The Function and Form of Sub-Headlines in Copy

So far in my articles I’ve talked about headlines as distinct from the rest of the copy. Now I want to tell you about sub-headlines, because headlines really come in two parts, the headline itself and the sub-headline.

By the way, there may be other headings in the text. In a longer piece of copy there almost certainly will be. But these are not headlines. You may repeat some of the words you used in the headline, but the point you’re making will be different. These other headlines will be a kind of sub-headline. They may reinforce the headline directly, or expand it by adding other information.

Why do we use sub-headlines? So that the headline can be shorter and punchier is the first reason. Using other headings throughout the text also makes it more attractive and engaging. But brevity is not the most important reason we use a sub-headline near the top of our copy. The main reason we use sub-headlines is to qualify the claim we’ve made in the headline.

The point of the headline, as you’ll recall if you’ve read my previous articles, is to make a big claim that will grab the reader’s attention and prompt them to read on. The headline addresses the reader’s pain and promises, nay guarantees, to relieve it with a solution to their problem. What a sub-headline does is to explain, clarify, and define the big claim we made in the headline and maybe focus it more on the results, the timeframe, the lack of risk, and so on. A sub-headline often includes the word GUARANTEED. A sub-headline therefore makes our claim more credible and focused, and it also fulfills our ethical need to be accurate and honest in our copy about exactly what our product or service does.

Here’s another example from some of my copy.


” DISCOVER How YOU Can Explode Your Travel Recruitment Business & BOOST Your Income Sky-High In The Next THREE Months!”


“Harness the fantastic POWER of high-powered marketing materials to Win Clients, Build Relationships and Achieve a market-leading reputation as the No. 1 source of top-class enrichment staff for the cruise industry! ”

(Some of the words are in red, but that doesn’t matter.)

See how the sub-headline expands on the big claim I make in the headline and also makes the promise more specific and more attractive by spelling out three key results my copy can achieve. I should add that all promises made in copy assume that the copy is used in a professional, appropriate and ethical way. Copy doesn’t promise to make magic out of thin air. It does promise to achieve results which can seem magical when properly used. The fact that it does so has been proved on countless occasions.

When writing a sub-headline it’s natural, and best, to write it at the same time as you do the headline. Think of them as two hands doing the same job, rather than as pieces you add separately to your copy. Done well, your headline and sub-headline should make a compelling start to your copy.

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