The Importance of a Good Subheading

By Shelley. September 24, 2019.

Topics: Inbound Marketing Strategy

Over time, the blogosphere has become a huge, congested, and noisy space where hordes of blogs are all fighting to get noticed. Readers have adapted to this environment by learning to be expert scanners, and they quickly grew weary of clicking on a compelling headline only to find mediocre content. Most, maybe even 90%, bounce within 10-20 seconds.

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Your headline is intended to hook, entertain, shock, and above all else, create curiosity. Its purpose is to pull readers further into your content so as to stay long enough to realize how stellar the information and writing are and not only continue reading but return for new content as it is posted.


What the headline does for the post, the subhead does for each individual section of content.


A subheading's purpose is to:

(see what we did there?)

  • Grab the readers' attention so they will stop to read before continuing to scan until the next subhead, which they will then read and evaluate similarly.
  • Guide the reader down the page as they scan from one subhead to the next.
  • Be so interesting that the scanner stops and reads that entire section.


Often writers waste the opportunity provided by subheads by not carefully crafting them to achieve the above-delineated purposes. There are some common mistakes that cause subheads to be ineffective.


Mistaken uses of subheadings

Mistake number one is using the subhead as a simple label. Labels simply identify, they do not create interest.

Mistake number two is using the subhead as a spoiler that gives away the point of the content that follows. Why would readers continue reading your content if they already know the point it wants to make?

The third typical mistake is trying too hard to be creative. Here you end up creating something more confusing than compelling. The ensuing confusion quickly leads to a bounce.


What makes a good subheadings?

Subheads should be a clear phrase that makes readers feel they should keep reading to see what the writer is going to say. The subhead is another opportunity to keep readers looking at your content long enough to convert them to being fans.


Effective subheadings create curiosity and surprise, and they show personality and emotion.


While the scanner is evaluating whether or not to invest the time to read your article, the subheads should serve to summarize your article. They provide a quick and easy guide to see what the content is all about. A scanning reader should be able to grasp the gist of your article just by reading the heading and subheadings alone.


Just as you do when you write headlines, you want the subheadings to show a benefit. Subheadings should be useful, entice readers to take notice, and be unique. Obviously, they are descriptive of what your subject matter is.


Subheading structure on the page:

  • While being descriptive of your content, the shorter the subhead the better.
  • The headline is the premise and the subheadings are the tips.
  • The first subhead should be the most intriguing.
  • Break the article into readable and sequential sections using the subheadings.
  • Provide a rhythm and consistency that helps the reader move down the page from one subhead to the next.


When composing your subheadings consider the following:


Fun is good, puns are cheesy: This is not the best place to be too clever. For each paragraph ask yourself: what is it really about, what's the most important part of that paragraph, and what do you want the reader to take away from this paragraph?


Don't be cryptic: Your readers want solutions from your text and they don't have the time to solve a puzzle to find that information.


Use parallel structure: Subheads that have consistent grammatical structure are eye-catching. Other ways to include parallel structure might be to include the use of verbs or use the format of a question.


Keep the length similar: Conventional wisdom says keep effective subheads to 70 characters or less. Every word has to be spot on to keep the subheading powerful enough to keep readers reading, and make your point succinctly.


Connect to the headline: Link each subheading back to the content's main heading.


Continue moving forward: Each subheading carries a paragraph or section of text that digs deeper into the article and moves the reader farther along on the path to understanding your topic.


Subheadings and SEO: Is there a connection?

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of discussion as to whether or not H1 (headline) and H2 (subheading) tags affect SEO and SERP rankings. It is not certain if Google, and other search engines, specifically look at header tags. Or if the way that users respond to content that has header tags has a larger impact on search rankings. It's actually a case of whether the chicken or the egg came first.


It is known that Google carefully examines user behavior to determine the quality of a website, which is why they include data like bounce rates and time spent on a page. This data point to how useful a page is and that in turn determines how highly they're ranked. How long a reader spends on a page depends on how easy it is to parse the content. And what helps a reader to parse content are those H1 and H2 tags.


So it appears that effective use of headings and subheadings does impact search rankings. Even if the improvement in performance attributed to H1 and H2 tag use is just the result of improved user experience, and that brings lower bounce rates, and better engagement, which in turn brings better rankings. The takeaway is the same: use H1 and H2 tags.


SEO best practices for subheadings (and headlines!)

To wrap up our discussion of subheadings, these are the current best SEO practices for subheadings (and headlines).

  • Each page gets a unique title that describes the content accurately and concisely.
  • Titles should be short so as to not get truncated in SERPs.
  • Keywords come first, but be sure to use in a natural manner more like casual speech and less like keyword stuffing.
  • Use your brand name in titles.
  • Using heading and subheading tags makes it easier for search engines to read and understand your content.
  • Using headings and subheadings helps users navigate your text, which makes it easier to digest.
  • Don't overuse tags or the keywords in them. Keep it all readable for your audience.


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Shelley's been in Seattle practically since the dawn of time. She enjoys having fun (seriously) with research and writing. In her off hours she reads and walks, although not at the same time -- because tripping over sidewalks is embarrassing.


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