It’s easy to think that once you have a great headline you can just write the rest of your content. However, this doesn’t work on digital platforms as people will just skim-read.
You can publish lots of content directly to your target audience but don’t assume they will read it word for word. In today’s world, everyone is busy and we all visit different platforms or websites to look at content.
It is the norm for people to flick through content, and in doing so they absorb just a fraction of what you write. This is where the sub-heading comes in. It is a fantastic tool which you can use to tell your story very quickly. So, let’s look at how best to use your sub-headings.
You want to build your story
When you create a headline it should reflect what you’re going to write about. You have set an expectation for the reader. They are looking for you to answer a question or provide useful information about a topic.
Think about it from their perspective. Your opening headline will be read first, then they will skim-read your sub-headings, which is essentially a preview of what is to come. It is an indication as to whether they will get value out of spending time reading all your content.
When you’re writing your piece of content, always check back to your headline. Challenge yourself – is it relevant, does it make a valid contribution, am I moving my story forward, is there a natural conclusion?
Every story should have a beginning, middle and end. Writing content is no different. If you can capture this flow in your sub-headings, people will be more likely to read the whole piece.
You need to get to the point
A really big mistake is to be ambiguous in your sub-headings. This can happen if you start using puns or try to be too clever with your use of words.
Phrases such as ‘milking it’ or ‘a stitch in time’ are a prime example. Not everyone will understand the context for these. They can also become waring for the reader if you use a lot of them. You’re making them work hard for the information, which could lead them to click on something else.
So keep it simple, clear and in plain English. You can write in different styles, but just be conscious of the clarity of your message. If you have to keep re-reading what you’ve written, you need to make it more obvious in your sub-heading.
You must make your words count
When you first start to write content you tend to do so in a long format. The same is true for sub-headings. Just write what you think initially. Use it as a marker for what you need to say then come back to it, then you can look at ways of making it shorter.
Let’s look at an example from this blog. The first sub-heading started as:
You should always try and build a great story
This makes sense. It’s only nine words and self-explanatory, but is there a shorter way to deliver the same message? There is also an element of doubt with words such as ‘should’ and ‘try’.
Remember your reader is skimming over the text and you only have seconds to deliver your message. Which words can you do without or change?
You can replace ‘should always try’ with just one word ‘want’. Then by swapping out ‘and’ with ‘to’, you have a much more direct sub-heading that delivers the same message.
You want to build a great story
It also sounds much more direct, personable and action-orientated for the reader. This theme is carried on throughout the blog which helps build understanding, but most importantly it makes it easier to read the whole piece.
You have to guide your reader
Have you ever clicked on a piece of content and popped a page full of words? It’s very off-putting, not very appealing and certainly not something you want to pick your way through to read, which is exactly why you need sub-headings.
It really is a great tool for separating your messages and using the text to explain the message, guiding your reader through the content rather than dumping a load of text in front of them.
When you start to think about writing a blog or article, in your mind, you will be building your content in sections. It will naturally fit into topic areas.
For each section, think about the most important message you want to deliver. This will form your sub-heading. The content you then write will expand on this and provide additional information.
Even in the research for this blog, several themes emerged. These have been grouped under the four sub-headings, presenting to you the key actions you can take to make the best use of sub-headings.