If you’re like me and receive LinkedIn’s daily newsletter, you’ll probably have noticed the subject always is “The 5* things you need to know in the news today”. Or perhaps you’re using Twitter acquired Summify, to generate a manageable summary of your Twitter news feeds. What about your Facebook feed or even Google+ stream? Do they contain articles with headlines such as:
- Top 5 trends for [put in your own relevant niche]
- 10 things you need to know about [put in relevant topic]
- 3 ways to be better at [topic your specialized or interested in]
- 7 reasons [why something fails or succeeds]
- 53% of [something regarding your subject]
Of course my filters, feeds etc. are influenced by whom, I’ve chosen to subscribe to or follows, so I might be a bit biased. But to me it’s getting a bit overwhelming with all those digits tumbling on my screen.
A not so scientific micro study from a user perspective
To showcase my point, I’ve done my own little study. It’s not scientifically evident. It’s just me, trying to figure out whether there’s a pattern or not. What I’ve done is counting the number of articles, having a headline with a number in them. I’ve done that for both my daily LinkedIn mails and Summify stories in the period from Jan 6th till Jan 31st 2012.
My personal results were pretty clear. On average 36,9% of the headlines in my Summify emails has had a number in them. 24,4% of my LinkedIn emails had the same.
So why do we click?
The question I had to ask myself was: “Why am I more inclined to click on these links?” Because I do that – and I think you do too. And why do we tend to share these stories? I’m especially hinting to the bare premise of Summify’s service.
When trying to find the answer, I stumbled upon American journalist and blogger Jim Romeneskos article “Why we’re seeing so many numbers in headlines”. By interviewing several people who teach online writing courses, he explores the tendency. Conclusion. It just works. It’s not even a new technique. “Magazine editors were using “numbers headlines’ to sell magazine covers for decades before the Internet arrived”, says Robb Montgomery, CEO of Visual Editors. And as another of Romeneskos sources state: “My guess is that you’re seeing this number epidemic because everyone (including journalists) is picking up these marketing techniques that are primarily geared toward hawking products”.
When researching via Google [using numbers in headlines], I definitely got a lot of “How too” that recommends using numbers (of course with a digit in their page title). Amongst others were:
- 8 Ways to Use Numbers in Headlines
- 5 Reasons Readers like Numbers in a Headline
- 6 Easy Ways to Get More Visitors to Your Blog
More interestingly, the search results also came up with an article by Dan Zarella which states that articles with digits in their titles tend to be shared more on Facebook than stories without digits.
So there must be a reason why this tendency is so prolific on the web. Numbers apparently indirectly tells us, “This message is important.”
Based on an eyetracking study in 2007, Jakob Nielsen discovered “…that numerals often stop the wandering eye and attract fixations, even when they’re embedded within a mass of words that users otherwise ignore.”
According to Nielsen, this happens because numbers represent facts, which is something we as users typically relish. I certainly do in my daily information flow. Furthermore 2415 simply just looks different from four. As Jakob Nielsen states: “The shape of a group of digits is different from that of a group of letters to stand out to users’ peripheral vision before their foveal vision fixates on them.” So here’s the why we notice the articles in the first place. But why do we share them too?
I believe there’s more to it than numbers only. My point is that numbered articles tend to go hand in hand with advice and manageable lists, which in our shareaholic digital community, indirectly state that we try to help each other. Actually according to a NY Times study of the psychology of sharing (pdf) a massive 94% of the respondents carefully considered how helpful a link would be to another user.
So there you have it. While scanning our feeds, mails, blogs, our eyes more easily stop at numbered headlines – and if we consider the content helpful in some way, we share and thus enhance the future use.
Do you agree? Are your feeds and newsletters also flooded with numbers? And why do you click and/or share these stories?
This article is also published at Mediatapper.com
5*: UPDATE: Today, Feb. 8ht, I received my first LinkedIn Email with the subject “The 7 things you need to know in the news today”. Maybe they’ve experienced less opened emails, due to what may be called “repeated subject blindness?”