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Writing for the Web: Why Headers Matter


Boy holding newspaper with big header

If you make it to the end of this sentence, congratulations. Roughly one-third of those who landed on this page didn't. In fact, they left pretty much as soon as they arrived.

Now if you're an average web reader, you'll give me about 15 seconds to get to the point. If I don't do it by then, you'll be among the 55 percent of readers who will head for the exit. And even if you stick around long enough to read my point, you'll leave immediately if it offers no clear value to you.

This is precisely how visitors to your website process your content. Many won't last the full 15 seconds. A sizable number, however, will give you a fair chance to engage them. By focusing on providing these prospective patients with the best user experience possible, you increase the odds that they will contact your practice.

One of the most effective ways to provide such an experience is to use clear, concise headers that organize content and make it easier to scan. This may seem like a relatively minor point, but the presence of such headers is actually one of the most important factors in the conversion of readers into patients.

Five Ways That Headers Are Essential to Patient Conversion

Even if you have mainly skimmed through this article so far, you probably read the header that introduced this section. It got your attention because that's precisely what headers are supposed to do.

Note that the language in the header is explicit and to the point. I may lose you at this point because you don't find the topic useful or interesting, but it definitely won't be because you are confused as to what the topic is.

Fortunately, your prospective patients are interested in the topics contained in your website, which is half the battle. Here are five ways that clear, concise headers are essential to capitalizing on that interest and driving them to your practice.

1. They make scanning easy.

When you visit a web page, how often do you actually read every word on that page, even if you are interested in the topic? If you're like most people, the answer is "almost never." The process of reading text on a computer screen is approximately 25 percent slower than the process of reading text on paper. As a result, most of us scan.

Clear headers are essential to scanning . If you make it easy for readers to find the information they are looking for without having to read linearly through the page, they are far more likely to stay.

2. They break up the text.

Nothing drives users away more quickly than a wall of text. Breaking large paragraphs into smaller ones can help, but a stack of short paragraphs can be as visually unappealing and intimidating as one long paragraph.

Headers help to break the text up into manageable, digestible sections . Even pages that contain several hundred words will appear less text-heavy, and therefore less daunting, as a result.

3. They tell your story.

Every page of your website tells a story, whether it is the history of your practice or a description of how a procedure is performed. The content should flow neatly, with a logical beginning, middle, and end.

The headers of the page tell your story in short form . They present readers with your message and the points you find most important at a glance. Readers can then decide which points they find most important and drill deeper into the content if they desire.

4. They organize your content.

It doesn't matter whether people visit your website because they have specific questions or are just generally curious. They're all looking for information that is clear and easy to follow. If you provide that, there's a good chance they'll stay. If you don't, they'll look for it elsewhere.

Ultimately, readers should be able to strip all of the body content away from a page and still understand exactly what that page is about. The headers that remain should form a cogent, coherent outline, similar to an outline used to compose an academic paper:

  • The main topic of the page should be clearly stated in the primary header using the "h1" HTML tag.
  • The subtopics of the page should be laid out in secondary headers using "h2" HTML tags.
  • Judiciously used, "h3" and "h4" HTML tags can help to break up particularly lengthy subtopics even further.

Generally, readers don't think about the organization of a page unless it's lacking. Poor organization jolts people out of their comfort zones. On the other hand, clear, logically arranged headers will help to promote their comfort and keep them on your website.

5. They put the needs of the reader first.

Especially on the web, good writing shines the spotlight on the ideas being expressed rather than on the style of the writer expressing them. Headers should not be viewed as opportunities to tantalize readers with wit and eloquence. They should be viewed as opportunities to put the needs of your prospective patients first.

Headers that are brief and to the point allow readers to get straight to the important ideas with as few roadblocks as possible . This is what the vast majority of people searching the web for information want. By giving it to them, you not only improve the chances that they will remain on your site, but also instill in them the confidence that you will continue to put their needs first once they become actual patients.

The Takeaway

If the ultimate purpose of your website is to deliver new patients to your practice, then every element of your site should work together in harmony toward the fulfillment of that goal. As important as big-picture concepts such as design and search engine optimization may be, the difference between a good website and a great website often lies in the attention shown to the smaller details.

Headers may at first seem to be among those smaller details. However, they can play a vital role in the success of your website, translating into more new patients and increased revenue. Developing clear, concise headers requires relatively little time and effort, and the potential dividends are more than worth it.