Your headline takes about ten seconds to read. That’s how long it takes for a person to decide whether or not they want to read more of what you have to say, making your headline the most important few words of your press release.
Did you know an article can be placed under a different headline and get a different response from the same reader?
In his article, “Headlines That Pull, Persuade and Propel,” Michel Fortin says, “A headline is meant to do two vital things. First, it needs to grab your reader’s attention. That’s the primary and most important job of the headline. It’s not meant to summarize an offer or be a paragraph in and of itself. It’s not meant to make a sale, either. Second, it needs to pull readers into the copy and compel them to read further. It must create curiosity and be interesting enough to pull the reader in. To keep the reader’s attention, it must be sufficiently pithy (not necessarily short, but straightforward) to do its job with the fewest words,” Fortin says.
Headlines, which cannot be taken for granted, determine the likelihood that an article, story, letter, advertisement or paper will be read. Time and thought must be given to this important section of your press release to assure the desired results of your efforts. Two reasons I write press releases are 1) to market my books and 2) to secure speaking engagements about my book and services I might offer for a fee.
Whether you are writing a press release or other type of message, a good place to start is with some accepted industry headline writing rules. Make the headline sound personal, connecting emotionally on some level with the reader. I do not mean a tearjerker. I mean, appeal to most people’s interest in their personal needs. A headline that appeals to this condition in readers will attract or target readers in a particular group. When targeting an audience, assess the problem the audience may be facing and offer a solution, which your headline could reflect.
‘Remove Unwanted Facial Hair,’ comes to mind from a commercial I saw on television. Of course, this advertisement didn’t attract me because I have no unwanted facial hair (right…), but I could see how it would target an audience that may be plagued with the problem. Your message announcement, title or headline can deliver the same result by asking a question, ‘Do You Have Unwanted Facial Hair.’ In both cases, the reader is likely to read past your title.
Another approach is to make the headline of a press release sound like a news item without exaggerating the strength of the message. That would be considered misleading or even inaccurate. Readers do not like to be misled or lied to. This could affect how readers accept what you have to report from now on, costing you your credibility with them. People remember when they have been deceived or think they have been deceived. In response, they will dismiss your messages in the future.
Try to make your headline as clear as possible. One self-imposed problem some writers face is trying to be too clever, which comes off like an inside joke that no one gets. Use plain unadorned language to be sure as many readers as possible can understand at a glance what your message is about. Take precautions against confusing readers if you want them to read past the headline.
There are several types of headlines an author can use to target readers. Some offer readers a gift or benefit. That is the reason so many messages include the word ‘free’ in the headline. Others may mention a complementary offer to participate in an activity. Do not underestimate the value of words like ‘sale’ or ‘discount.’ People are attracted to articles that offer them time and money savings.
Many articles announce a self-improvement feature that can be gained by reading the press release. ‘Learn How To Do Whatever.’ Successful self-improvement headlines also can show a guarantee or testimonial, such as ‘Thousands Swear by Whatever.’ Guarantees are more than just money back, but those can work, too. ‘How To’ articles should include ‘how to’ in the headline because people need to be told they will learn a new skill, especially if you stress that learning the task is easy, as in ‘How To Learn Whatever in Five Easy Steps.
Without being too wordy, twelve words or less, headlines should briefly express what your press release is about. Most professionals agree that a headline should be short, accurate and descriptive. This has been a time-honored rule that dates back to the earliest newspapers in the New England states of America in the 1700s. Since that time, newspapers have evolved with the needs of the reading public and are currently going through a digital transformation as more publications go online. Note that some online press release distribution services use character count rather than word count.
One thing has not changed in writing for newspapers, magazines and other publications. The headline still plays an integral role in enticing readers to read more. What has changed about the industry is the need to pay attention to the new technologic guidelines being advanced in response to internet writing requirements, which have increased significantly in number. When I write a headline, I test it by typing it into the browser to see if any other items show up with the same title. Then I type in a few variations to check what comes up in the search. I can then tweak my headline.
Writing a good headline is a little like selecting a title for your book. When my publisher, I wasn’t thrilled at first because I didn’t understand how much the title would target the audience the publisher was seeking and how much the title would enhance book sales. Unlike writing headlines for my articles, I was too close to my book manuscript to maintain my objectivity. My book editor explained that the title was intended to target an audience with a certain interest.
In order to achieve maximum exposure in search engines, which are a response to browsers on the web, headlines must contain keywords that illustrate the subject of your article and tell the browser the content of your article or what your article is about. Subject and content may sound like the same thing but they are not. The subject is a large and general category of topics and content is a specific abstracted description of your article. Subject and content construction requires the process of stating your announcement simply and to the point so that search engines such as Google will find your article. Use of keywords in the headline and throughout the press release is integral to search engine optimization (SEO). SEO leads traffic to your press releases, articles, blogs and websites.