It may be the only thing page visitors read
The summary blurb under the headline does the heavy lifting on a webpage. According to the Eyetrack III study of online behavior:
- 95 percent of visitors to a page read all or part of the blurb. That’s huge when compared with readership stats for any other element on the page.
- People spend five to 10 seconds, on average, looking at the blurb. It seems like a flash — but that’s substantial in online time.
- The blurb, in fact, “may be the only thing many readers view,” Eyetrack III researchers say.
Why, then, do so many website templates drop the summary blurb?
Summary blurbs and headlines can create a powerful one-two punch on a webpage. But too often, writers neglect these essential pieces of microcontent — or, worse, skip them altogether.
And that’s a crime. Because microcontent — the headlines, summary blurbs, subheads and other “small” pieces of web copy — actually do most of the communicating online.
Here’s how to write headlines and summary blurbs that actually reach readers online.
Write web headlines that get the word out online
Web headlines help visitors find what they’re looking for and know that they’ve reached the right page. To write effective online headlines:
Clearly state what’s on the page. I love clever, cryptic headlines in print. But they don’t work online.
That’s because web headlines are likely to be picked up, listed on an index page and linked to the article. So they need to be clear and easy to understand regardless of whether the reader sees them within the context of the rest of the webpage.
One telecomm company’s website features such headlines as “Openness — the road to success” (a conference), “A sign of attitude” (cool phones) and “Change your perspectives” (jobs for IT folks). If you’re writing about conferences, phones and jobs, those words should appear in the headlines.
The point is to communicate, not to intrigue. So strive for clarity instead of creativity. Tell, don’t tease.
Focus on the front. Web headlines have less than one second to get attention, according to Eyetrack III, the latest web-reading study by The Poynter Institute.
So, the researchers say, “the first couple of words need to be real attention-getters if you want to capture eyes.”
To focus on the front:
- Lead with the topic name. Instead of “How to manage the approval process,” make it “Approval Process Blues: How to manage the review system.” That will help you reach readers scanning for “approval” instead of “how.”
- Skip leading articles for the same reason. Indexes and other lists are often alphabetical. So don’t bury the topic behind “a,” “an” or “the” — unless you want your piece to be listed under “A” or “T.”
- Move company and publication names to the end of the headline. So “Invest Online . . . at H&R Block,” not “H&R Block Online Investing.”
(Tip: Check out your organization’s index of press releases for a “how not to” example of headlines that make lists easy to scan. Chances are, they all lead with the organization’s name and not the topic of the release.)
Keep it short. Encapsulate your story in eight words or less. That’s the number of words readers can understand easily at a glance, according to research by The American Press Institute.
Follow up with a summary blurb
Summary blurbs are probably the most important piece of copy on your webpage. To develop a summary blurb that tells —and sells — your story online:
- Don’t drop the summary blurb. If your template doesn’t include a summary blurb, add one soonest. I know, I know. That means doing battle with IT. Pick up the phone. Schedule a meeting. It’s worth it. The summary blurb is probably the most important element on your webpage — and, alas, the most undervalued by writers and developers.
- Don’t tease. The purpose of your summary blurb isn’t to trick visitors into reading the page. The best summary blurb encapsulate the key ideas so well that visitors can get the gist of the story without reading the text.
- Be pithy. Keep your summary blurb to a sentence or two.