5 Reasons Readers like Numbers in a Headline

Guest post by Jonathan of Prolific247

Blogging with Numbers

Let’s get this out of the way first: all else being equal, a headline with numbers in it will yield more traffic than a headline without.  That’s been proven enough times that it should be indisputable by now.  If you’re going to write a blog on how to be a better sous chef, you might as well headline it with “7 Ways to be a Better Sous Chef”; because you’ll get anywhere from 10-20% more traffic than using “How to be a Better Sous Chef”.

That said, there are legitimate reasons not to do this.  One of which is that because it’s a blatant method for generating traffic people who know this might question the quality of your post if they think you care more about generating traffic than laying down good content.  I definitely think that way.  And if your post history shows a list of headlines with numbers in them I might discount your blog entirely.  No reader wants to think of themselves as “traffic”.  I certainly don’t.  The promise of having an interactive relationship with my blogger pretty much goes out the window if I think my biggest value to them is that I’m just another Unique Visitor.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s focus on the many reasons to do this which correlates nicely with why using numbers in your headline does, in fact, generate more traffic.

1. The promise of something specific. As a reader, I’m constantly disappointed in the blogs I read.  I see a title I like, I click on it, I skim the first paragraph, and am crestfallen that the title had nothing to do with the content.  Or the content lacked enough substance or structure to be any good.  I read many blogs by authors not familiar to me, so this happens frequently.  One way of hedging my bets is to click on titles where I’m guaranteed at least some measure of structure and substance.  Clicking on a headline with a number in it gives me the assurance that even if the author is nuts, I’m going to see at least “7 steps to being a better Sous Chef”.  There should be at least one or two steps worth reading even if the others are blatant rip-offs or just suck.

2. Structure makes for easier reading. Believe it or not, some bloggers aren’t very good at organizing their thoughts.  Even the really good ones, (Seth Godin comes to mind), tend to blog in a stream of consciousness that can be difficult to parse.  Something organized into a numbered list is guaranteed to have structure.  Even if the blogger is all over the place, I know that there will be an easy to follow path from the beginning of that post to the end.

3. Clear organization is essential for speed reading and skimming. Maybe you like to curl up with your blogs on a comfy chair in front of a warm fire with a cup of hot cocoa and savor every word.  I read dozens of blog posts a day, mostly as I’m doing other things, like walking, writing, talking to other people, listening to music, operating heavy industrial equipment, etc.  Reading a blog with numbers allows me to hit the first line of every numbered entry to check for relevance without having to read all the way through.  Although we can only read a few hundred words per minute without sacrificing memory, your numbered blog entry lets me get right to what I’m looking for.

4. Sticking to the script. I don’t know how many blogs I’ve started that turned into something else by the end.  When researching marketing for example, a post on why marketing is important is totally different than what kind of marketing is important.  Numbers force you to stick to one of those topics in your post.

5. Numbers are brain porn. For a number of reasons, our brains are attracted to numbers in marketing and advertising, and your headline is nothing if not an advertisement for your copy.  A single, small, odd-numbered digit, like 7 for example, is like eye candy for my organizational mind.  A numeral is better than a word, small numbers are more digestible than large ones, and odd numbers are seen as more authentic than even numbers in marketing copy.  In a world of vague promises where words and names are diluted beyond any value, a small number holds the promise of integrity and accessibility.

The question of when to use numbers should always come back to what your priority is with that specific post.  Trying to drive traffic for a specific post?  Great.  Trying to wrap order around a good “how-to” post? Great.  Trying to get out of having to build quality content for your readers?  Not at all.

Prolific247 has been building and managing business blogs since 2007. Building a Blog Machine is a collection of best practices and current information for corporate blogging. If you’d like to learn more, please send us an email at blogger@prolific247.com.

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  1. Derek Jensen says:

    So basically we readers like numbers because we know what to expect and we are always curious to know which ones or what exactly they said say as four key points or what the 35 best wordpress plugins actually are.

    Additionally, if there was a post that said “Ways to Effectively Blog” verses “3 Ways to Effectively Blog” I am going to critique what those three ways are so I am intrigued to visit a post that says “3″.
    .-= Derek Jensen´s last blog ..Having a Satisfied Daily Life. Use Frustration. =-.

    • kieshaeasley says:

      Hi Derek!
      Yeah, we like the predictability. But just as Jonathan says, we as bloggers can’t take advantage of that (although it is tempting) – we still have to also find creative ways to create catchy titles without numbers in them. (but numbers are so cool!)

  2. “Brain porn.” I never thought of numbers in a headline that way, but you’re so right. I always get drawn in, and in this case, I’m glad I did because I can never get too many reminders that blogging is about packaging our content in the most helpful, entertaining way possible for our readers.
    .-= Jean Sarauer´s last blog ..57 Smokin’ Tips to Thaw Blogging Brain Freeze =-.

  3. Hey Jonathan,

    Yes, headlines are critical since that is the first thing people read. A good copywriter will have several headlines for one article to select from.

    Headlines with a number allows people to scan the article and get the points they are looking for.

    Thanks for sharing your information with us.

    Chat with you later…
    .-= Josh Garcia´s last blog ..Who Said Online Marketing and Leadership Skills Don’t Go Together… =-.

    • Jonathan Brill says:

      Exactly right. Magazine publishers have known this for years. There have been studies done measuring the effectiveness of numbers in headlines and what they do to “check-out aisle” magazine sales. Since almost all magazines use this formula now, you’d have to assume they’re on to something, right? hahaha.

  4. I agree people luv numbers.

    Numbers usually prove an outcome or show stats which people like too.

    Nice list.
    .-= John Paul Aguiar´s last blog ..My Crazy Simple 7 Step Plan To Promote A New Post =-.

  5. I also like the numbered title and list post because it makes it easier to refer back to a particular tip in the comments.

    Like…#3 points out it easier to read, but #4 is a big one for those of us that have a hard time staying on topic.
    .-= Ms. Freeman@Baby Steps of an Internet Entrepreneur´s last blog ..How to keep socks on their feet and food in their stomachs =-.

  6. I like this, and I agree with it.
    Most times it means its going to be a post you can quickly scan through, just like having bullet points on a post. You scan through until u see a point you’re interested with then go indepth on that. I know personally I always prefer that myself. So I can relate to this…

    .-= Tola Famakinwa´s last blog ..Guest Blogging Sites – Great for Bloggers =-.

    • kieshaeasley says:

      Hi Tola!
      Yes, it gives readers the freedom to read the parts they want -
      I usually start out scanning, but if it’s good, I can’t help myself, I usually read the whole thing. :)

  7. Richard Hostler says:

    Numbers can also drawn readers in by suggesting the length of the content in the article. I know I’m much more likely to click into a Top-3 or Top-5 article even if I don’t plan to read it all. I know these will be short and to the point, so I can quickly grab something useful before I move on.

    • kieshaeasley says:

      Hi Richard,
      Yes, that is a good point – because I’ve definitely passed up posts with 101 ways to impress someone – just didn’t have the time :)

  8. Quite true. I opened 2-3 links I read in a post, and I only ended this one. Because numbers? Maybe. With others posts i didn’t know what to expect, but with this one reading the headline i knew what I’m gonna read. Nothing more, nothing less.

    And, as I prove, commenting here and adding blog’s RSS to my RSS reader, I liked
    .-= David´s last blog ..Economy Lessons: The Fetish of Full Employment =-.

    • kieshaeasley says:

      Hi David!
      Wow, thanks for confirming the statistic yet again. :) Glad you made it to this blog! (Thanks Jonathan!)

  9. People love to read list post which is simple and more organize. That’s why when people see ’1001′ tips to make money blogging(example) they quickly click. it really grab people attention. I’m sure will do the same thing if you see that kind of headline

  10. Excellent article explaining the concepts of using both numbers and lists to add structure and appeal to blog posts. People love being able to skim a post with a list of points to see if they indeed can make use of the information or find something they haven’t already encountered.
    .-= Blog Angel a.k.a. Joella´s last blog ..Is A WordPress Framework Theme Right For You And Your Blog? =-.

  11. It all comes down to setting up reader expectations. If you know what you are reading ahead of reading it, it tends to be easier to consume and use the information.

    Structure (#2) is essential for ease of use.

    By the way, headline #5 is very funny.

    Have a great day!
    .-= mark´s last blog ..5 Tips to Reduce Stress and Increase Productivity =-.

    • Jonathan Brill says:

      That’s a very interesting point, Mark. One thing I’ve seen on a different blog is “expected reading time”. I’m not sure I like that one because that particular frame of reference doesn’t do it for me. Is 3 minutes fast? I don’t know. Probably not if I’m planning on skimming through 100 or so posts. Another way would be listing the word count. We definitely lean on that as writers, maybe readers would find it useful as well.

    • kieshaeasley says:

      Hi Mark!
      #5 is hilarious! :)

  12. “numbers are brain porn” OMG LOL thats one had me laughing. If only like those porn numbers you could get the same amount of targeted (non porn) traffic from them. LOL Great post
    .-= Darren Scott Monroe´s last blog ..7 Reasons to Shut up and Sell =-.

  13. “Brain porn,” now that’s a way to put it I guess. :D

    I was just thinking about this the other day actually. I was debating with myself about mentioning the # of topics I have in the post, or to just go with something else.

    It actually makes a difference, I found out, if you spell out the number or just use the number “3.” It goes back to your point about keeping organized and making it more easy to skim.

    Good post man. :D
    .-= Alex | Blogussion.com´s last blog ..The Cycle of Making Money Blogging Pt. II =-.

  14. Yeah, I agree with you. Create a list of awesome things is a good way to drive traffic. People like a list,a killer content. :D
    .-= TheArchitect´s last blog ..Nice Floor Decor for Modern Interior =-.

  15. “Brain Porn” lol, if you had included that in your title this post would have gotten even MORE attention.
    .-= Blogetize´s last blog ..Get Free Traffic =-.

  16. I actually really like numbers in headline, I mean usually these are really concise posts that I would like to read. Number are effective.

  17. I like mixing it up, but I have noticed that when I throw in a number it initially gets more visitors, though those posts don’t necessarily get more comments. I have to admit that I’ve never thought of anyone else writing a numbered post as not giving their best, though I guess it could be a consideration.
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..Customer Service / MS Excel Workshop & Webinar; Sticky Post =-.

  18. When it comes to reading posts, I am one the few people who are not drawn in by number posts. But that could just be because I know they are supposed to draw me in. ;)

    I also don’t use numbers in my post titles. However, I do write my post as if I am using numbers in the titles. I like the structure and organization it gives me.
    .-= Chuck Edwards´s last blog ..How to Lose Weight at Home =-.

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