Do special characters in press release headlines matter?

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Judging from my recent experiment, they do.

For years, conventional wisdom suggested  avoiding special symbols such as ® (registered trademark) and ™ (trademark) in press release headlines.  The assumption has been that search engines and downstream sites to which releases are pushed have difficulty digesting words with symbols attached and your release may be misconstrued.

With that idea in mind, I conducted a small experiment to see the present state of how search engines are actually interpreting releases with symbols in headlines.

Results suggest that search engines are getting smarter about handling symbols and it’s still best to leave symbols out of your headlines whenever possible.  Instead, focus on including keywords in your headlines and properly formatting your release for Google News.

For my experiment I chose the two most common symbols, ® (registered trademark) and ™ (trademark), selecting ten releases including each symbol in the headline.  For each release, I conducted two searches on Google, Yahoo and Bing based on headline content–one with the symbol and one without.  Since it’s safe to assume most searchers are not including the symbols unless copy-pasting, this would tell me if the search engines treated the queries differently and how “searchable” these types of releases are.  I also performed searches with ten releases from the same period with headlines that didn’t include special symbols to serve as a control group.

Here’s what I found.  This chart shows whether the search engine provided the same results whether or not symbols were included in the search.  For example, searching for Acme™ versus searching for Acme.

Identical Search Results Returned With and Without Special Characters

You can see that Google does the best job overall.  Even the single instance when Google’s results were not the same, there was only a very minor difference that could be attributed to Google experimenting with different search result presentation.  Bing is not far behind, doing even better than Google with TM symbol searches.  Yahoo is the real outlier here.  Yahoo actually showed zero results on 7 out of the 10 searches with TM symbols, just a handful of results on two searches, and was the same only once.  That’s not to say that releases with TM symbols were not found; the lesson here is that Yahoo cannot handle people including the TM symbols in their searches.

Another way to confirm this strange behavior is by searching each search engine for the symbol alone.

Google Trademark Symbol Search

Bing Trademark Symbol Search

Google and Bing ignore the symbol, but Yahoo seems to interpret it as the letters TM and has many disparate results on the first page.

Yahoo Trademark Symbol Search

The chart below shows the “success” of each search.  I defined success as finding the release content within the first page of search results when searching for headline terms.

Search "Success" for Press Releases

You can see that every search engine does an admirable job finding the releases, especially when a TM symbol or no symbols are in the headline.  However, if you are concerned about performing as well as possible in Yahoo and Bing, the safest thing is still to exclude symbols if possible.

5 Responses to Do special characters in press release headlines matter?

  1. This doesn’t eliminate the fact that NOBODY wants those symbols in there except the legal department. It’s the reason you never seen them in a real article in a newspaper or magazine, only in ads. So if you have those marks in there, it looks like an ad, or a “special advertising” section that’s paid content. They serve no purpose in communicating to the actual reader, so what’s the point of including them in a press release? You’re giving editors or bloggers a chore to do before they can use your info, which is bad PR.

  2. [...] of releases, just two, had any special characters in the headline.  So perhaps adding special characters in headlines is not a good [...]

  3. [...] of releases, just two, had any special characters in the headline.  So perhaps adding special characters in headlines is not a good idea. Share and [...]

  4. Chris says:

    Bing and Yahoo! are one and the same, now, so using TMs will have even less of an impact. :-)

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