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6 Subheadings Strategies You Need to Know

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bigstock-Beautiful-woman-with-thoughtfu-29888243 One thing can kill your blog post faster than a boring topic and flat language: subheading mistakes.

Of course, the biggest mistake of all is not using subheadings. Readers need subheadings so they can quickly find what they are looking for. Subheadings and space breaks give them the scannability and simplicity they crave.

But when it comes to pleasing writers, it’s about more than just using subheadings. It’s using them well.

Provide the Most Important Information First and Last

Readers land on a page and make a split-second decision if they want to stay or not. So don’t hide all of your best information toward the bottom. Give readers a juicy piece of information right off the bat so they immediately feel satisfied and interested.

Sprinkle in other important points throughout the rest of the article, but remember to save something really good for the end. Ending strong will reward the reader for making it to the end. It also establishes trust with the reader, making them far more likely to read your content to the end the next time.

Editor’s note: A great way to ensure that your beginning and end are strong is to use the Bookend Blog-Writing Technique.

Avoid Puns Even If It’s Fun

Playful titles and play-on-words might work for other mediums (like books, movies, and essays), but when it comes to online content, it’s better to say exactly what you mean.

Being clear in your subheadings helps impatient readers find what they are looking for and also helps keyword-hungry search engines label the content. Avoid titling a subheading something you think will make your reader laugh, unless you can do so while being clear. Instead, deliver a useful subheading that will make your reader understand.

Refer Back to the Title

The title of this article is 6 Subheading Strategies You Need to Know, so each of the subheadings in this article are strategies. Make sure that whatever you offer in the title, you deliver in the body.

It would be confusing to readers if the subheadings in this article were “Subheadings Are Important” or “Why You Should Use Subheadings”, as those phrases don’t refer back to what the reader is looking for — a list of strategies.

Separate Similar Sized Sections

Use subheadings to separate sections into roughly the same size of text. Notice how I use a subheading to separate the text every two or three paragraphs.

Keeping information under subheadings to roughly the same size keeps the depth of the information evenly dispersed. It shows if you have elaborated too heavily on one topic and not enough on another.

It doesn’t have to be exact, but you get the point.

Don’t Be Vague: Use the Subheading to Tell Your Reader Something

Even if you are writing a blog post where the subheadings sound like they should be short and simple, find a way to add extra useful information to the subheading.

If you are writing The Best Apps for Watching your Weight, don’t only put the app name in the subheading: “Workout Trainer” and “MyNetDiary”. Add bonus information that tells the reader more: “Workout Trainer: For Planning Work Outs” and “MyNetDiary: For Counting Calories”.

Count Down and Number Steps

Add numbers to your subheadings when they add context to the information. This happens most frequently in count downs or steps of instructions.

Numbers next to an element in a countdown are useful because they represent the value of an item. For example, #2 in a subheading in the article Countdown of the Best Beaches tells the reader the beach is pretty great. Numbers in steps of instructions are helpful because it tells the reader which step of the process they are on.

Numbers are great in subheadings, but only if they add value. Don’t add them if they have no point or context.

When it comes to subheadings, it is all about making things easier on the reader. So help the reader by clearly and simply offering them the information that they want.

Image Credit: Bigstock

How to Design a Blog that Converts

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Do you like it when readers check out your post and leave, never to return again? Of course not! As bloggers, we have goals, and we use our posts to try to achieve those goals. Did you know you can design a blog that converts? Your posts are only half the battle!

If you make money with advertising, your main goal might be to have readers subscribe to your RSS feed so they come back whenever you write a new post. If you have a product to sell, your main goal might be to get readers to purchase that product. If you sell affiliate products, your main goal might be to have readers subscribe to your email list so you can pitch to them. And no matter what, most bloggers have the goal of getting people to share their content via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social platforms.

It’s not just about what you say, though. At the end of your posts, you may have a strong call to action, but a poorly designed blog will work against you every time, no matter how well written your posts may be. So here are a few tips to help you design a blog that sets you up for success instead of failure:

  • Be a pattern interrupt.

WordPress, Blogger, and other blogging platforms make it super easy to install a theme and get started writing. The problem is that these ready-to-go themes are boring. Hundreds or even thousands of bloggers out there are using them, and readers won’t remember you as being something different and special. Be a pattern interrupt instead. Take some time to design a blog theme rather than using one out of box. You don’t have to build a theme from scratch; simply modify it so that you stand out from the crowd.

  • Draw attention with bold colors.

You probably have certain colors associated with your blog. When you want a design element to stand out, use a bright, bold color that attracts readers and stands out from the rest of your content. This is why you see so many bloggers with big red arrows pointing to their sign-up forms. You don’t want your most important design elements to fade into the background.

  • Put your most important information “above the fold.”

The phrase “above the fold” is carried over from print publishing. Placing information above the fold originally meant it was found above where the newspaper was folded in half, since that is what people can see at the news stand. Space above the fold is limited, so you have to chose the information you want to put there wisely. Online, above the fold translates to mean information you can see without scrolling. Screen sizes vary so this changes a bit, but you can general tell what readers will be able to see right away. This is where your most important information to help you achieve your goals needs to go.

  • The top right-hand spot is important.

A trick I learned in a graphic arts 101 class is that people naturally look at a page in an S pattern. That means if you draw a giant S on your screen, that’s how the eye usually travels. As you can see, that S shape starts at the upper right, so this spot is extremely important. Don’t make the mistake of putting something that doesn’t really matter in this location, and if you sell advertising space, consider charging more for this spot. Think of this spot as the prime location for a visual call to action, so place a “buy” button, subscription box, or other strong visual there.

  • Don’t neglect the end of your post.

You may already understand how important it is to end your post with a strong call to action, telling readers what to do next. But did you also know that the end of your post needs to be designed well for maximizing that call to action. This might be as simple as including social media sharing buttons or having links to related posts. But don’t neglect this area when you’re designing a blog to be effective.

  • Do some A/B split testing.

People are weird. Sometimes what works on one blog doesn’t work on another and vice versa. So, do a little split testing. Make a design change (for example, adding social share buttons to the top of a post) and see how people react. If you have the technical know-how, set up your blog so that half of the traffic sees your new design change while the other half sees the old design. Which one converts better? If you don’t have the skills to set up split testing that way, simple try the new design for a week and compare your results to a week without the new design change (look at percentages, not raw numbers). Make only one change at a time so you can understand how the variable is affecting your readers’ actions.

A final thought: Don’t be afraid to change how you blog looks. When you initially design a blog, you set it up to achieve certain goals, but goals change over time. It’s true that you don’t want to introduce a completely new look to your readers every week, but don’t fall into the trap of never changing the design at all. Design needs to evolve with your content so they’re supporting one another as much as possible.

What design changes have you made to benefit your blog? Share your strategies with a comment below!

Overheard on #Blogchat: Can Readers Find You? (@thekrg)

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Do you participate in #blogchat? Every week, this weekly discussion on Twitter focuses on a specific topic and bloggers everywhere are invited to join in. Because I often have more to say than what will fit in 140 characters, every Sunday night (or Monday morning), I post about some of the most interesting #blogchat tweets. Join the conversation by commenting below.

(Still confused? Read more about #blogchat here.)

This Week’s Theme: Blog Design

During this week’s #blogchat discussion, we talked about everything from blogrolls to whitespace. One of the subjects that came up again and again was what elements to include on your site (especially on the sidebar) and what elements to leave off. Said one tweeter:

thekrg: Social media contacts are a must for me.

Back in December, I compiled the 12 Days of Blogging mostly by clicking from site to site. I visiting blogs from BlogWorld speakers, blogs that respected IM/blogging bloggers recommended, blogs people were promoting on Twitter, and blogs I just thought might be cool. In the end, I included posts from over 100 bloggers. Of those hundred bloggers, I found Twitter information for all but one or two, and I would estimate that at least 95% were active accounts (i.e., used regularly). I’m willing to bet that almost all of these bloggers are also on Twitter, and many are on LinkedIn and other social networking sites as well.

But not everyone made this information easily available. In fact, I’d say that I had to actively hunt for social networking information from about 25% of the bloggers that were included in the ebook.

That’s way too many people who aren’t making it easy enough for readers to find them.

This isn’t about promoting yourself even more or something. I mean, it can be – having more followers on Twitter, more “likes” on Facebook, and so forth…those are definitely good things. But more importantly, this is about recognizing that not everybody wants to contact you in the same way.

I’m a fan of email, for example. I will freely give my Skype information to anyone wanting a chat or phone call as well, and I reply to comments as needed. As much as I’m a fan of email, though, I’m finding it more and more convenient to reach people on Twitter or Facebook. Twitter is nice because it’s a quick and instant way to contact someone with a single question. It’s almost like chatting via an IM platform, but without the need to have an entire conversation. Perfect for someone who is busy. Facebook is another great tool, since it allows you to connect with someone in a more public way if you want, as well as invite them to events or send private messages. LinkedIn is another awesome social network for communication – if I’ve worked with someone in the past, I can send out a recommendation.

If you don’t include your social network information on your site, people can’t do those things. Frankly, sometimes I’m too lazy to open up my email. If I can’t quickly find someone’s Twitter information, I just thing, “meh, maybe I’ll catch them later” unless the question/comment was really pressing.

That’s not a good thing. The buzzword right now is engage, and you can’t do that if you don’t give your readers options for connecting with you. Not everyone likes the same things you do.

Is it a must to have Twitter/Facebook/etc. information on your sidebar? Although I think that’s the most convenience option, I wouldn’t say it’s a must. If you’re going for a minimalist look, you can also put this information at the bottom of your posts, one your About page or on your Contacts page. I recommend having it several places. Just where you want to place it on your blog depends on your niche and overall design.

But make sure you include it somewhere. If you expect to make money from your readers, give them several contact options!

Thanks, @thekrg, for a great tweet!

If Your Blog were a Magazine… (part 1)

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Something I’ve noticed quite interestingly over the past few months is that the best bloggers out there, at least in my opinion, take a very magazine approach to blogging. The print world might be dying, but we do have a ton we can learn from this more traditional form of media. After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about getting your message out there and gaining more subscribers, which are the same goals as magazines.

Some things to consider:

Design

It really ticks me off when a blogger puts no thought into his/her design. That doesn’t mean that I’ll automatically hate you if you have a minimalist look to your blog. Minimalism is a design aesthetic. But you can’t tweak the colors of an out-of-the-box theme? Or add a non-pixalated header? Or make sure that the items on your sidebar actually fit instead of overlapping onto your content? It’s just lazy. I know there are some bloggers out there who have basically given design the middle finger and preach that content is all that matters, but you know what? I don’t read those blogs. Seriously, I don’t. And they point to the fact that ha, I don’t care about design and I still have a million readers per month. Well think how many  more readers you would have if you did care about design, jackass.

Education in a New Way

We always make fun of magazines like Cosmopolitan for essentially repeating the same 100 or so sex tips in every issue, just repackaging it in a different way. This month it’s 101 hot ways to please your man and next month it’s 99 bedroom tricks that will blow his mind and the month after it’s 100 moves that will make him moan…but essentially, almost all of the tips are the same, just repackaged.

But we shouldn’t make fun of Cosmo when we pretty much do the same things as bloggers, just not a well most of the time. Think about the last 10 articles you wrote. How many of them were truly new concepts or ideas? Probably one or two at most. Maybe none. It was information that could be found other places online, maybe even in your own archives, but it was information that your readers needed, so you published it. That’s great – but did you repackage it to make it interesting? So many bloggers out there are boring. It isn’t that they don’t have good ideas about topics that are valuable. They just fail to actually entertain me by presenting the information in a new way.

Subscription Marketing

When you pick up a copy of your favorite magazine at the grocery store, approximately how many subscription cards are inside? Roughly three to four thousand, right? That’s because the magazine knows that if you subscribe, they’ve got you for a year, where as if it is up to you pick up the magazine every month, you’ll likely drop the ball. They also know that you probably won’t fill out the first subscription card that falls out of the pages. Or the second. Or the third. They know that it has to be drilled into someone’s head that they should subscribe if they like the content, mostly because we’re all lazy by nature and think repeatedly “I’ll do it later.”

On some blogs, I have a hard time finding the RSS button. Even more often, I don’t see a email subscription list, or if you do have one, it is hidden. Why – WHY – are your subscription tools not prominent on your sidebar? Heck, I put them at the end of my posts as well. You have to smack readers in the face with what you want them to do sometimes.

As I’m writing this post, I realize that I have a lot more to say about blogging like a magazine than show go into a single post. So, check back later for part 2  of If Your Blog were a Magazine… for some more tips we can take from print media!

Mashable Gets A Face Lift

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Today as I was going through some Twitter links that I open in tabs on Firefox, I came across a post that someone had sent me written on Mashable.  I immediately saw a difference in the way the blog looked and read and the overall scheme.  I thought I was reading it through a weird reader or something.  I normally read Mashable with Google Reader in my own time, and normally never actually make it to the site for a look at the real deal.  I immediately asked my Twitter community if I was on a fear and loathing type trip and Jennifer Van Grove and Shannon Paul were quick to end my anxiety.  In fact, it was revealed today Mashable’s new look. I wish I had taken a screen shot of it at the time I saw it because it was clean and devoid of advertising if I remember correctly and it looked very cool.  No I am not saying it doesn’t look cool now it was just clean sans ads.

We are implementing some early stages here of a new look and feel and we will be unfolding those shortly.  I am not sure of the application or whether there will be any significant changes other than certainly our UI and the simplicity of the blog to gear up for our new push for content.  Good job on the changes over at Mashable guys, I am jealous of the coolness factor!

UPDATE:  I knew I was going to forget something important, like the name of the company that did their redesign.  Here is their announcement.  Great job by the people over at nclud.

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