Saturday, November 23, 2013

7 Reasons to Put Numbers in Blog Headlines

Whether you’re a casual reader of internet content or a writer working every day to get articles published, you’ve likely noticed the abundance of headlines containing numbers. It seems everywhere you look there are this many points of advice, that many ways to do something, and so many tips for some special occasion. Even articles that could otherwise be boring straight stories are twisted into some form of a list and topped with a digit-infused, click-inviting catchy headline. And when adorned so, the public clicks it, reads it, and shares it.
As a writer or a reader of content, it’s important to know why having a number in a headline is so essential, because a reason exists. In fact, there are seven reasons.
1. People like numbers, and really love lists. Magazine editors have known this little factoid about readers for years. Just walk down the magazine aisle of the local book store---which is the last place you can still find magazines---and you’ll see. (Daddy, what’s a book store. Not now, child).

Blaring from the covers are titles like, “11 Ways to Stay Sexy,” “27 Holiday Deserts,” “5 Ab-Sculpting Excercises,” 15 Reasons Not To Buy Magazines. That last one was just an observation.  

Apparently, odd numbers are more effective than even numbers. But, even or odd, everyone loves a good list. Lists sell.
2. Numbers make an article seem more authoritative. Well-ordered lists give readers the impression that there has been some level of research. When you see an article titled, “100 Best Cities To Own a Pet,” you assume the author used quantifiable data to draw these conclusions – like access to dog parks, affordable dog food, availability of little plastic baggies to ease gathering of poo.

When you see a nice long list like that, you’d never imagine some struggling writer sitting at their home computer in their pajamas surrounded by groveling kids as he strains to think of one more city where potential readers might need a boost in their pet-owning confidence, giving them something else to talk about at the dog park later that day. And with a properly-numbed list, they will be able to speak with authority---“We’re the 27th best medium-sized city in which to own a pet… pretty cool, ay?” (Apparently, that city is in Canada).

People always respond well to a good list. 
For example, the15 Commandments. ...
Make that the Ten Commandments. 
3. Reading several funny things is more fun than reading just one funny thing. When’s the last time someone shared a link to the “Single funniest smart phone autocorrect.” It doesn’t happen. Multiple smart phone autocorrects are much, much funnier.

It works kind of like an evening comedy gala. Some autocorrects warm up the audience. Some aren’t quite as funny as the last one. Others kill it.  By the end of the list, there may be a few favorites. But would they have been as funny alone? Heck no.  

Writing a humorous list is better than writing one decent joke. Think about it, would we even know who David Letterman is if he had the nightly Top One List? (Daddy, who’s David Letterman? … Not now!).
4. Numbered lists are finite. That’s a fact more than a philosophical statement. And the finiteness of an article lets the reader know the level of investment needed to get through the piece. Readers especially like to know this when struggling to get through a boring article. When reading a magazine or a book, they can flip to the end to see how much longer you’ve got until you get closure on that thing. Anyone who's read an Atlantic Monthly article knows the feeling.

But, have you ever scrolled to the end of an internet article for the same reason? No. You usually just click away and check it off in your mind as, “I read that article.”

Of course, this problem could be corrected with better writing. But it’s far easier to just turn the whole thing into a numbered list. Then readers always know how much more they must endure. (Don’t worry, we’ve only got three more bullets).
5. Lists and numbers can increase “Page Views.” What is this "page view" thing you speak of? This one may be a bit cynical, but here goes. Research shows we are more likely to click on stories that have numbers in the headline. By research I mean any free web-based analytics service, not scholarly studies. But, we know people like lists, and numbers increase clicks. 

More importantly, articles written as numbered lists can be broken up into multiple internet "pages." That’s why website with the list of top colleges, or best places to retire, or the best dishes to make with zucchini always make you click on that “next” button to go to another page. You'll do just about anything to get rid of all that extra zucchini, right. So you click. And click. And click. One reader and one article can produce multiple page views.

Here comes the cynical part: Most commercial websites base ad rates and article success on page views. So, you click through one darn article and you might as well be ten readers. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.
6. Everbody’s Doing It. What kind of reason is that? It’s not really, except that new media trends tend to leave people in the dust if they fail to keep up. Calling lists the latest thing may be a bit of a stretch, since they’ve been around since the internet was on the top-five list of things Al Gore invented. But there is no doubt lists are especially hot now. Just look at your favorite website, or your Facebook feed.  You are guaranteed to find at least one numbered list there. Some of the most popular sites and most-shared articles are nothing but lists. Heck, BuzzFeed's whole thing is lists like “23 Truths About Living In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” And social media consumers eat that crap up. I love number 17, and I’ve never been to the U.P.

7. Seven. Seven? What was number seven? I was sure there was a seventh reason. I mean, I would have titled it “6 Reasons To Put Numbers In Headlines,” otherwise. Or even stopped at five. Then I wouldn’t have had to struggle through number six, which really didn’t say anything. And I would have kept it an odd number.  Hmm. How about one for the writers, rather than the readers? So here we go:  It makes your article more marketable.

By all accounts, magazine editors and web gatekeepers at the places every freelance web writer wants to get published are actually people. And people love lists, remember, especially editor-type people. See, I told you there were seven reasons.

So just remember. When writing an article, consider making it a list. And if writing a headline, think about what number fits. If you don't believe me, Google "How to write effective headlines." You'll find articles about the need to use numbers, and several article with numbers in their headlines. See, I told you so.
Now you should probably share this, being as it has a number in the headline and all.

1 comment:

Jack said...

I often present headlines with 876 reasons why someone should do something. It works.