followers.
Don’t you take notice when you come across a website that consistently puts out good, organized information you can use? Just imagine impressing your boss, a new client, or your boyfriend’s parents with information you got from a few well-written subheads in a blog post. (I know I’ve done it.) Even if you didn’t read the whole thing word for word, a blog post you can skim for essential points provided by subheads, delivers a wallop of value! You’d probably bookmark that site or add it to your must-read feed, right?
Besides helping the reader get the gist of your content quickly…
- Subheads provide a visual outline.
- Subheads reinforce the main idea in different ways.
- Subheads p-u-l-l-l a reader’s eyes down a page, past the fold, all the way to the bottom (if they’re good!)
- Subheads support, organize and build on a central idea.
- Subheads get people to read your copy twice (yes twice!) by encouraging an initial scan, then a more thorough read.
Coming from a place of service, subheads deliver massive, good old fashioned value.
One more thing…when placed on a sales page, they elegantly move a prospect to the CTA — the “Click to reserve” or “Act today” button — with just a little more finesse.
And that’s the ultimate goal of great copywriting.
Looking for a skilled copywriter to be part of your team? Learn more about MyTeamConnects services here.
Doll picture, Flickr CC: MeddyGarnet
Cairn picture, Flickr CC: Darron Birgenheier