Why your website needs headings


Like a menu at a restaurant, headings help your website visitors find what they’re looking for.

When you sit down at a new restaurant and open the menu, what do you look for? Maybe you want some appetizers to share, a list of local beers, or vegetarian entrees. Chances are you’ll use the headings to find what you want.

Your website visitors use headings on your page as well to skim the information and find what they’re looking for. Another reason to use headings is because they make your site more SEO-friendly. Here are some best practices for using headings:

  • The H1 heading should be the title of your page. Don’t use the H1 heading anywhere else.
  • Use your headings as-is. Don’t change the size or add styling like bold or italics. If you don’t like the style of your headings, work with your web designer to change them.
  • Only use your headings for their intended purpose …as headings. Don’t use them to style text in the middle of a paragraph.


To do:

Take a look at your top 10 most visited articles. How do you separate ideas on your page? Do you use headings, or styling like bold or italics? Or is your page one long article?

If you already use headings, keep up the good work!

If you don’t already use headings, take a look at your content and identify how you could break it up into sections:

  • If your page is organized in steps or uses bold or italics to break up the content, you already have natural places to use headings.
  • If it’s one long article, look for changes in ideas where you could add subheadings.
  • There may be some articles where you don’t add any subheadings at all, but always take the time to consider using them in your content.

From one to many: How social proof can help your cause


Whether in stores or on your website, people go where others are.

When I have a day out running errands, sometimes it feels like people are following me. Not in the creepy sense. But I’ll go into a store that’s almost empty, and a few minutes later it’s full of people. This happens again and again.

It turns out, I’m not imagining things.

There is actual science behind this. A study at the University of Leeds found that 95% of people followed others when asked to walk around randomly in a hall. Other studies have shown that people follow the crowd in where they’re gazing, stores they visit, products they buy, and even when voting for candidates.

This kind of behavior has helped humans survive – if one person has already checked out a new location or tried a new food, it must be safe. In the digital age, you can use this kind of “herd behavior” to your advantage on your website to get people to take action.


To do:

Find places on your website where you can show “social proof.” Here are some examples:

  • Testimonials
  • Ratings for your products/services
  • Photos of people using your products/services or volunteering
  • Number of people signed up for your e-newsletter, donated, volunteered, or signed up for an event
  • Display the numbers of shares in social share buttons

Note: If you are just starting out, showing how many people have joined your cause may backfire. People may mistakenly assume that since not many people have backed your cause, something must be wrong.

Think about it: If you saw something that said “4 people have already signed up for this webinar” you might think, “Wow, they must give terrible webinars if only four people are signed up…” In reality, the reason there are so few people signed up could be that the webinar registration just opened. In this case, wait until more people have signed up until you use social proof to encourage more people to join.

Bite-sized is best: the importance of smaller paragraphs


Sweets and website content are best served in bite-sized portions.

Cake pops. Brownie bites. M&M minis. These small sweets are both cute and bite-sized, which makes them fun and easy to eat. Hungry yet?

Your content should be in bite-sized portions as well. Breaking up paragraphs makes it easier to read and will help increase your retention rates.

The rule that a paragraph must contain at least three sentences doesn’t apply in web writing. Smaller paragraphs will help you get straight to the point, making it easier for your audience to understand your message.


To do:

Look at your analytics and find your 10 most visited articles. Do you have large blocks of text, or short paragraphs with a lot of white space?

If you chose the first answer, you have some room for improvement. Fortunately, you won’t have to change any of the words to make it easier to read. Go into the edit mode and experiment with breaking up the long paragraphs. Try doubling the number of paragraphs and see how it turns out.

Of course, the paragraph breaks still need to make sense – you shouldn’t break up ideas or thoughts in the middle of an explanation. Hopefully you’ll find that you can use them to your advantage to emphasize certain points you’re trying to make.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on breaking up paragraphs, implement this tactic in your other sections of the website if you have time. At the very least, remember this tip and commit to breaking up your future content into bite-sized pieces.

(Note: If you’re nervous to try this out on your most visited articles, you can try it first with your least visited pages. The purpose of editing your most visited content is because you want people to see your best work.)

How to improve the necessary evil of forms


Don’t turn away potential subscribers, donors, or volunteers with long forms.

Have you ever adopted a pet? Or attempted to? You might be really excited to adopt a pet, but once you start filling out all the forms you may question why you decided to go this route instead of just going to a pet store.

You don’t want this to happen to your website visitors. If they are about to sign up for an event, download a resource, or donate, the last thing you want is for them to second guess why they’re about to take action and leave your page before they’re done filling out the form.


To do:

  • Reduce the number of fields to the absolute minimum. For email sign-up forms, don’t include more than three fields. The more fields you have, the less likely people will fill them out. Make sure you actually use all the information you collect. If you don’t use it, get rid of the field.
  • Keep the number of optional fields to a minimum, and eliminate them altogether if you can. It doesn’t always register that there are optional fields – people see a long form and dread having to fill it out, even if half of it is optional.
  • If some fields are required and others are optional, make sure the required fields are clearly marked.
  • Consider asking for additional information after someone signs up. For example, if you’d like to segment your e-newsletter by interest, ask about their interests in an automatic email after they’ve subscribed.
  • Embed forms within your articles and announcements if possible. For example, if you’re announcing an event, embed the registration form at the end of the page. This reduces the number of steps to taking action.

PDFs are killing your reputation


If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

Almost one third of PDF reports produced by the World Bank have never been downloaded. Another 40% have been downloaded fewer than 100 times.

This Washington Post article suggests that “the solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.”

And don’t think for a second that you’re the exception.

PDFs are not very web-friendly. Their purpose is to retain formatting (mainly for printing), and they can be a useful tool to bridge the offline and online worlds. However, their usefulness has serious limitations, especially as more people access the web through their mobile devices.

PDFs make it hard for visitors to search for information and aren’t very SEO-friendly. People using mobile devices or tablets will have to download the PDF before they can view the information – a task that many are unwilling to do even  on their desktop.

That means that the resources spent researching, organizing, writing, and formatting information for PDF documents are largely going to waste. If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

When you write a report you may have a vision that the information will help people solve problems. The truth is, the information is hidden away like the change in your couch cushions. Information in a report that you think will make an impact and be shared widely among your networks will likely go unnoticed.

If your organization uses PDFs, you also need to use other ways to share the information.


To do:

Think: Why do you use PDFs on your site?

If the main purpose of using PDFs is so people can print information and tools (such as activities, agendas, worksheets, etc.), PDFs can still be a good option because you’re using them for the purpose they were designed for. However, you need to make sure that you have a good description of the document so your visitors understand what kind of resource they’re downloading. For large files, it also helps to include a few highlights from the document on the download page.

Another option is to eliminate the PDF and have your information only available as articles on your site. Work with your web developer to help format your pages for printing so you can remove things like the sidebar or the navigation for a clean print version.

If you decide to continue using PDfs, you need to have a way for people to preview the documents so they know what they’re downloading. I recommend using Scribd to upload your PDFs and then embed the documents into your website.

For reports, you should get a little creative about presenting the information so that it’s easily digestible and shareable. You can still have the PDF available to download in case people want to print the information or access the full report, but you’ll get much more traction if you format the information in a different way. Here are some ideas for other ways you can share information from your reports: