When it comes to a press release, headlines are everything.
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 to keep in mind.
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 may show more, some less.
But always plan for the minimum, just in case… The actual end count is determined by pixel size and total width, rather than a specific character count. Write headlines that work in both the long and the short versions.
A study came out last year detailing that EIGHTY PERCENT of press releases were too long. It’s a common mistake to watch for.
This is in contrast to wire services such as Business Wire or MarketWired, which typically accept 100-125 characters, or even longer. 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 since it doesn’t include a hook of any kind. It has no information in it to show it is newsworthy or interesting, and it lacks keywords. At only 29 characters, it’s completely useless. While it is 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 may work for Google. If trimmed from the end to meet a 65-character requirement, it would have still had value.
The second Bodybuilding.com headline is more compelling, but far too long at 150 characters. As you can see from the below screencapture of how it looks on Google, the detail is cut off when the news is picked up by Google because of the excessive length. The key findings of the study are completely dropped.
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, be sure and look at what the shortened 65-character version will say. It’s an extra step, but it can prevent miscommunication, incorrect reporting and other issues. Also be sure your keyword or phrase is in the short version. It won’t help if it is cut-off and not indexed.
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.
If you look at how this same press release is shared on Twitter, it is very awkward. A little planning ahead could have made a big difference.
— Reach4Fitness (@Reach4Fitness) December 18, 2013
So, to recap: Keep your headlines to a maximum character count of 100-110 characters, including spaces, put your keyword(s) or phrase toward the front, and prepare to have it cut off after 65 characters on Google.
More reading on this topic:
(If my writing is terrible this week, please forgive me. I’m going through a major family crisis that is causing a great deal of stress and my focus is quite tattered. Everyone’s well-wishes on Facebook have been very uplifting and appreciated!)