How NOT to Write a Headline for Your Press Release
The thing with a headline is that you have to create something that signifies what you are writing about while being clever, concise, and exciting. If someone doesn’t like or connect with your headline, they probably aren’t going to read your story.
There are editors out there whose job it is to create headlines. It’s what they’re good at. I am not one of these people.
One of my favorite parts of NBC’s The Tonight Show (which I am rarely awake to watch at night) is the part where Jay Leno shares some of the worst headlines with viewers. Here are some doozies:
- County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds
- Brain gain: Additional schooling may boost IQ levels
- New sewer line is breath of fresh air
- Freetown residents living with odors at Crapo Hill
- Unanimous decision unopposed
Pretty bad, huh?
Sometimes, with the urge to be clever, the headline makes the writer look really, really stupid.
But along with trying to be creative, headline writers get lazy and use the same jargon or clichéd words over and over again.
There was a study done by Schwartz MSL Research Group where 16,000 press releases were analyzed on Business Wire last year that compiled the 20 most common buzzwords used in the headlines. Here’s a selection of the most overused:
Schwartz and Business Wire also came up with a list of the most used action words in a headline:
The study’s authors insist that headline writers needn’t avoid buzzwords or action words at all costs, but that it’s much more important to use the keywords being used in searches by your company’s target audience. —PRDaily
If your target audience is looking for buzzwords, by all means use them.
The study also found that of the 16,000 PR headlines they looked at, over 23% of all headlines used 70 characters or less. Note that that is characters, not words. The Schwartz study suggests that press release headlines should be no longer than 65 characters long.
This sentence is an example of what 70 characters looks like, when counting spaces.
The sentence above is exactly seventy characters long, including the spaces between the words.
It’s hard to be concise, especially when writing a press release, but it’s necessary. And I think a lot of writers fall back on clichés, like amazing, announces, and best because there isn’t a lot of room to get the point across. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try.
The shortest headline the study found was 21 words long. The longest was over 300! On average, the headlines in this study tended to be 123 characters long. According to the study, 80% of PR professionals are doing a poor job creating their press release headlines.
If you want Google News to find your headline, brevity is key. The study states that for a news release to show up in Google News, it must have less than 23 words in the headline (the subhead not included). And who doesn’t want their press release to show up on Google News?
But not everyone is doing a horrible job. The study found the cities that created the shortest headlines in the U.S. (fewer than 66 words). Kudos go to PR professionals who live in the following cities:
- Chicago (33.3% of headlines have fewer than 66 words)
- Austin (26.9%)
- New York (24.9%)
- Philadelphia (19.7%)
- Washington, D.C. (15.4%)
When writing your press release, you want to make sure you include all the pertinent information—the who, what, where, why, and how. But don’t forget about the headline. It might be the single most important factor when people are deciding to read your news. And if people aren’t reading your press release, you aren’t going to get the results you really want.