10 ways to use numbers in your blog post titles

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Check out any social bookmarking site - Delicious, for instance, or Digg - and you'll see that a lot of the most popular pages being bookmarked have something in common: a number in the title.

It seems we're crazy for the quantification. For instance, the most popular bookmarks in Delicious currently include a healthy dose of titles like "10 exceedingly useful Flash tutorials", "35 Examples Of Beautiful City Photography" and "10 Companies Hiring for Work from Home". (They've also included "15 fun things to do with Microsoft Excel", which may be the most terrifying title in blogging history.)

I'm not one of the people who suggest you write every blog post as cynical, traffic-grubbing link-bait... but if you want to get people's attention, why not try the magic of numbers-in-titles the next time you're blogging?

Here are 10 ways to write a blog post that begs for one of those numbered titles:

  • The tutorial: Tutorials are a natural. Just follow this simple three-step process:
    1. Break the instructions into steps.
    2. Number the steps.
    3. Place the total number in the title of your post, as in "The three-step guide to writing a tutorial with a number in the title."
  • The tip-sheet: Like a tutorial, the tip sheet offers helpful advice, but more as a series of suggestions instead of a sequence of steps. Just count them up, and you have "Eight ways to make waiting fun for your kids."
  • The toolbox: It's a venerable tradition: the blog post that corrals a herd of related tools. Like "20 web apps for professional composters." Or "15 utilities you'll need when peak oil hits."
  • The ranking: Ranked lists and "top x" posts are all the rage, and rigorous methodology seems to be a purely optional frill. All you really need is a passion for the subject matter, and you too can write "The 20 best political ads of all time". Better yet, there's a good chance readers will weigh in in the comment threads with their own picks.
  • The interrogation: But maybe you realize you don't have all the answers. What you do know is what to ask... which leads to posts like "Six questions to ask your doctor before surgery." Or "Four things to ask a new employee."
  • The stopwatch: The promise of achieving some concrete goal within a limited period of time can be awfully attractive. So this variation on the tutorial could lead you to write "Seven days to a balanced checkbook" or "Master contract bridge in 20 minutes".
  • The posse: Of course, social media is all about people... and a lot of numbered blog posts are all about assembling lists of heavy hitters in a particular field: "Five people who are changing the face of knitting", for instance. (It doesn't always have to be flattering, of course: "The 20 people who ruined the Republican Party" could also work.)
  • The checklist: Feed your inner Basecamp-user with a checklist of must-do tasks ("10 daily essentials to keep your Papillion perky") or goals ("The 100 jazz classics you need to recognize to pass as a music geek").
  • The exhibit: Maybe your roads-not-travelled include a career as a museum curator or gallery owner. Pulling together a collection of online media ("20 hilarious concert blooper videos" or "100 best cartoons about subways") is your chance to put on a show of your own.
  • The meme: Now, you're taking your karma into your hands with this one. You so don't want to be known as "the one who keeps sending around the blog memes." That said, writing "Five things I'm bitterly ashamed of... now it's your turn!" and tagging five friends to blog their five things can be your ticket to immortality. (Or, depending on your five things, infamy.)


Tori says

February 3, 2009 - 11:05am

Thanks for this Rob! Even better, make it into a series. My next post was going to be "How to bathe body parts in ice," then "Golf balls are not for slicing." Now it will be a series - "Marathoner's Torture #1 - 5-step guide to freezing your feet" and "Marathoner's Torture #2 - 3 novel ways to use golf balls." True. Check my blog in the next week and you'll see :)

Rob Cottingham says

February 3, 2009 - 11:24am

Hey, that's great! I can't wait to see it.

And terrific blog, by the way. Almost enough to make me put aside my paralytic fear of heights.

chandoo says

February 14, 2009 - 8:12pm



I am the author of the "15 fun things... " post. Why do you say it is most terrifying title ever ?

I would love to learn a few pointers on why you think so, it would help me write better titles...

Alexandra Samuel says

February 14, 2009 - 9:37pm

I'm with you. What's not fun about spreadsheets? In fact, I think you've just exposed a key rift in our marriage/partnership: I'm all .xlsx and Rob's all .psd.

Rob Cottingham says

February 14, 2009 - 11:32pm

Better titles..? chandoo, your title clearly kicked butt all over the Internets! Not to worry. The "terrifying" wasn't intended as criticism - more like a joking comment on how the words "fun" and "Excel" just don't seem to go intuitively together.

But as I think about it, I realize it's strange how it isn't cool to admit we sometimes actually enjoy using even the most seemingly mundane tools. (Let's face it, Excel ain't Photoshop... Alex.) I rib Alex about her obsession with project management software, and the joy she seems to take in it. But if I were a little more honest with myself, I'd acknowledge that the ability to find pleasure in life's more utilitarian aspects is awfully damned cool... and suggests a level of openness to the world that I'd be smart to pursue myself.

Now, show me how to do that in Excel, and I'll be really amazed. :-)

chandoo says

February 15, 2009 - 5:34am

Thanks Alex and Rob. I know most of the web's cool stuff is in psds, flash, css and other such stuff.

While these technologies remian uber cool, most of the actual surferer work in office and use software like MS office, windows, project management and other such relatively simple software. That is why I started writing about these, to make normal users feel cool about the day to day software and be recognized as office heros...

Btw, Rob, your Noise to Signal is sexy stuff... thanks :)

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