Traditionally newspaper headlines summarised the contents of the news article. They told the reader enough about the story for them to make an informed decision about whether they wanted to continue to read the rest of the article or not. Headlines are designed to summarise the content on the page. They should be able to read and understood, stand alone from the content and still make sense. Headings and subheadings written for web pages use the same principles. A good heading should summarise the first two paragraphs of your article.
Well-written and well-thought out headings speed up reading, comprehension and navigation. The perfect heading is:
- a clear indicator of the content which follows it
- positively phrased and unambiguously written
- unique i.e. the only page or article which uses that headline
- front-loaded with keywords
Headings and subheadings are influential flags that help to introduce your keywords. They prepare your readers for what you’re about to tell them and give context and meaning.
Front-load your headings and subheadings with keywords
The keywords you use in your headings and subheadings need to be selected from the keywords or phrases which people type into a search engine to locate your web page. They generally fall into the following three broad categories:
- Keyword candidates: they are usually phrases or several words, usually nouns, verbs or adjectives
- Fluffy/Woolly words: these are words which are often vague or opinion words or superlatives and provide padding rather than substance. Examples include “best ever” or “super sale”
- Common small words: they are only useful if they fulfill a grammatical purpose. Examples include: “the”, “of” “on”, “not”, “so” etc
Here are two examples of what a good heading looks like – each heading starts with a keyword phrase:
- “Espresso coffee – ordering online the easy way”
- “Home phone line plan – helpline”
Here are the same two examples where the headings are back-loaded – so don’t begin with the keyword phrase:
- “The easy way to order your espresso coffee online”
- “We’re here to help you choose a home help phone line plan”
If you’re scanning through a heading you can see at a glance that front-loading the keywords are the best way to write your headings.
One page – one keyword (or keyword phrase)
Every web page or post you publish should be written with one clearly defined keyword-focused topic – this will help with your on-page search engine optimization. It’s difficult, almost impossible, to try and write a good headline for a page or post which has two or more keyword phrases. If you cannot write a page heading which summarises the whole post or article then take a look and review your content. You may have two topics which are vague and ill-defined. You need to re-focus the page or even re-write or re-configure the content and then go back to write the headings and subheadings.
Break up your content with subheadings
As people scroll down your web page they will lose sight of the main heading – the words will begin to lose context. Without subheadings, your readers may experience a sense of boredom and begin to feel anxious and confused, even lost and consequently leave your website – without even finishing what they are reading! Why? Because your readers have forgotten the reason for being on your web page to begin with.
So break up your longer content into smaller chunks of information: each section should have its own subtopic (closely related to the primary keyword-focused topic) and its own subheading. A chunk may be comprised of one or several paragraphs but just ensure that at least one subheading is visible regardless of scrolling. You should try to have a subheading for approximately every 100-200 words.
If people only read through the heading and subheadings on your page they should be able to get the general gist of your page because your headings will be meaningful and keyword focused. A good rule of thumb is to write four to ten words per headline although your front-loaded keyword phrases may only be one to three words in length.
Below are two specific types of headings for specific page content types:
Headings for news pages: write a short sentence but omit the verb
Example: “New CEO welcomes restructuring challenge”
Headings for help pages: start with words like “how to…” or using a “…ing” verb
Example: “Preparing for a job interview – tips” or “How to convert a word document into a PDF”
A tip you may find useful – it’s usually not a good idea to include a question in your first headline – keep them to your FAQ page (if you have one). Remember your readers already have their question they’re just searching for an answer.
Finally, headings and subheadings should be written to benefit your reader. Consider your headings thoughtfully – what does audience want from this page? What are they hoping to achieve? Your readers are not mind readers and only you know what your page are about – so use the heading and subheadings to tell your readers. Even if they don’t read the entire content of your web page or post the headings should convey your message. It might also be a good idea to re-read your web page and this time, only read the subheadings and confirm you have the correct sequence and that they deliver the same message even if your readers don’t read your content word-for-word.