A few weeks ago, I wrote about some ways you can keep your reader’s attention. But I didn’t mention one of the most important techniques — one that requires no particular writing ability, no creativity to think of a great hook, and no hours of research to find the most compelling facts to tell your story.
This easy technique is infinitely versatile. I use it in nearly every piece I write. (I even use it in email.) But it’s so deceptively simple, you might not be taking full advantage of it.
My super (simple) secret weapon is the lowly, underappreciated subhead.
Subheads make your work more readable
Direct response marketers (those who measure to the penny which techniques sell products and which do not) like to say “the more you tell, the more you sell.”
The more questions you can answer for your readers, and the more time you take to paint a wonderful picture of the benefits your customers enjoy, the easier you make it for prospects to realize they can’t live without your product.
This isn’t just true for sales copy. Blog and newsletter readers want meaty content, something that’s worth the time they take to read it.
But piling a mountain of words in front of readers doesn’t work too well. A page of solid black text looks like, well, work.
So in front of your 20-foot tall stack of words, you put a series of steps. You break your content into manageable pieces, separated by mini headlines or subheads. Each subhead is a step up the staircase.
Each time your reader comes to another subhead, she thinks, “Well, I’ll just read to that next little headline there.” Then she reads another section, and another.
Subheads break your copy into little potato-chip tasty bites. And we all know how hard it is to stop at just one potato chip.
Subheads control how your reader skims
Most readers skim. We just have too many words to read every day. So we glance through a page to pick out the highlights and see if we want to go further.
Good subheads, just like strong bullet points, let you control how your readers skim your copy. They let you evangelize what the skimmer notices first, rather than leaving it to chance.
One copywriting trick with subheads is to use them as a “second path” through your copy. Read through your subheads without looking at the rest of the body content. Do they give the highlights of your unique story? Do they hint at irresistible facts your reader must absolutely know? Do they spark curiosity about what you have to say?
Every effective piece of content has to answer the question So What? Strong subheads let the reader know you’ve got a good answer to that question.
Subheads aren’t decoration. A thoughtful progression of subheads forms the backbone of great content. Just like headlines do the critical work of convincing a reader to dive into your content, subheads keep that reader moving smoothly along.
Subheads can make writing easy
It’s a smart practice to write your subheads first, to get a good sense of the shape and structure you want to create. When you use subheads this way, they can make writing much quicker and easier.
Start with a working headline, then hammer out 3-5 subheads. Once you have them nailed down, there’s no law that says you have to start writing at the beginning. Pick whichever subhead appeals to you and start sketching in the details.
Just like subheads make the finished copy less intimidating for the reader, they also make the draft less intimidating for the writer, especially for cornerstone content. You’ll find that once you’ve established a solid structure with subheads, the rest of the body content doesn’t look so daunting.
If it’s hard to find time to write, set aside 15 minutes and just sketch out your post’s subheads. Then the next time you have a few minutes, fill in details. You can work on one section at a time, but just like your readers, you’ll probably find yourself moving on to the next section, then the next.
This simple system will save you time and aggravation, and your finished content will hang together in a very smooth, professional way.
When you’re working on putting killer content together, don’t neglect the lowly subhead. Don’t just drop them in after the fact; build them into your content right from the start. Like a lot of “beginner’s advice,” it’s important (and not that hard) to get this exactly right. Spend a little more time on your subheads and you’ll find yourself creating more gripping, useful and “sticky” content.