Can you imagine if “War and Peace” wasn’t split into chapters? Or your daily newspaper was just one continuous run of text?
It sounds preposturous.
But when it comes to blog posts and web pages, it’s not unusual to find the headings and subheadings have gone AWOL.
Who cares about subheadings anyway?
There are two groups that will be much happier to browse an article and see it broken up.
- Your readers, particularly the skim readers
- Google and every other search engine
Two pretty important groups. Two groups that you’d want to have a good experience of your site and posts.
Why do they love subheadings?
Let’s look at this from your readers perspective, as I absolutely wouldn’t advocating writing for Google. But if you do the right thing for your readers, then Google will be happy too.
Here’s what’s going on.
Subheadings act as signposts
They help readers work out what the page is about, and guide them through it.
They help skim readers
Quick skim down the page and they can work out if there’s anything worth stopping around for.
Subheadings are important for accessibility
For anyone using a screen reader, because subheadings are in HTML the screen reader can understand them.
Helps to pick back up where we left off
Because we’re all distracted.
Let’s look at those in more detail.
Acting as signposts
By breaking up your text, a heading or subheading helps reading and to understand what a page or post is about. It’s easier to work out what’s going on.
You’re guiding people down the page, from one point to the next. It helps to make sense of what they’ve just read, and prepare them for what’s coming next.
Helping the skim readers
We are all expert scanners these days, with short attention spans. We want to know quickly if a page is worth our time, or gives us the answer we were looking for.
If people can’t find what they’re looking for quickly then they’ll leave your site in search of a better answer. Which also means your bounce rate goes up, and that won’t make Google happy.
Stop and read this
Well, that’s a bit spammy, but the principle is there. Your subheading needs to grab the attention of the skim readers. That way they might stop and read a bit more. Then they’ll continue (hopefully) to scan down the page until the next thing that grabs them.
The aim is to be so interesting or useful that they stop scanning and start reading.
Making your site more accessible
Screen readers help those with visual impairments, converting information into speech primarily.
As headings and subheadings are HTML, the screen reader understands them and the structure of your page. It helps in how it reads it out to the user.
Like anyone without a visual impairment, it would help someone to have a similar ability to scan your post. Good accessibility is good for your readers, and it’s also good for your SEO.
Helping with distractions
Even if you’re getting value out of something you’re reading, if the phone goes off, you’re probably going to stop reading it. A subheading acts as a helpful reminder as to how far you got.
Think about when you lose your place in a book. If you’re like me, you end up reading and trying to work out if you’ve read it before.
It can get irritating.
In the online world, irritation tends to lead to leaving a page. Make it easier for people to stay.
Why Google loves your headings and subheadings
It might not be the obvious answer. This isn’t necessarily about when search engines crawl your site.
The measure that Google will look at is the experience of your readers. The longer they are looking at your page, because you’ve structured it well and enticed them to at least keep skimming down the page, the better quality your text appears to Google.
When people bounce off a page quickly to try and find what they were looking for, or something more interesting, then Google notices.
A high bounce rate makes it conclude that your page doesn’t answer a question, or provides no value, interest or even entertainment.
Keep them skimming and lingering
First and foremost, write things that are useful and interesting. Don’t waste that by not helping people to discover that it is those things by leaving out headings.
Don’t skimp on them either. You’re not looking to use one at the start, and one towards the end.
Don’t get too clever with them
Subheadings and headings are not the place to get too creative or too clever.
It’s a bit of a balancing act. You need it to be clear enough that your reader understands what might sit underneath it, but not give everything away so they don’t read it all.
But keep puns, jokes, oblique references out. There’s a place for those but this isn’t it.
You are a hero
If you skimmed this far, thank you.
You possibly helped to prove the point. Or just really like what I write.
Or you’re my brother.
Drop me an email and let me know which it is. If you’re not my brother then I’m sending you something.