How to write a kick-butt headline people will want to read

Clarity, active voice and prevailing terminology are essential to getting your press release searched, opened and shared. Follow these guidelines.

Remember the 2006 Samuel L. Jackson movie, “Snakes on a Plane”?

The awful title alone makes me squirm, because it gives away just how awful the plot line is. The title did receive a lot of press, albeit for how controversial it was.

However, when it comes to your press release, you want your headline to work across the board. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of equally distressing or controversial headlines found in press releases.

I haven’t seen “Snakes on a Plane,” and the title has its good points: It’s succinct, and we get a very clear vision of what the movie is about. If only all press release headlines incorporated that measure of clarity, but without the negative press attention.

Take a look at a couple of examples of headlines that make you go, “Hmmm…”

Example A: Honda, Toyota and Nissan Commit to Greener Futures for Car

Now, granted this one isn’t awful. But it doesn’t say anything exciting—or new. Don’t we already know that car companies are making things greener?

Example B: New Dell Teaching and Learning Academy focuses on Educators’ Instructional Needs and Personalized Learning

What’s wrong with this one, other than that it has the excitement of a washing machine repair manual? Well, it makes it sound like Dell is doing something philanthropic, when in reality, the news is that Dell is teaching people how to use its product. Who cares?

Example C: How can I find the right second home to move to and what’s the trick to getting an offer accepted? Four essential steps to bagging that dream bigger property

Where to start with this one? First, it’s way too long, and the title isn’t even capitalized. Also, “That Dream Bigger Property?” Am I being encouraged to dream bigger, or is the property itself bigger?

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

How could these have been improved upon? Well, let’s try a few variations:

  • Honda, Nissan, and Toyota Unite to Create a More Eco-Friendly World
  • Dell’s Teaching and Learning Academy Makes Using its Products a Snap
  • 4 Steps to Secure Your Dream Property

Now, for a few stellar examples of press release headlines:

United Airlines Wants To Fuel Jets With Your Leftover Dinner

This gets you curious and laughing at the funny mental image. Plus, this is great PR for a company that functions in an industry receiving constant scrutiny. Good going, United.

Square Cash is Open for Business

I like the simplicity of this headline. I’m wondering how Square Cash works, so I click on the search engine friendly headline.

Forget Soccer. Can US Beat Japan in a Giant Robot Battle (+video)?

This one is just about perfect in length, it elicits an emotional response (aren’t you curious to see the video?), it plays off of a trending topic (soccer), and you have the bonus of knowing a video awaits.

Remember this:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar.”

David Ogilvy

Analyzing other headlines is a great way to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. However, there are a few tried and true ingredients to make your headline a success. A pinch of each of these tips will go a long way to getting your headline (and release) noticed.

1. Make it short and sweet.

Many search engines and readers will truncate long headlines. Besides, people want to get an immediate idea of what your release is about. Keep the headline to 100 characters or fewer for optimal appeal.

2. Make it Twitter-friendly.

This concept falls in line with keeping it short. However, your social media audience is ever more conscious and appreciative of pithy wording. When you create your headline, word it so it will be easy to promote on social media.

3. Make it powerful.

Using passive voice weakens your message. Instead, use active voice; it strengthens your writing and makes you sound like a leader.

4. Make it emotional.

Even the most hard-core executive has an emotional side; it’s human nature. Tap into this by creating headlines that elicit emotions such as humor, anger and curiosity.

5. Make it the last thing you do.

Some may argue this point saying your headline sets the tone for your release. However, after you create your release, you’ll have a better overall picture of the image you want to present and the feeling you want to create. Save it for last, and you’ll see how to better incorporate your thoughts into one well-honed headline.

6. Make it trendy.

Use keywords in your headline that are popular on social networks. In other words, be aware of commonly used terminology. If you prefer the term B2B public relations, but hashtags on Twitter are using B2B PR, make sure you use the more prevalent version in your headline.

7. Make it something you’d want to know about.

Write a headline that you would find interesting to read. It can be easy to put the information out there without considering whether it would actually catch your eye if you were the reader.

8. Make it SEO-friendly.

Remember that although you are writing for people, you’re also writing for search engines. Place keywords not only throughout your release and in subheadings, but prominently in your headline. They should be the in first few words.

9. Make it pass the test with flying colors.

Using a headline analyzer, such as the one CoSchedule offers, isn’t a sure guarantee against headline failure, but it helps you to get your footing. Enter your headline, and you’ll see how to improve on your working title.

For instance, if I plug in How to Write Press Release Headlines, I get a score of 65 and a grade of C-. Yep, it’s a yawn. It has no scoring among common words, powerful words or uncommon words. It received a 33 percent on an emotional level. You are aiming for a balance among all four groups.

So, if I put in How to Write Press Releases That People Read, I receive a score of 71 and a grade of A+ for my word balance. Not bad. A score around 70 or above is considered excellent.

Writing a kick-butt headline is truly one of the best things you’ll do to get your release noticed. Just make sure the release itself lives up to that great headline.

Wendy Marx is President of Marx Communications, an award-winning boutique B2B public relations agency known for turning companies and executives, including start-ups, into industry icons. Follow her on Twitter @wendymarx. A version of this article previously appeared on

(Image via)

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.