4 reasons to use numbers in your headlines


In my inbox this morning were a dozen fresh emails all with similar heading subject lines.

They all started with a similar pattern:

  • 3 rules to build....
  • 5 essential tips....
  • 5 signs you don’t know….
  • 7 reasons not to............
  • 7 ways to master........
  • 10 secrets to increase.......
  • 10 research driven.....
  • 15 ways content marketing.....
  • 30 thought leaders share.......
  • 99 ideas for your…..

Have you noticed more and more headlines look like these? There are two reasons. First, they’re more frequent because the volume of content produced every day is increasing, and naturally, every content piece needs a heading. Second, they work. These list style headlines are not new - they’re a proven advertising technique.

The secret ingredient to how these headings work is down to the number they contain and a basic formula. The headline formula loosely follows this sequence or a variation of it:

  1. Number
  2. Noun
  3. Subject
  4. Promise

The headline is the first step to entice people to read the rest of your content. It's out there waving it's hypothetical arms for you to notice it. After that each sentence needs to do its own heavy lifting to hold the reader’s attention to the end of your content piece.

The psychology behind the number in your headline is interesting. Here's how they make a difference or how to use them:

1. Numbers make a promise

Headlines with numbers are irresistible because the number makes a specific, quantifiable promise so we know what to expect. The number is the headline hook and it promises a lesson in a set of quantifiable steps. The number clearly sets an expectation and appeals to our intrigue.

Who doesn’t like a promise? Particularly one that's kept. The content under the heading must deliver; otherwise it’s a broken promise.

2. Unusual numbers are attention grabbing

Although the list above mostly uses numbers less than ten, you can use any number. In fact, the more unusual the number, like 27, 46, or 85, the more attention grabbing. A number that's a little bit strange is unexpected, unique and makes us take notice. At my last check, Amazon had 54,652 book titles that started '101 ways to....'. Take caution though - before you rush to add a large number to your headline, know that you have to deliver content against that number. That's why more headlines favour lists of ten items or less.

3. Numbers under ten suggest a time saving

In defence of the lower numbers, they work from the perspective of time. A headline with a number less than ten suggests you edited carefully from a larger list to offer only the best ideas. It shows you care about your reader’s time and curate effectively so they don't have to bother wading through long notes. If the number symbolises a time saving to your reader it should also suggest quality over quantity.

4. Numbers can work in any position

If you’re concerned that a number at the start of your headline is making you a bit predictable, move the number to the middle instead like these:

  • Free eBook reveals the one thing that…
  • How to recognise the 7 signs of ….
  • The 3 habits that are…
  • Are these 25 disruptions on your.....


Numbers are pretty neat. Best of all, effective. Do the test yourself. See which headlines draw you in and whether they contain numbers. Headlines without numbers are also effective but that’s another article.


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