How to Give Shy Headlines the Strength to Get Up and Do What Needs to be Done

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Chapter 2: The Advanced Guide to
Writing Powerful Press Releases

newspapers - breaking news headlineStanding out is more important than ever. According to Nathan Safran of Moz, 8 out of 10 people read headlines, but only 2 out of those 10 actually read the story.Bottom line: Your headline matters.

Think of the your headline as the front door to your release. You want it to be warm and welcoming. You want it to say, c’mon in reporters! Great story ahead!

No pressure, right? Well, no stress is necessary. Check out the following headline boosters, DOs and DON’Ts, headline examples, and swell tips to make your story as journalistically appealing as possible.

4 Headline tips

#1 – Keep
your headline
short and
concise.

Make your title fit within 60-80 characters. eReleases has found that this is the optimal length for effective headline coverage; the more digestible a headline is, the better it will be received.

Bad :

Author Michael Burkear Documents His Fifteenth Journey to the Fairied Land of Atlantis in his Seminal Groundbreaking Novel ‘The Lost Road of Forgotten Memories’ Due Out This Fall Just As Soon As He Gets His Van Fixed (Transmission’s Been Going For Some Time Now)

Better :
Author Michael Burkear Reveals Map to the Lost City of Atlantis

#2 –Keep
it factual
and objective.

You want the headline to be simple, direct, and based on the facts. This is not the space to editorialize.

Bad :

Michelle Confirms that Facebook is Awesome at Making Her Miserable Sometimes

Better :
Depressed? Research Study Examines How Facebook Affects Users’ Emotion


#3

Keep it
interesting.

A dull headline will not cut it with busy journalists, so craft your words with care.

Bad :

SuperCo Announces Their New Line of Edible Coffee Cups Called YumYumBeenz

Better :
YumYumBeenz Lets You Eat Your Caffeine
Better :
Don’t Wash Your Coffee Cups — Eat Them!


#4
Keep That
Data.

Humans love numbers. Want someone to read beyond your headline? Include some interesting data.

Bad :
YumYumBeenz Positioned to Have Positive Environmental Impact

Better :
YumYumBeenz Rescues 90,000lbs of Waste with Edible Cups

Bonus Tip: Write your headline first, and base
the rest of your press release around the title.

2. Headline Things to Avoid

AVOID: Sensationalism

sensational headlines - Muslim plot to kill pope
Sensationalist headlines are shocking! Exciting! Scandalous! Which is great, except they’re often wildly inaccurate as well.

Avoid derailing a story’s accuracy (and thus your legitimacy as a newsmaker) just to generate a little interest and frenzy. Reporters will see right through this. What’s more, this is a news release, not an end-product news story: leave the sensationalizing to journalists.

Don’t get me wrong: if you have a factually accurate headline that’s going to turn heads, run with it!

However, if you’re working on a story about YumYumBeenz Edible Coffee Cups and your sensational headline - TV & computer craze is giving kids cancerheadline suggests life-or-death scenarios, perhaps you’ve ventured a bit far into sensationalist territory.

Image 1: https://www.kabobfest.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Daily-Express-Muslim-Plot-to-KillPope.png
Image 2: https://images.vg247.com/current//2013/01/the-mirror-cancer-600×337.jpg

AVOID: Fluff

When talking about “fluffy” headlines, this just refers to subjective words that bloat a headline. Keep your headline objective, free from personal opinions, and free from generalizations.

Bad :
Men are More Talkative Than Women [generalization]
Better :
Researcher at NYU Reveals Men Talk More Than Woman
Bad :
The Popular Lexington BBQ Festival is Best in the World [subjective]

Better :
Lexington BBQ Festival Has Highest Attendance Rate of All NC Festivals

AVOID: The Sales Pitch

A press release is not a sales pitch. It’s a story pitch. While your goal may be to increase your sales, and while a press release is one of your many tools as a means of doing so, remember that a release is never going to go straight from your outbox and into the paper. First it goes to a reporter who then chooses to write a story based on the facts and information in your release.

Don’t sell journalists your product; sell journalists a story about your product.

I always change the radio station when I hear a commercial, and editors do the same thing with a sales pitch headline.

Bad :
Weekend TV Sale Extravaganza at TV World This Weekend Only!!
Better :
How to Buy a New TV Without Breaking the Bank

AVOID: Jargon

Jargon is specialized language for job fields, slang, etc.

Bad :
DuWayne Tech Unveils USB-Native Microfiche Slugstarter Compatible with NHRT Cram Modules

Better :
DuWayne Tech’s Cellphone App Improves Ambulence Response Time by 67%

AVOID: Hyperbole

Stick to the facts, and please don’t exaggerate. There’s a fine line between creativity and hyperbolic bloat; keep it factual and you’ll be fine.

Bad :
Killer Food Bug Hits Texas

Better :
Widespread Cases of Salmonella Hits West Texas


3. Headlines We Liked

For this section, we handpicked five of our favorite headlines from around the news circuit. We then took it a step further and explained why each headline is top of its class.

This is a good exercise for anyone looking to improve their own writing skills. Check out the section below and ask: Why does it work? How can it be improved?

LeatherUp.com 2008 Sales Explode to over $20 Million
This headline shows a major milestone for an online company, and the word choices works well. ‘Explode’ is a dynamic word, and the headline is short, simple, and direct.
Who’s At Fault When Children Disobey?

Build a controversy with your headline. Make your readers do a double-take with an eye-catching question.
The Crimes We Commit Against Our Stomachs

Take the everyday and make it interesting. People will pay attention to information that they can relate to. This headline does just that.
Announcing… The New Edition of the Encyclopedia That Makes it Fun to Learn
The goal of the press release is to share news and announce what is going on. Make it stand out, like this example. The “…That Makes It Fun to Learn” enhances an otherwise boring headline.
24 Rules I Follow When Creating Successful Websites
Offer your readers something of concrete value. Numbers grab people. Lists are popular. It shows credibility and it offers the reader a desirable takeaway.


4. Headline Boosters

If you do not take anything else away from this chapter, hear this: Exceptional headlines offer value to the reader. Use your headline to convey the benefits of your story.

#1:
“How To”
Headlines

Headlines of this variety represent some of the most popular and shared items on social media and internet news sites. Thinking about doing a “How To” press release? Check these out for inspiration:

How to Turn Your Play Station Into a Living Room Media Center with WonderWire

As a bonus, tie your content into a “How To” topic for some magnetic attraction by tying practical and desirable together, like this:

How to Paint Your House and Save Time with PaintSaint

Spin the headline so that it shows how an everyday action can deliver an exciting benefit.

How One Dentist Has Detroit, MI Brushing Its Teeth for Cash

#2:
Headlines
for List-Style
Articles

List headlines are attention-grabbing, show expertise, and connect with your audience in a variety of ways. Here are some examples of solid headlines for list-themed releases.

Psychologist Maxine Roden Warns Against the Top Signs of Work Burnout
New eBook Discusses 101 Ways to Land Your Dream Promotion
Farm-To-Table.org’s 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Eat Your Vegetables This Month

#3:
Invoke
Emotion

People feel before they think. To immediately involve someone with your headline, try going for the heart.

Lost Dog Reunited with Navy SEAL Lieutenant after 4 Years
Once Near Death, Now Closer to God
Priest stabbed in May recovers in body, mind, writes ebook
Never Shake a Baby – Even on an iPhone
App for new parents teaches important lessons

#4:
Tell Them
a Secret

This works because you’re promising to share some specialized knowledge. It’s the “Hey, I know something you don’t know!” approach.

Meat and Potatoes: The Secrets of 5 Successful Vegan Chefs

MrsFixIt.com’s Little-Known Ways to Renovate on a Budget

#5:
Make ‘Em
Laugh

Sometimes the fastest way into the headlines is with, well, a funny headline.

Nice Work If You Can Avoid It

Author Cokey Shriver says Millenials are right to shirk the 9-5
Heeeere, Lizard, Lizard, Lizard…
Maryland Reptile Farm to host a benefit gala for its world class collection

Put Claire Voyant Down as a Reference

Psychic Toby Smith says more job seekers should seek telepathic help first

#6: Be
Controversial,
Contrarian

It’s mean. It’s dirty. But it works.

When you need attention – go controversial.

If you operate in a niche that is being heavily covered by the news, why not offer a viewpoint that goes against the grain? We’ll cover more of this in Chapter 4, Quotes that Get Quoted, but it works just as well for headlines, too. Reporters always need a differing opinion, and being able to offer one makes your chances at news coverage that much better. So long as you stick to the facts, you’ll be fine.

HealthyHands CEO says, “Ebola’s a Joke. Here’s Why…”

link to chapter 1 - How to formatlink to chapter 3 - Keep 'em reading

Final Thoughts on
Headline Writing

Remember, headline writing is like riding your bicycle. You hop on the seat, you fall off sometimes, but eventually you get the hang of it. You take the training wheels off and you soar.

Bookmark this page and come back to it any time you need to make your press release shine…and click below to grab our Headline Checklist.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Headline?

A headline is the first thing that journalists, editors, and your audience will read when they see your press release. You already know that there’s power in first impressions. That’s even truer when it comes to press releases.

Think about what happens when you scroll through the subject lines in your email. How many of them do you delete? If you’re like most people, most of your emails go unread unless they’re from a personal contact.

Every once in awhile, though, a subject line will capture your attention. You can’t refrain from opening it. That’s the power that your press release headline must-have.

The headline is the entry point to your press release. In a world where only about 20 percent of people read a story after glancing at the headline, your headline must grab attention.

Moreover, journalists only spend about one minute reading every press release. Your headline must invite them in so that they catch the lead paragraph, which can solidify their decision to run the story.

Many people think that their story didn’t get picked up because it wasn’t exciting or newsworthy enough. Maybe the headline was overlooked because it wasn’t that enticing.

A bad headline can send your press release directly to the trash bin, and you’ll never know what happened. If you want to make your headline effective, ensure that it’s specific and to the point.

Readers should get the point of the story just by looking at the headline. Being too clever, vague or open-ended weakens the impact. If journalists must think too hard about whether they should read further, they’ll probably scrap your piece.

How to Write a Headline

You’re staring at a blank document on the computer, trying to come up with a concise, specific, punchy headline. You end up hammering it out and moving on to the body of the press release. This strategy is not the best way to go about writing a headline.

Even though the headline is the first thing that people will read, it should be the last thing that you write when putting together your press release. You’ll be better able to sum up your story in a few words after you’ve written all the details.

Don’t go with the first headline that you write down. Challenge yourself to craft at least 10 to 20 headlines before you settle on the perfect one. During this brainstorming phase, don’t worry about being perfect. Jot down any idea that comes to mind.

Once you’ve created several headlines, ask yourself the following questions:

Does the headline sound like something that you’d read on the front page of the newspaper?

  • Does the headline have fewer than 20 words?
  • Does the headline paint a picture of your entire story?
  • If you were reading the headline with no background knowledge, would you have any questions about its meaning?
  • Who cares about the news that the headline delivers?

Continue to fine-tune your headline based on the answers to these questions. You might combine two or more of the headlines that you brainstormed to make them more useful.

Some other things to do after you’ve narrowed down your headline options include:

  • Make sure that you write in the active voice.
  • Use a thesaurus to find power words that replace some of the weaker terms or phrases.
  • Ask yourself whether the headline portrays a popular trend, addresses a controversy or introduces a new insight; these elements will make it pop.
  • Decide whether you can add any relevant, eye-catching statistics.
  • Consider whether you can add a surprise element that informs the reader of something they didn’t know; ask yourself what is new, different or remarkable about the news.
  • Include the company name to detail further the topic of the press release.
  • Integrate keywords into the headline.

Once you’ve tackled these steps, see if you can make the headline shorter. Google will cut off the headline after 65 to 80 characters. Many wire services allow headlines with up to about 115 characters.

How Are Press Release Headlines Different Than Other Headlines?

Press release headlines are different than viral social media headlines or blog post titles. They need to sound like a headline that you would read in a newspaper.

You’ll make the press release easy for a journalist to transform into a news piece if they do not need to rework the headline to fit their publication. Some journalists will use a press release as a jumping-off point for their story. Others will copy and paste as much as they can from the press release to minimize their workload.

Therefore, if you write your press release well, a journalist may be more likely to use it. They don’t have work as hard to refine it for the media, and they’ll appreciate you for your efforts.

Modern press releases are a little different than they were 20 years ago, though. Most of them are published online, and people are used to reading blog posts. Therefore, some headlines blur the lines between the tone of a newspaper and blog post.

Try testing different styles of headlines to find out which one works best for your industry. You can also do a competitive analysis to find out what other companies in your sector are using in terms of headline style and tone.

How Do I Write Catchy Headlines?

You know that your headline needs to make your audience open the press release and continue reading it. How do you set yourself apart from the crowd and get noticed?

Your headline should be catchy, but don’t fill it with puns that make readers scratch their heads. One of the best ways to write a captivating headline is to search for newspaper headlines that in your industry or like your story.

Write down all the headlines that capture your attention. Make a note of

  • The power words that they use
  • The way that they use data and statistics
  • The emotions that they evoke

Use them as templates to create your press release headlines. Don’t copy them, but consider them to be a starting point for your creativity.

You should also be able to describe the following:

  • Who is your target audience? – Knowing this can help you make the headline relevant and enticing to them. When you know who is in your target market, you can see what they’re sharing on social media and make a note of the words that they use. Craft your headline with similar phrasing and tone.
  • What is your goal? – Understanding your objectives will make your headline clear and prevent you from being vague or misleading. Whether you’re announcing a new product, broadcasting an event or sharing a new hire, make sure that your headline conveys your objective.
  • What is your keyword? – Make sure that your press release pops up in search results by including a relevant keyword. Place the keyword toward the beginning of the headline. Don’t stuff too many keywords in there, though, if you want your headline to be catchy.

Next, consider your word placement. Even the most potent words won’t have a substantial impact if they’re placed randomly in the headline. Remove extra words, such as “and” and “that.” You can replace conjunctions with a colon to separate two phrases.

To make your headline catchier, consider using “humanizing” words. These are terms that are related to people, such as “laugh” or “friend.” Alert words are those that aren’t excessively positive. Adding these to your headline can grab attention and make it sound less like a sales pitch.

Some examples are:

  • Alarming
  • Risk
  • Scare

Finally, ask yourself if you could picture talking about your headline at a cocktail party. If you would roll your eyes or walk away when someone used your headline to start a conversation, you might need to rework it.

Can You Share Some Attention-Grabbing Headlines Examples?

Almost every company comes up with new products, holds events, and hires new personnel from time to time. Those occurrences aren’t necessarily newsworthy. Would you be more excited to hear that XYZ company has new offerings or XYZ company has launched an affordable, age-defying acne cream for women in their 40s?

Many press release headlines are boring. Here are some examples of amazing headlines that might spark you to come up with saucy titles of your own.

Here are some examples of attention-grabbing press release headlines:

  • Author Matt Bender Reveals the Secret to Happiness in His New Book, “The Five Pillars to Finding Your Purpose.”
  • New Insights About Depression: Study Examines How Facebook Might Be Making You Sad
  • FunBox Toy Subscription for Kids Stops the Tantrums and Reduces Screen Time by 75 Percent
  • Raleigh State Fair Credits Controversial New Ride for Highest Attendance Rate in 20 Years
  • Green River Java Celebrates Opening of Downtown Seattle Shop With Giveaway and Discounts
  • Magnum Motors Launches Permanent Solution for Foggy Headlights
  • Harvard Researchers Expose Diet Industry Scams That Have Harmed 1,500 Consumers
  • LeatherLess Creates Glamorous Eco-Friendly Purses From Recycled Shoes
  • Microsoft’s Personalized Training Makes Learning New Technology a Snap

What Are Power Words for Headlines?

When you’re writing headlines, look for any opportunity to include power words. These terms evoke emotion and grab attention. They’ll help your press release stand out from all of those that sound neutral and get deleted right away.

Using power words can be tricky. If you overdo it, you’ll sound sensationalistic. Overly dramatic press releases don’t sound authentic and receive zero coverage by the media. But replacing some weak words with stronger ones may win over the press and your target audience.

Some of the best power words to use in a headline include:

  • Eye-catching
  • Guarantee
  • Secrets
  • Unveil
  • Alive
  • Painless
  • Life-changing
  • Discover
  • Hack
  • Challenge
  • Bargain
  • Exposed
  • Convert
  • Budget
  • Profit
  • Unlimited
  • Master
  • Weak
  • Instantly
  • Lazy
  • Show off
  • Relentless
  • Ultimate
  • Strategy
  • Perfectly
  • Lucrative

How Do I Write a Clever Headline to Attract Attention?

Clever headlines can attract attention, but they may also be off-putting. If they’re too vague or don’t make sense, they can leave journalists scratching their heads. Don’t try to be too cute when writing clever press release headlines. But you can add some humor or ingenuity with a light hand.

Just remember that people want to read articles that speak to them. If you’re too formal, you might go over their heads or sound stuffy. Don’t use a thesaurus to find big words just because you think that they seem impressive. They likely don’t, and they can turn your readers off.

One way to create a clever headline is to think about contrasts. Start on one path and end with conflicting information. An example of a headline that uses this strategy would be, “Ninety-Two Percent of Kids Watch 8 Hours of TV Daily. Kids Learning Group Reduces That to 3 Hours.”

Unexpected facts can also make a headline smart. For example, “Green Tea Isn’t as Healthy as You Think: 5 Dangers of Drinking the Herb.”

Another strategy for writing clever headlines is to start with a short phrase. Then, expand on it. One example would be, “Forget Paris. These Six Cities Are Drawing More Crowds Than the Eiffel Tower.”

In some cases, you can ask a question in the headline. For example, “Are Larger Phones Better? Apple Reveals That 65 Percent of Customers Prefer Smaller Prototype, Launching in January.”

Some experts say that you shouldn’t be too positive in a headline. Negative information can evoke more emotion than candy-coated hype. An example that uses this approach is “Lessons in Failure: Cool Scapes Boots Profits After Almost Losing Everything.”

Remember, you shouldn’t use extra words or creative phrasing to make something unimportant sound meaningful. It’s better to explain the story as you would to a child instead of cluttering it up with jargon or words that are hard to understand.

How Are Sub-Headlines Different Than Headlines?

Luckily, you don’t have to cram all your information into an 80-word headline. A sub-headline gives you some space to add more details before your reader gets to the meat of the article.

A sub-headline comes immediately after the headline. It expands on the central theme and reels in the reader. Think of a sub-headline as a little nudge that encourages the journalist to move on and look at the body of the release.

You can use this area as a teaser to make readers want to continue. When Google indexes your press release, the sub-headline may show up under the title in the search results. Think about whether you would click on it if you were searching for relevant information online.

Whereas the headline should be bold in its ability to attract attention and evoke emotion, the sub-headline can explain more, discuss benefits, and inspire action. It’s especially important to use the sub-heading wisely if you used a smart play on words in the headline. The sub-headline can specify what you meant and clarify any questions that the reader might have.

Because the sub-headline elaborates on the headline, it can be a little longer than 20 words. When writing your sub-headline, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it help the reader understand the topic of the press release?
  • Does it build on the headline?
  • Does it answer any questions raised in the headline?
  • Does it contain keywords?
  • Is it descriptive?
  • Does it evoke emotion?
  • Does it explain why the reader should care about the topic in the press release?
  • Does it include the benefits to the reader, target audience or community?

To make the most of your press release sub-headline, use power words. Don’t repeat information that you included in the headline. If you had trouble making your headline short enough, you could use the information that you removed in your sub-headline. It’s a great way to make use of space.

What Is the Best Press Release Headline Format?

There are many examples of press releases online, and they’re not all formatted the same. The way that you format your press release headline won’t necessarily make or break the results, but some practices could deter journalists from reading further.

For example, you should never write the headline in all caps. People don’t want to feel as though they’re getting scolded by a parent. Use title case for your headline and capitalize all the words that are four letters long or more. Don’t capitalize prepositions. You can make the headline bold if you’d like.

Italicize the sub-headline. You can capitalize the first letter only or use the same capitalization as you did for the headline.

Don’t shy away from using punctuation in your headlines and sub-headlines. Colons work well to consolidate phrases, make punchy statements, and leave room for collaboration. You typically don’t need to include a period at the end of the headline or sub-headline, though.

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DOs and DON'Ts