Web copywriting 101: Sub-headings
Ian Lurie Jun 4 2012
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.
CEO & Founder
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More