Crafting Headlines that Pop

The proliferation of various forms of media has created a land grab for attention that makes it more critical than ever to be able get your message across in the fewest possible words.  Whether someone is looking through their email inbox, headlines in their news reader, or scouring search engine results, the only thing standing between them and your message is the headline, subject line or other descriptive words wrapped around your content.

Further the growth of IM, text messaging, and micro-blogging technologies like Twitter mandate brevity.  Another challenge is that people are writing for two audiences: human and search engines.

The upshot is that  punchy, concise writing and sharp headlines – that are both people and search engine friendly – are now more important than ever.  This is particularly true, and particularly challenging in the world of tech PR.  It is not always easy to boil down highly complex technology to its compelling and provocative essence.

Here are a few simple tips for getting the most out of limited word count real estate:

  • Get rid of spurious words like "announces"
  • Avoid repetition
  • Use the most impactful words right at the beginning (if it is a heads-up on important news, say so)
  • Use shorter words
  • Avoid gobbledy gook puke
  • Read the headline out loud to make sure it flows
  • Test headlines – use your colleagues, friends and families as mini-focus groups
  • Where practical, do real tests – vary the subject lines of pitches to see which ones resonate
  • Include keywords – these serve both human readers and search engines.  For human readers who might not be familiar with your company, keywords provide important descriptors. They also help search engines properly index your news, and alert people to your news via the persistent searches they set up.

I have often debated whether it is better to be witty or straightforward.  The latter argues that you need to be clear, and besides, the subtleties of word play are lost on search engines.  They simply do not "get" irony and puns.

The former says you need to be interesting.  If clear but boring text means fewer people will open it, then favor the more eye catching approach (however if it is too cryptic – meaning, if it doesn't include descriptive key words – then fewer of the right people will see it because it will not place as highly in search engine rankings or trigger search engine alerts that are tuned to these key words).

Sometimes you can achieve both.

It is great if as many people as possible open and view your news.

It is even better to have the right people  – people who care, might write or be customer prospects – open and view your news.

So the ideal headline or subject line not only draws attention but the right kind of attention

Regardless of whether the headline or subject line is factual and straightforward or enticing and cryptic, you can still accomplish goals as long as you draw readers in.  Information is increasingly delivered in layers.  The headline or email subject line draws you in; the body text explains more, and includes links which provide additional information as well as some kind of call to action, or mechanism to register and/or request more information.

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4 Responses to Crafting Headlines that Pop

  1. Great post. As a former journalist who’s done a substantial amount of headline writing, I have to admit I’ve never consciously thought about looking at an email subject line as a headline. But you are bang on — it still serves the same purpose to draw the reader in, especially if it is a pitch to a journalist.
    I favour brevity and clarity myself. Given that humour is so subjective, why take the risk of confusing someone with what you think is the pinnacle of wit? That doesn’t mean avoid breaking the mold and showing that you’re a real person. But best to save witty puns for the body of the email, after you have already drawn in the reader.

  2. Bob Geller says:

    Leo, thanks for reading and commenting, appreciate your insight and contribution to the topic.

  3. Strive Notes says:

    October 17: PR top 5

    Image by andreaweckerle via Flickr
    A couple of sleepless nights means that Ive had time to catch up on my reading. Heres some stuff I really liked.
    1. Some excellent advice for PR newbies from Matthew Stibbe. Dont ring and say, …

  4. Sound commentary.I pense que votre droit, que thefunded.com est faussée par un public de gens qui ont entendu plus de pas que oui l’.

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