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Page Titles, Headlines, and Subheaders, OH MY!

The one thing you never want to see in your web pages—whether on your blog, your wiki, or your own website—are grey pages with nothing but text: no links, no headlines, no images.

People like to scan and skim on the web. This is no surprise. Readers have skimmed and scanned ever since newspapers started cramming their pages with information centuries ago. We are hunters and gatherers searching for information, as web content strategist Ginny Redish likes to say in her book, Letting Go of the Words. We don’t read, we hunt. If we do not think your page offers the information we want, we move on. Quickly.

Consider the times you have used a search engine to look for information on a particular topic. Type in your keywords. Google shows you 150,234 results. How do you choose what to read? The page title that is displayed to you in the search engine results influences you on whether or not to visit that web page. And then once you visit a web page from your search results, you will often skim the headings (when available) to find what you need. If the headings aren’t yielding fruitful indications that you are in the right place, you may leave and try another search result—even though the information you seek was actually there.

Or think about the times you have jumped on your favorite news site (e.g., CNN, ESPN, Wired, etc.). Much like when reading newspapers, the first thing most readers do is skim the headlines looking for something to catch their interest. Readers do the same thing when they visit a blog that they haven’t been to before. As Copyblogger points out at the beginning of his tutorial about writing headlines for the web,

Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader. Without a compelling promise that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist. . . . On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.

Editors of professional news publications and serious bloggers know this, and they typically spend significant amounts of time coming up with the right headline to attract readers. Whether you are keeping your own weblog, creating an information page for a client, working on a wiki page, or building a personal portfolio website, you’ll need to take some time, too, to create page titles, headings, and subheaders that invite your reader to explore and understand the content you have created.