This article originally appeared on PR Daily in May of 2018.
Let’s face it—it’s extremely difficult to attract audiences.
Even if you have the most ground-breaking news in the world—thanks to our digitally charged society—your content is a needle lost in a never-ending haystack.
Whether you’re attempting to capture the attention of an assignment editor in a newsroom, engaging a potential customer on Twitter, or even ranking at the top of an online search—move the needle, your success is contingent on the immediate allure of your headline.
A recent Microsoft study declared attentions spans are eight seconds long, which is shorter than a goldfish. Another analysis suggested the majority of internet users spend less than 15 seconds on a webpage.
The power of a headline
On April Fools’ Day in 2014, NPR trolled its audience by publishing “Why doesn’t America read anymore?” Instead of reading about our literary deficiencies, those who clicked were let in on the joke: share the article, don’t comment, and enjoy a good laugh reading the ironic commentary of the people who obviously didn’t read the article.
There are some depressing data surrounding social shares. According to a study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.
Headlines are extremely powerful. They are oftentimes the first and only thing audiences read about your brand.
Should the headline or the press release come first? I’ve always found it more effective to save the headline for last. After all, before you can write your headline you must first answer:
- Who is your audience?
- What do you want them to do?
- Why is it relevant?
Once you have those questions answered, your press release—and it’s headline—write themselves.
Tools that can help
There are countless resources available. In 2017, BuzzSumo analyzed over 100 million headlines to better answer the question: What makes a headline successful? The biggest takeaway is that there’s no magic headline formula. Even if your headline does not have a catchy trigger, a number or a promise – it can still be effective, especially if you include the right keywords.
Compared to their marketing counterparts, PR professionals have been slow to incorporate data into their workflow. For example, digital marketing professionals know exactly what their target audiences are searching for, while PR professionals are left in the dark.
To boost your impact and reach, there are numerous tools that you can use to optimize your headline. There are advanced search engine marketing tools like the Moz Keyword Explorer and the Google Keyword Planner, but for the majority of PR pros, this is way more than you need.
Google Trends is free and easy to use, and will help you compare keywords and phrases to help you instantly calculate the level of interest over time.
Here is how you can use the tool to test your headline:
1. After you’ve written your release take notice of the industry-specific keywords and phrases you use most often. You can also check with your digital and content marketing teams to see if they have target keywords you should include.
2. Once you have a list of your main keywords and phrases, visit trends.google.com.
3. In the search bar, enter your first keyword. Depending on your target audience you can adjust the location accordingly.
4. Compare up to five queries in a single search.
5. Once you find the phrase that receives the most attraction, write your headline and include it.
Pro Tip: Adjust the time period based on your content. If it’s a timely news release and you’re looking for immediate search visibility, adjust the time frame to the past seven days or less. If you’re looking for long tail search visibility, meaning in 12 months from now you want people to still find your content, keep your search fixed on the past 12 months.
Seth Gilpin is a Senior Product Marketing Specialist for Cision where he blends his passion for storytelling with the science of data. Connect with him on Twitter: @sethgilpn A version of this article originally ran on the Cision blog.