Subheadings: Your Content’s Unsung Hero (to Win Over More Readers)

Writing a winning headline is only half the the battle. Your subheadings need to keep them reading. This post shows creative ways to do it.

Sean Brison by Sean Brison | Last Updated: September 3, 2021

Trying to create content that grabs your reader’s attention? Most people will focus on fine-tuning their headline and body copy without giving their subheadings a second thought (which is a colossal mistake!).

Here’s why…

Most people don’t read content from beginning to end; they skim. That means whatever traffic source brought them to your page, your subheads should entice them to stay – or they’ll bounce.

If you’re unsure how to do it, read on. This post details what subheadings are, why they’re important, and formulas for writing eyeball-sticky ones.

What Is A Subheading?

A subheading refers to either the mini headlines found at the tops of section breaks in written content (e.g., blog posts).

Or the text beneath a headline (aka a header) of an advertisement or web page that explains how your product works.

For example, the mini-headlines found in blog posts (aka h2s and h3s) look like this:

subheading example

 

While subheads found on web pages will look something like this:

highlighting the subheading and how it displays beneath the headline

The h2s are the main topic, and the proceeding h3s give supporting details.

A subhead’s goal is to capture your reader’s interest long enough to get them to take action.

That might mean reading your blog post to the end and clicking the ‘related post’ link, subscribing to your newsletter, or signing up for your free trial.

Still not convinced?

Why Are Subheadings Important?

Subheadings break up your article into bite-sized chunks and make it easy to read. Imagine the anticipation you feel after clicking a catchy headline:

But waiting for you on the other side of the click is an impenetrable wall of text.

Would you stick around?

Doubtful.

It’s why properly formatting your articles is crucial.

For example, here’s the WordPress level of headings in the text editor (versus five in APA style):

a subheading hierarchy in the wordpress editor from largest h1 to smallest h6

Typically, you’ll primarily use headings two, three, and four in your body text. Heading one is reserved for your main headline.

Each one serves as a signpost for your reader, pulling them down the page.

Meets Their Expectations

Once you see the article, subsections outline what you’re post will talk about. It confirms your audience came to the right place.

A perfect example is Wikipedia. Have a look at their table of contents below. It previews what you can expect when reading that content piece:

wikipedia table of contents page

Each of those numbered headings corresponds to relevant h2s and h3s found below in the article.

Whether your content features a table of contents isn’t the point.

However, it’s a good idea to present your material in a not-too-intimidating way that previews things to come.

Keeps the Skimmers Skimming (So They Stay Longer)

As mentioned earlier, readers don’t read; they skim. When they’re on your website, they’re looking to get the answer in the shortest possible time.

A properly structured content piece solves this issue.

People don’t read online like they do when they’re reading a book. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they’ll stick around.

When they skim down your page – it’s good for them and you.

Offers A Roadmap to Write Quicker

Staring down the vacuous blizzard that is your blank page feels daunting. It’s a substantial amount of white space to fill.

But subheadings not only benefit your readers, they benefit writers too.

Once you have a rough idea of your main points, you only need to flesh out the details section-by-section.

Having an outline makes it less scary when it’s time to write:

a sample outline when writing this article to make your writing easier

Next time you open up Microsoft Word (or Google docs), collect your thoughts and write an outline.

Helps Search Engines Find Your Content

Writing with SEO in mind is always a good idea because you want your website to be more visible to search engines.

Technical SEO aside, a good user experience plays a part in ranking higher in Google.

In other words, a poorly structured blog post draws less attention (and traffic).

One possible ranking factor determining your content’s popularity is whether they stick around and complete an action (e.g., clicking another link or subscribing to your newsletter).

Leaving without taking any further action is called ‘bouncing.’

Bounce Rate measures how often this occurs on your website.

A high bounce rate could signal to Google that:

TAKEAWAY: Try adding a few of Google’s People Also Ask (PAA) to your subheadings. You’ll cast a wider net the more questions you answer and *potentially* bring more traffic. Google is telling you what else people want to know about your topic.

For example, this is the PAA when I search ‘what is bounce rate.’

google's people also ask displaying in the serp

If you were writing an article about bounce rate, you could include the below as additional h2s:

Reaches A Wider Audience

People don’t only read your content; they also listen. How?

By using a screen reader.

A screen reader speaks aloud all text and image content for the blind, persons with learning disabilities, and the visually-impaired.

And they, too, will listen to the headings of a web page and decide to stay or leave. Good subheadings signal that your post is worth listening to (and increases accessibility to your content).

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How Do You Write A Subheading?

There are several strategies for writing relevant, sticky, stand out subheads. The below are ideas you can use to spruce up your posts and pages.

Use “Open Loops”

An open loop introduces a concept without resolving it right away. For example, if you’re talking about the Keto diet, you might say:

The Keto “secret” to improved longevity.

Swap out the word “secret” with whatever makes sense for your article. It might be a “plan,” “framework,” “model,” or something else.

Open loops create intrigue and build curiosity.

Using an h2/h3 example, your main heading (h2) could be:

By not naming what the four tricks are, your visitor will be more likely to read the underlying sections (which can make promoting affiliate links easier).

Try the “Do This” Hack for Irresistibility

How many times have you encountered a headline or subhead that said something like:

Do This to Hook Your Prospect

Or

Quit Trying So Hard to Sell (Do This Instead)

“Do what?!” you quietly scream to yourself.

You can’t help but click to find out what “this” is.

A good formula is to replace the solution with the word “this.”

So, “Make Eye Contact (solution) to Hook Your Prospect” becomes “Do This to Hook Your Prospect.”

Leave Signposts with Your Keyword Phrases

When your reader comes across your post, it would be helpful if they can see your keyword and its synonyms in the h2s and h3s.

If you’re writing a post about paying off debt, provide keywords to give more context.

Some terms could include:

When your reader clicks through to your post about paying off debt, the first thing they’ll do is skim the subheads for relevancy.

TAKEAWAY: Keywords are like clues to bots crawling your site – it helps them understand what it’s about.

Make Your Subheadings Relevant

Let’s say you’re writing a post about French-learning tips.

Each one of your h2s could represent a tip like this post:

tips as subheads for a french learning blog post

Relevant subheadings are useful, and they address a problem your reader is trying to solve.

You can apply this same approach to writing step-by-step or how-to guides (like this one about how to use a French Press):

steps used as subheads in this how to make coffee with a french press post

This makes scanning your content easier. When they see that your tips/steps show them how to do something, they’ll stay.

The longer they stay, your chances to boost income through your affiliate link improve.

Call Out An Objection

Imagine you’re writing a product review about a free language-learning platform.

But a common objection held by people is how expensive they are.

You could write a subhead addressing that objection in your review.

For example:

Or you could create an h2 titled “Common Objections,” and your h3’s could address specific ones.

Create an FAQ Section

Piggy-backing off of the ‘common objections’ idea…

Whatever product you’re writing a review for, try heading to its FAQ page.

Most products and services address this somewhere on their website.

Tip: Check the website’s footer or customer support page for its FAQs

You could create an h2 titled [Product Name] FAQs and then address the most frequently asked questions as h3s.

Steal from the Four U’s

Copywriters use this formula for crafting clickable headlines, meta descriptions, and even subheadings.

The Four U’s stands for:

A good rule of thumb is trying to get three out of four in a headline. But subheadings should be short *ideally* in blog posts (4-7 words), so try aiming for only one “U.”

Useful comes in handy for how-tos and step-by-step articles, while Unique might be more suited for trending fads or new, cutting-edge topics.

Connect Your Subheadings to Your Headline’s Value Prop

A good headline will answer your reader’s question, “what’s in it for me?”

So, if you construct an ongoing narrative with your subheads that ties back to your headline’s value prop, you’ll be continuously reminding your audience why they should keep reading.

If you’re writing an article about how a specific WordPress affiliate plugin helps increase a website’s visibility with search engines, a description of its “Keyword Phrase In Slug” feature could callback to the header by saying: “… so that you can make every blog post SEO-friendly for organic search (and easily identifiable).

TAKEAWAY: Write every subheading with the desired outcome in mind and how your reader can achieve it. Try adding the phrase “so that you can [achieve desirable thing]” to the end of subheads where it makes sense.

Try Parallel Structure

Parallel structure involves using similar patterns of words or phrases. A helpful formula for remembering is:

For example, an article with the headline “A Beginner’s Guide to Escape Rooms” could have subheadings that all start with present tense verbs and end with adverbs such as this:

Try mixing and matching those different combinations in your subsections to see what you get. You could even try starting every subhead with a question.

Or starting each subhead with words that end the same. For example, using words that end in -ing (i.e., hiking, climbing, etc.)

Subheads using parallel structure share grammatical commonalities.

Experiment with the Cliff’s Notes Model

Cliff’s Notes are shortened versions of literary works, complex guides, and test preps. They’re known for breaking down complex topics into simple, comprehensible material.

Cliff’s Notes have a section called “At A Glance” where they distill the “must-have” information onto a single page.

When writing your next article, think about the must-have information your readers need to know – then fill your subheads with it.

TIP: “At a glance” sections also make for excellent summary boxes appearing in product reviews.

Here’s an “at a glance” section for a robo-advisor review:

a betterment at a glance section displaying account minimums fees and expense ratios

Think of your subheads like Cliff’s Notes. When you’re writing them, think about how they help your reader get the “must-have” information from your post.

When writing a product review, the ‘at a glance’ section box could be the product’s most popular features on the homepage.

Last Words

If there’s ONE takeaway from this article, it’s this: subheadings should grab your reader’s attention by either being useful or enticing (unique).

You can think of it like this:

The more reasons you give them to stay, the more reasons they’ll have to keep reading.

Missed last week’s post? Read up here on SEO copywriting.

Sean Brison
Sean Brison is a dad, writer, business owner, and Chief Growth nerd at Lasso. He's spent the past several years in cahoots with Lasso's founder, Andrew, creating awesome things for people. He's also addicted to perfectly-balanced cocktails, the outdoors, and John Mulaney's stand-up comedy.

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