Numbers win prizes

List posts are an incredibly overused tactic, but the ugly truth is that they still work.

If you cast your eyes to the ‘Most popular posts this month’ feature on the right of this page then you’ll see that headlines with numbers in them are very effective.

And this image of Buzzfeed’s homepage shows how much it relies on numbers to make its posts shareable:

The reasons for the enduring popularity of lists posts are fairly obvious. People want easily digestible articles and are often curious to find out what examples or tips have made it onto the list.

Finding the ideal number is more of a challenge, however judging by our most popular posts from last year it appears that anything over 10 does the trick.

Readers want to know that they’re going to get their money’s worth, so the more tips, hints and examples the better.

Adjectives FTW

Adding an adjective to the headline has an obvious benefit, as it makes the article sound more exciting and useful, even though the content is exactly the same with or without the adjective.

So chuck a few of these in: amazing, awesome, beautiful, excellent, useful, brilliant, powerful, sensational, terrific, unique, valuable, wonderful…. the list is endless.

And also, who’s to say these tips you’re reading actually are bitchin’? That’s the beauty of including an adjective in the headline, it’s all subjective and it’s unlikely that anyone is going to make a formal complaint because the tips aren’t quite bitchin’ enough.

Pique their curiosity

Not all posts can be list posts, so another technique is to pique the reader’s curiosity so they are compelled to investigate further.

This means writing statements that make it seem like the reader will be missing out if they don’t click on your article.

Take these examples from Upworthy. They’re pretty vague and don’t say much about what is contained within, yet they do a good job of making the reader interested in finding out more.

Sell the benefits

A headline is like a mini sales pitch, so telling the reader how they stand to benefit can help to encourage those extra clicks.

For example,’10 awesome tips for writing headlines’ becomes ’10 awesome tips for writing headlines that will boost your traffic.’ Or ’16 useful social media metrics’ becomes ’16 useful social media metrics your CEO will love.’

You basically need to explain why reading the post will benefit the reader or make their life easier in some way. 

Name check a celebrity or well known brand

Celebrity culture is alive and well, so why not exploit it for your own ends? If you put a celebrity’s name in the headline then it’s likely that people will recognise it and want to find out what that famous person has been up to.

Even if it’s using the name in a slightly obscure way, such as ‘Justin Bieber’s guide to digital marketing,’ it will still make people curious as to how you’ve drawn a link between the two.

The same is true of brand names. We’ve found at Econsultancy that writing posts that draw examples from major brands, such as Andrew Warren-Payne’s excellent round up of McDonald’s case studies, are sure to bring in the traffic.

Create a sense of urgency

Sometimes curiosity alone isn’t enough to get people to click on your posts, so it’s useful to create a sense of urgency as well.

One way of doing this is to suggest that the reader won’t be able to function properly if they haven’t read your tips or examples.

For example, something like “10 actions you HAVE to take before setting up a Twitter account’ or ‘Before you send another marketing email, check out these case studies from ASOS.’

Obey Lakey’s 65 character rule

There are various reasons why Econsultancy’s Chris Lake suggests limiting headlines to 65 characters, however the most important ones are:

  • Google truncates long headlines in search results.
  • So does Google News.
  • It’s better for sharing, as shorter headlines allow users to retweet and add in their own comments as well.
  • It fits into an email subject line.

Pose a question

This has proved to be somewhat less successful at Econsultancy, but it’s a good way of mixing things up.

It tends to be a useful tactic when presenting a case study or Q&A, so something along the lines of ‘What is responsive design and do you really need it?

How to…

Similar to posing a question, ‘How to’ headlines are useful for posts detailing tips or case studies.

It tells the reader that they can expect to learn something from reading the post, which should entice them to click on the link and also makes it shareable.

Examples of this are ‘How Coca-Cola used Twitter to boost sales’ or ‘How to increase email sign-ups in three simple steps.’ 

Use your analytics

Occasionally at Econsultancy we accidentally stumble across a topic that our audience is clamouring for information on, so we get an unexpected but welcome boost in traffic.

The EU cookie law, Pinterest and responsive design are three such examples.

Once you’ve found a hot topic you can find numerous ways of fitting the keyword into a headline, then sit back and watch the visits roll in.

For us, it’s not all about traffic, so topics have to be relevant to our readers, and the content has to be good, but if people want to know more about a topic, then it’s our duty to inform. 

Admittedly this is as much about the content as it is about the headline, but no matter how good the content is you won’t get the visits without the hot topic in the headline.