Web copywriting 101: Sub-headings
I went to read The Skills Gap Myth on Time.com this morning, and I saw this:
I know I’m off Diet Coke, and low on caffeine, and my brain’s working in slow motion. But still, that’s an awful lot of uninterrupted text for a Monday morning. When you’re writing online, you need to break up the page. A solid, endless scroll of text will make even the most determined reader hesitate.
Couldn’t the web editors at Time do something like this?
The problem with reading online
Reading text on a screen makes comprehension and retention harder. iPads and other tablets are changing this for e-book text, where there’s a finite screen length and near-instant load times. They’re not changing this for web pages, where the page can stretch and people hate waiting for a new page to load.
So, you need to provide breaks: A time for the reader’s brain to rest. Sub-headings are the easiest way to do it.
Sub-heads: The rest between intervals
In cycling, I train using intervals: A hard effort, followed by a rest, followed by a hard effort. That lets me do more, in less time, and not have my heart pop like a grape in a microwave.
By inserting a few sub-heads at logical points in the article, you can take the whole article from this:
Not a magic solution
Adding sub-headings is easy and fast. It provides the reader a quick road map, and splits the page into shorter reading efforts. That’s all good.
You can do even better, though, with smarter typography—take a look at Pearsonified’s Golden Ratio Type Calculator— and intelligent use of images.
Sorry, I don’t have the perfect study proving all this. It’s mostly common sense:
- Reading from a monitor is hard.
- On web pages, people scan first, then read.
- This is completely different from e-books read on tablet computers, so studies showing folks are fine reading War & Peace on their iPad don’t apply.
I do have a good anecdote, though: We gave one client suggestions for revamping their blog posts. They added more sub-headings, dispersed imagery throughout those posts, and made some small typography changes. Time on page went up 50%. Bounce rate from blog posts fell 15%.
It’s not that hard
It took me about 3 minutes to add 5 relevant sub-headings to the Time Business article. If that can cut bounce rates by even 1-2%, I’ll bet it’ll pay off in higher ad impressions and revenue for Time Business.
Give it a shot. If you’re comfortable sharing, send me your data. I’ll pull it all together.