The Headline Effect: Why your titles matter in public relations

by | Jan 6, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

Whether you’re working on standard promotional material or dealing with a PR crisis, crafting a clear, powerful message is at the heart of business writing, but how much of your content does anyone actually read? It’s a pressing question and one that any journalist can tell you significantly shapes how they structure their writing. The opening graf in any article typically offers a gloss of the full story precisely because it’s hard to know how much further readers will continue.

If you’re concerned about developing more powerful business copy, you need to focus on your titles. People respond to headlines and how you frame your content determines how readers approach what comes after it.

The Headline Effect

The headline effect is typically framed as a finance and investment principle that, simply put, explains the impact of article headlines on a business’s stock price. Most PR departments spend their time trying to mitigate the headline effect, explaining to journalists why a potentially harmful headline isn’t really reflective of their business. You can, however, use the headline effect to your advantage in crafting your own messaging.

Repetition’s power

Headlines and article titles, especially in the age of the internet, are powerful not just because they come first but because they’re repeated—and repetition is powerful. In any given article, you’re allowed one title tag, the HTML marker, that identifies the title of the page, though not necessarily the title of the article. This tag is then used to fill in the web browser tag, in the bookmarks bar when an article is saved, on social media, and in search engine results.

Choosing an appropriate and powerful title, then, isn’t just about introducing readers to your article the right way, but also about driving home that core point through repetition. It’s also a navigational tool for readers.

Competitive power

Because one of the places that title tags show up is in search results, titling your business content also plays a role in your page’s performance—how well it competes with related pages. If you want to outrank your competitors, you need a title tag that leverages the right keywords and broadly complies with SEO principles. If your article has a long title, for example, you’ll want to choose something more succinct for your title tag so that the entire title is visible in search results. You want to communicate more with less.

Differentiating your titles and headlines

As you translate your content to your website, it’s important to differentiate between title tags and headlines. You can put a lot more content into your actual headlines than in your title tags, or they can be the same, depending on the target of your content and where it lives on your website. If you’re writing a press release, you likely going to place everything under a press release title tag so that you can put more targeted information into the actual headline. This is a neutral point of entry, though it may not be as competitive, which is why A/B testing is so important.

Understanding the difference between headlines and title tags, as well as the impact that your opening lines can have, will significantly improve your website’s performance and shape how readers approach your content. From blogs and press releases to complex white papers and product pages, keying into each element’s function can help you target the page and reach your readers. Tell them what they need to know and then lead them deeper into your story.

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Larry Alton
Larry Alton is a freelance tech and computer writer

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