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Subdivide long pages with headlines

Q. Our Web site contains a number of long pages that are mostly words. People have to scroll to read them all. Should I put some extra headlines in the text, and if so, how many? (We sell espresso machines.)
---Roger Gisborne, Singapore.

A. In brief, Roger -- if long text pages are absolutely necessary, add headlines galore!

With a text-based page, make sure people can see at least one headlines on the screen. That's roughly one headlines for every 200 words.

On the dazzling pages of the Web, headings are like roadsigns that remind visitors where they are. When people must scroll to read your page, your logo and buttons probably disappear. The words lose all context. The general impression is not 'information about espresso machines' but 'too many words'.

Extra headlines certainly make it easier for the reader.

Text is really hard to read on-screen, so people generally don't bother. Instead their eyes skim the page looking for clues about the content. As soon they have enough clues, they can decide whether to bookmark, download or print the page -- or abandon it forever.

Basically, your visitors behave like search engines. They scamper rapidly over each Web page, asking 'What's this about? Give me a clue!' Behind that question are some human questions:

'Might this page be useful to me?'
'Is it worth reading properly?'

You can make it easy for people scanning. headlines are a natural target for akim-readers, so make sure they give a clear picture of what the page contains.

Write pithy, meaningful headlines that summarise the next paragraph or two. A good headline on the Web contains keywords. The headlines can collectively summarise the entire content of the page.

For example:

Espresso five ways for city sophisticates
Precise temperature, perfect flavour
Free staff training ensures quality
Customised service contracts
Espresso machines with an unbeatable guarantee
Order online now and save $100

Got it? By the time visitors have scanned those headlines, they know what the page is about, and they've even grasped your six main points.

(updated 2006)


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