Your headline must be the story in 55 characters or less

Some food for thought. Take a look at this chart of a popular celebrity’s web analytics.

Overview - Google Analytics

Notice that in January of 2011, 7.8% of their traffic was from mobile devices. Notice that as of last week, 33% of their traffic was from mobile devices. That’s a 400% increase in mobile device usage in 2 years. Four times as many people are viewing this celebrity’s website on a mobile device compared to two years ago. Now think about how we use mobile devices. We scan. We surf. We peruse. We do everything on smaller screens. Subject lines in emails have had to get tighter. Website designs have had to become responsive to adapt to mobile usage.

What hasn’t changed? How we in public relations write headlines for media and public outreach. Why is this important? Because in a highly mobile world, the headline is the story. In many media outlets, on many media websites, in many website designs, the headline is all you get. If your news or outreach has a lightweight or irrelevant headline, it’s not even going to get noticed, much less read. If your headline exceeds what a mobile site or browser is going to make readable, it’s not going to get noticed.

Take a look at this sampling of New York Times mobile site headlines:


The New York Times manages to convey enough story (or even the entire story) in their mobile-friendly headlines to get you to tap one of the links to read more. They also manage to do this in an average of 55 characters, plenty of room to be retweeted, shared, or forwarded with a minimum of alteration.

If you surf through the media and entertainment section of MarketWire, you’ll find that the press releases there average about 84 characters per headline, and most of them don’t tell a story at all.

If you want to stand a chance of making an impact on the increasingly larger mobile crowd, make the headline the story and get it inside 55 characters if you can.

Tomorrow, we’ll give some guidance about writing those headlines in an impactful way on a budget of 55 characters.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on January 3, 2013 in Press Release, Public Relations

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and again in 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing; Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as Social Media Person of the Year. Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is an adjunct professor of Internet marketing and the lead subject matter expert and professor of Advanced Social Media at the University of San Francisco. He’s the author of the best-selling book Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer.

The headline, "Your headline must be the story in 55 characters or less" is 56 characters.

Dan Janal
Dan Janal

Headlines must be less than 56 characters


41 characters

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