023 How to Create Exquisite Subheadlines

The purpose of the subheadline is two-fold. Standing out is its first purpose. The second purpose is a little more complex.

Imagine your average reader. She’s fallen in love with your headline. It’s a good one. It’s a humdinger.

And now she is scrolling down the page, evaluating whether she wants to invest the time in reading this article of yours or not.

As she scrolls she sees a subheadline and thinks, “Oh, now that’s interesting.” So she stops scanning, and she reads that section.

Sound simple enough? But not so fast. How you write a subheadline so she stops and reads is not as easy as you might think.

There are tactics you have to master.

In this roughly ten-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • The two (or three) purposes behind every subheadline
  • The backwards way in which some people read online articles (and how to capitalize on this behavior)
  • How you should use the similarities between a headline and subheadline to your advantage
  • What steps to take when you don’t know how to arrange your copy
  • Why your subheadlines don’t feel connected
  • Where you should never position your best subheadline on the page

The Show Notes

Deadly Conversion Busters: How to Make It Easier to Buy

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, a digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Hi, this is Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media. And you are listening to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

And thank you also for taking that little side journey I’m calling “The exceptional writers club” where we detoured from our focus on the essential elements of clear, concise and compelling web copy to explore the four characteristics that make up great writers.

If you haven’t listened to that mini series, jump back five episodes when you get a chance. They are all roughly ten minutes each.

In the meantime, this is episode 23, where I’m going to show you how to create exquisite subheadlines.

You know what else is exquisite, dear podcast listeners? The Ellie Caulkins Opera House. You know, that joint we are hosting the Authority Rainmaker conference this May 13-15 with a star-studded cast of speakers bringing you some of the best ideas on content marketing, driving traffic, smart design, and conversion.

Ideas from people like the SEO veteran, Danny Sullivan, co-founder and CTO of ion interactive Scott Brinker, Porch’s VP of Marketing Joanna Lorde, and the world’s first Chief Content Officer, Ann Handley.

Don’t forget Henry Rollins, Dan Pink, Chris Brogan and a cast of Copyblogger hot shots. All in one room. For three days. At the exquisite Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

And you’ve got a chance to chum with them. Dine with them.

But you have to jump over to rainmaker.fm/event, and register. I will be there, and I would love to see you. So please, register, at rainmaker.fm/event.

Now, on to the show.

The Two (or Three) Purposes Behind Every Subheadline

So first things first: what is a subhead? A subhead is a headline within your article or sales letter. Behind the page, in the HTML code, it’s usually created by an H2 or H3 tag, depending upon your typographical preferences.

Say the font size for your headline is 24, so it’s really, really large, and the font size for your body copy is 12, which is a reasonably readable size, your subheadlines will be around 16 or 18.

In other words, the subheadline is smaller in size than the headline, but larger than the body copy. It’s meant to stand out.

Because you have such a short time to capture the attention of a potential reader, the headline grabs attention, pulls them into your article, then they scan.

They aren’t going to read. We learned that from those four studies we explored a few episodes ago in “The Ugly Truth About How People Read Online.”

That’s the typical behavior of your average web reader. So when they scan, your subheadlines must stand out.

The purpose of the subheadline is to twofold: Standing out is it’s first purpose. Just by it’s sheer size. It’s easier to see.

The second purpose, or you could say the second and third purposes, is to allure and/or guide that scanner.

The Backwards Way in which Some People Read Online Articles (and How to Capitalise on This Behaviour)

Here’s what I mean by allure.

Imagine your average reader. She’s fallen in love with your headline. It’s a good one. It’s a humdinger. And now she is scrolling, evaluating whether she wants to invest the time in reading this article of yours. As she scrolls she sees a subheadline and thinks, “Oh, now that’s interesting.” So she stops scanning, and she reads that section.

Once she’s finished with that section, she will probably go back to her scanning behavior.

Now I’ve found myself reading an entire article this way. Where I scan, am attracted by a certain subheadline, read that section, and so on.

In fact, I’ve read an article backwards, starting with the last subheadline, and working my way up, thinking if this section was good, perhaps I’ve missed something by not reading the others.

Have you ever found yourself doing that?

What Steps to Take When You Don’t Know How to Arrange Your Copy

So a subheadline that allures … provides a benefit to the reader. It suggests she can learn something. She’ll be entertained. Informed. You can write these benefit laden subheadlines the same way you write headlines. By using the four Us approach — useful, ultraspecific, unique, and urgent — I mentioned back a few episodes. I’ll drop the link to that episode in the show notes for your reference.

So a subheadline can allure. It entices with benefits. A promise. But it can also serve as a guide. For example, in an article I wrote called “10 Productivity Tips from a Blue Collar Genius” each subheadline delivers one of these tips.

So our scanner can skim, find a tip she is interested in — dive in if she wants.

But the goal is to allow her to scan, and see in a quick glance the structure of the article. The tips, in this case.

As a guide, the subheadline can also help you create the outline for your article, as I did with the blue collar genius. I started with the premise, which was the headline, then jotted down all the tips I could eek out of that idea.

Why Your Subheadlines Don’t Feel Connected

One final tip. Use parallelism. What I mean by that is try to create your subheadlines so they match each other in form and style. For example, each subheadline starts with a verb. “Insert. Tell. Create.”

You’re after a rhythm.

Where You Should Never Position Your Best Subheadline on the Page

Also, make your first subheadline your best. Your most intriguing. Your most enticing. Opening with a predictable, unoriginal subheadline communicates to the scanner “Hey, this guy’s got nothing interesting to say.”

And that cognitive negativity works against you. Your reader is looking for an excuse to NOT read your article. So don’t give it to her.

That’s it for today, for subheadlines. Tomorrow, on to bullets.

Until then. Take care.