Usingheadings helps your visitor scan your page more effectively. The headline is the top level heading that the reader sees first in the search engine and even determines how the search engine will rank your article.
While using cleverheadlines when writing for print is advisable; on the web, it is best to use strong, short, powerful, to-the-point words for your headings–especially the top level heading, or headline.
A person browsing a magazine rack at a news-stand for something interesting to read gets the full flavor of the front-page. He or she can look at the accompanying picture and scan down to see what else is in the publication.
The only way that a web surfer is going to find your article is through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or through links from other pages. Your headline carries the entire weight of whether the reader will think that the material is relevant or not. When a user plugs key words into the search-box, he or she is going to use terms relevant to what he or she is looking for. If, on the outside chance, you have some heavy tags and meta-tags that pulls your article up–but the headline is too clever, the surfer may think it is irrelevant anyways–even if you ranked first on the search.
Sub-headings are just as important as your headline. Once the surfer reaches your site, he or she is going to scan down the left-hand side of the page for key points to make sure that he or she is where he or she wants to be.
You can make this simple for them by using sub-headings. If you don’t do this, you are leaving them no choice but to browse through you content randomly looking for the key-words that you could have been courteous enough to point out to them. This leaves the whole game to chance–will their eyes just happen to fall on the right words to make your article seem interesting? Why risk it when you can use headings to make sure that they stick around and read your work.
Use strong, active, fresh and accurate headings
When it comes to headings, less is best, as long as it uses the subject and verb in the first two words. The average person isn’t going to read a wordy heading any-more than they are going to scour your page for details until they’ve been hooked.
Use the subject-verb-object formula to accomplish this. The strongest verbs have only one or two syllables, with the emphasis on the second syllable–which jets the reader immediately into the next word:
Yahoo! Buys AC
Yahoo! Buys AC for $100 million
AC is sold to Yahoo! for $100 million in an easy bid that gives Yahoo! the advantage over competitors.
Yahoo! Bids, AC sells, $100 million in the Balance
The only thing that is searchable out of these four examples is “Yahoo!” “AC” and “Yahoo! buys AC.” The rest of the information is going to be ignored because no one is going to plug in the term, “for $100 million,” when quite likely, they want to read your article to discover how much the acquisition was for in the first place.
“Yahoo! Bids, AC sells, $100 million in the Balance” might be a catchy headline for print–but don’t fall victim to comparing apples to oranges.
The average web reader is only going to pay attention to the first two words, “Yahoo! Bids.” Yahoo! bids on what? If your reader has to work that hard just to read your headline, he or she is going to move on to the next one on the list that tells him or her what he or she wants to know, “Yahoo! Buys AC.”
Do not punctuate headlines
Using punctuation in headers and headlines is annoying. It stops the reader dead in his or her tracks and is distracting.
Embolden and italicize your headers
This makes them stand out more clearly for your reader to easily see while he or she scans down the left side of your page.
The Yahoo! Style Guide gives great tips on how to effectively use headers to get people to read your content.