Headings are so important in the digital age. We all ‘scan read’ nowadays, taking a quick glance through the text in front of us. We give a website, an email, or blog post a quick skim over, a quick scroll up and down, before deciding whether to take a closer look.
Our need for information is often sought without patience, driven by finding the easiest source and not giving anything much of a chance if navigation is difficult or the item we are looking at does not seem to be instantly relevant.
This means headings are your most important tool. When people don’t have time to read a full paragraph, the headings are the things that will catch your reader’s eye, will make them give your content just a little extra time and, in a nutshell, they help to divide up text to make it more accessible.
I think the lack of headings is truly the biggest things that let’s small businesses down when it comes to the presentation of their content. They are wonderful signposts, they catch the eye and they help structure your content. I would recommend that you write three to four paragraphs maximum without a heading or subheading. In most digital formats, a heading every paragraph is completely legitimate when writing 750 words or fewer.
So, what should you be thinking about when writing headings? Here are my tips:
Summarise the main information
As discussed above, the main point of headings is to help readers identify where to find the information they are looking for. Therefore…give them that information! For example, if you are writing about yourself, you can give clear headings such as, ‘About Me’; ‘My experience’; ‘My education’. Readers can then easily identify which information ‘about you’ they specifically want to know.
Whatever you are writing about, think carefully about exactly what the reader may be looking for and how you can ‘signpost’ that your content contains that information.
Ask a question
Being direct and clear is always my first piece of advice when it comes to writing any content, but I appreciate it is not always the most exciting or engaging advice! Therefore, there are some other ways to write interesting headings that still enable you to convey lots of useful nuggets of information.
One of the most effective ways to help people identify if your content is useful to them is if they see exactly the question they are asking. Therefore, consider what your reader is ‘looking for’ or, more precisely, ‘what question are they asking themselves?’
For this blog post, for example, I could use headings such as:
- How do I write good headings?
- What techniques can I use to write headings?
And then use more specific headings or subheadings such as:
- How often should I insert a headings?
- Where should I use headings?
Hopefully, you get the idea.
Answer a question
Similar to the above, instead of using a question as your heading, you can use the ‘answer’ instead. Turn the question into statements. Using the examples above, the headings would become:
- How do I write good headings? => How to write good headings
- What techniques can I use to write headings? => Which techniques to use when writing headings
And then for the more specific headings or subheadings:
- How often should I insert a heading? => How often to insert a heading
- Where should I use headings? => Where to use headings
Call to action (CTA)
I think ‘calls to action’ (CTA) are especially strong as headings towards the end of a piece of text. If you have hooked a reader in or even made them take notice of the paragraph above, hopefully they will see the final heading and be persuaded to act.
Using a CTA headings is also great for conveying key information in a bold format that will stand out amongst a longer body of text. All the standard ones work, such as ‘Get in touch’; ‘Contact us’; ‘Let us help you’ or ‘Email now’ – I think you can even go further and include specific details such as ‘Call us on 07736942348’ before a paragraph about encouraging clients to call you for a discussion about their needs, for example. If someone is looking for contact information, there it will be, right in front of them in bold!
There are some literally techniques and techniques from rhetoric, which also work well to create eye-catching headings.
I love a bit of alliteration and I do think it is incredibly catchy and memorable in headlines, tag lines and headings.
You don’t have to go overboard and make every single word start with the same letter, but having a couple of the keywords that do can work well, for example:
- A team you can trust
- Helpful headings
- Super service from support to sale (this is technically sibilance…I’ll explain another day!)
- Products to be proud of
You can see what I mean! They can actually get a bit addictive!
This is another of my absolute favourite copywriting technique. A ‘tricolon’ simply means a group of three, whether it is words or phrases, that have a consistency (usually in length or form).
Groups of three are memorable. The Romans knew it: Veni. Vidi. Vici.
The multinationals companies know it: Work. Rest. Play (Mars chocolate bars)
The famous orators of the past knew it: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” (President Franklin D. Roosevelt)
If you can include alliteration too…even better!
For headings, think about words that truly sum up what you cover in the paragraphs below. Remember to use all the same parts of speech too, so all nouns, verbs or adjectives, for example:
- Funny. Amusing. Entertaining.
- Perfection. Performance. Professionalism.
Formatting your heading
Other than getting the words just right, the next most important thing about using a heading is using proper formatting tools to highlight them. On most websites, email automation services (i.e. Mailchimp) and blogging sites, you can use formatting tools to highlight headings and you will be given a list of formatting options. I have written about this before here. However, I want to reiterate its importance – the tags that are added in HTML code are really important for search engine optimisation. They are also useful for offering consistency across your content.
Decide on your own ‘house style’ and make a note how headings and different levels of headings will be formatted and when and where used. This will give your posts, emails and webpages a nice consistency which will build familiarity and aid navigation.
Add those amazing headings
So, get structuring your text with headings that guide your reader through all of the information you are presenting. If you need help with editing a long piece of text, making it more accessible and more likely to catch the attention of those ‘skim readers’, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org