Good subheads are like a light to a moth for your readers, compelling them to read more.
But a poor subhead is like writing “STOP READING NOW, THE REST IS BORING”.
The stakes are high; here’s how to smash them out of the park.
How good subheads function like a real-life Jedi mind trick
When we talk about subheads, we’re talking about two different things:
- The supporting line of text beneath the headline at the top of the page
- The small headlines (H2) that introduce chunks of copy or sections down the page
This guide is about the second type.
Subheads act like mini-headlines. They break up the text and provide the reader with helpful signposts. They aim to catch the eye and get the reader intrigued enough to read that section.
You should use subheads every time you transition from one point to another.
They should be:
With shortening attention spans and a positive tsunami of media types, it’s more important than ever to give readers a reason to spend their time and attention on your article.
Subheads stand out on the page and are scannable. If they don’t catch the reader’s eye, you can bet they won’t stay and read your article.
Most people get them all wrong. It’s probably not their fault. Academia has taught us to write in a way which maybe be technically accurate but is often brain-numbingly boring.
Here are some common mistakes which are chasing your readers away…
Are You Making These Mistakes In Your Subheads?
I believe the reason we make mistakes with our subheads is this…
We are keen to get into the meat of what we are trying to say. If we realise we need a subhead, it’s easier to write a statement which says what we are writing about so we can get on with it.
Here’s why that’s a mistake…
It’s boring. And boring loses you readers, quicker than a cheater at full tilt.
For example, I may write “budget considerations” for a paragraph about ways to save money.
It’s accurate. But be honest, not something that you absolutely must read, right?
A more effective subhead for that section could be “This approach could cut 23% off your budget”. If you were looking to save money, which paragraph would you rather read?
Here are some other common mistakes…
- Not using them every time you transition from one point to another
- Being overly cute or clever – if you make people think, most will not bother and leave.
- Writing long-winded subheads – they need to be scannable
- Not focusing on the benefit – people only care about what’s in it for them. Give them a reason to read on!
- Not adding any intrigue – don’t give the game away too early!
- Making statements is dull and the fastest way to lose a reader.
Use This 1 Element of Psychology to Write Compelling Subheads
An itch has to be scratched.
You can harness this one element of psychology to create a metaphorical itch which can only be scratched by reading the next section.
Can you guess what it is?
If you said curiosity – you guessed right.
Adding just a touch of curiosity to your subheads catches attention like nothing else. It is so fundamental to our psyche that we can use it repeatedly.
Just look at the subhead of this section! There is an element of it in all the subheads so far. Whether you like it or not, it works, so use it.
A word of caution…
Be smart about it. Make sure the curiosity you are creating is related to why the reader is there in the first place. I.e. I want to read because it looks like it will help me rather than I want to read it because of some tacky clickbait. Seriously, when was the last time you were actually “shocked about what this old man did next”?!
Save Your Readers From Boredom With Benefit-Rich Subheads
Always write with your reader in mind.
Ask yourself, “why should they bother reading the next section?” What’s in it for them?
It’s those answers which can give you the skeleton of great subheads. After all, if you can communicate why someone would want to read your prose – they may actually read them!
This is why benefit-rich subheads are super powerful. They promise the reader something valuable.
People who prefer to scan text will thank you for this. (And who doesn’t scan nowadays??)
Harness AI to help you write persuasive subheadlines.
At the time of writing, Chat GPT is exploding into the world. It’s a fantastic tool and can help speed up the process of writing read-worthy copy. If you are unfamiliar with it, it’s a conversational AI that can be your writing assistant.
The key to great results is the prompts.
Try this to see what you get with this prompt: Rewrite this subheadline and make it more interesting|usefull|intriguing (DELETE AS REQUIRED) “INSERT HEADLINE IN QUOTES.”
Here’s the 20 Second Version
Use subheads every time you transition from one point to another.
And make sure they are not:
- Dull statements of fact
- Overly clever
Do This Now to Breathe Life Into Your Article
Dig out your last document and look at the subheads you wrote.
If they don’t follow these principles, try rewriting them and see what a difference it makes to your copy! As a bonus, this exercise it can help you spot any unfocused or unnecessary parts of your article.
I hope this was helpful to you! I’d love it if you could share this article or even link to it…