In praise of subheadings
If part, or indeed, all of your role is dedicated to editing stuff, you’ll know that it’s always a disappointment to receive drafts which look a bit like this:
Long, continuous spools of unbroken prose. Urgh.
In other words, as editors, we’re faced with sorting this out:
Extra time now has to be spent working out what the overall piece is about, before we are left to decide where any H2s or H3s might be best placed. We, as editor, bear the brunt of a turning a poor reading experience around by suffering it in it’s raw state - before anyone else.
Maybe the raw material is a brilliant piece of content in need of a just light touch edit. Maybe it’s got a great, irresistible title lying in wait; ready to pull readers in.
But once those readers are on the page, what’s going to keep them reading to the end? Because without the presence of subheadings, you’re always going to be fighting a losing battle.
The subheading is an essential tenet of any piece of content of reasonable length, yet sometimes they can be a little underused, misused - or even completely absent.
So here’s a quick run-down of why using subheadings is so helpful - for everyone.
1. Subheadings make content easier to digest
When a subheading for each part of the content is present, your readers know pretty instantly what that section is going to cover.
They break up the overall structure into manageable chunks that allow our brains to quickly ‘skim’ and scan, until we find the most interesting and relevant sections for us.
And where a subheading follows straight under a main title, it can sometimes function as the sentence that ‘explains’ an abstract or cryptic headline to the reader:
Scanning pieces of content is a behaviour we’ve all naturally adopted, and we’re far better able to do this when subheadings are properly used. Without them, we’d struggle to navigate through a lengthy piece of prose, we’d spend more time reading - or even give up reading altogether, after just a short time.
It’s an important ‘shortcut’ for us, as there’s so much content out there. We need to be able to quickly judge the quality and relevance between, say, five different articles which all cover the same topic.
2. Subheadings can make impactful points, all on their own
Literally acting like small-scale newspaper headlines, they can keep someone engaged, even if they found the previous section a bit boring or irrelevant.
Subheadings can tease, reveal, lead, answer, state... they can be powerful enough to keep a reader… well, reading.
3. Subheadings keep us, the content creator, on track
Whether you’re an editor or a content writer crafting a piece from scratch, using subheadings can be a lifesaver. It’s almost like laying a foundation - so you don’t end up with a messy first draft.
They can help you stitch together the ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’ of a piece of content, and ensure that the finished piece flows well.
Lastly, subheadings can prevent you from going off on a tangent. Avoiding going off-topic ultimately saves you writing and editing time, and allows you to keep your piece on point.
4. Subheadings are still good for SEO
Although (arguably) they do not influence how your website content ranks on search engines as much as they may have done in days gone by, using them in a ‘best practice’ manner within your content is still the way to go. They’re still going to be crawled by search engine spiders, and they’re still deemed to hold important information for users searching for specific content.
So it goes without saying that, when you’re about to publish a page, you should make sure that all headings and subheadings are specified in your CMS using the appropriate tags (i.e. <H3>, <H2>, and so on).
“We do use H tags to understand the structure of the text on a page better”
John Mueller, Google
For a more in-depth look at headings / subheadings and their potential impact on SEO, take a look at this helpful article.