Blogging Best Practices: Subheads Matter

blogging best practices use subheadsIf you’re interested in blogging best practices, focus on using subheads in your posts. Why? People don’t read anymore. Well, I take that back—let’s just say people don’t read like they used to. With so much content coming at us from all directions, most of us read less, scan more. And that’s why optimized subheads are a becoming a critical component of blog posts.

How People Read

Before we talk about the art of subheads, let’s take a quick look at how reading habits have shifted. Jakob Nielsen (and I’ll confess, I’m an unabashed fangirl of Jakob’s big brain) analyzed a study by Harald Weinrich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder and Matthias Mayer, “Not Quite The Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use” and discovered the following conclusions:

  • When you add more copy to a page, people only read 18% of it.
  • On an average site visit, people read half the information only on pages with 111 words or less.
  • In addition to reading content, people study page layout, navigation and images.
  • A user will read about 20% of the text on an average page.

The Internet is a noisy place—and that means people are juggling a number of distractions when they reach your content. The solution? Subheads.

Use Subheads To Tell (Part Of) The Story

There’s no way someone is going to glean the complete essence of a blog post or article just from the subheads. Yet if you carefully craft these natural dividers, someone can still get a sense of the piece from your headline and subheads—and that information should be compelling enough to encourage them to keep reading.

What’s more, subheads carry some SEO weight, too. You might be tempted to sneak in a clever pun or a pop culture reference in that subhead, but try and resist the temptation. Instead, use that valuable real estate to create a brief phrase that not only tells the reader what’s ahead—include keywords, too, which help optimize your content and make it more discoverable.

Even if someone doesn’t stick around to read the full piece, providing subheads gives them enough contextual clues to satisfy their curiosity—and if they discover information they find entertaining or helpful, they’re more likely to return to your site for more, share your link, save your page to read later or curate your content.

Subheads Give Readers a Break

One thing bloggers regularly struggle with is writing posts that are long enough to deliver value but short enough that readers don’t have to hit the snooze button while reading. Our best practices advice is that blogs should be no less than 300 words and no more than 500-600 in length. Anything more than that requires a commitment of your readers that they are often either not willing or not able to make. Especially if you’re writing pieces that are stretching the limits of recommended post length, adding subheads will help your readers hang in longer and serve to break up (both visually and contextually) the content into those proverbial bite-sized pieces that help readers get what it is they’re looking for from your content.

Subheads: Helping You Serve Your Audience

We optimize our websites for mobile visitors. We use data and analytics to drive our content and social networking strategy. As mentioned in the paragraph above, think of subheads as another optimization tool designed to make your content more visible and more readable, even for those who don’t have time (or the attention span) to finish the full piece. A successful strategy is all about serving your audience and customers—and if stats show that they’re not reading content like they used to, it’s time to adapt and deliver information in ways that make sense for your readers.

What do you think? Do you read by scanning like I do or am I totally off base?

Image: break.things via Compfight cc

  • Mary Connealy

    This is so funny, I really totally skimmed this, barely read the subheads. And I am really INTERESTED in this topic

  • ShellyKramer

    Hahaha! Well then, I guess you just proved my point :) ))

  • http://WebSavvyPR.com CathyWebSavvyPR

    Another reason for using subheads, especially with WordPress sites, is
    that if you make them H1, H2 or H3 tags, they are also read by search
    engines as important to keywords and SEO. (in lower/2nd tier toolbar in
    WordPress, most text is “paragraph” change it to an H1, H2, or H3 tag,
    check the post preview to see how the size looks, pick which works, and
    do this for all subheads). Google and Bing will thank you. Wite for people first, but search engines second. (not sure why my gravatar/photo isn’t showing).

    I do agree with Mary C. – sometimes subheads and bold text encourage skimming, rather than reading. And I’m a read-it-all kind of gal.

    Cathy Larkin

  • http://WebSavvyPR.com CathyWebSavvyPR

    See I sent back and re-read the post deeper, and saw that you already mentioned SEO. Sorry for the redundant comment.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Cathy. That’s the other reason we love subheads …. and, like you, we’re big fans of writing for both Google and for people. Appreciate your input.

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL. No worries!

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    You’re not off base. Format, layout matter. I use subs – bold, along w/ color (use a color that coordinates w/ text links), images, indents, the occasional numbered or billeted list. The visual breaks help plus they build the story, bring the reader’s eye down. People scan, have little time to read; only helps to make a post easy to skim quickly. FWIW.

  • ShellyKramer

    We agree, Davinia! Thanks for coming by :) )

  • Barbara

    scanned your work. Sounds good. . Will share.

  • http://twitter.com/Exit178 Patricia

    This hits my reading habits to a T but I did read this post entirely. LOL I didn’t realize “blogs should be no less than 300 words and no more than 500-600 in length.”

  • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

    Great 22 word post! ;-)

  • ShellyKramer

    Hahaha!

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: April 1, 2013

  • Emilie McGee

    Concise, easy to read and filled with good info. Bravo. So many blogging posts don’t meet those criteria and are snooze button worthy themselves.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Emilie … I appreciate those kind words!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/skconcepts Revolutionarymkting

    Funny how blogging writing is evolving to how we used to write marketing recommendations and analysis in the 90′s! Great post!

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Susan ;)

    Shelly
    8162002520
    @ShellyKramer

  • Pingback: How to Get More Blog Readers | V3 Kansas City Integrated Marketing and Social Media Agency

  • Pingback: Blogging Best Practices: How to Get More Blog Readers | V3 Kansas City Integrated Marketing and Social Media Agency

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Suzanna. Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

    *Shelly Kramer*
    *V3 Integrated Marketing | CEO**

    *T: 816.200.2520
    E: shelly@v3im.com

    http://www.v3im.com
    [image: Twitter] [image: LinkedIn] [image: Facebook] [image: Blog RSS]
    Latest from the V3 Blog NY Integrated Marketing Week Recap: The Power Of Images

  • Pingback: When People Read Websites And Why It Matters | V3 Kansas City Integrated Marketing and Social Media Agency

  • Pingback: 6 Keys to Writing for Your Small Business Blog | Social North

  • Pingback: 6 Keys to Writing for Your Small Business Blog | V3 Kansas City Integrated Marketing and Social Media Agency

  • Pingback: 6 Keys to Writing for Your Small Business Blog | BtoB Sales and Marketing

You can also find me on Google+ Real Time Web Analytics