It’s difficult to focus on bulky blocks of online text, so we use subheadings to divide large chunks of text. But merely sectioning off groups of words with subheadings is not enough.
Subheadings should also add to the overall quality and value of the content by making posts scannable and extra engaging. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your subheadings.
Use the Most Interesting Subheadings First
Readers give a piece of content about ten seconds (often less) to decide if it’s worth their time. So your first subheadings should be the strongest, most unique and engaging elements in your list if you expect to keep the reader on your page.
Title: 9 Signs It’s Time to Upgrade Your Phone
Bad Opening Subheadings:
- Your Screen Is Cracked
- Your Touchscreen Doesn’t Work
- You Keep Dropping Calls
In this case, there are 9 elements to the list. Don’t add the obvious reasons at the beginning. The reader will see those and assume that the rest of the article is equally obvious. They probably won’t even bother reading the sections under the subheadings to see if you provide any other interesting ideas about seemingly obvious statements. Put the better ideas upfront.
Good Opening Subheadings:
- Cell Phone Associates Can’t Answer Questions About Your Phone
- You Can’t Buy Cases for Your Phone Anymore
- A Upgrade Won’t Cost You Anything
Tie Subheadings Back to the Title
The subheadings in an article should always refer back to the question or statement in the title. If the title says “Tips for…” the subheadings should be tips. If the titles says “Questions to Ask…” the subheadings should be questions. If the title says “How to …” the subheadings should show how to do something, and so on.
Title: 12 Things You Used to Use Daily Until Smartphones Killed Them
- Wind Up An Alarm Clock Last Thing At Night
- Carry a Pocket Mirror
- Fold a Map
These subheadings don’t make sense for this article. The title implies that the list will include “Things You Used to Use Daily,” so that list should include things – not actions. Those subheadings would work if the title was “12 Things You Used to DO Daily Until Smartphones Killed It.” But with the given title the following subheadings are better.
- Alarm Clocks
- Pocket Mirrors
- Street Maps and Paper Directions
Don’t State the Obvious in Subheadings – Tell Us More
Subheadings that are simple lists of items can be boring. So if you have an opportunity to stretch the usefulness of the subheading, do it. Look for a ways to provide additional value by adding useful information such as:
- Superlatives (best for [blank], most [blank], etc.)
- Supporting information (“Highest Grossing Apps” – subheadings should include amount earned by the app)
- Cues that tie the elements together (numbers for steps, years for timelines, descriptions for phrases, reason why the element is in the list, etc.).
Title: If You Had These Apps, You May Have Kept Your New Year’s Resolution
Listing apps is a pretty boring way to show off the content of this article. A reader will scroll through these subheadings without feeling as though there is any real meat to the article. But by expanding the concept and attaching a resolution to each app, the article becomes more engaging and useful. Now readers can find the app that will be the best use for them.
- MyFitnessPal – To Exercise More
- QuitNow! – To Stop Smoking
- Kindle – To Read More
Don’t Be Cute
Sometimes it can be tempting to create a quirky, play-on-words title or subheading. But most of the time, those playful titles and subheadings don’t tell the reader what they really want to know – what the article is about. Be careful not to get caught up on cutesy subheadings, and remember to tell the reader what they want to know.
Title: Does Mobile Technology Make Us More Connected or Farther Apart?
- Forging New Connections, Staring at Screens Instead of Faces
- Nice to Meet You… Sorry, I Was Talking to Your Cell Phone
- Break the Cycle
From the title of this article, the reader would expect the body of the content to offer examples of when phones make us closer and when they make use farther apart. But the subheadings don’t give the reader that information. They are vague and not useful. Helpful subheadings would further clarify the concepts as well as tie back to the title.
- Farther Apart – Staring at Screens Instead of Faces
- Farther Apart – Avoid a Stranger, Play on Your Phone
- More Connected – Constant Connection Through Social Media
Use Subheadings to Tell the Story
Creating subheadings can be difficult when the subheadings are not obvious elements to a list. The best way to develop subheadings for these types of articles is to start with an outline. The online will feature the main points of your article – which should end up being your subheadings. So if you are trying to make a point in your content, the subheadings will be those points.
Use the subheading to tell the story in an abbreviated way so that the reader can get the main points of the article quickly, as well as know where to look for the information that they seek.
Title: Do the Math: Tech Growth Equals Economic Growth
- The Internet Supports Mobile Businesses
- Advancements in Health Technology
- Impact of Mobile Phones on the U.S. Economy
While these subheadings do tell us what type of general information will be located under the subheading, they don’t tell us why the information is relevant to the topic. Walk the reader through the main points and concepts of the article by add including facts, stats and examples in subheadings. Don’t merely insert subheadings here and there just to break up the content. Make sure that they are mindfully inserted in a relevant and useful way.
- 49% of Smartphone Users Make Purchases through the Mobile Web
- Health Technology Supported $69 Billion in Economic Growth in 2012
- The Mobile Industry Has Over 6 Billion Customers
All subheadings are not created equal. Just because you break up your text with a line of words a little larger than the rest of the text – you are not doing your readers any favors. Subheadings are one of the most important elements of online article, so be sure to spend time crafting useful, relevant and unique subheadings that will keep the reader on the page.