What is the state of the press release headline?
Odd question perhaps, but one that’s important to people who write these headlines and who want journalists and Google to notice them.
Schwartz MSL Research Group and Business Wire address this topic in a report on headline optimization out this week. The aim of the study is search engine optimization (SEO) in press releases, and it includes useful information about word choice and word length in headlines.
The bottom line of the study is that PR pros are doing a lousy job of optimizing their press release headlines. (More on that in a moment.)
There is good news: The use of buzzwords in headlines is dying out.
The second annual study, which analyzed 16,000 press releases on Business Wire during a 31-day period last year, compiled the 20 most common buzzwords and noted how many headlines included each one. The most overused word—“solution”—was present in a mere 1.8 percent of headlines. This chart provides the full breakdown:
Schwartz and Business Wire also listed the top action words in headlines. They are:
• “Announces” (used 13.7 percent of the time);
• “Launches” (2.4 percent);
• “Partners” (1.8 percent).
The study’s authors insist that headline writers needn’t avoid buzzwords or action words at all costs, but that “it’s much more important to use the keywords being used in searches by your company’s target audience.”
Basically, the study says to use buzzwords if your audience is searching for them.
In terms of SEO, the study found that 80 percent of PR professionals are doing a poor job of it in their press release headlines.
Although SEO’s intricacies remain a mystery to many, it’s become a necessary means to getting more eyes on your content. Still, only 19.5 percent of news release headlines are optimized for SEO, according to the Schwartz group.
A Schwartz blog explains:
“Most PR professionals are not fully optimizing their headlines. (I am sure Schwartz MSL is guilty of that as well from time to time.) Our analysis showed that only 19.5 percent of all releases have headlines with 65 characters or fewer, a one percent increase over last year. When we look at 70 characters are less, the total is 23.7 percent, an increase of less than one percent.”
Many headlines, the report continued, are way too long:
“While the majority of release headlines are under 150 characters, we did see some examples that were much longer than the recommended length. The most egregious cases were the 2 percent of releases with headlines in excess of 300 characters, with one headline that was over 1,800 characters. The shortest headline we found was 21 characters, which is also probably not ideal for SEO as it’s unlikely that enough of their keywords were included. Overall, the analysis found the average headline length to be 123 characters, unchanged from 2010.”
Headline writers should limit the number of characters in their headlines to 65, according to Schwartz and Business Wire. The city with the highest percentage of headlines with fewer than 66 words is Chicago, the study found. Here’s the breakdown, by city:
• Chicago (33.3 percent of headlines have fewer than 66 words)
• Austin (26.9 percent)
• New York (24.9 percent)
• Philadelphia (19.7 percent)
• Washington, D.C. (15.4 percent)
• Atlanta (15.4 percent)
• San Francisco (14.3 percent)
• Boston (12.2 percent)
• San Jose (12.5 percent)
• Los Angeles (10.4 percent)
But, if PR pros are angling for Google News—not simply Google search—then 70 characters is still too long, because Google News likes brevity. “For a news release to show up on Google News,” the study said, “it must have fewer than 23 words in the headline (subhead not included).”
You can download and read the full study here.
Kevin Allen contributed to this story.