“Not everyone wants to play the game, ‘What’s the last word in the headline?'” says Andy Bechtel, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill.
So, write web heads that don’t get truncated by Google, social media channels and mobile apps or else you’ll lose your readers’ attention.
How short? Make sure your web heads are short enough to:
1. Get seen on Google.
Google’s search results display only the first 63 characters of your headline. To avoid getting your head cut off on Google, keep headlines to 55 characters or fewer. Remember: Google never bought a product, voted in an election or supported a cause. So write headlines for humans; optimize them for Google.
2. Get shared on social media.
How will your headline look when it shows up on Facebook, Twitter and other social sharing sites? To avoid getting your head cut off on social media, aim for 55 characters or less.
3. Get seen on mobile devices.
Mobile apps and websites often truncate long headlines. To avoid getting your head cut off on mobile apps, follow AP’s guideline and limit headlines to fewer than 40 characters.
4. Reach readers on the go.
You have only a few seconds to reach mobile audiences before they swipe left or leave for another site. They want to scan at a glance, not study for a minute. Plus, long headlines get lost below the fold or take up too much valuable real estate of mobile screens.
To avoid getting your head cut off, keep your web head to 8 words or fewer, or about 40 characters. That’s the length readers can understand at a glance, according to research by The American Press Institute.
But online, shorter is better. My personal preference is web heads of 6 words or less, or about 30 characters.
In the end, it’s important to remember: Those extra words aren’t worth losing your head over. So when writing for mobile audiences, write headlines to go. Keep your head short.
Ann Wylie (WylieComm.com) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com.
Get the word out on the small screen
Would you like to learn more techniques for reaching readers online? If so, please join PRSA and Ann Wylie at Writing for the Web and Mobile — a two-day Master Class on June 12-13 in Chicago. PRSA members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA18. APRs: Earn four maintenance points.