Week 4: Headings, Style, and Readability

Headings, content, and readability are three key factors you should consider while creating and editing your webpage. Knowing how to properly phrase and format headings can help improve your site’s SEO, which would lead to more engagement with your site overall. The readability of your webpage depends directly on the content of your page. Easier to understand, well-organized content can help with readability score.

Headings

Webpage headings are more important than printed headlines. Online, headlines help to engage the reader and easily inform them what the page is about.

Headings come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

They often are formatted as:

  • Questions
    • Help to answer exactly what your reader is thinking
    • Tips: keep them short and sweet, cover only one question per section
    • Example: “Why Vaccinate?” would be a solid heading for an audience who may be wondering just that, why they should vaccinate.
  • Statements
    • Often used as second level headings to help answer the main question of the page
    • Phrase as if you are talking directly to the reader
    • Help to make key messages stand out
  • Verb Phrases
    • Call to action
    • Helps reader know their place/job
    • Helps to avoid repetition

A maximum of three levels of headings is normal. Level one headings are mainly used only for the article title. Headings should only be included where absolutely necessary. If you struggle with where to place a headline, the creation of an outline may be helpful.

Headings are often organized in a hierarchical pattern, with the most important headings being the largest text and the least important being the smallest. The coloring of headings should not vary strongly from the paragraph text color. Remember: the color blue and underlining are reserved for links and should not be used for regular headings.

The website linked below is a great example of two levels of headings.

Example blog site to show different level headings

Below is another, straight forward example of three levels of headings, shown as a screenshot from the article “How to use headings on your site” from Yoast SEO.

Strong example of three levels of headings from Yoast SEO

In order to help improve your page’s SEO, you may decide to make your headlines include the words that most readers may search on google, bing, or other search engines. If headline wording is close enough to what a viewer may search, webpage traffic could potentially increase.

As stated by Janice (Ginny) Redish in Letting Go of the Words,

“Seven guidelines for headlines that work well are: use your site visitors’ words, be clear instead of cute, think about your global audience, try for a medium length [sentence] (about eight words), use a statement, question, or call to action, combine labels (nouns) with more information, and add a short description if people need it.”

Overall, well-written and formatted headlines help your viewers to use the grab ‘n’ go concept with their needed information and quickly find the exact section/answers they need. The viewer will be able to follow the flow of your information, and control how much they view at once.

In order to know how to correctly format your headlines, and what words to choose, you must know how to phrase your webpage content. The term “content” can mean a variety of things when discussing webpages, but for now we will focus mainly on how best to style content on a webpage.

Content

When content is properly engaging, it is relevant, targeted, and does not waste the viewer’s time. On a webpage, the content should be a conversation with the viewer.

  • Be short and sweet
    • Use short sentences, usually 10-20 words. Sentence fragments are also allowed.
    • Be clear and concise
    • Format paragraphs for grab ‘n’ go reading style
  • Talk to your readers
    • Use I, You, and We as if you were in a conversation
  • Start with the main context
    • Focus on the information that the reader does and does not need to know

When following this list of standards for the content of a webpage, your site will excel in readability.

Readability

Readability is exactly that: the ability to read.

Therefore, strong readability means that webpages are easy to read and accessible to all. Readability matters in all scenarios and professions.

Three content readability tools that are often used include:

Readable

  • Provides analytics and statistics
  • Shows word, letter, and syllable counts
  • Shows adjective, noun, and adverb use
Screen capture of an example readability test from Blog Hands

Hemingway Editor

  • Uses Automated Readability Index
  • Highlights sentences you can shorten or break up
  • Picks out long words and offers alternative options
Example of a readability test completed by Hemingway Editor

Simple Words and Phrases

  • Lists short words that can be used to replace long, current words
  • Helps with government communication standards
Screen capture of the “Use simple words and phrases” page on plainlanguage.gov

As we now have seen, strong headings and content can help readability. Well-placed headings help to guide what and how much the viewer sees at one time. If you, the webpage writer, take the time to put the context first, it will make your website that much stronger.

Sources

Alderson, Jono. How to use Headings on your Site. Yoast: SEO for Everyone, 07 December 2020. https://yoast.com/how-to-use-headings-on-your-site/. 

Blog Hands. “Tips and Tools for Improving Your Content Readability Score.” Medium, Medium, 24 May 2018, medium.com/@bloghands/tips-and-tools-for-improving-your-content-readability-score-eed82e2ffa87. Accessed 19 Sept. 2021.

Lynch, Patrick J., and Sarah Horton. Web Style Guide, 4th Edition : Foundations of User Experience Design, Yale University Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gvsu/detail.action?docID=4612480. Created from gvsu on 2021-09-18 23:09:42.

Tanton, Sharon. “Which Words Does Your Website Need? – Valuable Content.” Valuable Content, 12 June 2017, www.valuablecontent.co.uk/blog/words-website-need. Accessed 18 Sept. 2021.

Redish, Janice. Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works. Available from: VitalSource Bookshelf, (2nd Edition). Elsevier S & T, 2012.

3 Tools to Improve Your Content’s Readability | Forge and Smith.” Forge and Smith, Vancouver Web Design Company, 29 Sept. 2017, forgeandsmith.com/blog/3-tools-to-improve-your-contents-readability/#The_Hemingway_Editor. Accessed 19 Sept. 2021.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Hi, Rebecca!

    Your summary of headings, style, and readability is exceptionally well done. I especially appreciated the section about readability tools; it can be nice to have an outside source to catch little mistakes. However, these tools aren’t a stand-in for a clear and concise writing style. As you pointed out, headlines help make websites more readable because they cater to the “grab and go” way readers take information. Descriptive headings combined with hierarchy make information easy to find and make the page as a whole more readable than a block of text.

    It’s also important to note the overlap between readability and accessibility. A clear writing style also makes the text accessible to more readers, including those with impairments or those who speak another language. The Web Services Group at Carleton University has a great page about creating accessible text. The article “Writing for Readability and Accessibility” (https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/web-group/training/accessibility/readability) includes how to write more accessible text, as well as resources and myths about readability. They make a great point that “the more readable your text, the more inclusive your site will be.” Although we design websites with a user-first approach, we must include all users. I am interested in how web designers and writers can create a more accessible and inclusive online space.

  2. This post was a great summary of the importance of headings in webpages. It’s very informative, while also short, concise, and easy to understand. Thanks for including the three content readability tools in your post! I will definitely be referring back to this so I can use them later on. They seem like excellent websites to assist with writing online.

    I think as well as writing an awesome, informative summary of headings, you physically demonstrated the points you were making in your own writing really well. The post was about headings and how to better organize websites, and you took the same information you were presenting to your audience and applied it. You also included lots of examples to really help your readers grasp the concepts. Nice job!

  3. Hi Rebecca! This was a really great article. This definitely helped me to understand the different ways that headlines and content are important for a website. When reading the first bit about headlines, it made me think about articles or blogs that I typically read. Oftentimes, they include a headline that asks a question. Until now, I never realized that that was a question that they were anticipating that I had about the subject! Another thing that I noticed was that for a website, it’s important to keep content short and also easy to read. This is something that I can also relate to as a reader because usually when I’m searching for something, I only stay on websites where I can easily find the content that I’m looking for. It also usually helps when it’s short and gets right to the point. Otherwise, I usually skip over it and try to find a different option. Overall, this was a great blog post and it was nice to see your explanation and examples. They definitely helped me to realize how much I notice about my experience as a reader. Great job!

  4. Your summary on headings, style, and readability was insightful. I enjoy your clear and pithy explanations of these concepts. The section regarding the content of an internet post or webpage will be extremely helpful to apply to my own writing. Having appropriate content benefits the reader as well as the the webpage. Simple and concise content increases the traffic of the webpage. Using plain language helps readers find what they are looking for and convey it in an easily understandable way. Incorporating the language and phrases users would use increases the SEO of a webpage and and spreads your information to wider audiences. The readability of a webpage is just as important as the content. If your content isn’t readable, then it’s not good content. Checking readability is extremely important before publishing any piece of work. ProWritingAid is another great site that helps check readability and grammar. It also has a great article (https://prowritingaid.com//grammar/1008131/Readability) that explains the importance of readability as well as offer tips for writing in a readable style. I really appreciated the examples of tools content creators can use to check for readability. I looked up additional tools and found this great article (searchenginejournal.com/readability-tools-seo-content/317719/#close) that lists some options!

  5. Hello Rebecca! Your summary on the significance of headings, content, and readability was incredibly insightful and educational. What stood out to me in your summarization was just how crucial the correct placement and organization a heading can have on the entirety of a publicized piece. Establishing the correct format size and description of your heading establishes the style of what your content will be about, so giving the details about deciding on the appropriate color association as well as the different functionalities they can take on was an excellent point. Additionally, the tips your provide in terms of creating content are precisely what most users of the internet today are looking for. Plain language is incredibly beneficial in the sense that while it connects with your target audience, it may also reach out to other prospective audiences you may not have considered would take interest in your content before. Establishing the forms of content that users are looking for is a perfect lead in to how readability is necessary in order to maintain interest. Individuals do not want to waste time continuously scrolling through a webpage trying to find the information they’re looking for, the “grab-and-go” concept is growing in popularity as of late because of this. An interesting article I found that ties into the context of content as well as readability is “Pagination vs Infinite Scrolls: Which Is Better for Your Content?” (https://blog.hubspot.com/website/pagination-vs-infinite-scroll). This article goes on to establish how each respective way of readability can benefit your website depending on what style you’re going for as well as desirable layout choices. Delving even further into the significance of readability and content coordination, I found that the HubSpot Website blog acted as a great example when presenting pagination for user-friendly navigation. Additionally, the free image sites that we’ve used in class such as Unsplash utilize the infinite scroll aspect with its continuous variety of content through “lazy loading” which renders new images as they appear on screen (no clicking required). Overall, your blog post is an excellent representation of the significance to headings, content, and readability that really gets viewers wondering more in depth about how these concepts coincide with one another.

  6. Hi Rebecca! Your article about headings, style, and readability was super helpful. As a visual learner, I really appreciated the images you chose and how you explained them. Your blog post is also super neat and organized, which definitely helps the reader understand what you’re trying to say. It is very clear that you applied what you learned and what you’re trying to teach. This article could be a great source for us to look back on for “grab and go” information. I also appreciated your reference to the book we use in class. Although the sentence was a bit wordy, it contributed will to the overall article. This secondary article I read from http://www.columbia.edu/itc/journalism/isaacs/client_edit/Headlines.html also goes into depth on a good headline. Their “TACT test: Taste, attractiveness, clarity, truth” is definitely worth looking at. The article is a big long but definitely makes good points like you did in this post. Good job!

  7. Hello Rebecca! What a great blog post! The concept and functions of headings, style, and readability are so crucial to a strong and effective website, so this is a very important topic when learning about how to properly work on/create a website. The images were a perfect supplement to the written information you offered about the topic, and it was all kept in an easy-to-read, orderly and uncluttered fashion. I really appreciate the specificity in the “Content” explanation, as you clearly lay out what, as writers, to expect when we are asked to create such content for a website. Overall, this was an organized and educational blog post with lots of great information!

  8. Hi, Rebecca!
    I enjoyed reading your blog post. I thought the information regarding the different types of headings was valuable. I always assumed headings were just statements or commands, but I now understand how questions can be used as headings to help guide the reader to relevant content. As a writing major, it’s hard to break the habit of never having sentence fragments, but I liked that you pointed out that it’s acceptable in some cases. I’ve also used Hemmingway Editor to help with readability, so I liked that you included that site!

    I found an article that covers similar concepts titled How to Write Headlines: a Step-by-Step Guide. This article discusses the different elements a heading can have to better serve its audience. I particularly liked its suggestion of including a unique rationale (such as rules, lessons, or Facts) to help categorize the headings. This connects to your blog post because headings can be so much more than simply a command or a statement. They can ask questions to get the reader thinking or include a category to better organize the content. I was interested in this article because I was struggling with how to make my guest blog post’s headings more unique and captivating to my audience. This article and your blog post definitely helped!

  9. Hi Rebecca, I really appreciate the layout and breakdown of your post! Good job on the use of quotes, links, and images as well. I like that you follow the rules you speak about in your post in your headings, and I found your advice regarding using the color blue for headings or texts really interesting. I never thought about how blue could be an issue because it is reserved for links! The readability tools you provided examples of seem extremely helpful, and after experimenting with Hemingway Editor, I plan on using it in my future blog posts. The formatting options as well as the overall readability rating is a great tool and I can’t believe I have never heard of it before. In Letting Go of the Words, the authors also mention there is power in parallelism and they often look for patterns when reading a blog. Your headings and content do follow a certain pattern, which I think makes it even more readable and attention-grabbing. I do know other readability apps that count sentences, words, characters, and more such as datayze readability analyzer (https://datayze.com/readability-analyzer.php) and gunning fox index calculator (http://gunning-fog-index.com/) .

  10. This post contained a lot of useful information about titles and level-heading styles. I liked how you gave us some basic formats for headings – question, statement, or verb phrase – these are notable and worth considering. I also appreciated how you were able to condense the most important info from the chapter into a well-rounded blog post. The most general thing I learned was that headlines should be kept short and sweet. I really appreciated learning about the Hemingway Editor; as a Grammarly user, I recognize the importance of AI in the modern writing space. One takeaway I have is that readability varies by niche and online format. From your entry, it seems things should generally be said in the simplest way possible, as a way to aid users on their grab ‘n’ go quest. I appreciated all of the things your post helped me understand! I only wish I’d read it before peer review on our guest blogs, haha.

  11. Hey Rebecca! I enjoyed getting to ready you big post for Week 4! I was laid out in a way that was super easy to read and follow along, you showed great demonstration of everything you blogged about. Now looking at the content of your post, I really liked how you explained headings. Headings are so vital to a blog post/paper in really bringing the readers eye in and pointing them to what they need from whatever they are reading. It’s also good to know of all the different types of headings: H1, H2, H3. We talked about these in class so we are all familiar with them, but it was still a good refresher to see the example photos you provided. As for content, it is a nice change to be able to use a more short and sweet style of writing, then long paragraphs (like we typically do in college writing). Most people read a blog post to get some type of question answered, recipe, or information. So keeping things simple and to the point gives the reader exactly what they need. Then for readability, it’s so important that our readers are able to read what we write. So staying away from slang or uncomment phrases are important. I think you did a wonderful job of explaining that here. Thanks for this!

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