By Sonia Simone
I sympathize with blog readers who hate numbers in post titles. "10 Ways to X" is a classic headline formula, but it's being worked to death online.
Up to 86% of the time, it's a lazy way to drum up a post without putting too much thought into it.
64% of sophisticated blog readers believe that using a number in a post title is so pathetically obvious that it couldn't possibly still work.
I recently got a big rush of new readers from a post called 50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew.
Now I didn't have a way to run a split test against a headline "Things Your Customers Wish You Knew" (wouldn't that be a cool WordPress plugin?), but a quick look through my stats shows that posts with numbers consistently bring in between 2.5-8 times more traffic (and more referrals from sites like Digg or Stumble) than posts without.
Numbers are a time-honored trigger to get us to pay attention. When you use a number in a headline, whether it's in a blog post, an email subject header, an ad or even in a face-to-face conversation*, you immediately hook the other person's interest.
Numbers reach directly into our unconscious and say, "this message is important."
(By the way, according to Jakob Nielson, numbers as figures work better on the Web than numbers as words.)
How to write a "numbers post" without being cheesy
First, tempting though it may be, don't put a number into every headline. (Unless you're using the convention of Stuff White People Like, which actually would work beautifully for a lot of serious topics.)
Second, realize that number posts are inherently likely to pull in more traffic--so capitalize on that. Make them meaty. Make them relevant. Put your best thinking and writing into them. These are the posts that will bring you new readers, so put your best foot forward.
It doesn't seem logical that a simple (and overused) trick could be so effective in conveying authority and reliability, but generations of advertising and headline writers can confirm that it works. So don't fall into the trap of avoiding number posts because they're overdone. Use them intelligently and on posts that deserve the extra attention numbers can bring.
* Of course face-to-face conversations can have headlines. In fact, I just bought a brilliant audio workshop on this very subject--more on that later.
(P.S. Did I make up all the boldface statistics in this post? Of course I did. But don't make up numbers in your own stuff--it makes the FTC cranky, and only Dilbert ever really gets away with it.)
(P.P.S. Yes, putting "8 Ways" in the title was a pathetically transparent attempt to get you to read this post. A little sad, isn't it?)
(P.P.P.S. Got a "numbers post" you're proud of? Post a link in the comments and we'll all come admire it.)
Flickr Creative Commons image by hownowdesign