Numerals in headlines quantify value, draw readers
Next time you hit the Safeway, take a look at the magazines displayed at the checkout counter. Chances are, you’ll find that they’re packed with numerals.
There’s a good reason for that: Headlines with numerals, like Top 10, promise quantifiable value. And that draws readers.
“Numbers sell,” writes Richard Riccelli, president of Post Rd, Inc.
If you’re writing a tipsheet or service story, add a numeral to the headline. That will increase your message’s chance of getting opened, read and shared — whether online or off.
Add numerals online.
Numerals are power tools for getting:
1. Shared in social media. Articles with numerals in their titles tend to be shared more on Facebook than stories without digits, according to research by viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella.
2. Opened in email. EmailLabs ran a split test of these three subject lines:
- Using Link Click-Through Tracking to Segment Your List
- 3 Tips to Improve Your Newsletter’s ROI
- Build Your List Through “Piggy-Back Marketing”
The subject line promising “3 Tips” produced both higher open and click-through rates than the other two.
3. Attention on websites. Numerals are more scannable, according to usability expert Jakob Nielsen. And they deliver tangible facts, which is what web visitors seek online.
Strength in numbers
To choose the best numerals for your headlines and coverlines:
1. Favor odd numbers. Oddly, odd numbers sell better than even ones, according to Folio:. So 7 Steps may be more effective than 10 Tips.
2. Choose specific numbers. “101 or 99 work better than 100,” Riccelli writes. “65 is better than 75.”
Better yet, make it 7. That number seems to appeal to readers. The number 13, on the other hand, does not.
3. Don’t overwhelm readers. “Saying ’35 best exercises’ is too many,” Zinczenko told The New York Times. “But ‘789 great new tips for summer’ is fine. That says value without saying work.”
4. But don’t underwhelm readers, either. Posts with headlines promoting seven or more items outperformed those with six or fewer, according to an internal study of HubSpot’s blog. While HubSpot still posts pieces with six or fewer items, writes Pamela Vaughan, HubSpot’s lead blog strategist, the inbound marketing experts don’t promote that quantity in the headline.
5. Avoid numbers for serious subjects. “14 ways to deal with breast cancer,” for instance, sounds flip.
6. Don’t overpromise or underdeliver. Family Circle famously touted “2000 Great Ideas” on its January 2000 cover. Woman’s Day editor Jane Chestnut sent out a staff memo spluttering:
“That issue does not contain 2,000 ideas. Counting the same way we count ideas in Woman’s Day (which is fairly liberal, as you might expect), we found around 900, and our counter felt it could be stretched — if you tried very hard — to 1,000. That’s a lot of ideas, but it’s still nowhere near 2,000. In fact, it’s almost physically impossible to put 2,000 ideas in an issue of that size.”
Let’s never, ever have to apologize for overpromising like that. Not once … not 101 times.
Sources: Katharine Q. Seelye, “Lurid Numbers on Glossy Pages! (Magazines Exploit What Sells),” The New York Times, Feb. 10, 2006
American Society of Magazine Editors
Sarah Gonser, “Revising the Cover Story,” Folio:, March 1, 2003
Richard Riccelli, “Learn From The Masters,” Folio:, March 1, 2003