Fifty characters: my recommended target mark and the length of the headline for this blog post.
Making headlines caught my attention last week when a contact in a Yahoo! Group asked if anyone could talk about how to write headlines. After I volunteered, I decided to write this post to share my findings along with ten tips to help you write better headlines.
Where did I come up with shorter is better?
In Business Wire's post, “Shorter Headlines Can Lead to Google Juice,” [42 characters with spaces]. you'll see that Google warns that headlines of over 22 words will get kicked out of search results. Their recommendation? 2-22 words per headline, that’s it.
Even machines capable of reading endless amounts of x’s and o’s at breakneck speed don’t want to wade through fertile fields of long-winded news release headlines.
He goes on to give tips, including skipping the news release. I agree. Why bother if it's not news?
PRWeb suggests a headline of ideally under 80 characters. LiveWriter’s post title holds space for 55 characters.
In a highly unscientific experiment, I copied the top 10 Google News headlines, here’s how the average headline displayed:
49.6 characters with spaces
The longest Google News headline? 9 words, 53 characters and 65 characters with spaces.
A few examples of headlines that work:
What I like: names the company, adds in PC as a search term, brings in you as a reader and suggests a change you need to know about
What I like: starts with the word “study,” which immediately says you’ll read about proven results, uses a call to action “try”, tells you what to use “honey” to stop “children’s coughs.” This news also wound up on the headline screen on the elevator display in my husband’s office while I was out of town. He tested it out with our son. Honey does help. And, hey, you never know where those headlines will show up.
What I like: short, to the point with a bit of mystery. You may think the story is about the writer’s strike [it is], but you also wonder what needs to be cured.
Ten Ways to Make Headlines Search Engine Stand Outs
1. Shorter is better, ideally under 50 characters with spaces
2. Include keywords or lead with them
3. Come up with the headline before you write a release, post or article
4. Write a minimum of 30 headlines per piece – it’s faster than you think
5. Include a call to action, if you can
6. Summarize the story in five words or less
7. Test different headline to see what gets the best response
8. Track success rates from a keyword perspective
9. Search for your story using the headline to see where it shows up
10. Go to a news page or your RSS reader and make a list of the headlines you like.
What do think? What works for you when you write headlines?