The Importance of Headings and Subheadings on Content Pages

Lauren Uhl August 20, 2019, by Lauren Uhl

We have approximately 15 seconds to capture our audience’s attention. 

There goes three seconds! 

How do we make the last twelve count? 

The truth lies in the headings and subheadings

Like you, your audience doesn’t usually read each word. Instead, they scan. Rather than meticulously mulling over each word in a paragraph, strategic readers highlight/underline key information for meaning. Most users read about 20% of the text, skipping two/three-letter-words 75% of the time too. If they don’t find relevant, valuable information, they’ll leave. To best serve your audience and keep them coming back for more, design your headings and subheadings in a way that’s conducive to scanning. Here are four easy steps to create captivating and digestible content pages.  

 

Step 1: Focus on Content Organization 

Start with SEO

Before you even determine your headings and subheadings, you need to design your content with SEO in mind. Whether you or a team member is writing the webpage content, brainstorm ways to integrate these techniques before you start organizing your content: 

1. Keep the audience in mind

If you maintain a strong sense of audience awareness, it will help guide all following nuts and bolts of the content. This includes the headings and subheadings, the keyword, the graphics, etc. 

2. Use keyword-rich phrases

Rather than douse your content with keywords in hopes of improving your SEO rank, thoughtfully choose your keywords and sparingly use them throughout the content. Referencing them in the headings/subheadings will not only help users navigate the content, but it will also help with SEO. 

3. Promote natural link building

If the opportunity naturally presents itself, build links from your website in the content. That way, if your article gets picked up by another site, users will be linked back to your website.  This is only made possible through quality content. Quality content is more shareable; thus, SEO improves. 

Layout Your Content

With all these SEO tips in mind, it’s time to organize your content. Like most writing, you should create it in a linear and logical fashion:

Logical

  • Does your content flow? 
  • Does it make sense that x and y are in the same paragraphs? 
  • Make sure you organize your content in a way that logically adds up. 

Linear

  • Does your content build as readers read through it? 
  • Does it make sense that x preceded y? 
  • Ensure your content follows a momentous structure, one that informs and transitions smoothly from section to section. 

Not all content writers agree on this structure. Here is an alternative yet equally useful content organization strategy: 

Summarize big-picture takeaways first

  • Strategic readers will appreciate the overview: it will help them determine which section to read relative to their purpose of visit.
  • By inserting this paragraph/bullet-point summary of takeaways, you also can improve your SEO.

Insert highlights throughout the content

As previously stated, most users digest only 20% of the text. By distinguishing highlighted phrases, statistics, or ideas throughout the content, you can help readers find exactly what they’re looking for. 

 

Step 2: Divide Your Content 

You just finished outlining/writing your content: now it’s time to divide it into headings and subheadings. Before you start creating headings and subheadings between paragraphs, consider these questions: 

Headings

  • Is this too general? 
  • Is this concise? 
  • Is it descriptive of all following subheadings?

Subheadings

  • Is this logically placed? 
  • Is it visually distinguishable? (i.e. has a separate color from the text)
  • Is it descriptive of all following information? 

Remember: you want to provide your audience a seamless, scanning experience. If you consider all these listed questions before determining/writing your headings and subheadings, you will help interest and retain your visitors. Through this engagement, they may utilize your website further by reading more articles, taking action, donating to your causes, etc. 

 

Step 3: Clearly Differentiate Headings/Subheadings

You have determined your headings and subheadings. To help the scanners navigate your content, make your headings/subheadings clearly distinguishable. This involves some visual differentiation in: 

Color

SIZE

FONT

EFFECTS

OR a combination of these.

The color, size, and font will most likely be determined by your website’s CSS stylesheet and/or your brand style guide. Refer to these guides when navigating this.

It’s imperative that the subheadings are concise, consistent, and understandable. Also, be sure to write subheadings leading with important words so scanners can immediately locate essential information. 

*Note: do not design headings/subheadings to looks like CTAs (i.e. Volunteer, Follow Us on Social Media, Donate, etc). Be aware of all such links run alongside the content to avoid any visual overlap.

 

Step 4: Divide Headings/Subheadings with Graphics

This optional step makes the user’s experience that much more valuable. Here, you have the opportunity to visually enhance dead space with meaningful graphics. You can express your gratitude to partners/sponsors by inserting their organization’s logo; you can show images from your brand or a recent event; overall, you can convert otherwise blank areas into integral elements of the webpage content. Consider these filler options: 

Grids or Graphs

Can you find a grid or graph to supplement information you referenced in the previous section? Insert it!

Graphics

Are there are logos or designs that tie in with the content above? Place them!

Pictures

Link an image that relates to previously noted content in between your subheadings.

*Note: if you’re struggling to find an affordable graphic converter, consider utilizing this website. Here, you can convert JPEG, PNG, and GIF files into PDF, SVG, and EPS vectors for free!

 

Closing Thoughts

The best way to share your content to all audiences is to help them easily navigate your webpage content through intentionally designed headings and subheadings. By starting with a strong organization, dividing your content, visually differentiating it, and adding images and graphics, you can help your viewers aptly utilize your work. 

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Lauren Uhl

Lauren Uhl

Lauren Uhl is a copywriter at Elevation, a full-service nonprofit web design agency. Lauren earned her B.A. in English Literature, Secondary Education, and Philosophy from Gonzaga University and is currently studying for her M.Ed. at the University of Portland. Lauren believes writing can change the world: that’s why she teaches middle schoolers Language Arts and History through a social justice lens. She aspires to earn her PhD in English, teach at the college level, and continue facilitating courageous conversations. More than anything, she hopes that she can find the right words when people need it the most.

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