Keep headlines short, like The New York Times
Hey, PR pros: Would you like to see your story in The New York Times? Then why not write like the Times?
We recently analyzed 100 headlines from PR Newswire and compared them to 100 headlines from a recent issue of The New York Times. (We skipped the sports pages.) Here’s what we found:
- Average headline length. Times: 8.6 words. PR Newswire: 11.2 — 37% longer than the newspaper of record in the United States.
- Median headlines length. Times: 9 words. PR Newswire: 11 — 22% longer than the newspaper of record.
- Longest headline. Times: 14 words. (There were two.) PR Newswire: 33 — 136% longer than the newspaper of record.
- Shortest headline. Times: 4 words. (There were four.) PR Newswire: 4. These are too short for good search engine optimization. Google prefers headlines of 5 words or longer.
|New York Times||PR Newswire||Difference|
|Average headline length||8.6 words||11.2||37% longer|
|Median headlines length||9 words||11||22% longer|
|Longest headline||14 words. (There were two.)||33||136% longer|
|Shortest headline||4 words. (There were four.)||4||No difference|
How long is too long?
I usually recommend that you keep your news head to eight words max. That’s the number people can easily understand at a glance, according to research by The American Press Institute.
But I’m willing to be flexible. What if, instead of capping heads at eight words, we followed The New York Times’ approach? Let’s write headlines that:
- Average 8 or 9 words
- Never grow longer than 14 words
- Sometimes have as few as four words
Here’s what New York Times headlines look like:
A Coronavirus Epidemic Hit 20,000 Years Ago, New Study Finds
The Internet Eats Up Less Energy Than You Might Think
Alzheimer’s Prediction May Be Found in Writing Tests
How Can I Tell My Mother-in-Law to Buzz Off?
Once Again, the Earth Is Being Wrung Dry
That not only makes your headlines look more inviting, but also allows readers to get your news in a single gulp.
What not to do …
But here’s what PR pros tend to write instead:
Dr. Reed V. Tuckson to Deliver Keynote Address at 2015 Digital Health Summer Summit Co-hosted by Center for Digital Health Innovation at UCSF
Magnetic Materials Market Developing at 8.9% CAGR To 2020 — APAC To Be The Fastest Growing Region Due To High Demand From Electronics & Auto Industry
LIFE TIME FITNESS SHAREHOLDER ALERT: Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP Announces the Investigation of Life Time Fitness, Inc. Over the Proposed Sale of the Company to Leonard Green & Partners and TPG Capital — LTM
At 23, 26 and 33 words, respectively, these are paragraphs, people!
Solution: If you need all of those details up top, put half your headline in the deck.
I recently worked with a PR firm whose headlines were 21% longer than the combined average of three of its top targeted media vehicles.
Instead of stuffing your headline with so many words, why not steal a tip from the Times? Keep release headlines as tight as those you find on the front page of the publication you seek to sway.
Learn more …
Hit the right readability targets with these resources:
- What’s the best press release headline length? Get the ideal length of a release headline in characters including spaces.
- What’s the ideal press release length? Write news releases that get media coverage — and that are worth reading. WWBWD? (What would Business Wire do?)
- What’s the best length for a blog post? Learn how to write social media posts that get read.
- How long should email newsletters be? [Data!] Boost opens, reading and click through rates.