Evie Jones blog avatar
Evie Jones
25 May 2023
Evie Jones
25 May 2023
25 May 2023

Which Subject Lines Perform Best in Digital PR: Emotional or Scientific?



As a leading digital PR agency, we’re always on the lookout for ways to take our campaigns to the next level. In order to do so, we conduct regular scientific and analytical research to help us identify exactly what works and what doesn’t, based on the facts and figures.

Creating a press release that converts starts with a compelling headline. According to our Digital PR statistics, 100% of journalists stipulate their number one method of finding stories is through press releases, it’s crucial to nail your press release headline and make it stand out from the crowd.

Our Analysis of Digital PR Subject Lines

Our goal was to assess whether the nature of subject lines influences success rates of a campaign being picked up. Specifically, we aimed to differentiate between an emotional subject line and a scientific subject line to find out which ones perform better.

To help us identify the best subject lines in digital PR, we took over 2,600 headlines from our own campaigns and analysed their success. This was measured with a focus on the average number of links each campaign achieved and the average domain rating of the sites providing links.

Headlines were grouped into categories and success rates measured based on average number of links and average domain rating. We then plotted histograms for these two factors to account for any outliers, and as a result, the final analysis was conducted on headlines with a domain rating of 40 and above where the number of links was less than 50. 

From this data set, we conducted a one-way ANOVA (analysis of variance) to test whether the category type had a statistically significant impact on domain ratings. Due to the lack of normal distribution, the Kruskal-Wallis test was carried out for the average number of links.

Emotional vs Scientific Press Release Headlines

To be able to identify whether emotional or scientific headlines perform the best, the first thing we needed to do was categorise our headlines. This was done by carrying out a keyword search using keywords pertaining to different categories.

The categories we analysed and their respective keywords were as follows: 


Scientific headlines were those that included use of the words ‘Data’ or ‘Study’. Examples of successful PR campaigns with scientific headlines include: 

-“Data Reveals the Most Common Phobias Across Europe”

-“Hiring Trends: The Industries Shifting to Remote Work, According to Data”

-“Crime Data Reveals The Safest Football Stadiums in the UK”

-“Study Reveals the Safest Drivers in the UK”

-“Weather Study Reveals: Aberdeen, Moray and the Highlands Among UK's Coolest Locations”


On the other hand, to identify emotional headlines, we conducted a keyword search using the following 99 emotive words:



Examples of successful PR campaigns with emotional headlines include:

-“Social Success: The Best City to be a Successful Influence”

-“The Clothes Men and Women Hate on Each Other”

-“Best and Worst Supermarket Loyalty Schemes Revealed in Study!”

-“Brits Most Scared of X Deep Fake Scam”

-“The Products Brits Feel Too Embarrassed to Buy!”


Successful PR Campaigns: Our Findings

Once we’d categorised our headlines, the next step was to dive in and analyse the success rates of headlines in each category, based on the average number of links per headline. A higher average number of links per headline indicates a better success rate.


Scientific Headlines Perform Best

The main finding from our study was that headlines including the words ‘data’ or ‘study’ (categorised as scientific headlines) resulted in an average of 9.96 links.

This suggests that both journalists and readers are drawn to articles that are based on empirical evidence, as opposed to speculations and opinions. By using press release headlines that contain the words ‘data’ or ‘study’, we inform the reader that we have spent time conducting research and confirm that the information we provide is backed up by facts and figures.


Emotional Headlines Perform Second Best Overall

Digital PR campaigns with emotional subject lines were found to be the second-best performing out of all the categories studied, with subject lines containing emotive language achieving an average of 9.47 links. In addition, headlines containing a capitalised word (i.e. SHOCK or EMOTION) achieved another respectable average figure of 9.92 links per headline. 


Headlines Containing a Question Achieve Worst Results

According to our research, headlines containing a question, signalled by a ‘?’, performed significantly worse than the other categories studied. The average number of links for a press release title presented as a question drops to 7.06 links - that’s 2.9 less than scientific headlines. 


Scientific or Emotional Headlines Perform Better Than Those Containing Percentages or Questions

Headlines including ‘data’ or ‘study’, emotive language, or a capitalised word perform better than those with a percentage or a question. The average number of links press release titles containing a percentage was slightly higher than those containing a question, with the figure coming in at 8.19 average links per headline


The Average Domain Rating Remains the Same Across All Categories

Our study found that despite the variation in the number of links each of the press release headlines earned, the average domain rating of links earned was consistent across all categories. The average domain rating of all links earned through press releases was 65.07, with each individual category falling slightly above or below this figure. 



How to Write a Great Press Release Headline That Delivers Results


Writing a successful press release headline is all about drawing the reader in and enticing them to read the rest of your story. Typically, the headline will summarise what the press release is about, offer an interesting fact, or ask the reader a question (which will then be answered in the text). 

These are our top tips on how to write a great press release headline:



Write your press release headline after you’ve written the press release

Writing your press release headline after you’ve written the main text allows you to see the bigger picture and really capture what the press release is about. This is the best way to ensure you’re writing the most relevant title you possibly can.

Choosing your headline after you’ve written the press release is also likely to be much easier than trying to pluck one out of thin air. Make a note of any ideas that come to mind while you’re writing your press release, then you’ll have the pick of a bunch by the time you’re finished. 




Use powerful language and punctuation

Using potent language, particularly of an emotive nature, such as ‘incredible’, ‘exclusive’ and ‘surprising’ alongside dramatic punctuation (!) is a great way to command attention from the journalist. When we read powerful language and punctuation we’re instantly drawn in, often subconsciously. 

Other punctuation that can be used to write a good press release headline includes commas and semicolons to replace words such as ‘and’ or ‘but’. This splits the texts up, makes it less wordy, and is more impactful. 



Don’t give away too much information

Another tip on how to write a great press release headline is to not give too much away. The best press release titles will give the reader enough information to leave them curious, without summarising everything they need or want to know before even reading the full release.





Despite some bad press, ‘clickbait headlines’ are incredibly successful in grabbing a user’s attention (when used correctly). Examples of these headlines include:


These compelling headlines work by telling the reader what the article is about without providing any answers before they’ve clicked onto the page. 



Choose the right title length


A press release title that is too short is unlikely to contain sufficient information. On the other hand, a press release title that is too long is likely to be overlooked by busy journalists. Your press release title should be as short as possible, without losing any key information. 





How long should a good press release headline be?

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to writing a successful press release headline. That being said, a short and snappy headline is more likely to grab the reader’s eye than an unnecessarily wordy one. A general rule of thumb is to keep your press release headline under 70 characters, or around 8 words, wherever possible.

Keeping the press release title under 70 characters, or ideally nearer 50-60 characters, is particularly important if you are using the same headline for your onsite content. Title tags over approximately 70 characters are likely to be cut off and readers won’t be able to read it in full. 


What To Do If Your Press Release Doesn’t Get Picked up

No matter how great your press releases are, there’s always a chance that they may not get picked up the first time around. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case. Perhaps the journalists thought it wasn’t relevant to their readers, didn’t come across as particularly interesting, or lacks newsworthiness. This means it’s time to reangle your press release


Reangling your press release not only gives unsuccessful PR campaigns another shot, but is also a great way to build further links for campaigns that have already proven successful. 

Re-orientating a campaign towards a different angle is going to be far more beneficial than simply resending the original angle. It also allows you to tailor the press release towards different sectors and audiences, increasing the likelihood of it being picked up.


The best ways you can reangle your press release


Changing the press release headline

Tweaking your press release headline gives you another chance to grab journalists’ attention. Try rephrasing your headline to make it more compelling - and don’t forget to make use of scientific or emotive keywords!

Revisit the data

Check through your data once more to see if there’s any other useful information you can draw from it. For example, if you previously outreached “the best…X” try reangling this to “the worst…X”. This simple change could make a world of difference.

Introduce additional data

When you’re checking through the data, always be on the lookout for any additional data you could gather to give your press release even more substance. This is particularly important if your press release is based around current and trending news, as this data tends to fluctuate and may need collecting and then recollecting. 




  1. The aim was to assess whether the nature of subject lines influence the successful rates of the campaign being picked up. Specifically, the aim was to differentiate between an emotional subject line and a scientific subject line. 

  2. Data from the placement database was analysed with a focus on domain rating (DR) and number of links for each subject line. The data set analysed 31,096 entries, but when duplicates are accounted for there are only 2,607 headlines.

  3. As ‘emotional’ and ‘scientific’ are subjective/difficult to define, instead, the headlines were categorised by carrying out a keyword search with keywords pertaining to the different categories.

  4. Given that some headlines could be in more than one category, the duplicated headlines (i.e. headlines that fit into multiple categories) were excluded for the analysis. The remaining data set was analysed for average domain rating and number of links per category. 

  5. Histograms of ‘domain rating’ and ‘number of links’ were plotted to account for outliers. As a result, the final analysis was conducted on all headlines with a domain rating of 40 and above, where the number of links was less than 50. 

  6. From the resulting data set, a one-way ANOVA was carried out using the statsmodels package to assess whether the category type had statistically significant results on domain ratings. Due to the lack of normal distribution, the Kruskall-Wallis test was carried out for the average number of links.