Numerals 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 tip sheet 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.
Why numerals in headlines?
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 headlines promoting seven or more items outperformed those with six or fewe, 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:
Let’s never, ever have to apologize for overpromising like that. Not once … not 101 times.
Are your headlines getting the word out?
“Readers” don’t read. Even highly educated web visitors read fewer than 20% of the words on a page.
Learn how to reach people who spend only two minutes — or even just 10 seconds — with your message at Catch Your Readers, our persuasive-writing workshop.
There, you’ll learn how to put your key messages where your readers’ eyes are. You’ll discover how deliver your key ideas to people who don’t read the paragraphs. And you’ll find out how to draw even reluctant audience members into your message.
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