There are two types of sales page readers: those who faithfully read every word, and those who skim until they get to the end.
Since you want to sell to both of these groups, you have to know exactly how to capture and hold the attention of each — and doing so in the same sales page is no small feat.
The good news is, you can use the same writing strategy to get each group to engage with what you’re reading … and ultimately to buy what you’re selling.
One very simple way you can increase the “scannability” of your sales page is by making effective use of subheads.
Subheads are a sales page’s best friend
If you blog at all, you know the power that a good set of subheads commands over your readers. You take special care to make them stand out, capture attention and intrigue your readers — and most important, to give those people who give your post a quick “once over” a reason to slow down and read every word you’ve written.
Sales pages are no different. Good subheads allow your readers to stay grounded in the context of what they’re reading, while building a sense of anticipation of what’s to come.
So let’s talk about a few subhead strategies you can use to make readers sit up and take notice.
How to strengthen your sales copy with promises
We’ve talked before at Copyblogger about how a good headline delivers a promise to the reader that makes them want to read further into your sales page.
But if you don’t deliver on that promise quickly, readers can lose interest and either scroll down to the end or give up on your copy entirely.
This is why you want to set up each subheader to include a smaller promise — a taste of what’s to come in the next few paragraphs, if only they will continue reading.
For each section of your copy, ask yourself:
What result will my reader be closer to after reading the text in this section
When you find the answer, build that into the subheader text. (If you can’t come up with something, that’s a sign you need to improve that section.)
Want an example? Look at the subheader above. I just did it.
Why benefit-based subheaders get your readers to stick
Naturally, readers want to know what’s in it for them. Here’s where you tell them how the promise you’ve made can make their business (or their life) better.
To figure out the positive changes that will happen after they take you up on your offer, look at the promise and ask yourself:
How will things be different for my readers after they take in this information
This works so well because it makes the reader hungry for a specific outcome. Where a promise simply hints at a basic result, (“You will be more successful”) the benefits speak to the experience that people will have after they get that result (“You will double your current income in two weeks”).
Tapping into the desire for a specific experience does two things:
- First, it forces you to tighten up your copy so that it delivers on the promise.
- And second, it triggers your readers’ motivation to read every word of it.
After all, that’s what happened with this section, isn’t it?
How I used story elements to hit the front page of Digg (and how you can too)
When I first started learning about copywriting, I found the most popular headlines from places like Digg and Copyblogger and physically wrote them out by hand so I could get a true “feel” for what went into making a compelling opening for my blog posts.
The act of writing with pen and paper made the copywriting lessons stick in a powerful way, enabling me to hit the front page of Digg six times. And as I talked to others who used this same technique I realized that it wasn’t a fluke — it’s an important part of learning by doing.
It’s so important, in fact, that my first Copyblogger guest post was about this exact subject. It’s opened the doors to many guest posts since then.
That’s my story — which, interestingly enough, you’ve just read to the end.
Keep in mind the story doesn’t have to be about you — it can be the reader’s story (for example, “How you’ll get twice as many people to read to the end of your copy”). In some cases this can be even more compelling than a story elements that refer to you or your customers.
Look at the subheader above and see how I’ve included the idea of story, a promise, and a specific benefit to keep you from clicking away. When you do the same, you readers will appreciate it.
Why solid subheadings stop scanners in their tracks
Now, all that we’ve talked about so far explains how to keep interested readers moving from section to section of your sales page — but what about the “scanners” who quickly scroll their way down to the price? How do you get them to stop and read what you’ve written?
Well, as I said at the beginning, the techniques that keep those interested readers reading can also make scanners feel like they’re missing out on something — a key motivator for taking their finger off of the scroll wheel. If your subheaders are heavy on promises and benefits, and have an element of story to them, scanners will notice them as they move down the page.
As the subheaders “stack” on each other, with promise after promise, benefit upon benefit, and a story that just won’t quit — just as I’ve shown you how to do above — scanners will decide that they’ve just got to slow down and really listen to what you’re offering them, because they’ll be convinced the rewards are just too good to miss.
(And just in case you scanned your way down here, that last sentence was for you.)
Reader Comments (41)
Bulleted lists seem to catch my eye well too.
I’ve been using the subheadings for a long time (one of the first things I learned about writing for marketing). Once I heard it, I knew I was a scanner and I usually read things backwards subheading by subheading too.
So true. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great info scanning pages that just weren’t meant for “scanning.” When the info gets too densely laid out, I just get lost.
Phyllis Khare says
YES – scannable — short (!) and (depending on your demographic) printable (add that sexybook for printing). Remember to add an image or graphic, too. *Bolded* text is a must. Nice article -at least I think it is – as I just scanned it 🙂
So true Dave, the subheadings should be able to tell the quick story of the page to the person who is standing 5 feet away from the computer monitor.
People buying something from a sales page the first time they see it is a myth. Even if a person doesn’t necessarily have the time to read the page right then and there, the basic idea and benefit will stick out in their mind and the page will be mentally “bookmarked” for later.
I did this with the “how to launch” e-book. I scanned that page I can’t tell you how many times, and now that it’s come time to write said e-book, I wanted to make sure I had all of my bases covered and the “how to launch” book was at the top of my mind.
Not because of a referral, not because somebody told me to buy it, but because the subheads on the page itself gave me the mental signal of “you’re going to need the rest of the information here sometime”
In general though, I think once people get over the idea that the first time someone reads their page is the only time they’re ever going to have to make a sale, it will help them write better subheads to get them to “bookmark” the post for a time they’ll actually need the product.
Sonia Simone says
I do the same thing — for some products I’ll read the sales page three or four times before I take the plunge.
Ideally we want folks to be less on the fence than that, but it happens.
Lol in an ideal wold we wouldn’t have to worry about the 10,000 hour rule about blogging to get noticed either, but the ideal world and the real world are very different things now aren’t they?
Um “shaving”? How about “blogging” stupid auto correct.
Sonia Simone says
Fixed ya up. I wondered what you were on about. 🙂
Ahh, tricky! I saw how your subheads told ’em what you were going to tell ’em… but left scanners wanting to read the details! BRILLIANT!
Dave Navarro says
Yeah, I learned that little “meta” trick from Brian a loooooong time ago 🙂
Sonia Simone says
You can learn a lot from that Brian guy, I’ve found.
This is awesome but till now I haven’t created sales page.This will surely going to help me.
Thanks For Sharing
Sonia Simone says
I learned this as the “dual readership path” — the page reads one way for the read-every-word people, and for scanners, there are enough highlighted elements (subheads, boldface, alert boxes, etc.) to give them the flavor of the story and entice them to slow down.
I really like the way you broke this down into specifics, very cool. Thanks as always, Dave. 🙂
Darren Scott Monroe says
I just saw Frank Kern the other week and he talked about this in detail. He also said you can make your subheaders read like a paragraph and tell the story for people who scan.
Great job as always Dave
Hsuan-min Chou says
Hi, great article and always nice to have a mini-refresher course. This advice was one of the first my boss gave me when I first started writing copy. She said, in a nutshell, All your headlines and sub-heads need to be benefits-driven, so make ’em only as long as they need to be. Very few people are going to read the actual content.
This was a new concept for me, b/c I’m one who likes to read everything. Doesn’t everyone, I thought? No!
Emily Foshee says
Excellent article! I’ve used subheads ever since I began copywriting, and they are always successful in attracting readers. And, using that tried and true trick of good copywriting, putting a benefit into your headline, is equally effective in subheads as well.
Thanks for a great post!
Susanna Hess says
This is so true. I’ve been studying it more lately, and I love the tips you’ve included.
I will be the first to admit, there are sales letters, blog posts and articles that I start off scanning, but the subheads are so compelling, I find myself scrolling back up and taking the time to really read it.
I’m now working at getting this aspect down in my own writing.
Thanks for another awesome post!
Dave Doolin says
I have several hundred index cards stashed in a couple of boxes, each with a single bullet point copied, by hand, from sales pages writen by Gary Halbert, John Carlton, and the like.
Copying by hand really works.
Ed Fry says
I don’t understand – why limit it to just sales letters?
You don’t. In fact, this should be incorporated into most of the things that you write.
It makes it easier to stomach any copy.
But you already knew that 😉
Sonia Simone says
Agreed. Dave’s doing a series for us specifically on sales letters, and it’s especially important to make them scannable because they’re a piece of writing that so many people skim, but all content works best when it’s scannable.
lawton chiles says
So, if I’m thinking correctly, how I usually do it is the sub-head leads them into the rest of the copy below it.
Sub-heads should not refer to something ABOVE their placement, right?
Really they should do both. Really the ultimate goal with any copywriting is to get people to hang on to your every word.
If a person is already reading every word, then the subhead would give them a little extra push to keep going and keep hanging on through the next section.
But if a person is scanning, the subheader should encourage them to go back and read every word, because they may have missed an important point. In the case of sales pages, this is critical, because sometimes it’s the details that aren’t in big bold print that can make the difference between someone being “on the fence” or “buyer”
Steven H says
I agree that their goal is to do both. It’s all about transitioning smoothly from one point to the next. This is how a post builds an overarching theme.
Sub heading and white space!
Nothing makes me click that RED X to close quicker than twenty paragraphs all crammed together with no double spacing or breaks in the paragraphs.
Sonia Simone says
Such a good point! And white space is easy to add. 🙂
Give that copy some room to breathe!
Steven H says
I’ll admit, I am often a scanner when reading other’s blog posts. I even scanned this one – but your sub-headings slowed me down, and they allowed me to absorb the overall message of the post (clearly).
So I guess I’d have to say your strategy works! 😛
Dennis Miedema says
Love coming here, and always will! Having said that, here’s another way to look at subheads…
If you’re wondering whether your subheads are any good or not, simply COPY and PASTE all of the subheads into Word. One by one. When you’re done, scroll up and read all your subheads from start-to-finish.
Then ask yourself: does what I’m reading make any sense? Are my subheads a mini-version of my sales page?
If you’re answer is YES, then scanners will be sucked into your copy. Each subhead sucks them into the rest of the story, but is a story all by itself…
If you’re answer is NO, then re-write your subheads, silly!
Ideally, your subheads don’t deliver a promise… they connect promise after promise… after promise. The more you connect your subheads from a perspective of promise + proof (authority, testmonials, use of words, etc. falls under proof), the more easily you’ll write sales pages.
Like I said: your subheads are a mini-version of your sales page.
Think about it!
Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says
Great to have the scannable copy concept mixed with the writing copy that sells here. It makes for powerful online writing.
Just as many people will have to read a sales letter several times before taking the plunge, others need to repeatedly hear about the power of benefit-bsased sales copy. Thank you! I’m writing a landing page right now and this will keep me focused.
Copyblogger is the best resource for writing sales copy ever. I hope you meet Dave, Sonia and the inspirational Copyblogger team at BlogWorld. It’ll blow my mind…. hopefully in a good way:)
Sonia Simone says
Can’t wait to meet you, Annabel!
Christina Crowe ( @CashCampfire ) says
Great tips, Dave. I need to work on my headings and subheadings before starting the sales page for my first eBook. I’ll try browsing Reddit, Digg, Twitter and this blog for headings, then writing them out myself to get a feel for them. That’s actually a terrific idea.
As for scanners, I must confess – I’m often guilty of scanning through sales pages of eBooks or online courses until I hit the price, mainly to determine if the product is within my budget. There have been one or two sales pages I came across in the past that had subheaders so good that I had to stop and read the contents before scanning any further. That just goes to show that headings really do work in capturing a scanner’s attention.
Now I just have to relocate those sales pages… 😉
That was a wonderfully frustrating post.
Frustrating because I really wanted to just scan it. Not to prove a point. I just have a lot in the great web world I want to read.
Wonderful because the subheads forced me to keep hopping back up the page to read every word.
John Hyde says
For a funny take on scannability read ‘The Onion’ …
‘Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text’
I feel a great way to emphasize the benefits is to list them all in bullet point form. This is convenient for the reader and it is reader friendly, as it gives the impression that they are reading less, and they can clearly see what information is of most importance.
Great post all the same! 🙂
that’s so true
i scan pages instead of reading them and i usually ignore pages that are stuffed with text
Something has peaked my interest when I come to the page. I’ll look at a headline and then head to the bottom, ignoring everything in between. I usually ask myself, “why bother to put something like this up?” I hit the buy button and if I don’t know already check if the price is Ok.
Sorry I ignore almost all of the page. Good thing others are not like me.
Wow. Tons of great ideas, thanks so much for making this available for us! I tend to be rather… verbose, so this really helps.
Subheadings do help, I’ve used them for a while now and received more feedback on those posts. I try the methods I catch myself reacting to while surfing as a natural process… a lot of them are mentioned here.
I like the “sexybookmark print button” idea, need to go add that right now!
See? Verbose. Sorry!
Will Quick says
Great post. One of the big take-aways from this, for me, was treating your subheadings as actually headlines. I often spend a good length of time coming up with my main post title but then don’t put the same thought into my subheadings.
Will Quick says
Damn, that should have been “actual” headlines.
Maybe I should start putting some more thought into scanning my comments for typos as well.
Maybe I should stop watching Supernanny whilst taking notes on blog posts like this.
Maybe I should learn how to start a sentence without “maybe I should”.
Brian Hamlett says
You know, I think this is something that is OFTEN overlooked when someone is setting up their sales pages. I honestly can’t stand most of them… but then again, I AM a scanner and many of them just never catch my attention when I do scan them. Other times… there’s just TOO much content! So… I better recognize that and take some advice when I try it myself… right?
Great advice on some specifics to help capture both audiences’ attention!
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