The headline is the most important part of a press release. Strong headlines encourage journalists to open the email message and begin reading the press release. A bad headline will render an otherwise adequate press release a failure. Awful headlines cause journalists to promptly hit the delete key when skimming email messages. On owned media, they fail to motivate readers to open the link. Journalists and readers ignore headlines that break basic headline-writing rules. Badly crafted headlines also result in much lower search engine ranking.
These are the worst — and yet common – headline errors and omissions in press releases.
No keywords. The right keyword, or keyword phrase, results in placement in Google News and sometimes Google web search results. With the right keyword phase, the release can appear in front of millions of search results on the first page of Google News. Rather than simply writing “new product” include words that describe your product. The editor of the news source of course has the final say on the headline – but these days they often accept a well-written headline on a press release.
Stuffed with keywords. Headlines can feel awkward and clunky when keywords are forced into headlines. They tend to annoy readers. Remember to write for readers first. In addition, search engines consider keyword stuffing a “black hat” SEO tactic that lowers search result rankings.
Too long. The best headlines summarize the press release quickly and forcefully. Business Wire recommends no more than 22 words for proper indexing by news sites. Search engine results often limit titles to about 67 characters, so make sure your most important information is upfront in the headline.
Misleading. Stating something that is inaccurate to trick people into reading the press release, in a sort of bait-and-switch tactic, will only cause a “yuk” reaction and loss of credibility. “If you try to mislead people into thinking your story is about something that it’s not, just so you can get a few eyeballs on your press release, you’re only going to end up making a lot of people angry that you wasted their time,” warns Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases.
Read like an advertisement. Press releases are not advertisements. They are supposed to be straightforward, factual statements, not infomercials. Headlines that sound like infomercials do not encourage anyone to read the press announcement.
Too much hype. Journalists and readers want news, not hype. Excessive adjectives, exclamation points and salesy words turn off both editors and readers. Writing headlines in all caps is like shouting at the reader, a definite faux paus. Ask the editor at your press release distribution service for suggestions on improving your headline.
Boring. Reporters and consumers are pressed for time and won’t read the release if it doesn’t grab their attention immediately. “If you were pitching your announcement to a writer at the New York Times (or even a friend) and only had 10 words to do so, what would they be? This should be close to your headline,” advises internet marketer Brian Scully.
Failing to track results. You won’t know if the headline is effective without media measurement. It’s imperative to use a media monitoring and measurement service or a press release distribution service that provides media measurement capabilities, such as Business Wire.
Bottom Line: Dreadful headlines on press releases are surprisingly common. An awful headline will relegate an otherwise well-crafted press release to journalists’ email trash folders. Writers (and reviewers) of press releases must make every effort to avoid the eight most frequent press release headline blunders.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.