There aren’t a lot of “rules” for what to say and do on the Internet, beyond legal copyright mumbo-jumbo and prohibitions against some iffy, icky and mostly illegal behaviors. Plus all of those hoops that Google requires.
But if you’re a writer for hire looking for ways to write well for the web, you’ll likely find many more guidelines and general best practices vs. hard-and-fast absolutes.
Opinions abound on what ingredients should be included in perfect pieces of online prose, and if you studied all the guidelines out there, you’d find hundreds of helpful suggestions – plus quite a few directives that may even conflict.
Should the ideal story be 500 words? 400 words? 600 words? Should the most important stuff be at the top? Second paragraph? The end, as a prize for reading the whole thing? Should it be funny or serious? Should headlines be cute or straightforward? Should headlines be six, seven, eight or nine words long?
But one common tip seems to make just about every must-do list: put a number somewhere, especially in your headline.
Why is this important? Honestly, the reasons for this seem to be kind of vague, other than “just do it” and “people will like it” and “it works, OK?”
To help a writer for hire or anyone else wondering about the reasons for this “strong suggestion,” here’s a summary of why numbers count!
- People will like it. Sorry – I couldn’t resist this final peer pressure push. But that’s seems to be a consensus in all the sites. WordStream, which helps people with their online ad content, suggests that people naturally expect to see words and numbers together, especially in a promotional setting.
- Numbers tell you what’s coming. People adore listicles. Just ask Buzzfeed or Mashable, which have made a mint with click-baity pieces, most with some kind of numerical reference. So when readers see any headline with “Top 5 reasons we love rabbits” or “6 tips for a super Saturday” they’ll know it’s something they’re familiar with, and something they like.
- Numbers boost clarity. That’s the advice of Tribune Content Agency, which offers a whole lot of strategies for strong headlines, especially in a news setting. A number can make something more specific and interesting – they use the example “top tips for writing headlines” vs. “8 tips for writing headlines.”
- Women prefer numbers. Moz, a marketing consulting blog, examined what types of headlines perform better than others. The ones with numbers seem to rank highest in click-ability. In one study, clicks were 15 percent higher than “reader address” headlines (ones with ‘you’ in them). Even more interesting was that 39 percent of women surveyed said number headlines resonated the most, compared to 32 percent of men.
- Numbers quantify value. You can decide how much you want to read a story by how many numbers are in it, suggests Wylie Communications, rather than a general “here you go.”
Joe B has enjoyed writing for the past 20 years.