Content writing and the benefits of stimulating subheads

Content writing and the benefits of stimulating subheads
Peter-John Lewis

You may think that writing blog posts on a regular basis is difficult enough. Do you really need to spend extra time and effort devising subheads to maintain readers’ attention to the end? We say yes.

Online readers are fickle beasts. When they see your content item, they’ll often scan the headline, opening sentence and subheads to evaluate its interest and relevance.

If these elements stimulate their curiosity and demonstrate that your story is worth reading, they may stay and glance at your body copy. However, if your headline, lead sentence and subheads fail to appeal, or if you have no subheads, the reader is likely to leave the page – immediately.

Content writers are lazy

Most writers work hard at crafting their content for a web page, blog post, marketing email or social media status update. But they tend to get lazy when it comes to creating subheads.

They may spend hours on body copy and agonise over their headline and lead paragraph, then quickly add a few random subheads to break up the story. Perhaps they’ll even take the time to add a keyword or two, just for SEO purposes.

However, for most writers, subheads are an after-thought.

Two reasons to spend more time on subheads

Subheads have two main functions in any long online content item.

First, they work collectively to provide a summary of your whole story. After your reader has scanned your subheads, they should have a reasonable understanding of your subject and your argument.

Second, each subhead (if written well) stimulates your reader’s curiosity. It entices your reader into sampling the body copy that follows it.

How subheads can summarise your story

A couple of years ago, I saw a long article by Drake Baer in the online publication Business Insider titled ‘The making of Tesla: invention, betrayal, and the birth of the Roadster’.

I have an interest in the Tesla story and the company’s CEO Elon Musk so, after seeing the headline and intriguing lead sentence – “Tesla Motors probably shouldn’t exist” – I scanned the subheads:

Try and touch the dashboard

The start

The incorporation

Workshopping the high-performance electric car

Actually raising funds


Designing the Roadster

The Roadster’s first flight

The Roadster meets the world

A bump in the road

The Roadster is born

The Musk era begins

The future

As you can no doubt see, collectively these subheads tell (in a kind of shorthand) the Tesla Motors story in chronological order. They promise an in-depth explanation of how the company began, developed and is likely to continue.

When I scanned them, they gave me enough information to decide on committing the 15 minutes or so required to read the full article.

Thankfully, each subhead provided an accurate description of the body copy that followed it. If I’d discovered the subheads were merely ‘click-bait’ and promised information that the body copy failed to deliver, I may have felt annoyed and even betrayed. This would have harmed, in my eyes at least, the reputation of the writer and the host site.

How to stimulate curiosity with subheads

Each time your body copy transitions to a new perspective or argument, that’s the time to ask yourself, “Why should the reader be interested in this?” The answer to this question can be your subhead.

At the same time, while your subheads can effectively summarise your story, you don’t want them to give too much away. If your body copy does nothing more than repeat, in a few extra words, the information you’ve already provided in your subhead, again your reader will feel cheated.

The role of your subhead is to create anticipation, while your body copy offers consummation. Stimulating subheads have the potential to entice readers into wanting to know more about the subject you’re writing about.

They do this by making a big promise, offering a surprising idea, asking a pointed question, or delivering a bold statement.

Will you be a subhead maestro?

Next time you write a blog post or other type of online content item that you’d like people to read in full, consider spending a few extra minutes on crafting a few stimulating subheads.

Then, after you’ve posted the item, review your analytics to test the response. You may be pleasantly surprised by their effectiveness.


Do you want to find out more about improving your business’ written content? Contact Momentum Connect to see how we can help.


Content writing and the benefits of stimulating subheads
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