Headlines share the heart or big idea of your message. Subheads are miniature headlines placed throughout the copy. They make your message more readable and share key points.
Have you ever received an email or visited a web page where the copy was one long block? Or did it rambled on in uninterrupted paragraphs?
They are rather hard to read. I find myself wondering where the writer is going.
What are they trying to tell me? When will I get to why this is important for me?
And what are they trying to sell me or get me to do?
Even if the message is from someone I enjoy hearing from, it requires commitment on my part to wade through what they are sharing.
Often, if the reader is vested in the person sharing the message, they are still busy. They’ll set the message aside to read later. Only, later may never come. If an email, it may sit getting lost in a cluttered inbox. Worse, it may get filed for future reading or reference.
That’s not what any business wants for their messages.
What’s in subheads for you?
In my work as a copy and content writer, I see this problem all too often. It’s certainly something I avoid happening with my clients.
Now, If I could just get those who are messaging me to see how using subtitles can solve the problem—and keep me engaged.
I’ve found it’s hard to stay engaged with a business whose messages aren’t clear and easily digested. Here are some tips you can employ to use subtitles effectively and to your advantage.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind.
There’s an easy pattern for knowing where to place subheads. If your message is more than 300 words long, you need subheads.
No section of your message should be longer than 300 words before the next subhead.
When you follow this pattern, you have maximum readability.
Three tips for compelling subheads.
Every message you share, content, articles, blogs, emails, focuses like a laser on one idea.
Within that copy, each subhead has a focus. And within the subhead, each paragraph covers one thought and each sentence only one topic.
Think of creating an outline for your copy. Your Roman number I shares the promise or core idea in the title or headline. Each of the support pillars is a subset for that idea.
Those subsets become subheadings in your document.
Subheads keep your readers reading when using the same guidelines you follow for creating titles, headlines, or subject lines.
Lead your reader forward
In long-form sales letters, each section engages the reader. Regardless of the type of message you’re writing, you want it to do the same thing. You want each part to make them want more.
Subheads in your message or copy help you do this.
Doing a brain dump on the first draft is OK to get started. Then the message needs refinement.
Each paragraph and each section should engage and keep the reader’s attention.
If you are taking a blog, article, or other copy and thin-slicing it into social media posts, each post focuses at most on one subheading. Indeed, each subhead becomes a social post.
They should stand on their own as a mini-headline to catch attention and engage.
Some people only read the subheads. If they don’t exist or aren’t enticing, you’ll lose them. They need to catch and keep the reader’s attention.
Other people only start reading when a subhead catches their attention. No subheads, and you lose this opportunity for engagement.
Both groups depend on your subhead to entice them to read.
Subheads create a snapshot of your message.
In today’s world, especially in the US, people tend to scan far more than they read. That makes subheads critical for readers who just scan, to understand your message.
If the reader only reads your subheads, they should “get” your message.
One technique I use is to print out my draft and read through it, looking for snippets. They should be almost like inspirations or quotes. They are a few words that impart an essential aspect of my big idea.
Each snippet is a subhead.
Repurposed snippets become a social post—useful concepts in just a few words.
Including emotion, pain points, or trigger words makes them even more effective.
Judith Culp Pearson is a copywriter marketer who has been helping clients improve their ROI and client retention since 2015. A relationship-building writer, she engages your readers to increase sales and lifetime value. https://www.jucithculpcreativecopy.com.
With the explosive increase in the number of people shopping, the online marketplace has become more crowded. For business, that means the value and the power of great testimonials is a potent tool for sales.
However, sometimes finding the right testimonial is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Has this happened to you?
I was working on a project recently and needed to add some testimonials for the landing page. I went to the client’s website to see what people had to say.
“Love the product.”
Those weren’t exactly what I was looking for. While the testimonials were positive, they didn’t say much about the user experience with the product.
If you’re shopping for a product or service that takes time to get the desired result, you’re looking for more information. You want to know what kind of results were achieved, what it was like to use, and how long it actually took to get there.
You’d also like to know what the company is like to interact with should you have questions or need customer service.
Why use testimonials?
We know testimonials play an essential role in helping shoppers make a decision. But just how important are they?
Here’s what the market analyzers say:
92% of people read reviews before buying
72% say positive testimonials increase their trust and make buying more likely.
Most people, 73%, read six or less. They like to see lots of testimonials but often read just a few before making their decision.
The quality of testimonials can outweigh how many you have. If you have five good positive testimonials, it can increase your conversions by 270%.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind.
You need to ask for testimonials. Most people don’t write a testimonial or review without prompting.
The best time to ask is shortly after they’ve received their purchase. Give the purchaser time to try the product/service before you ask. For products that take a while to get results, touch base with them again to see how it’s going.
If you’re offering supplements or, say, weight loss techniques, a review after three days of use isn’t going to tell you much. Use the shortly after receipt message as an opportunity to answer questions on use.
A second follow-up in a month or later might make more sense to see how it is performing.
Three tips to maximize testimonials
Here are some simple ways to maximize your testimonials and their use.
Enhance how you ask.
I find including simple questions in the review process can improve the kind of testimonials received. Questions that help you get beyond the yay or nay to the why.
Amazon has this type of helpful process established right on the review screen. At the top of the screen, it identifies the specific product. They ask for an overall star-based rating and three feature ratings. Then a place for your headline and review. Simple.
Make it easy to respond. There are various apps out there to help you gather testimonials. Select one that allows you to guide the purchaser in writing the review.
Send the request via email and a link to where/how you’d like it submitted.
Open the email by thanking them again for the item they purchased, mentioning it by name. Then, tell them you’d love their feedback and share the link.
In your review template, include helpful questions.
What’s your favorite thing about the product you purchased?
How do you use the product?
Did you have any hesitations before you purchased? Did the product resolve them?
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Be sure to get their permission to share the testimonial in your marketing to help other shoppers. A simple tick box can handle this.
It is perfectly acceptable to edit testimonials as long as you don’t alter the meaning or intent.
Always only use real testimonials by verified buyers. Fake testimonials can destroy a company quickly and are easily spotted.
You don’t have to use the quote verbatim. Help it read more clearly by breaking run-on sentences into shorter ones. Remove spelling errors. Look for ways to clarify the wording.
If possible, include an emotional trigger word to help a reader make a decision.
Just don’t change what the message is saying.
Select targeted testimonials
Choose the right testimonials for how you want to use it. A collection of raving testimonials about socks won’t help you sell shirts.
Use the right message and emotionally connect with the product/service.
Some testimonials are more general and not specific to a product. If the customer had a positive experience with you and your team, they can be gold. They work well on your homepage as trust-builders.
A testimonial extolling your fabulous customer service and their help in finding the right product could go multiple places.
If you offer a variety of products, put the testimonials where they will do the most good. You can have a general customer testimonial page.
If you put sock testimonials on the sock page, it increases conversions for sock purchases.
When I work with clients…
We focus on gathering useful testimonials. I encourage them to allow reviews via the product purchase page.
Many e-commerce platforms notify you of a new review and let you view it before publishing it. Amazon does this. The seller can respond to a negative review and problem-solve. It also allows screening for spam. www.jculpcreativecopy.com.
Everything you put out there to attract more business is a message. The success of that message is getting someone to read it. Much of the time, it misses the mark. It doesn’t get read because it’s hard to read. Readable quality is critical for sales.
When a message is hard to read, it actually causes brain fatigue. Most of us have a built-in auto-fix—the delete key.
Here’s an example of poor readability:
Infectious diseases caused by pathogens and food poisoning caused by spoilage microorganisms are threatening human health all over the world. The efficacies of some antimicrobial agents, which are currently used to extend shelf-life and increase the safety of food products in food industry and to inhibit disease-causing microorganisms in medicine, have been weakened by microbial resistance.
That little gem, written by a scientist, is written at an FK post-graduate level 14. It has all the earmarks of being hard to read. Most people will read a few words and skip the rest.
Often in health, finance, or science, we need to share complex ideas. Making them more readable is all in the editing process.
If we change the above message to read:
Around the world, diseases and food spoilage threaten health. Pathogens constantly change. They morph into a variant. Current antimicrobials are less effective. We need to discover new ways to kill these strains.
The reading level drops from a 14 down to level 7. We are saying the same thing, but in a way that takes less brainpower to understand.
Outcome? Your reader stays with you.
Why you need to ditch what your English teacher said
Schools teach writing rules. Those rules are great—to get you through college and be able to write the kind of reports that met a standard.
Those reports weren’t marketing. They were academic standards.
Science has proven that our brains trust simple words over complex ones. That’s why many of the great novelists wrote using FK scores of 4-7. They didn’t write simple books. They wrote books that were easy to read. Of Mice and Men was an FK 3.4. To Kill a Mockingbird a 5.9 and Gone With the Wind a 7.0. Ernest Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea comes in as a 4.
The scoring system, FK, Flesch-Kincaid, is easily related to US school grades. So a 4th grader could read and understand Hemmingway.
When marketing products or services, we need to write conversationally. As a copy/content writer, I trained in the art of persuasive writing. It has to be friendly, engaging, and easily readable.
The younger the audience, the shorter their attention span. The message has to get the reader’s attention quickly and hold it. Hard-to-read material doesn’t do this.
One thing to keep in mind…
Readability won’t fix a poor message. It just makes it easier to read. Start with the best content for your target audience. Focus on content first and get the copy crafted.
Once you have it written, then go back and edit it for word choice, passive voice, and structure.
3 Techniques for getting readable
Shorter sentences, simple words, shorter paragraphs all combine to make your message more readable.
Newspapers or magazines score between a level 5 and 10.
Anything above a 10 is considered very hard to read.
Good copywriters stay at 8 or below.
The first thing to look for is long sentences. The more words in a sentence, the harder it is to read. Look for ways to break long sentences into shorter ones.
If you’re not sure whether a sentence is too long, here’s a simple trick. Read it out loud. If you run out of air and need to take a breath—shorten it. You can also use ellipses or dashes to break a sentence.
The more letters or syllables in a word, the harder it is to read. Look for a shorter synonym. Efficacy has four syllables. Power, success, or use are all better options.
Keep in mind that 50% of US adults have a reading ability at grade eight or less. Maximize your marketing efforts with a message at an FK 8 or below.
As with words and sentences, paragraphs need to be kept short. Look for sections that involve more than one idea. Break them into shorter segments.
In web content or anything to be read on an electronic device, keep the maximum number of paragraph lines to five or less.
Don’t trust your big screen desktop to give you an accurate line count. Use an edit option to view your copy on a mobile device. What looks great on the computer screen may be hard to read on your cell phone.
Shorter paragraphs create white space—the gaps between paragraphs. They let the brain relax and reduce fatigue.
Long paragraphs are like a monologue, and people stop reading.
When I work with clients
Even before I start working with a new client, I visit their website and look for how readable it is. I use one of the popular readability checkers and copy-paste content and see how they score. On our first visit, I share tips with them to improve the return on their marketing investment.
Getting your quality content readable is an evergreen investment that improves sales. https://www.jculpcreativecopy.com.
Are you at risk of becoming a dinosaur? Customers are tired of the transactional approach.
A transaction focus is business-centric. Spending more time online in 2020 buyers started getting more picky. They want their shopping experience to be easy and feel good. In 2021 and moving forward, every business needs to become more customer-centric.
When my internet quit working recently, it felt like a catastrophe. I’m internet-dependent. E-commerce, social marketing, emails. Many of my resource files live on a cloud.
The projects I needed to complete had most of their data stored on Google Drive or One Drive.
I tried to resolve the issue by re-setting up my router. It took me about an hour, and I got Wi-Fi restored. Yay! Then, less than two hours later, while I was on a zoom call—it went out again. My feeling of success disappeared.
I called the cable company and got an automated Virtual Assistant. In her rather irritating AI voice, she asked for my identification so she could bring up my account.
I provided the proper identification, and the Virtual Assistant said, “I see your internet is offline. Please unplug the router and then plug it back in to make it restart. I’ll text you 10 minutes to see if the issue is resolved. If not, I’ll connect you with support. Is that okay?”
I agreed, and she disconnected.
Ten minutes later, I got a text: “It looks like there are still some issues with your Services. We’ll text you soon to schedule a tech visit at a time that works for you.”
I checked the router. All the lights were blinking. I restarted the computer. No internet.
Another text popped up: “x/29 is the earliest date for an appointment in your area.
“Reply with a number below (1-4) to pick a time:
“1 for 1-3 PM
“2 for 2-4 PM
“3 for 3-5 PM
“4 for more options or to be waitlisted.
“Or reply with a later date (MM/DD)
“Thank you, your scheduled appointment is confirmed.
“Txt Help or Stop
“Msg & Data Rates may apply.”
Zero option to talk to a person or enter anything else that wasn’t a listed choice. Whatever happened to friendly customer service?
Consumers try to avoid transactional companies.
Based on every research study I can find on the topic, consumers are frustrated with a business-centric approach.
As consumers, we feel frustrated when we can’t get answers. Unfortunately, for things like the internet and cable, they are all pretty much alike and they are very business-centric. Transactional.
(I see a huge opportunity here waiting for someone to take advantage of it.)
As a copywriter marketer, I know a transactional approach flies directly into the face of the user experience. It may be straightforward, but it doesn’t make you feel good.
I’m continually reviewing different company websites both in my copywriting work and for personal shopping. If I see a poor user experience still hanging around, I look elsewhere. I go shopping for a friendlier option. Like most people, how I’m treated is more important than the price for the same item.
I’m not alone. A 2019 report by SalesForce shared that $62 Billion is lost annually from poor customer experiences. Half of all Americans will take their business elsewhere, 91% without ever complaining.
When I see a business entrenched in a transactional approach, and determined to stay business-centric, I can do little to help them. If they are ready for change, we can ramp up their sales and keep more customers.
Here’s a secret.
Becoming customer-centric isn’t difficult or hugely expensive.
Implement changes to help shoppers engage with your brand.
Focus on making shopping easier. Eliminate roadblocks that make the consumer go “What?” Clarity and simplicity. Make customers feel you care about them.
Three techniques to ditching transactional.
Here are three ways to enhance the customer experience. You can have your team handle them or do it yourself.
The caution there is you need to know what a good user experience looks, and reads, like to make sure your message does the job. To maximize your success, put this task in the hands of someone who understands UX.
Customize email automation
Most businesses use email automation to let customers know they received their order, when it shipped, etc. Platforms typically have generic emails in place for easy use. The problem is these emails are purely transactional.
Revise these and personalize them. Adding the purchaser’s first name is essential. You recognize them as human beings. We humans put a lot of value in being recognized and appreciated.
Make sure the wording thanks them for their purchase and let them know what future emails to expect.
Ever place an order, and you get the confirmation and then silence?
Add an email following the confirmation. Have it provide answers to frequently asked questions. Share more details on how to get the best results.
Nurture new buyers with knowledge that empowers them. By sharing in an email sequence, you can reduce calls or emails to customer service and reduce returns.
Personalize shipping notices. Include a tracking number so buyers can follow the purchase to delivery. It’s helpful if you include the name of the shipping company. Many businesses use USPS Priority Mail, UPS, or Federal Express, but they often just provide a tracking number. Since early in 2020, I’ve noticed increased lesser-known delivery services. Let them know how it is arriving.
A few days after the package delivery, send an email to ask if there are any questions. Let them know the best way to get those questions answered. This is also the ideal time to ask for a testimonial or review.
Make customers feel good.
If something looks good, tastes good, or feels good, our brain drives us to repeat it. Repeat sales are golden.
Go conversational and be readable.
Take a serious look at the copy on your website, blogs, and social. Content needs to be scannable and friendly in tone. It needs to be respectful. Avoid any wording that hints at talking down to the reader.
Look for ways to make your copy easier and quicker to read.
White space allows the brain to take a breath. The lack of it requires more concentration to read it – brain drain. That’s what makes people click away from your page or website.
Both B2B and B2C need white space. Purchasing agents may not be engineers. They want to scan your submission and share it with the right people.
It’s all about making things easy for the person viewing your page.
Ramp up customer service
Quality customer service is high on the list of buyers’ wants. In the last 12 months, it has become more important than ever before. Many consider it essential if you want to keep their business.
Every business needs to view customer service as an opportunity to build long-term relationships with loyal customers. View them as an imposition, and you won’t have to worry about them again. They’ll be gone to your competition.
What shoppers want.
Location. After several negative experiences, I want to know a business’s geographical location. It gives me clues on how I’ll interact with the company and how quickly my product will arrive.
Do you offer chat? If so, what hours? In the US, there is a six-hour time difference between the east coast and Hawaii. That’s huge when you’re trying to connect with someone who is only available for limited hours. Providing your geographical location at least gives clues.
If you have a customer service phone line, showcase it. Make it easily found on every page—not hidden in the tiny print at the bottom. A contact page is okay, but the more clicks the shopper has to do, the more it slows them down. Keep it easy.
If you only accept email questions, be sure to give them an idea of how quickly you’ll get back to them.
I’ve waited a month to get a response. How long do you want to wait?
When I work with clients
I start with customer service and learn why shoppers reach out. Then we work to customize emails and answer questions before the customer knows they have them. If you need help improving your customer experience, you can reach me via www.jculpcreativecopy.com.
Journalist Daniel Witman recently published a great article on the email trends we will see important for 2021 and beyond. There has been an ongoing discussion for several years about the relevance of email marketing. Some wondered if emails were still worth doing with the other choices and focus on social media and chatbots.
The quick answer is that it is more important than ever. However, businesses need to stay on top of HOW to use them effectively in today’s world.
It’s a no-brainer that more people are shopping online. Transaction receipts and follow-ups provide a huge opportunity to turn shoppers into loyal buyers.
Witman includes using AI, personalization, easy to read simple designs, interactivity, and concise easy to read copy as essentials for success. And, of course, everything must be mobile-friendly.
AI in itself is not used in the email but rather to gather and collate user information. This information in itself helps you better target the segments of your audience.
As I have found, 62% of marketers agree that personalization and focus on a customer interest/need make the most effective, engaging emails.
Adding links or including a simple way for the client to respond to the email ramps up engagement. 82% of email marketers report personalization and interactivity increase response and click-through rates.
To maximize the return on your email marketing investment, segment, nurture and follow current best-practices for emails. Time to update your emails? Schedule a call here. Limited time-slots are available.
Readable copy is a big key to sales! People today don’t want to wade through information that reads like a dull textbook. Most of us skim-read, instead of word for word. We are such multitaskers and so many choices that we aren’t patient with reading.
Recently, I received an email promoting a new product from a spa supplier. I knew the product was a performer, but the description was hard to read. So, I copy/pasted it into an analyzer. The readability was at the post-college level.
This prompted me to go online and look at descriptions of the same type of product marketed by department store brands. Their descriptions were much easier to read and focused on what their customers wanted to know. What it would do for them.
Readability sells and lack of it loses sales.
Readability refers to how easy a sentence is to read and understand. There are several formulas, that’s another article. The important thing to remember is to keep it simple. The harder it is to read, the quicker your reader may hit the delete key or leave your website.
Originally, it was used to evaluate training materials. Today it is used by smart marketers.
In today’s world, we are bombarded by electronic marketing. Junk mail, emails, newsletters. We go online; lots more marketing. Sensory overload. We are in a hurry. We want what we are looking for quick and easy. Your potential customers want the same thing.
Every written piece put out there needs to be easy to read. Website pages, emails, newsletters all need to be visitor friendly and quick to read.
Get their attention fast…
In 2014, Hubspot Marketing reported that you have less than 15 seconds to engage your reader. A surprising 55% of them will click off your page in that period.
If the reader is on a page that doesn’t answer their question or meet a need – they are going to be gone. They are in the wrong place.
However, if they are looking for what you have, we need to help them stick around and find it. We need to make sure our message is clear, simple, and easy to skim read.
Think about opening your email box first thing in the morning. There are probably at least 50 new emails waiting. Most of us, scan for the obvious ones to delete. Check, check, check, delete – done. Then you start with the rest.
3 Tips for more readability
You don’t actually read most emails completely. You quickly skim them to see if you’re interested. If they are hard to read, it bogs you down. The more you have to “work” to read information, the more apt you are to think, just stuff it, and hit delete.
Ever been caught in a loop and realize you’ve been rereading the same sentence over and over? Simple words, short sentences, and white space make a huge difference. The combination of words plus sentences is the basis for how easy something is to read.
Once you have your first draft complete, read through checking word choices. The more syllables a word has, the harder it is to read. It mentally takes more energy.
“Harder” is easier to read than “more difficult” or “more challenging”. It has fewer syllables and doesn’t require a support word.
Choosing a shorter word won’t make it sound like you have a limited vocabulary or it was written by a grade-schooler. It’s only about that mental energy use.
Sometimes you can’t avoid complex words. Technical materials or say medical topics need their specific words.
The longer and more complicated a sentence, the harder it is to read. Look for ways to break them into shorter sentences.
A good tell is to read the segment out loud. If you have trouble speaking it, people will have trouble reading it. Run out of breath in the middle of a sentence…shorten it.
There are lots of readability analyzers out there. This is good because most document creators don’t include it.
Grammarly uses a straight Flesch score system that the lower the number the harder it is to read. You’ll need a paid version to get the function.
Hemingway uses the Flesch-Kincade US grade scoring system so the higher the number the harder it is to read. A 14 would be post-graduate. Seven would be 12-13-year-old students. Most of the time, you want to have your text at nine or lower.
The unique part of Hemmingway is when you paste your text into the system, it renders it color-coded.
Yellow text is hard to read. Red text is very hard to read. Green is passive voice and purple is words that may have a simpler option. It’s very quick to see where the problem is and hone in on it.
As you shorten sentences, your red or yellow disappears and your grade score drops. It can also be used as a document creator with marking turned off in the write mode.
I find using one of the many analyzers speeds up the editing process and gets the job done.
If you have a solid page of text it is hard to focus on let alone read. Look for ways to break up long paragraphs. It’s like letting the reader take a breath.
Another good way to evaluate your white space is to look at your document in mobile format. If your document creator doesn’t let you see desktop, laptop, mobile views, a WordPress Post will.
If your reader has to scroll, and scroll, and scroll to get to the end of a paragraph…or a sentence, it’s too long.
Even product descriptions are not immune. Bulleting key benefits are good. However, lumping all of the description into one paragraph takes more mental energy to read. Give the reader a break. Break it into shorter paragraphs to make it more readable.
Word choices, shorter sentences, and white space make reading your offer a breeze and increase the ease of buying.
When I work with clients
Part of my get-acquainted process is to look at the existing content and email funnels. Is it recent, relevant, and readable? Copy plays a big supporting role in buying decisions. If I see readability issues, I show them how much more effective it could be.