The Ultimate Guide to Writing Irresistible Subheads

Subhead Blunders

Note from Glen: You know a post is truly valuable when it remains useful long after publication. Gary’s post is a perfect example — I refer writers to it all the time.

While a great headline will attract readers to your post, you’ll need great subheads to keep them there. Enjoy!


You know you’re in a war, right?

Ok, so no actual guns or tanks are involved, but you are indeed in a bloody battle for the eyes and minds of your readers.

The blogosphere is a huge, congested, noisy space where everyone is jockeying for position and fighting to get noticed.

So to overcome this fact, you’ve done what you’ve been taught to do:

  • You’ve come up with great ideas that readers will find useful
  • You’ve created killer headlines that jump off the screen and demand attention
  • You’ve spent hours writing and rewriting stellar content that delivers and reads beautifully

And yet readers still come to visit your blog and… (click) bounce just as quickly as they came.

Why It Doesn’t Matter How Great Your Content Is

Look, I know you work hard on your writing – and if you study and apply all the great writing advice that’s available out there, it’s a safe bet that you’re writing some powerful stuff. Granted.

And when you know you’re creating legitimately excellent work, you can easily fall into the rainbows-and-unicorns blogging fantasy. You know the one. It goes like this:

  • Your readers see a killer headline you wrote on their social media streams and click through to the article.
  • When they click through, they read every carefully crafted word from start to finish – devouring the intellectual feast you’ve laid out for them.
  • Having fallen head over heels in love with your work, they subscribe, read everything you’ve ever written, and become evangelists for your brand – spreading the word of your excellence far and wide.

Oh, what a wonderful world it would be, right?

But the harsh reality of the situation is this:

They often don’t even finish reading the article that brought them to your blog in the first place.

The Reason Your Readers Don’t Stick Around

Readers have adapted to their environment. You know as well as I do that it’s not exactly uncommon to be lured in by a compelling headline, click through to the article and find weak content.

Because of that, readers have become expert scanners.

We’ve all learned to scan content and determine if it piques our interest in mere seconds. If it doesn’t grab us, we bounce – plain and simple.

According to The Nielsen Norman Group, the vast majority of your visitors will make a judgment within 10 to 20 seconds of opening your content whether they should stick around – or whether they should bounce.

That’s it. Just 10 to 20 seconds. There’s no waiting around for the grand finale in blogging, friends.

Think about it: In 10 to 20 seconds, a good post and a great post look fairly similar. It’s just not long enough to win hearts and minds and create that endless stream of traffic you’ve been dreaming of.

The Recommended Cure For Scanning (and Why It Doesn’t Work)

The best tool you have in your arsenal is something that far too many bloggers overlook.

The subhead.

That’s right – the often overlooked subhead is really a stealthy and lethal ninja writing weapon just sitting there quietly waiting to be put to good use.

Unfortunately, most writers don’t know how to use them properly.

Let’s do a quick refresher and deconstruct the word.

The name sub (under) head (headline) literally means a headline under the main headline.

And what do headlines do?

They hook, they entertain, they shock, and, above all, they create curiosity. They pull readers further into your epic content so they stay with you long enough to realize that it is, in fact, stellar writing.

What the headline does for the post, the subhead does for each individual subsection of copy.

3 Subhead Blunders That Make Readers Bounce

Too many writers just throw away their subheads. Let’s take a look at the three most common blunders that cause subheads to fall flat.

1. The Plain Label Subhead

A lot of bloggers use subheads merely as a label. Labels are used to identify, not to pique interest.

Plain Label Subheads are boring and they don’t stop readers from scanning. They make them yawn. Not exactly the response you’re looking for.

If, for example, you’re writing a subhead above text that’s about why headlines are important and your subhead is Why Headlines Are Important, you’re using it as a label. It’s lifeless, boring, and does nothing to keep your readers engaged with your writing.

Instead, something like The Simple Secret to Hooking Your Readers would be more on track. Then let the text that follows explain the importance of great headlines.

2. The Spoiler Subhead

Spoiler Subheads tell readers exactly what’s coming in the text that follows the subhead. Talk about playing right into the scanners’ hands! If you want to keep readers on your posts longer, don’t give them a free pass to skip paragraphs. Tease them with the subhead.

Keeping with our example of headlines, if you’ve written a block of text in which your point is that the number-one priority of a headline is to create curiosity, don’t precede it with a subhead that reads Use Headlines to Create Curiosity.

That’s a big old spoiler that gives away your upcoming point. And if they know the point you’re about to make, why should they read it?

A subhead that reads The One Thing Every Great Headline Has in Common would be a much better place to start. Then use the text below it to explain how curiosity is that one thing.

3. The Cryptic Subhead.

The other side of the subhead blunder coin is trying so hard to be creative and grab attention that you create something that is more confusing than compelling. These cryptic subheads can be a turnoff and lead to a bounce just as easily as the other two mistakes.

Your subhead should be a phrase that is crystal clear, but makes readers say, “I have to keep reading to see what this writer’s getting at.” If instead, it makes them say, “What the hell does that phrase mean?” – you’re flirting with being too cryptic.

Again, consider our example topic of headlines. If you’re making the point that a headline acts as a lure, enticing readers into the body of the post, you might make an analogy with fishing and using bait to hook your readers. But out of context, a subhead which reads Don’t Forget the Worm! won’t make a whole lot of sense.

Therefore, it confuses rather than compels and misses the mark completely. Readers don’t want to solve puzzles. They want to learn.

If, instead you used one that reads The Most Powerful Way to Get More Clicks, you’re in the ballpark. You’re making the same point, but the phrasing pulls readers further into your post instead of frustrating them to the point of clicking away.

You need to treat your subheads as another opportunity to stand out, to grab your readers’ attention, and keep them on your site long enough to transform them into fans.

Steal These Moves From The Subhead Honor Roll

Naming names and showing you examples of people who did it the wrong way would just be mean. Entertaining, perhaps, but mean.

So instead, I’m going to share with you three excellent examples of the right way to keep your readers on your blog longer by writing great subheads – and tell you what they did right.

Jon Morrow

Since we’re all here, we might as well pay homage. Jon is one of the all-time masters of headline writing. He has a unique talent for crafting headlines that make you say, “What? What the hell could that possibly be about?” His subheads are just as powerful.

Here’s a doozie:

Jon Morrow Subhead

Wow! That got your attention, right? For a split second when I first read that, I thought, “What could Jon Morrow possibly have against my mother?”

That subhead is kind of surprising, and it shows a unique personality too. It creates curiosity. After reading that, you’re compelled to keep reading to find out what he’s talking about – which turns out to be a great exercise to improve your writing.

If Jon had used his subhead as a label – merely to describe the content below it – it wouldn’t have pulled you in.

A subhead that reads Write A Letter to Your Mom Then Tear It Up falls flat.

If he had told readers what was coming with a subhead like Try This Writing Exercise, they probably wouldn’t bother to read the paragraphs that followed. They’d just keep scanning – or even worse… bounce.

Tommy Walker

In a guest post here on Smart Blogger, Tommy shows us that subheads don’t have to be shocking or funny to grab your attention:

Tommy Walker Subhead

That’s a subhead that makes you feel an emotion with the use of few power words. It’s sobering and makes readers curious to learn the details about the conversation he’s referencing. It pulls you in.

If Tommy had gone with a label subhead like Building an Email List Is Important, it wouldn’t have worked. It’s not interesting and it doesn’t do anything to compel readers to keep going.

What if he had used one like A Friend Told Me To Build My Email List that gave away the content that follows the subhead? Would that have been any better? Nope. That would just be granting readers license to skip that excellent story about his conversation with Derek.

Danny Iny

In a post about his Business Ignition Bootcamp, Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing wrote this stunner that caught my eye:

Danny Iny Subhead

I don’t know about you, but I was instantly pulled in by that subhead because I, like most people, have asked myself that same question many times. I could relate to it. I could even feel it.

The subhead is full of emotion. It makes you curious about what Danny’s talking about and you have to keep reading.

If Danny would have gone the lazy route and used his subhead as a label, it might have read It’s Important For Me to Help Others. A nice sentiment, but boring and devoid of emotion.

He could also have written something like I’m Launching A Program to Help Entrepreneurs. Outside of entrepreneurs who were looking for help, not many readers would have been pulled in by that either.

The Four Ingredients Of Killer Subheads

If you haven’t bounced and you’ve come this far, I figure I’ve hooked you, so I’m going to press my luck.

Did you see what I did in those three examples of stellar subheads? You may want to go back and look. Under each example, I’ve bolded several words. They’re the four key ingredients of compelling subheads.

If you don’t feel like going back up there, here they are:

  • Curiosity
  • Surprise
  • Personality
  • Emotion

Every good subhead should, at the very least, create curiosity for readers and compel them to continue reading. The truly great subheads usually have at least one or more of those other qualities too.

How Do Your Subheads Measure Up?

Go take a look at your most recent posts. Take some time to evaluate the subheads and honestly ask yourself if they would make a scanner stop and take notice.

Do you use subheads to break up long blocks of text? Are you creating curiosity and coaxing readers along by injecting surprise, personality, or emotion?

Or are many of your subheads just labels? Are they spoilers that give away what’s coming next? Even worse – are they so cryptic that they befuddle and confuse your readers?

Make sure you treat your subheads with as much TLC as you’ve become accustomed to giving your headlines and you’ll be on the right track.

5 Simple Steps to Supercharged Subheads

When you’re writing your next post, follow these five simple steps to craft subheads that hook your readers and keep their eyes on your post:

  1. Write the post as you normally do. Don’t worry about changing anything up just yet.
  2. When your draft is done, go back and look at your subheads in a different light. In your mind, isolate each subhead and the text that follows it. Think of that block of text as a short, all-inclusive post.
  3. Ask yourself what the purpose of that singular block of text is. What point are you trying to get across?
  4.  If that portion of text were a blog post unto itself, ask yourself what would its headline be?
  5.  Make sure your subhead creates curiosity – and then try to work in surprise, personality, and emotion whenever possible.

Grab These Bonus Resources From My Subhead Stash

Since subheads are basically mini headlines, you can find great subhead resources hidden within the headline arena.

The following are my three favorite headline eBooks. I recommend that you download and read them all:

While all of these eBooks were written about headlines, you can apply the principles to writing more compelling subheads as well.

Download these guides, save them to your computer, and use them as you would a resource book. I refer to them all the time.

Are You Ready To Declare War On The Scanners?

If you owned a Lamborghini, would you take that bad-boy out for a spin – or leave it in the garage under a tarp?

Then you can’t very well leave this ridiculously powerful tool under some old dusty tarp, can you?

Whatever your blogging endgame is, its success hinges on your content being found (and loved) by throngs of new readers.

You know all too well the work that goes into getting a new visitor to your blog. Think about all the time and all the effort you’ve devoted to starting your blog and writing great content. Think about all the time and effort necessary to promote your work, get readers to give it a chance, and monetize your blog eventually.

Then ask yourself if that was really time well spent if the people who do give your content a chance only scan your content for 10 to 20 seconds before they bounce.

Now you can make them stick!

Now you have a simple but powerful solution in your arsenal. Killer subheads will hook those scanners again and again – keeping them on the page long enough to discover once and for all that you are a writer worth paying attention to.

Go revisit your most recent content. Take a hard look at your subheads and be brutally honest with yourself.

If you’ve been throwing them away, stop it.

This post has given you all the information you need to write compelling subheads that magnetically pull readers from section to section of your posts.

Put it to use and watch your bounce rate plummet.

About the Author: Gary Korisko is a battle-tested Sales and Marketing Leader, Copywriter, and Business Strategist. Download your free copy of his eBook, How to Influence All the Right People (Plus two special Smart Blogger bonuses). For more of Gary’s work, check out his blog Reboot Authentic.

171 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Irresistible Subheads”

  1. Melissa Pearson

    What?!! People don’t read all of my posts?! That can’t be true… But in case you may be right I will take this awesome advice! Thanks!

  2. This was GREAT! I have stopped adding subheads into some of my work, especially when it is more of a personal post…not necessarily informational.

    I will definitely be more aware of subheads on all my other work…and may go back and change others.

    Great examples too! Thank you!

    1. Ouch. Yeah – don’t stop using them. As many in this thread have mentioned, you absolutely need them to break up text. And, well, now you know the reasons (and benefits) of this next-level subhead strategy.

      Thanks, Selena!

  3. Cecil McIntosh

    Great post Garry.

    I am guilty. I thought subheads were just a label to break up your copy. Then I started working with Jon in his blog launch formula course and I am shocked at the emphasis he paid to subheads.

    I am constantly reminded that my posts are being scanned and if my subheads are not exciting or curious then my post will not be read completely.

    My responsibility is to keep them reading my post until the very end and get an opt-in. Your post is therefore timely and gives me another perspective.

      1. I have read many posts on this site, but I don’t often comment.

        I find them very informative, regardless of who writes them. This is a great site!

  4. Great post, Gary – you certainly walked the walk and talked the talk in this one, with some great sub-headings of your own.

    Made me stop what I was doing and start thinking instead (more coffee needed at this point!).

    One question for you. We know that sub-heads are generally h2 or h3 headings in the HTML structure, and conventional wisdom suggests these are good places for keywords if we want to boost SEO etc.

    Do you have any advice on how to balance the need for SEO with crafting sub-headings that work the way you describe here?

    I suspect that “balance” is the key thing, but how would you approach that particular issue?

    Thanks for the entertaining and helpful article!

    1. Nigel:

      Thanks for the compliment. I appreciate it.

      I’m fairly novice still with SEO. But I have also read that it’s wise to have keywords in subheads.

      That being said, my attitude so far has been: Content comes first – SEO comes second. Strategies change, of course, but that’s where I am at the moment.

      Great question – and I’m interested to see what everyone else has to say about it.

      1. Just realized I didn’t quite wrap that up.

        My inclination would be to craft a great subhead first. If you can build it around a keyword, all the better. But if not, I’d personally side with the great subhead.

      2. Ooh great great post Gary!! This one totally sucked me in and I read the whole thing. You definitely practice what you preach. And very good to know about the SEO part of it too.

        I’ve always thought that SEO should come first in headlines, but I’m starting to see that’s really not always the best policy.

  5. “readers have become expert scanners”

    boy is that the truth.. and I have to make a point to write for them in the way they want to receive it.

    thanks for the refresher..and the links to Headline help. I have Jon’s of course but didn’t know about the other ones.

    darlene 🙂

    1. Darlene:

      I’m a 20+ year sales management vet and you just hit on one of the vitally important keys to connecting with anyone: Delivering your message in a way that is meaningful to them. Spot on.

      (AKA- know your audience)

      Thanks very much. Great comment.

  6. Jon, great post! Thanks for another useful post! I just finished reading HEADLINE HACKS and this post just adds to the knowledge. I found the book extremely useful.

  7. Great post, Gary! I think I’ve been treating my subheads as headlines, but “curiosity, surprise, personality, & emotion” gives me a note I can hang above my desk to remind me to up my game.

    I have Jon’s Headline Hacks of course, but will download your other recommendations as well. The more I immerse myself the more this stuff will rub off and become second nature (I hope). 😉

    Thanks so much for this!

    1. Hey Leanne:

      You sound like me. I have my favorite copywriting tips taped or pinned in front of my desk as well 🙂

      I’m glad it has given you another weapon with which to fight the good fight!

  8. Man, what a great article. I went back to one of my posts, “How to Get Rid of Cable” on my other blog (Get Your Life Straight) and notice that the first few subheads had just that: curiosity, surprise, personality, and emotion. But then, the later subheads in that post started to become Spoiler Subheads. WOW…..I’ll change those, and going forward, I will never look at another subhead the same way! Thank you!!!

    Serena
    Thrift Diving

    1. You’re in good company, I think Serena. This is one of those things that just about everyone overlooks from time to time.

      Glad the post proved helpful for you!

  9. This is a really great post. I’m actually a writer and spend time going over my headlines. However, I’ve never thought the sub-heads matter that much until I read this. You’re absolutely right. I should’ve seen it because I do exactly that (the scanning thing).

    1. Exactly Anne. Subheads are so easy to overlook, aren’t they? Just look at how many experienced people in this thread all say they were doing the same thing.

      I’m glad this has triggered something for you!

  10. Okay, I get it now.

    I’ve been using subheads (when I even use them at all) to visually break the page up and keep the reader from bailing by just not overwhelming them.

    I have not been using subheads to keep the reader in a state of suspense so that they can’t tear themselves away.

    Nice eye-opener, Gary. Thanks for sharing that little secret.

    1. Right Coco…

      If you get those subheads in shape to serve the dual purpose of breaking up the text AND keeping the reader on the page longer… And you’re onto something. Good luck to you!

  11. Gary, this post is great.

    Naming posts, products and programs etc. continues to be one of the most challenging tasks for so many people.

    Just when I think I am doing better, I get advice that gives me a failing grade.

    Personally, I really like the kind of titles you recommend and I am getting good at writing those but the new challenge is my VA’s compliant about the title’s lack of SEO factor.

    1. Dr. Montae:

      You can pull off both. There’s another comment above yours about this. If you’re getting good at writing great subheads, there’s nothing to stop you from building some keywords into them. Thank you for your comment and best of luck to you!

  12. Hey there Gary, terrrrific post! Wow, sure gonna save this one into my copywriting resources file. : )

    It’s funny, one of my copywriting clients right now is a healthcare provider, and when I introduced them to the idea of subheads in their web copy, they were all about it, but alas, what they feel most comfortable with is the “Spoiler” subhead. (Which I also call the “why-buy-the-cow-when-you-can-get-the-milk-for-free syndrome. : )) I should go back to them and say what you’ve said here: “Don’t give them a free pass to skip paragraphs.” Brilliant!

    Curiosity, personality, and making an emotional connection are wildly important in effective writing, especially on the web with so much killer content to compete with. I need to go back through some of my own writing and apply the fantastic advice you’ve given us here. 🙂

    1. Hello again Kimberly!

      I’m honored I made your copywriting resource file. Very cool!

      Without study and coaching, I think what you’re experiencing with your client is the norm. As I look back now, most of my early subheads were “labels” or “spoilers.”

      I know you’ll get that client straightened out. Thanks!

      1. Wow, looks like the Spoiler syndrome is more common than I’d realized, Gary. And,yes, looking back that’s been my own weakness, too. Thanks once again for your earlier help with this important publishing approach.

  13. Excellent advice for article writers and bloggers alike. It’s important to break up your copy in order to give the reader a break from long, seemingly endless articles. As a reader and a writer, if an article seems too long with nothing to break it up, I leave the page. Writing should offer a natural stopping point as provided by book chapters and TV commercials. Writers need to give their readers a reason to stay tuned.

    I have written down your formula for successful subheads and will put it to good use. Thanx!

    1. For sure breaking up text is important, Shauna. It helps with scanners too. But beyond the aesthetics of the white space, something needs to grab their hearts and minds… and killer subheads help do that so readers stay with you.

      I’m anxious to hear how it goes for you.

      1. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the best use of pull-quotes, too, Gary.

        Some of my favorite print-media reading makes very strong use of those, and I’ve noticed it really helps me decide which articles I do or do not end up reading.

  14. Great post, Gary. I love your list of four ingredients of killer subheads. What if you moved “curiosity” last — then you’d have the acronym, SPEC (Surprise, Personality, Emotion, Curiosity). You could talk about you’re subheads being up to SPEC, or something like that. It might be a way to quickly and easily remember the list.

    1. Now why didn’t I see that? Great idea, Ryan.

      This is why we do this whole “community” thing online. Thanks for that – and I’m glad you found the post useful.

  15. Hi Gary, creating great headlines is one of my passions – funny though, because I am a writer who is blind…so how did I manage to post a comment here? It’s all about mastering the art of being blind…thanks for a great article. Cheers from Australia. Maribel

    1. Hooked!

      I’m glad you liked the post and that the subheads pulled you all the way through down here to the comments, Justin.

      Chin up… there’s always a new battle. 🙂

  16. Well, shoot.

    Now I have to go back and rewrite my subheads.

    Learning is such a hassle sometimes…

    But worth it.

    Thanks for the great advice!

  17. Brilliant post, Gary. Modern day readers have definitely evolved into scanners…by necessity, really.

    Thank you for your unique perspective, as well as actionable steps to improve the effectiveness of our subheads. I’m adding this to my arsenal today!

    1. Exactly the point, Melanie.

      Many talented and accomplished writers just like you still manage to throw their subheads away. It’s not so much a “dumb” mistake as it is an oversight – and it’s so easy to do.

      Please come back and let us know how this works for you!

    1. Hi Stephen.

      Great observation. It’s the little things that make all the difference.

      Zig Ziglar used to say that people weren’t successful because they did one big thing right – they were successful because they did a whole bunch of little things right.

      It’s as true in writing as it is in any other facet of life, isn’t it?

      Thanks, Stephen!

  18. Gary! Who knew there was so much to know about the humble subhead. I am blown away by the insight, research, and resources you give away here. #jawdropping

    1. Susan –

      It is interesting that something as (supposedly) simple little thing as a subhead has so much power, isn’t it? Probably why it’s so easy to overlook. Glad you found it #jawdropping! 🙂

  19. Brilliant post Gary – and some excellent advice. I know I’m guilty of lame subheads. It wasn’t until we started talking that I really started to see how to write them and why they are important.

    I think knowing and reading this is important, but coming up with one’s own subheads amongst the muck and bullets of trying to pull a post together is still tricky for me.

    I’m just grateful to have an ace blogging buddy who I can bounce ideas off. It’s great to have a trained second pair of eyes to tell you what’s lame and what works. Thanks Gary! 🙂

    1. Ha! Hello, Laura.

      I don’t know that I agree with the notion that your subheads are lame… but I do hear that the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. 🙂

      As far as coming up with your own subheads… Download those 3 eBooks. Seriously. They’re all wonderful. I don’t know that I ever complete a post without checking my work against at least one of them.

      Thanks!

  20. Great post Gary. I think we forget sometimes that writers who specialize in this stuff get paid big bucks. The shorter the message, the harder it is to do well. Thank you for the tips!

    1. Exactly, Renia.

      These are the small but vitally important things the “big guys” are so damn good at. As with endeavor… it’s all in the detail an execution. Thank you!

  21. Hey Gary – this post is a cracker!

    Yes, wrestling subheads to the ground isn’t easy. Even the boring ones tend to fight back.

    I’ve found that drafting my posts in Scriverner is a useful strategy for improving subheads. It makes me treat each section of an article as a mini-post with a stand-alone headline.

    I look forward to admiring the killer subheads in your next guest post on WritetoDone, Gary 🙂

    1. Thank you, Mary.

      Well, I have had a few really good teachers, haven’t I? 😉

      You’re a Scrivener pro – and that’s a great point. I’m not as diligent about using it in that way as you are, but I should give that a try. It makes perfect sense.

      I’ll get to work on that next post. Thanks so much for stopping in!

  22. Yes yes yes!!! I am a scanner, especially the posts that put the information in a subhead and I don’t have to read the following text. I am guilty of making the same subheads. I knew I needed to change something about my posts, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I love that you give examples and actionable steps to know how to fix it all up! Thank you so much!

  23. Great article. I might have broken all of the rules, even after spending hours upon hours on a piece – research, writing, editing, headline, etc.

    Sub-heads were always an afterthought. Sometimes you run out of creative steam at the end and plop up some sub-heads to break up the copy.

    1. I know it’s cliche, Bob… But you’re not alone. We have all done the wry same thing. Writing this post has even caused me to go back through my content and start a list of subheads that don’t measure up. This is why we write about these things: So we can all get better.

      Thanks for sharing that.

    2. So true, Bob! There is a kind of ‘creative downer’ which comes at the end of writing a post. At that point you just want to put the *&%^ing thing in a dark cupboard and forget about it.

      And then you realise, “Oh, the subheads still need doing…!”

      It would be interesting to graph the creative energy of writing a post. I’m always totally fired up at the start, then comes a dip, I climb out of that to write the bulk of the post, and then – right at the end – comes a sharp plunge. That’s just when I need to write some sparkling, innovative, marvellous, unique subheads [sigh].

      If I can, I put the post away for a day and tackle it fresh next day in order to catch the next wave of creativity.

  24. How do my subheads measure up? I don’t even need to check, Gary. I regularly commit the three errors you point out in this article. You’ve shown the downside of my current (lack of an) approach to writing subheads and you can bet I’ll be writing them differently going forward. Heck, I might even go back to some of my more popular posts and rewrite those subheads.

    Because I’d really like everything in my posts to be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows (a close cousin to rainbows and unicorns). 🙂

  25. Stephanie, Queen of Spoiler Subheads

    What an eye opener. I’m a scanner like most others, so I love it when writers use spoiler subheads. I can scan quickly and move on. So when I started using subheads way back when, I used them the same way. Now that I think about it, I could have just written “Lorem ipsum…” under each subhead for all people were probably reading! Note to self: People won’t read unless you entice them! DUH. From the bottom of my wallet, I thank you! 😉

    1. Your Majesty:

      Sorry, but if everyone takes the advice in this post, your scanning days might be numbered.

      I’m glad you found value in this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your sense of humor!

  26. Intriguing post, Gary. Definitely will think of this article when I write my next post. Question, are there such things as subheads in video posts, like in the actual video?

    1. That’s a great question, Ciara.

      You could use the subhead concept in video by utilizing an actual graphic overlay introducing each new section of content.

      That might be interesting – and effective.

      I’d like to hear from anyone else here who may have more video experience on this.

      Anyone?

  27. Thank you. I have been paying more attention to the headline so this is a great reminder that the sub heads are really mini headlines – just as important to carry the reader down the page. Lori from Africa Inside.

  28. This was a very good read. I felt like you didn’t waste my time and I walked away with something concrete to use that made sense to me. Thank you …

  29. Your post immediately grabbed my attention and pointed the way to significantly better reader engagement. Thanks very much for providing a very useful and enlightening focus upon the importance of subheads.

  30. It’s rare that I read anything about writing a subhead. I copied and pasted the post into Evernote. I’ll refer back to it if I get stuck with writing a subhead. Awesome post!

    1. Amandah:

      You’re right. I haven’t seen much written on this subject either. This whole concept actually struck me while reading Jon’s post that I used as an example in the post. After that, I started noticing that there is so much more to subheads than initially meets the eye.

      I’m glad you found it useful and I’m honored that you saved it to Evernote!

      1. There’s a lot more where that stuff came from, Gary 🙂 We’ve done a ton of stuff with headlines over the years. We’ve had time, too because we started out way back in 2002. Eleven years is a long time 🙂

  31. Alysan Delaney-Childs

    Great post Gary. As I ‘scan’ some of my and client posts, I see some subheads are good, and others, well, let’s say improvement is needed.

    Thanks for the step by step walk through. Definitely appreciated.

  32. Love your examples, Gary!

    In fact, I noticed right away that the samples you used each came from posts I had read start to finish. Tells you something, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for your extremely useful and enlightening advice!

    1. Great point, Jim. Funny how that works, isn’t it? That’s exactly why I used those three… they all kept me engrossed all the way through, too.

      Perhaps there’s something to this subhead thing 🙂

  33. I was a magazine writer for 16 years so I’m used to writing clever subheds, and I do the same for my blog — but they’re not exactly attention-grabbers…they’re just, well, clever. I guess I fall prey to the cryptic subhed you talked about. Thanks for beating some sense into me!

    1. I wouldn’t beat you, Linda. You’re always nice to me and I can use all the friends I can get 😛

      But I’m very happy that even a prolific writer like yourself found value in this post!

      (By the way – Cryptic is my downfall as well!)

  34. OK, you made me think. How often do I use subheads just as a label. Probably a fair amount of the time. And quickly running through some recent posts, I see that I have used a few somewhat cryptic labels at times, too. This is the first time I have ever read a blog post addressing subheads, so thank you for that little prod.

    1. You’re welcome, David.

      Trust me… writing this post has made me aware that some of my own subheads need editing as well. But hey – this is how we grow, right?

      So glad you found this helpful!

  35. I’m going to come back to this again and again, Gary. Probably every time I write a new post.

    You reminded me of every time I’ve slapped down a headline-as-subhead thinking I’d go back and edit it later. The editing it later part doesn’t always happen, so I’m ecstatic to have this guide to help me get it right in the drafting phase. Thank you!

    1. Hey there, Sophie!

      You’re pretty strong with headlines already – and clearly some kind of a super-learner, so I’m sure subheads will take you a few *seconds* to master 🙂 I’m glad this helped.

      Thanks!

  36. Jonathan Rishworth

    As someone just learning about the art of blogging (as you know first hand)I have found it challenging to put all the pieces together to make a compelling whole.

    This is the first time I’ve read about the art of creating subheads that is so much more than just breaking up a post.

    I’ll print this out and add it to my ‘blogging tips’ file. I think it’ll save me about 5 years of trial and error and help me avoid dead-end alleyways.

    Excellent stuff Gary!

    1. Hello, Jonathan

      Good point – the whole becomes “more digestible” when you understand its components. At least I know that’s true when I’m learning new things.

      Thanks for sharing & very nice to see you here!

  37. Interesting post, and I did read most of it without scanning. Will probably come back read it again because it all looks like good stuff.

    Just as an aside though, some great bloggers seem to break all the rules. Seth Godin – my all time favourite, usually writes cryptic headlines and I often have no idea where he’s going with it until I’ve read the post. I love that, it really draws me in. Also he posts every day, another ‘no no’ I’ve heard, but they’re so short you can read a few in one go, and there’s always something fresh.

    Thanks for the great tips though, really useful advice for me as I’m preparing to start my blog.

    1. Why Seth Doesn’t Have to Follow the Same Rules As the Rest of Us

      That would be a long, interesting post, wouldn’t it? In short – we’re talking two different ballgames, Liz. One where the blogger got in on the ground floor and was a (brilliant) pioneer in the venue – and another where a lot of new people are trying to break into a very, very crowded market space and get noticed.

      I like Seth’s stuff as much as anyone, but trying to come out of the gate doing what Seth does today doesn’t seem like a viable strategy for a start-up. He’s earned his place in the world over time.

      This is a strategy that can help anyone who uses it – regardless of their level of notoriety.

      I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

      Great comment, Liz!

    2. When Seth started, the “rules” didn’t exist in blogging. He’s also a book author, and derived his fame from his books rather than primarily as a blogger.

      Brian Clark’s Copyblogger has been highly influential in convincing bloggers to adopt copywriting tactics typically used by marketers. Now, I believe you need to know the “rules” of good copywriting…because they work.

  38. I couldn’t help wondering as I read this if I was the only blogger who had never even used a subhead! Then I thought about some bigger ones I follow and they don’t either…but this is excellent advice. Saving this email. 🙂

  39. Designer Rob Russo

    Enticing read, Gary. I admit I started out scanning this post. But in practicing what you preach, you halted my scanning fast. I had to stop and read every word.

    ::Filing post for reference!

    1. Awesome, Rob!

      That may be one of the reasons people like Jon, Tommy and Danny are so successful at what they do, right?

      I’m glad I ‘hooked’ you – and even more pleased that you have a new tool to use.

  40. Gary, no one has taught me this about sub-heads before. THANK YOU!!!! Now I see I have a lot of homework to go back and treat each section of my recent blogposts as individual posts themselves, requiring their own unique headlines. Duh!!! Why didn’t I see that myself??? 😉

  41. I have to say I disagree with this article, in some cases. If you’re writing a blog article where you’re trying to hook new readers or engage apathetic ones, these dynamic subheads are a great idea.

    But in a lot of ways these types of subhead scream “marketing” and “hype” to me. Which turn me off faster than clear, unambiguous subheads that explain what’s coming up.

    For instance, I agree that the conversation subhead (your second example) is compelling. But it is also vague and if I don’t get a payoff in terms of learning something within a line or two, I will still head out.

    I’ve been told when teaching something you need to do three things: tell them what they’re going to learn, teach them that, and then tell them what they learned. Subheads that signal what’s coming next are much easier to scan than hype filled marketing ones that try to impel the reader in a mad rush forward.

    I’m not saying be boring in the subheads, but I am saying think about your audience. A tutorial that is teaching a specific task is a different article from a self-help piece trying to drive readers to a new level of consciousness. And the subhead style should reflect that.

    1. I get what you’re saying, Jennifer. However… by helping people scan, (spoiler subheads) you’re really encouraging them to miss the meat of your post – whether that post be instructional, or about self-help… or even if it’s a sales message.

      So no matter what the purpose of your post is, I’m guessing you wrote the text itself for a purpose. In other words, it has value. And if people only scan through, they’re missing the value of the post.

      Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them is a sales technique as well as a teaching technique. As someone with a teaching degree who has spent 20 years in sales – I can tell you they’re more related than most people think.

      The bottom line is… if you have something of value to say and you want your readers to see (and fully absorb) it… you have to keep them on the page. Otherwise they will either bounce or only get a surface-level understanding of the content.

      Great comment, Jennifer. Even if we disagree 🙂

      Would love to hear others’ thought on this as well!

  42. Thank you enormously Gary. Your point about the ‘label’ subhead has me wondering why people write full Book Descriptions – once you’ve read one you can save yourself the trouble of reading the book – no surprises, no joys to come as YOU KNOW it all! My synopsis for Bk 1 of The Golden Path contains 160 words to cover 450k words in 36 chs, which indicate and titilate as well as ‘comforting’ BUT TELLS NO DETAILS of THE STORY. It would destroy it were it do do so as ‘The Journey’ it takes you is the joy. . ‘Margaret Montrose’

  43. Great post Gary! Guess I’ve been guilty of using subheads to separate text and not infusing them with their full power. Well now that has to change. So thank you for giving excellent info, examples and advice. Curiosity – Surprise – Personality – Emotion –> putting it right on my laptop as a permanent reminder. Cheers!

  44. great article on how to write great subheads to make readers read the whole article.

    I tested this concept on an ecommerce site of mine and it works like gangbusters.

  45. Hey Gary, hypnotic post.

    I’m totally a scanner.

    You really opened my eyes to this rich, massively underestimated technique.

    Having visited my regular reads, its interesting what a difference good subheads make to my reading experience.

    I really liked your ironclad suggestion of not revealing too much in a subhead. It makes a helluva lot of sense in terms of keeping your readers enticed and on page.

    Thank you again for giving great actionable advice to us novice writers. I will be putting this into practice, pronto!

    1. Hey Rory:

      You’re welcome. I’m glad it connected a few dots for you. It’s also very cool that you’re now able to pick out the great subheads in your regular reads. It really makes the reading experience different, doesn’t it?

      Thanks for sharing!

      1. Gary,

        I think the difference that well crafted subheads can make to your reading experience is jaw dropping.

        Not only the content easier to digest but also keeps interest up and emotion flowing!

        Both which are difficult to achieve when your trying to conquer the path to well written, engaging content.

        I feel that, particularly within the online writing community, people often forget the tried and tested techniques used by print for so long.

        Thank you for your response.

  46. I might just go back to my blog and edit all the posts all over again you know. I learnt a vital deal here.

  47. This is definitely something I wouldn’t keep under a tarp!

    I’ve always wanted to know how I could improve my bounce rates.. I thought that’s something I couldn’t really do much about.

    This is a really great help to me!

  48. thanks for the useful information. I always must try hard and harder everytime I write article. But this information really inspired me. Once again, thank you

  49. Thanks Gary – great post and subheaders are one of those things we all just wedge in at the last minute. This is a post I’ve come back to over and over again! Very timely reminder to make your copy appealing to scanners. I find doing it this way also gives a nice structure to your post also.

  50. Looking at my past posts, I see Plain Labels and Spoilers and Cryptics everywhere. Great advice on how to fix that here, thanks!

  51. Hah, you’ve pulled me to the same blog post twice 🙂

    Nice feat.
    Yup, sub-heads are so underrated. It’s all about headlines, headlines, headlines. But the sub-head makes the conversation go a lot further. And people just don’t use the sub-heads as they should.

    Nice work, nice work, Gary, Gary.

    Sean
    Psychotactics.com

  52. This is a great and a fantastic post.I really love it. The most iinterestibg part is ‘If you want to keep readers on your posts longer, don’t give them a free pass to skip paragraphs. Tease them with the subhead.’

    Sub headlines are as important to a blog post as the headline itself. In fact subheading serves as an advert for the paragraph. It keep the readers into suspense till d end of the post, just as u have done here.

    Well done and thumbs up.
    But I try to click on ur bylink and it took me to ur squeeze page but I can’t download the book because there is no sign up form there.
    Pls is there any solution because I’m accessing it through android phone

    Kindly reply @ korisko

  53. Hey Gary,

    This was quite helpful. I use tools like coschedule and the EMV headline analyzer to help me come up with engaging headlines and subheadlines, but your tips take these tools to a new level. There’s one thing I don’t want to do which is to just spoil the fun with labels and give my audience a reason the leave. With these tips, I’m sure I’ll stir up some emotions!

    Thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend!

    1. Hi Sherman. Glad you found something you can use in the post. I understand – the Label and Cryptic are the two I personally have to watch for the most. It’s just such an easy trap to fall into. Thanks for the comments.

  54. Hi Gary
    This is a wonderful post with highly useful information. I will definitely update my old posts. Though I often use small images in between to grab attention, I think I need to work on subheads.

  55. Definitely I’m a scanner,

    My best guess is most people are, and the title and subhead part is the trickiest.

    I downloaded the Cheat Sheet PDF for writing titles and totally loved it, recommend it 10/10.

    Regards.

  56. Hi Gary,

    This is a great post that you have made, and the amount of detail you put into writing subheadings is amazing.

    But what is the best way to write posts that are 1,500+ words long? I’m new to blogging and would like you’re feedback in this area.

    Thanks in advance and take care!

    1. Thanks Benjamnin – I’m glad you liked the post.

      As for how to write longer posts, or better posts, or how to do anything related to blogging *correctly*… you’re already in the right place. Jon and his team are as expert as they come. Read everything here at leas twice! 🙂 Everything you need is in the archives here.

  57. I think the spoiler subheading is the most common mistake among many bloggers. If you are giving out what your post is all about then it’s unattractive. Instead you should concentrate to peak their interest with a punchline and not think about SEO so much. Readers spending more time reading your posts will help generate blog rankings in the long run. Anyways, just read this article and it’s extremely well written.

  58. Gary
    Nice one!
    All writers want, is for their articles to be read by others. Read not scanned. Thank you for the idea to use subheadings. Me in particular doesn’t use it much but after reading this I’m definitely going to use it more often. I’m really interested in knowing how to pull in many viewers and make them finish reading an entire article. To capture the attention of the readers is a good thing but to keep them reading is a great thing. Thank you again for the wonderful insight. Can’t wait to learn more.

    Tony

  59. Good Stuff! While my writing is often praised, I need to work on headlines and subheads. I have relied on great content and wondered why no one was reading it. I’m on it!
    Thanks

  60. Hi Gary,
    Sub heading!
    I never thought of its seriousness and the projection!
    Good that i found it here the various aspects of it.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful reminder!
    I need to be more vigilant in creating things again,
    Keep sharing
    Indeed this is informative and an added knowledge to me!
    Best Regards
    ~ Philip

  61. You are right on the money.

    I’m copywriter and I have to tell you that I place an emphasis on every word I write. Subheadings are important and vital to keeping attention.

    I constantly evaluate mine and a huge part of my writing is put into the subheading.
    When I have writer’s block I will ask myself “how can I grab them by the eyeballs” and make them pay attention and the subheading is a huge part of that

  62. To be frank, I could resist the urge to quickly bookmark this piece after reading just the first two paragraphs. The details are so revealing that I now have it as a resource for future reference.

    Writing irresistible sub-heads is important and I agree that they will help keep the reader who has been lured by the headlines.

    Its now time to be more practical in applying curiosity, surprise, personality and emotion in any sub-header!
    I left the above comment in kingged.com as well

  63. I read it first and main thing is that after post i have read all the comments. great opinions and Awesome post as well as you described here with examples.. Congrats for this post. 🙂

  64. Hi Gary,

    I never paid attention to my subheadings till now, after reading this article I came to know how people will use these subheadings to grab the attention of readers, really my mind blown away to know these tactics.

    We have to have some kind of speciality in our writing to differentiate from others I thinks this is one kind method to do it, thanks for sharing such a good information in copywriting, see you soon with another article.

  65. Subheads are as important as your headline/title. Incredible or irresistible sub-headlines magnets readers and enable you to keep them reading your precious article.

    It is also and ice breaker if you’ll use subheads the smart and effective way.

    Reading your article, I’ve learned that there are different subheads for different people and purpose. Using this will improve article quality. Additionally, you can always break the rule and use a subhead that will catch attention by following Tommy Walker’s line of attack; emotion with just a few words.

    All in all, very educational and doubtlessly effective. Bloggers should pay-attention to their subheads since this will help them pull prospects to the ultimate action.

  66. I never thought to use subhead like that, but I’ll give it a try… usually I just put a picture between to much line of sentences just to let the reader’s eyes to rest a bit

  67. I never thought to use subhead like that, but I’ll give it a try… usually I just put a picture between to much line of sentences just to let the reader’s eyes to rest a bit

  68. This explains very well all the aspects of writing well. Very interesting and amazingly written. As a writer myself, I can understand what could be possible blunders. Well Done!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share
Pin
Tweet
Share