When it comes to your press release, the headline is crucial.
• It determines whether a journalist will consider the press release worth reading. • It drives social sharing (or discourages it), based on the topic and how compelling it is. • It impacts click-through rates on search engines, depending upon how well-written it is. • It has a huge impact on search visibility (SEO), if keywords or phrases are integrated correctly.
Not only should it be well-written, compelling, and seeded with a keyword or phrase—low on hype, please—but length matters more than most realize. Here are a few quick guidelines: Press release length on Google When a press release, blog post, or article is indexed by Google and shows up in search results, the maximum character count runs between 65 and 80 characters (including spaces) before being cut off. Some rich snippets might show more, some less. Always plan for the low end, just in case. The actual length is determined by pixel size and total width, rather than a specific character count. (Newspaper headline writers quickly learn that the lowercase letters f, i, j, l, r, and t take up less space than other letters, especially m and w.) Write headlines that work in both the long and the short versions. A study showed that 80 percent of press release headlines were too long. Avoid making this common mistake. Press release length for a wire service Wire services, such as Business Wire or MarketWired, typically accept headlines of 100 to 125 characters, and sometimes even more. This is too long for Google and something you should plan for. In the above example, the first headline (“Simba Provides Update”) is so short that it doesn’t tell the reader anything at all—there is no compelling reason to read the release, as it doesn’t include a hook of any kind. It offers no information to show it is newsworthy or interesting, and it lacks keywords. At only 29 characters, it’s completely useless. Though short enough to show up in its entirety, it will not drive clicks or shares outside of stakeholders/investors. “Simba Terminates Negotiations with Ajax Exploration Ltd. & Settles Debt” would have been more useful. It includes detail and is only 71 characters, so it meets wire service limitations and might work for Google. If trimmed from the end to meet a 65-character requirement, it would have still had value. (“Simba Ends Talks with Ajax Exploration & Settles Debt” provides all the pertinent information in a thrifty 53 characters.) The second headline, from Bodybuilding.com, is more compelling but far too long, at 150 characters. As you can see from the screen capture below, the detail is cut off when the news is picked up by Google because of the headline’s excessive length. The key findings of the study are lost. A better headline may have been something like “Bodybuilding Proven To Improve Happiness, Sex & Relationships Through Bodybuilding.com Study.” At 96 characters, it would be fine for most placements and the short version of “Bodybuilding Proven To Improve Happiness, Sex & Relationships” or “Bodybuilding Proven To Improve Happiness, Sex & Relationships Through…” still touts the key findings nicely. This revised version also works in the keyword “bodybuilding,” ensuring it is picked up by news feeds searching for fitness topics that may not have caught the keyword when used in the Bodybuilding.com URL. Now that the algorithm has changed, not only can it be cut off, but Google can reject the too-long title entirely and choose something else. The extra characters can result in total loss of control over the message. Before you finalize a press release, look at what the shortened 65-character version will say. It’s an extra step, but it can prevent miscommunication, incorrect reporting, and other problems. Be sure your keyword or phrase is in the shorter version. It won’t help if it is cut off and not indexed. Press release length on Twitter From a social media sharing perspective, the length matters, too. The most popular place to share news is Twitter, and the ideal length is under 110 characters to allow for retweeting, hashtags, or a user’s handle if the author or brand is tagged.
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If you look at how this same press release is shared on Twitter, it is very awkward. A little planning could have made a big difference. So, to recap:
1. Keep your headlines to a maximum character count of 110 characters, including spaces; 2. Put your keyword(s) or phrase toward the front; and 3. Prepare to have it cut off after 65 characters on Google.
Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.