3 Reasons You Must Use Subheads …

Last week we had a great session in our Circle of Success Targeted Learning Program on “Leads.” We were discussing how to fill your lead with a feeling of urgency.

The session brought back my own memories of when I was first learning copywriting from a well-known copywriter I’ll call “my mentor.”

I dreaded seeing my copy when my mentor returned it. He almost invariably “bled on it.” (Those were the “good old days” before peer reviews and CUBA reviews.) But as painful as it seemed back then, I still learned a great deal from this process.

One lesson I learned right away was the importance of subheads.

Here’s my painful memory …

I’d written some copy for an alternative-health newsletter promotion. My mentor returned it to me without the usual flood of red ink.

“This,” he said, “is pretty good.” (High praise from him.) I beamed inside at his compliment. “But,” he continued grumpily, “where are the subheads?”

I explained that when I wrote it, I didn’t think about subheads. I didn’t know I should use them, and I didn’t know they were that important.

My mentor didn’t exactly blow up. But he let me know that subheads were among the most important elements in a sales letter. I nodded my head in agreement, but in reality I still didn’t understand why.

My mentor was an outstanding and very successful copywriter. But he wasn’t a great coach. He never really told me the “why” of anything. He just told me to “do it.” And that was that.

Until I took the AWAI programs, I didn’t understand exactly how important these “mini-headlines” are to promotions, be they for print or web. The AWAI programs – and years of doing my own copywriting – taught me why subheads are so important.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years …

3 reasons you must use subheads …

Your reader wants his reading to be easy. That’s why you avoid big words and long sentences (for the most part). But he also wants his reading to look easy. Subheads provide visual breaks in your copy, so it looks easy to read.

Take some copy – with and without subheads – and look at it from about six feet away. Without subheads, the visual impact is a large block of gray text. Not very inviting.

With subheads, the copy is broken up. It’s less gray looking … and decidedly more inviting.

How often to use subheads …

There’s no hard and fast rule for how often you should include a subhead. I figure three subheads for every two printed pages of copy is a good minimum. In the masterful copy we use as one of the examples in the COS “Leads” intensive, Kent Komae has a subhead about every three to four paragraphs.

But be careful not to use too many subheads. It’s perfectly okay to have a new subhead after a single intervening paragraph. But, doing that too often makes the copy busy looking. It can be as uninviting as long blocks of uninterrupted copy.

It’s a sufficient reason to use subheads to break up your copy visually. It’s sufficient … but certainly not the best reason to use subheads.

Subheads help pull your prospect to the ultimate action …

The Golden Thread of your big promise and core benefits is what convinces your prospect to buy or act. Well-written subheads help weave that Golden Thread throughout your copy. Taken on their own, they should provide almost sufficient pull for your prospect to act.

Here’s how I check to see if that’s happening. After I’ve finished my third or fourth draft, I copy all my subheads into a separate file. I print that file and read the subheads by themselves.

I don’t expect them to make sense like the written copy does. But I check to see if they collectively build urgency by supporting the Golden Thread.

Okay, there’s a lot here about why and how you should use subheads. But I haven’t given you very much about how to make them effective. We’ll talk about that next week, when we delve into a few simple strategies for writing strong subheads … and how to make them serve the Golden Thread.

Until next week, keep reading … and keep writing.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 27, 2014

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