If you read today’s blog post by Amy Yen at Business Wire Dallas about news release headlines and search engine optimization (SEO), maybe you’re as stunned as I am. Turns out that as seasoned PR pros, we’re not doing a very good job of maximizing those ever-important media impression numbers for which our clients clamour.

Schwartz MSL Research Group and Business Wire just released a research brief about headline optimization (you can download the white paper here). Apparently, less than one-fifth of us are actually doing it right. There are really four main points that we – and our clients – should keep in mind the next time we need to write a catchy headline:

First, include the company’s keywords in the headline whenever possible – the closer to the beginning, the better. Now, I’ve seen some pretty desperate SEO grabs online so this might take a bit of wordsmithing to get right. I’d hate to see keyword domination at the expense of a really great headline.

Second, Google has limited the loquacious; a news release’s headline must be less than 65 characters to be fully displayed in all its Google glory. That said, the study notes that SEO experts advise 70 characters is just fine. Lucky us. How might this look on the page? Well, if you have one-inch margins in a Word document and you’re typing in 12-point Arial font, your 70-characters-or-fewer headline is going to leave a little white space on either side of your margins. At 14-point, you’re going to risk dripping down to the next line. God forbid you bold your typeface.

Third, you should only use buzzwords if you think they’re going to be used by your target audience in online searches. That may mean your “leading”-edge “solution” should be saved for the body of your release. Last year, the study notes that buzzwords with the biggest growth were “cloud,” “largest” and “leading.” Thankfully, “unique” was on the decline.

And, finally, Google News doesn’t follow the same rules as Google Search – overall, they have different requirements. They both reward brevity, though. Business Wire and Google News both confirm that for a news release to pop up on Google News, there must be no more than 23 words in the headline. No, the subhead is not included (three cheers for subheads!). As someone who’s written her fair share of headlines over the years, I think if you’re using more than 23 words in a single headline, there’s a problem. Find a good editor in your company and seek help immediately.

Obviously, the closer you are to the top of a Google Search or in Google News, the better chance your story/announcement/launch/insert-other-media-worthy-event-here has of being picked up elsewhere. And, more eyeballs is always a good thing.

Tell me: did you already know about news release headline SEO or was this news to you, too?

Andrea Craig is an account director in Hill+Knowlton’s Toronto office.