On one recent day, I checked my RSS feeds and bookmarks and saw these headlines:
* 20 TV Shows With the Most Social Media Buzz (Mashable)
* How 5 Top Brands Crafted Their Social Media Voices (Mashable)
* 3 Things You May Not Know About RTB (AdAge)
* The 5 Types of Stories That Make Good Storifys (Poynter)
* 7 Cheap And Creative Side Dishes For Thanksgiving (Business Insider)
* The 7 Most Overrated Time Magazine Persons of the Year (Huffington Post)
* Here Are 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Lies And Liars (Business Insider)
I asked several people who teach online writing courses about the use of numbers in heds and its effectiveness. Some of the responses:
Writing for the Web instructor
CEO, Visual Editors
It’s a gimmick, and it is not new.
Magazine editors were using “numbers headlines’ to sell magazine covers for decades before the Internet arrived.
How many of these have you seen on newstands over the years?
Five new foods that will burn fat!
10 ways to lower your golf score
Six tips for improving your sex appeal
The five things great parents know about their kids
Of course these examples use AP style because they reference print headlines – and that’s great for “pulp readers.” I can’t explain why AP style is thrown under the bus when writing headlines for “screen readers.”
It obviously is a gimmick that works. Poynter today lured me into reading a story with a numbers headline: “The 5 types of stories that make good Storifys.”
LA Weekly staff writer
“New Media Reporting” instructor at UCLA Extension
I think the “lists” as we call them here are a tried-and-true traffic getter independent of SEO. They really don’t make sense in terms of SEO (using key words, proper names, as early as you can in a headline), but they still work. If anything they’d be anti-SEO (putting “Top 5” at the front of a headline wouldn’t really help you at all). However some sites such as Gawker don’t really need SEO because they get so much front door traffic. All they really need is a catch hed.
I told my students that lists can be good ways to drive traffic and play off the news, but in general I hold fast to a key word rich headline scheme (Jim Romenesko Blog About Media And Journalism Finds New Home).
Assoc. Prof. of the Practice, Multimedia Journalism
Boston University Department of Journalism
My guess is that you’re seeing this number hed epidemic because everyone (including journalists) is picking up these marketing techniques that are primarily geared toward hawking products. They’re following advice from outfits such as Hubspot.com. Here’s an example:
Mashable, my favorite industry blog, is a prime offender in the “How to …” and “X ways to…” overkill. Presumably it’s working for them, otherwise they’d never see the light of day. Read More