Numbers in headlines engage more readers. By “engage,” I mean that a user will move beyond the headline and read the article, share the post, click a link, or make a comment. By engage “more readers,” I mean anywhere from 15% more (in a Moz study) to 73% more (in a Conductor study) than if you don’t use numbers.
Readers like numbers in headlines, such as the one I used for this article.
A number gives a clear expectation of what you’ll get: in this case, it’s 7 tips. That’s practical information. And even if two or three (or five or six) of those tips don’t pan out, you’ll still walk away with at least one or two ideas you can use. (Basics for writing headlines)
Writers like numbers, too.
Use a number for an article or post headline and you have a ready-made outline to follow. But a word of caution: it can be tempting use a number as a headline-writing crutch. A headline is only as good as the benefit it offers. Make sure your headline includes a gain or advantage for your reader. The number helps enhance that benefit.
In this case, my headline’s benefit? Tips for writing headlines using numbers, a well-established headline writing technique. I’m a writer. I want those tips. And the number 7 tells you that I’m going to give you some practical options to use to write numbered headlines. Let’s take a look at them.
When a number leads off your headline, then the reader understands how you’ll arrange the content. There’s an implied promise that what follows will be orderly and structured. “Our brains are attracted to numbers because they automatically organize information into a logical order,” says commercial designer and illustrator Mike Hamers. “(Numbers) are like candy for your organizational mind.”
Use a digit, not the spelled-out word, in your headlines. Numbers are easy to read. They take fewer characters, making them simpler for your reader to process. And readers like simplicity. One exception: the AP Stylebook tells you to spell out the word for the number. When you’re submitting an article in AP style, do so. For everything else, use digits.
If you promised 7 tips, then give 7 — not 6. Readers don’t like to be misled. But what if you don’t have that exact number of items to offer in your content to match the number you want to use in your headline? (See Tips #5 and #6, below.) In that case, your reader will be forgiving if you overdeliver. Let’s say you have eight tips but you want to use 7 in the headline because the number 7 catches readers’ attention. Solution: list your eighth point as a “Bonus Tip.”
Numbers are adjectives. They suggest relative nature or size. For instance, small numbers can imply simplicity (“Tone your calves in just 3 minutes a day”) or insignificance (“Give a child clean water for less than a dollar a week.”) Likewise, large numbers suggest substantiality (“How I made $54,628 with one email”) or depth (“Your gift multiples 28 times.”) When you choose a number to use in a headline, make it one that emphasizes your article’s slant.
Ten is the most popular and most-read number for listicles, according to a study by content analysis tool BuzzSumo. Other go-to headline numbers are 5, 15, 7, 20. The moral of the story? Multiples of 5 or 10 are the most engaging to use with a listicle post.
Why do marketing gurus recommend odd numbers in headlines for pieces other than listicles? They’re more believable to the brain than even numbers. Human beings subconsciously doubt nice, tidy answers when they know life is messy and unpredictable. Along with believability, odd numbers are easier for users to recall and to keep track of as they read.
If you’re writing a step-by-step guide, use a number that is less than ten. Too many steps beyond nine are difficult for readers to process and they’ll think, “Whoa, skip that article — it’s too complicated.” But if you’re creating a gift guide list, a compilation of best yoga poses for pregnant women, or other catalog or collection, then any number works. Readers can skim a list easily.
You’ll engage more readers you include numbers in headlines than if you don’t use them. But be careful. Don’t use numbers as a lazy replacement or a quick headline writing fix.
To that point, how can you know whether or not your numbers add genuine value to your headline? Here’s a useful self-check. Remove the number from the headline. Does the headline still offer a benefit to your reader? (Here are more ways to check your headline, too.)
If you can honestly answer yes, then you’re on the right track. Your number can only increase your headline’s promised benefit. Added value in the headline means more readers will move beyond it. They’ll read your article, share the post, click a link, or make a comment. They’ll engage. That’s what you want for your reader … and for you, too.
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