Let Subheads Lead Your Prospect to the Sale

"Oh yeah, I gotta put in some subheads."

When I started copywriting, subheads were an afterthought. An imposition. Something I put in because my mentor told me I had to.

The subheads I wrote – and my copy in general – suffered because of my attitude. But that won't happen to you if you understand the "Why, How, and When" of writing subheads.

The "Why" of Writing Subheads

Subheads are mini-headlines that you sprinkle throughout your copy – and they have several very specific purposes.

Their first purpose is to attract your prospect's attention and bring him into the sales letter. Even if he's a very linear reader … one who reads a sales letter from start to finish … a good subhead arouses curiosity and makes him to want to read the next section.

But not everybody reads a sales letter from start to finish. Many people – like me – scan it first. For these people, subheads provide steppingstones for them to get through it.

They provide enough interesting ideas and compelling copy by themselves to keep the prospect engaged until he feels ready to read the letter or … if you're really lucky … to make him decide to buy without even reading it.

To achieve this goal, your subheads MUST be able to build the case for your sale by themselves.

There's one more reason for using subheads – and it's every bit as important as the others: They break up long copy, making it look easy to read. As a result, your prospect will be willing to read more copy, giving you the opportunity to develop your sales pitch more naturally and effectively.

How many subheads should you use? A good rule of thumb is to have a minimum of three subheads for every two pages of copy that's set in 12-point type. A minimum.

The "How" of Writing Subheads

Writing subheads is not terribly difficult.

First, make sure that every subhead you write relates to the copy that follows it. If, for example, your subhead says something like "How to Accomplish More in 3 Hours of Work Than Your Coworkers Do in 8," you'd better have something that at least hints at an answer very soon afterward. If you don't, you'll lose credibility, and your prospect will think you're trying to flim-flam him.

Once you have written a draft subhead, improve it by using the 4 U's.

Is it Unique? Is the subhead different from other subheads in your promotion and in other promotions? Or is it similar to subheads your prospect has seen in many other ads?

Is it Useful? "How to Accomplish More in 3 Hours …" might be good for a letter selling a supplement that boosts energy – but it's not very useful if you're selling an investment newsletter.

Is it Urgent? Does the subhead push your prospect to act quickly? Does it express urgency or timeliness? Or does it just sit on the page? "How to Accomplish More …" is certainly more urgent than something like "8 Vitamins You Need Daily."

Is it Ultra-specific? Don't settle for generalities in your subheads (or headlines). Tell the prospect "17 Weeks to Lose 4 Inches" instead of "Lose More Weight Than You Thought Possible."

One important note: It's tempting to put the name of your product in a subhead. But that's like putting it in neon lights. When you do that, your prospect's sales resistance rises before you get a chance to convince him you have a way to make his life easier, more prosperous, healthier, or whatever.

So avoid using the product's name in subheads, even at the close. Instead, substitute a core benefit.

The "When" of Writing Subheads

Once you get used to working with subheads, you'll develop a sense for when one is needed in the copy.

If you feel that one is needed while you're writing your first draft, go ahead and add it then … IF, that is, it flows naturally from what you're writing.

But if that feeling hits you and you don't know what the subhead should say, don't stop and try to figure it out. Put "Subhead Goes Here" (in the same formatting you're using for the other subheads in the letter), and go back to it later.

Don't expect to write good subheads with your first pass. Revise them as you revise the rest of the copy. And try moving them around, bringing them up or down by one or two paragraphs.

Once you embrace subheads as the powerful copy elements they can be, you will start to enjoy writing them … because you'll quickly see how they strengthen your copy.

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Published: July 16, 2007

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