Writing for the Web: Give an ‘F’ about subheads

The F-shape reading pattern is common among consumers of online content. Here’s how to keep those eyeballs moving down the page—and coming back to you for more.

The letter “F” isn’t just for four-letter words. It’s also a pattern you use to read online content. According to eye-tracking researchers like Jakob Nielsen, people scan Web pages as two horizontal stripes—that is, the headline and first paragraph—and then a vertical stripe, the content that travels down the left-hand side of the page.

So what does this mean to you?

Most page visitors won’t read past your first few words. They need to make a snap decision, to figure out whether your content is worthy of their undivided attention. Your job is to make that decision-making process easy.

Here’s how…

Scanners love subheads

Think about that F-shaped pattern: After a person has read the headline and perhaps the first paragraph, they will scan further down the page. They are looking for content that compels them to continue reading. That’s why subheads are so great.

Subheads can grab the reader’s interest in a matter of seconds by:

  • breaking up a text-heavy page, and
  • informing readers of the overall context and content of the article.

Subhead writing strategies

In creating easily scanned subheads on a webpage, you want your audience to:

  • get a relatively clear idea what your content is about, and
  • feel compelled to read the content in its entirety.

This means you should:

  • use strong and clear language in each subhead—preferably within the first two or three words;
  • keep your subheads concise; and/or
  • inherently promise a nugget (or nuggets!) of wisdom if they take time to read your content.

Make it eye-catching

Another tip to make your subheads stand out: Use bold and a larger font when possible.

Just ‘F’ it!

Wondering why your visitors are spending mere microseconds on your page before clicking away? Consider changing up your subheads using the tips above. But don’t forget: Headlines are just as important, and, according to the F-shaped pattern, they are the first thing that will capture readers’ fleeting attention. By incorporating your understanding of the F-shaped pattern into your online writing, you’ll increase your chances of getting your content read.

Lindsey McCaffrey is a freelance Web and social media copywriter and blogger based in Ottawa, Canada. Read her blog, Absolutely Write, at http://www.lindseymccaffrey.com/blog. A version of this post first appeared on BloggingPro.

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