Subheadings: The Deceptively Simple Trick to Effective Copywriting

Subheadings: The Deceptively Simple Trick to Effective Copywriting

Reader Comments (55)

  1. Excellent and well-written article, Sonia.

    I was reading Joe Sugarman’s Copywriter’s Handbook not too long ago and remember him saying that the content of the subheads didn’t matter, they were there just to break up the copy, make it look less intimidating, and get the reader to read the first sentence.

    I don’t think that’s true online. The way people scan through an article is they often check the subheads.

  2. Great tips. I usually start a piece by writing down all of the topics (those become my headings.) Then I break out my sub-topics. Then I put the meat on the skeleton with all of my detailed text.
    Lastly, I go back and put in any necessary graphics, formatting, and links.
    Thanks for a good refresher on the fundamentals.

    • Excellent article on subheads and their importance by the author. Great tip and nice way to paint the picture of putting meat on the skeleton. Kudos

  3. Great article, Sonia. I know that in the past, there have been some who have argued that persuasive writing is deceptive. How would you respond to these types of people?

  4. Subheads are great if they are used properly and are not so big that they distract the reader from the content. Also subheads only work if the paragraphs are longer than one or two sentences, unlike this article 😉

  5. Yes, subheads are crucial online. Funny that we don’t pay much attention to them offline as Sugarman says.

    Nice visual, but that looks like one long article…

  6. I’ve been using subheadings for a while (thanks to my husband, who sent me to Copyblogger for an example) but it has never occurred to me to write the subheadings first.

    I’ve always written the piece first and then figured out what the subheadings would be, either at the end, or while I was writing. I’m excited to try your method–coming up with the sub-headings first and the filler afterward.

  7. I’ve taught Microsoft Word for many years, and one trick I show people is to use Outline View to write the headings first, then switch back to Print Layout View to fill in your content.

  8. I actually used a similar technique to write my 120 page dissertation. I broke it down into subsections, and then wrote each of those individual. It was much easier than trying to write the whole thing at one go.

  9. Great article, Sonia. I was really struck by the idea of subheads as a means to control how your readers read. Knowing that we all skim to a fault, that’s a terrific means to guiding the reader to the point you want to make. It’s something I’ll be trying out! Thanks 🙂

  10. This is such a great tip, especially for new writers. It works for blogging and it certainly works for copy too. I am loving the reminder and will be sure to use this technique in all my upcoming posts and writing assignments! 🙂

  11. Yup… I don’t use those often in my own blog and that’s a pretty smart tip. I find myself skimming all the time. Sub-heads would be a nice visual breakup and a reinforcement option for ideas. Thanks Sonia!

  12. Hi Sonia,

    Sub-heads are a great way to break up text and allow skimmers to get the gist of your article quickly. Those interested with delve into the sub-sections to extract the information they want.

    The other trick I use (if I suspect skimmers will be a large part of the audience) is to bold text of important points. Like the sub-heads, they jump off the page/screen and give the skimmer just that much more information.

    Readers turn into customers. I don’t know the stats off-hand, but I would suspect that skimmers are less likely to become customers right away. However, you can turn skimmers into readers, if you write your copy properly. By boosting the number of readers, you should indirectly boost the number of customers too.


  13. @MichaelMartine, I thought that was interesting in the Sugarman as well. It might be fun to experiment with subheads that were relevant & interesting but not completely logically tied to the body copy. That’s about as wacky as I’m willing to get. 🙂 (Cool Word trick as well, I will try that.)

    @janelle, I see it as two very distinct issues. First, I want to be sure that everything I’m saying is truthful, ethical, and benefits the reader. Once I’m satisfied that that is true, I don’t hesitate to make it as persuasive as I can.

    @noell, I’m curious to see what you think of it! I resisted it for some time, but it really does make things easier. It feels a little awkward when you first try it out, or it did for me.

    @Graham, I’ve always wondered about that–are readers by nature more likely to become customers, or is it that the folks who are most likely to become customers are also more likely to read every word of a piece talking about their particular issue. But I agree–what you really want is to turn those skimmers into readers by signalling “this piece of content has the answers you’re looking for.”

    @Katie, I even write emails this way, if they’re long. I just might be unreasonably fond of subheads. (But my emails are nice and readable.)

  14. Thanks for this tip. Would sure help me whenever I get writer’s block. You really made writing easier for me this time!

  15. Obviously among those who pay attention to how online page copy is read — there are plenty of opinions. I completely subscribe to subheadings and depending upon the situation how much they are made to “stand-out” from the other page text.

    And I’m a staunch believer in bold text within page copy and bullet points (the online journalism world has already begun to embrace alternative story forms, a whole other topic in the realm of persuasive copy). Persuasive goes hand in hand with readable and scannable and there are plenty of eye-tracking studies out there that illustrate exactly what elements and parts of a webpage users “see” as well as those page territories that are complete dead zones.

    Thanks Sonia for giving continued encouragement to an on-page technique that when leveraged may keep readers on the page.

  16. Oh yes. I am terribly long-winded, so subheadings are my lifesaver. They help me from wandering astray from my topic, too. A great idea about using subheads as a barebone outline.


  17. Great advice. I broke a links post I wrote earlier this week into four sections with subheads because I realised that the mass of text, links and quotes was going to turn readers off otherwise( if you want to see it).

    I’m also totally with you on writing the subheads first; drafted a post this morning (6.30am, really was NOT in the mood to write) using this method. Once I’d got the subheadings in place, it was easy to persuade myself to write just one section, then one more. The potato chip method works for the writing, not just the reading. 😉

  18. That is actually great advice. I do use subheads in my blog, but I usually end up adding them in after I’ve written the content, which can get a little messy and creates extra work for me. I’m writing subheads first for my next post!

  19. Excellent advice, thank you very much. I’m with Ebooks – in the past I’ve tended to put in the subheads either during or after writing the post. Your suggestion sounds a lot more organized. 🙂

  20. That’s the truth. A lot of times I don’t have time to read a whole article, and scan for bullets or interesting headlines to zero in on.

  21. This is really excellent information, I have bookmarked it and will refer to it often.
    Thanks Sonia,

  22. Sonia, I had to come back and tell you that I wrote today’s article using your method of choosing the sub-headings first. That was so much easier! It kept me from getting off-track and confused (a state I often go into when writing). 😉

    By simplifying the process I was able to spend more time tightening my analogy and alluding to it throughout the article. Thank you!

  23. Without thinking all this advantages I am using Subheads & skimmers in all of my posts(This habit of writing came from my school teacher ).

  24. This is a good tip for writing works for the long articles or even the sales letters. Sub heads make things more organized and neat as well. I used them earlier but It makes sense to use them more.

  25. Sonia, you caught me on this one.
    I got lazy and started using subs that just announced the sub-topic instead of writing compelling mini-headlines.
    Thanks again.

  26. Sonia, you’re right when you say that readers start reading the text under a subhead in the same way that they reach into the potato-chip bag to grab a single chip.

    Keep feeding them subheads, and they’ll devour your entire article.

  27. Sonia,
    The post is beautifully written and loaded with great ideas for Subheadings. I especially like “evangelize what your readers skim first” – in lieu of leaving it to chance. Will incorporate it immediately!
    Thank you,

  28. Excellent advice, I use subheadings in my own blog posts, but maybe I should use them more to make each post easier to read, after all no one likes to read a big block of text.

This article's comments are closed.