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best headlines for sponsored posts, PR marketing headlinesA new study on headlines presents some surprising results. Longer headlines perform better.

Median click-through rate (CTR) improves when headlines have more words and characters, reveals research by Polar, a content technology company.

Performance peaks at 90 to 99 characters and 15-16 words in length. Headlines with 16 words produced a CTR of 0.33 percent; those with four words had an average CTR of less than half that, just 0.14 percent, according to the study of more than 10,600 branded content headlines published through the Polar publishing platform this year.

The Polar recommendation on length may apply more to branded content than to blogs or social media. Marketing experts typically recommend different lengths for SEO and different social platforms.

Different Lengths for Different Channels

Google recommends limiting titles to 60 characters so that the entire headline will appear in search results. Viewers won’t see anything over the limit.

Kevan Lee at Buffer says the best headline lengths are:

  • 40 characters on Facebook,
  • 71 to 100 characters on Twitter,
  • 80 to 120 on LinkedIn,
  • 60 on Google+.

“Publishers are tasked with finding the perfect headline for every distribution channel—or at the very least, the one best programmed for maximum virality,” writes Jordan Teicher for Contently. “What works on one platform won’t necessarily connect with users elsewhere.”

The best headline length depends on what you want the headline to do, agrees Julie Neidlinger at CoSchedule. It depends on if you want your content to gain shares on social media, reach the top of search engine results, or entice readers to open emails.

More Recommendations on Writing Headlines

Other Polar findings include:

Use numbers and special characters: CTR performance improves when numerical numbers and special characters, like $ and !, are included in the headline.

Include words that relate to your topic: Including keywords that relate to the topic or category of your content will grab the reader’s attention and improve CTR performance.

“If it bleeds it leads” is not always true: When looking at both positive and negative words, the median CTR improves when positive words are used in a headline.

The “and” symbol (&) or a question mark (?) did not provide an appreciable improvement in CTRs.

Numbers perform better when shown as a numeral, rather than spelled out: 4, 9, or 3 as these had the strongest median CTRs.

Avoid using larger, more specific numbers such as 22 since these can seem overwhelming to readers.

Using words oriented towards ‘house’ (homes, house, home, families) saw high CTR performance.

Words related to money such as “cash” and “stocks” had strong performance.

Including words that convey a sense of urgency “now” help improve CTR performance.

Gardening appears to be a strong performing category.

Cynics may conclude that the detested click-bait methods had it right all along. That’s undoubtedly the wrong interpretation of the research findings. The study does not mention the “curiosity gap” trick – as in “You’ll Be Shocked at Who Tripped on the Red Carpet at the Grammy’s — as an effective strategy. The correct interpretation: Longer headlines that tell the crux of the post’s offer produce the best click-through results.

Bottom Line: New research provides fascinating and useful findings about what makes better headlines. Some recommendations may affirm your beliefs; others may contradict them. While such studies provide intriguing data, the most effective headline writing techniques involve considering your audience, the channel and your marketing goal.