by Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine is a professional writer specializing in Web copywriting. See Headline Tips for tips, and check out ‘Web Word Wizardry’, an easy, user-friendly guide to writing Web pages that are findable, readable, credible and profitable.
Headings have a powerful impact – for better or for worse. It’s a fact that you can double or treble your sales simply by improving a heading on an advertisement or Web page.
On the dazzling pages of the Web, headings are essential. Text is really hard to read on-screen, so people generally don’t bother. Instead their eyes skim the page looking for clues about the content. As soon they have enough clues, they can decide whether to bookmark, download or print the page – or leave it forever.
With so much at stake, it’s worth concentrating on this aspect of your Web copy. The majority of people will read only your headings, and nothing more. So give those headings teeth!
- Use key words in every heading.
- Be specific, not general.
- Pack headings with information.
- Write positive headings: say what something is, not what it isn’t.
- Use plenty of headings: two or three per screen.
‘Our products’ is a perfectly good button but a hopeless heading. Waste of space! It breaks rules 1, 2, and 3. ‘Products’ is not a useful keyword. ‘Our products’ is extremely general: it could apply to anything from pocket-handkerchiefs to information management software solutions.
Imagine your Web site as a kitchen and each paragraph as a jar or tin. Every container needs a label. (And almost every paragraph needs a heading.) It’s obviously no use if all the containers are labeled ‘Ingredients’. They need specific labels like ‘Flour’ or ‘Sugar’ or ‘Spice’. Better still, give them even more precise labels such as ‘Wholemeal wheat flour’, ‘Cornflour’ and ‘Rye flour’.
As in the kitchen, so on the Web. The more precise the labels are, the more useful they are as keywords (up to a point).
But we can go one step further than just writing labels. We can add a little more information: ‘White flour for sauces and sponge cakes.’ ‘Vitamin-rich rye flour.’
Another option is to write a compressed sentence instead of a phrase – in other words, a headline: ‘White flour makes light cakes.’ ‘Fight allergies with versatile potato flour.’
Use ‘yes’ words in headings, every time. The Web is no place for negative language, which tends to be depressing, confusing and generally counterproductive. Avoid playing games like this with headings on the Web: ‘Hate tasteless cookies? Add cinnamon.’ Your visitors will remember one phrase: ‘tasteless cookies’.
Headings are a blunt instrument, and should perform a simple job: each one should summarise the information that follows. Be extremely direct, because if you’re subtle, those busy, information-hungry visitors may miss the point.
Some people will read the paragraph below your heading, and some people won’t. Just remember that brutal fact, and you’ll have a strong incentive for polishing your headings until they are perfect.