Your website success will increase the better you write headings and summaries. People are very impatient, so the heading and summary really needs to be compelling. Here are some key tips for writing better headings and summaries.
It's not a murder mystery you're writing, so tell them who did it in the first few words of the heading and summary. What is the single most important thing that you have to communicate to your reader? Do they really care? Because if you can't find one single, genuinely compelling thing to say, you shouldn't be writing the content in the first place.
So, you've identified something really compelling, well then lead with that. But remember that what is compelling to you is often the very opposite to the reader. It's the 50th anniversary of the founding of your organization, and you want to have this heading:
It's our 50th anniversary
How many people do you think will wish you happy anniversary or send you cards? Not many. Because people are selfish, and that means they really don't care about you. I know it's a sad state of affairs but you've got to accept it; people are just selfish. Now, how about you write the following heading:
50 percent off because it's our 50th anniversary
You'll now have lots of happy people wishing you a very happy 50th anniversary. They'll just love you.
As the amount of content around us explodes, the difficulty of finding what we need greatly increases. The way we deal with this is to spend less and less time scanning pieces of content in order to decide which ones we should focus on.
"Most people just look at the first couple of words -- and only read on if they are engaged by those words," according to Eyetrack III, a study which analyzed how the eye moves around a news webpage. "For headlines -- especially longer ones -- it would appear that the first couple of words need to be real attention-grabbers if you want to capture eyes.
"The same goes for blurbs [summaries] -- perhaps even more so,"
according to Eyetrack III. "Our findings about blurbs suggest that not only should they be kept short, but the first couple of words need to grab the viewer's attention."
Lead with the need. Keep your headings under eight words; four words or less would be even better. I used to think that 50 words was a reasonable limit for summaries, but recent experience indicates that they should be under 30 words. In fact, Eyetrack III found that, "Average blurb [summary] length varies from a low of about 10 words to a high of 25, with most sites coming in around 17."
Whether you have an intranet or public website, whether you have a government, university or business website, you still need to get people to read what you have written. Otherwise, why did you write it?
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.