Tuesday, May 22, 2012

7 reasons why putting numbers in your blog post headline isn't all markety

Saw this tweet in my Twitterstream this week from a  writer I like very much:
That gave me a chuckle. Numbers in the headlines of blog posts are widely known to help drive traffic--you know, those "8 ways to remove rust from your car" and "27 ways to increase blog traffic" posts. But while that formula's new to bloggers, perhaps, it's an old standby in magazine publishing. Back in the day, and even today, a good cover line on a magazine more often than not reduces the content to a number, even if that number never shows up in the article or sidebar, because it works to help readers grab the issue off the newsstand. These days, it helps them click on the link or article.

Markety or not, why does that happen? The reason numbered headlines work (and the formats they trumpet, for that matter) is worth a think, if only so you know why you're doing it. Here's my take on the real reasons you should use numbered headlines and posts for your blog, based on writing and editing a lot of magazine articles and even more blog posts:
  1. They're concrete: Readers know what to expect from a numbered post. The headline implies something practical, solid, knowable...and that makes it sticky, and memorable, to use a markety word.
  2. They favor the reader in a rush: Reading anything all the way through is almost unthinkable for busy folks, but you'll prompt more of them to take a detour with your post if it's defined in size, small bites they can swallow while they keep moving. 5 tips for improving your life sounds a lot better than "read this entire book of inspiration," on many days.
  3. They disclose a treasure trove: On the opposite end of the spectrum, the high-numbered item--27 reasons you should attend the SuchandSo conference, or 45 blogs to follow today--suggests information galore. And all it took was two numbers to make that happen in the reader's mind. But high numbers aren't the only way to signal treasure. Think of numbered posts that revive history, share secrets or suggest a find. Check out the New York Times's list of 10 Olympic events of yore they wish could be revived as one example.
  4. We like lists: There's even a post that's titled (what else?) the top five reasons why people like to share top ten lists. Lists provoke curiosity: Your list won't be just like mine, or will it? I'd like to find out. Lists can start arguments, bets or long comments disagreeing with the author. Just ask Rolling Stone after it puts out those top 100 guitarists lists.
  5. They provide structure: We also like lists for their order and organization. The reader can expect something crisp, useful, and short. Best of all, they know there's an end to it, coming soon.
  6. They offer options: Knowing that readers won't all agree with your list is one thing. But they know they have options, too; perhaps 3 of your list of 5 items will work for them, and that suggests possibility.
  7. They suggest there's more to know: If I only had 4 ideas about how to save money and you have 27, I'm intrigued. You're pushing my envelope, in a good way.
Numbered posts don't work all the time--but when they do, they're priceless. What's your take on numbers in posts and headlines?

1 comment:

mistersugar said...

This is great. Thanks for giving me 7 more reasons to keep reading your blog! As if I needed them - you teach me something every time.