When it comes to writing press release headlines, short is sweet

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By Liz Ernst, Nov. 10, 2015

“Liz continues to exceed our expectations”


Believe it or not, writing an effective headline for a press release  is one of the most challenging elements of the task. In today’s PR world, the “catchy” headline is getting more and more difficult to achieve—but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

While you want your headline to grab attention, there are ground rules that supersede creativity here, starting with SEO. Most SEO specialists say that the ideal headline length is 65-70 characters. Most worthwhile online news sites, including Google News, demand this character limit for press release headlines in order for it to be considered for inclusion on their sites.

Still, more than 75 percent of businesses are routinely submitting press releases with headlines that exceed this character limit, which leaves you wondering who’s in charge of composing and issuing their press releases.

In all fairness, this is a gentle battle I still have with clients occasionally. These days, there’s a fine line between a legit PR headline and a “catchy” headline if the latter runs the risk of reading like sales copy. If your prose are too playful, the release probably won’t get “caught” at all by any media outlets, much less those that you’re hoping will pick it up. Legitimate media outlets are turned off on the spot by press release headlines that steer too far from announcing the newsworthy topic in the body of the release. They’ll tell you to “buy an ad” while your press release is unceremoniously tossed to the trash icon.

Rule of thumb with a headline: Name the company and the newsworthy topic your press release is announcing in 65-70 characters. Of course, you want readers to be as excited about your new book, conference, product or website launch as you are, but a professional PR writer who knows what they’re doing will make sure your fact-filled release is exciting in its own right.

Even better, it will actually see the light of day in Google searches and in media pick-ups.

So, short is best when it comes to headlines.

New research from MSLGROUP Research and Insights Group breaks down successful headline length in order of their ability to achieve publication as follows:

65-70 characters: IDEAL

70-100 characters:

101-150 characters

151-200 characters

201-300 characters

300+ characters FUGGETABOUTIT

Writing effective headlines today has more to do with SEO and following traditional AP Style guidelines than witty shibboleth any day.

Press release headlines don’t have to be boring, but they do have to be SEO-friendly and announce the newsworthy topic in the body of the release, all in 65-70 characters for maximum oomph. Catchy headlines served their purpose back in the days before technology, when editors and journalists actually had to skim through the volumes of releases that crossed their desks every day, but it’s an entirely different scene today. Search engine software, not a person, will most likely decide if your press release is worthy of being picked up, and news agency software scans for superlatives—if it’s detected, your release is history.

The take-away here is: Keep your press release headline at 65-70 characters, include keywords (organically) and state the news your release is announcing. If you’re very lucky, a staff writer from a news agency will pick it up and turn it into an actual news story – and they’re the folks who get to write the catchy headlines! That is always the goal.

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