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.