Anyone that is producing content these days knows how powerful a well written list article (or “listicle”) can be.
Whether you are a Buzzfeed-type publisher pumping out thousands of blog posts a day, or a simple content marketer, the list format is definitely your friend.
The number in title stands out against all the other text and the reader knows exactly what they are getting themselves into. With just a few numbered sections you can take someone through a complex process or organize a bunch of ideas into a coherent point.
It’s a writer’s dream.
However, there doesn’t seem to be an agreed upon most sharable number to use for your list or in the blog title.
Thought leaders always say you should have a number in your title but they never say which number to use!
Or give vague advice that could literally apply to any number.
But they all can agree on one thing, never use the number 10.
They think it is too common and will not stand out on social media.
I took their advice blindly and never used the number 10 in my blog titles until I ran this experiment. And after looking at 121,333 unique articles I found that they could not be more wrong.
Like they were on the magnitude of saying the sky is red wrong.
Now, let’s get to busting some long held thought leaders’ advice. It really is one of my favorite things to do!
To see which number performed the best in blog titles, I collected a sample of 121k different articles. I selected the numbers from 1 to 20 and then 25 in their blog title to add to the data set. Also, I did not just look at the numeral but also the word (i.e. 10 vs. ten).
Then, using Ahrefs, I was also able to collect social share metrics, traffic estimates and backlink data.
To collect my sample, I used 5 separate keywords to hone in on the most relevant numbered articles. These keywords were ”tips”, “top”, “best”, “ways”, “steps”. So the articles typically had titles like “10 Tips”. This was done to make sure that no random blog posts or other content made it into the database.
What is the ULTIMATE number to use in your blog title?
I think one of the best things that can happen when writing an article is to have your preconceived ideas blown up in your face.
And that is exactly what happened with this study.
I actually set out to confirm what I always had thought: that numbers that are not multiples of 10 should be used in a blog title.
I mean, not a single one of my past articles uses a multiple of 10.
I actually was hoping that we could show that you should NOT be using this number in your titles.
But the data does not lie, in almost every category that we looked at showed that that the number 10 is the best number for your blog titles.
I honestly had to double take when I first saw the initial findings.
It didn’t matter if it was the numeral or word, the number 10 outperformed all the others by a solid margin in median social shares:
While the average article had about 5 median shares across the social sphere, those containing the number 10 had more than triple that, at 18 shares.
Analyzing the average social shares also showed that the number 10 was a gem:
Those article also received an average of 3x more shares across Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest when compared to the study average. And almost 5x more shares on LinkedIn.
When you look at some of the individual keywords, the winning trend continues.
With “Top 10”, “10 Best” and “10 Ways” leading the pack in average referring domains and median shares.
If you are a little overwhelmed after seeing all of those graphs I do not blame you.
But I did this to show that after running literally all the different metrics, the number 10 still came out on top.
This goes against a lot of conventional wisdom from thought leaders. Many say that you should be going after more unconventional numbers.
It does makes sense that you should avoid a very popular and maybe even an oversaturated number in your blog titles.
Over the past year there have been around 246,842 articles written using just the “Top 10” keyword. That is a lot.
Because of that, I had made it my goal to never use the number 10 in any of my titles because it is literally everywhere. I have even told other writers to either use 9 or 11 in their titles, but never 10.
But after seeing the cold hard data, I think I will change my tune.
What other numbers should you try?
What if the number 10 just does not work for your blog title?
Well, there are a few others that you can use to grab the attention of your audience.
In the previous section, I highlighted a few numbers that could be used, but now I am going to dive a bit deeper into each one.
I am going to use the total median and average social shares for each number.
The number 5
The second most useful number to include in your headline was another fan favorite, the number 5.
Just over the past year there were almost 150k different articles published with “Top 5” in their headline.
I mean, “5 tips” is easier to write than “10 tips”.
And number 5 clocked in at 17 median shares, only one behind our reigning champ.
Although the articles with number 5 had more backlinks (about 11 per article), they fell far behind those with the number 10 in average social media activity.
If you write about only 5 things instead of 10 you can expect Facebook users to not want to share it. But Twitter will love it!
Also, apparently Pinterest doesn’t like the number 5 because it had less than half of the amount of shares as the number 10.
This makes a lot of sense because long form images and content has been known to flourish on Pinterest.
The number 3
Next on the list we have an expectedly low digit, the number 3.
It received exactly half of the median shares of the number 10, with 9 shares.
Over 33k articles written in the past year use “Top 3” in their titles, much lower than the number of articles with 5 and 10 in the titles.
As you can see in the graph below, the success of the number 3 on social media was very similar to the study average.
I think this means that there were not a lot of viral articles that pushed the average up.
Instead there were many articles with the number 3 in the title–9817, actually– that received a solid number of shares on every article to keep that median number steady.
However, the number 3 did do great on LinkedIn, which might be surprising unless you know that concise content does well on that platform.
But the failure of low numbers on Pinterest continued with the number 3, where it received only about a third of the sample average.
That being said, the backlinks the number 3 received on average were about half the other top numbers, at 6 backlinks per article.
The number 4
For the fourth spot on this list we have the actual number 4. I couldn’t have planned this more perfectly if I tried!
Those articles had one less median shares at 8 than its predecessor, the number 3.
Again, I think that this number signifies the great content that was produced across the whole experiment instead of a few viral ones.
Over the past year there were about 13k articles that had “Top 4” in their headline. This is a lot less than the other numbers on this list but it also means we got almost 10% of all those articles in our sample.
That is still about half of the total articles that mentioned the number 3.
As you can see below, the number 4 received slightly lower than average social shares across the board.
Except the number 4 killed it on LinkedIn, almost doubling the sample average!
But unlike some of the other low numbers, the number 4 bucked the trend of low Pinterest shares, with those actually averaging about 49 shares per article.
The number 7
I can bet that you did not see this number coming in to close out the list. Right?
Yes it is true, the number 7 was the fifth most shared in our experiment.
It was definitely unexpected to see. But it does follow a bit of the advice you have been hearing from the thought leaders for the past few years. So I will roll with it.
In case you were wondering, there were about 13k articles published with the number 7 in the title, which matches the number of the “Top 4” articles.
If you are looking for backlinks, then the number 7 may not be the best choice. At 5.39 backlinks per article, the number 7 got about half the number of backlinks as the number 10.
This barely puts it above the sample average of 4.07, so I would recommend looking for another number.
Although the number 7 had lower median shares on average, it actually beat out some of the other numbers on this list for social shares.
As you can see in the graph below, articles with the number 7 were able to mostly get more Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest shares than articles with 3, 4, and 5 in their titles.
And the number 7 received more social shares than average for every site! So if you want your article to get some serious traction on social media, I would pick the number 7!
Especially on Pinterest: it is the first low number that you can get a lot of shares using, with the number 6 only receiving 33 shares on average.
What numbers should you avoid completely?
Knowing the best numbers to use in your headline is only half the battle. We still need to cover the worst numbers.
And there were some truly awful numbers that you should honestly never use.
As you can see from the graph below, there are a few that can spell disaster for your content.
Even if you combined all of the average shares from the bottom five numbers, you still wouldn’t even hit half of what the top numbers received.
That is HUGE.
The absolute worst number is 2
If you could not guess from the graph above, the number 2 is the absolute worst number to use in your headline.
With almost 1/20th the median shares of the top numbers, there is huge discrepancy between the top and bottom numbers.
Worst of all, if you were to just add one more idea or point to your article, the median shares would increase by almost 800%.
So if you are thinking that your list of two things is perfect, I would reevaluate that article. Because you are leaving a ton of potential traffic and shares on the table just by quitting early.
I mean this makes sense, who really wants to read a list or article that is only tells you two things?
I would never read that.
You can tell the author did know what they are talking about or had so little to say that they could only come up with two points.
People want a little more content than that when they are looking for advice, or even entertainment.
So don’t skimp or it will come back to bite you.
Across the board, articles with the number 2 in their titles performed terribly on social media.
On Twitter and Pinterest, they received about half the shares when compared to the sample average.
And when it comes to Facebook and LinkedIn, those blog titles led to only 16% and 13% of the average shares, respectively.
Avoid using the teens
This tip does not really cover a single number, but more a range of numbers that you should never use.
As you can see in the graph below, the numbers between 13 and 19 do not do very well.
This is one trend that I noticed during both the data collection and analyzing stages of this study. It was at times hard to find articles that included 13 and 19 in their titles.
And with how bad those numbers performed, I can’t blame the other writers for not using the teens in their blog titles.
In fact, not a single teen number made it into the top half of our median shares. Actually, all of them came in well below the median number of shares.
The only one actually received a significant number of shares was the number 15. This number led the pack of misfit numbers in median number of shares, only receiving about 60% of the sample average.
These articles probably did so well because it’s a factor of 5 more than anything
I use “well” loosely, because 15 did not do achieve high shares across the social sites.
Facebook was the only site where the number 15 was able to get more than the average number of shares.
None of the other numbers received more than the average shares across each social site. As you can see in the graph below, they do not even come close!
Well, except that the number 19 does extremely well on Pinterest, which makes sense because those users love longer content.
So other than never using the number 2 in your headline, I would also be very cautious about using any of the teen numbers.
People are looking for a quick or easy read these days and those numbers just seem a bit overwhelming.
Like “7 Tips” sounds like something you could read in line for a coffee, but “17 Tips” could take a whole hour.
This rings true until you get to large numbers like 75 or 101. Those lists stop being articles and instead turn into collections people reference or can read in chunks.
Do certain numbers perform better on each social network?
After seeing that the number 19 did so well on Pinterest, I began to wonder if a number did insanely well on on certain social network.
I had a few ideas on why some numbers did better than others but I wanted to look at the cold hard data.
So I took a deep dive into all of the articles again to figure that out!
And to keep things consistent, I used the same methods to determine the best numbers as I did in the past sections.
First, let’s start with one of my favorite social networks: Twitter.
If I had to blindly guess, I think that the smaller numbers would have done best on Twitter. Solely based on the amount of mobile traffic that Twitter receives.
Unsurprisingly, the articles that did best on Twitter also were the best numbers to use from previous sections.
In fact, the top five numbers on Twitter were the exact same as those that had the most overall median shares.
One surprising finding from this exercise was that the number 20 received a high number of average Twitter shares.
Next we have the social behemoth known as Facebook.
Like Twitter, they receive a ton of mobile traffic so I thought more compact articles will do best.
But I was completely mistaken. Instead, factors of 5 dominated the top of the Facebook shares chart.
If I had to guess a hundred times I would have never expected that, but that’s what the data says.
But it makes sense; those are numbers that people trust and can be used to convey a sense of authority.
Obviously the number 10 and 5 dominated the top spots but the other top performers were much further down.
As you can see from the graph, a few of the number who led the most median shares barely made it to the top half of shares on Facebook.
And the lowly number 2 continued to be one of the worst numbers to have in your blog titles. No matter the social site.
The penultimate social site on this list is this often misunderstood LinkedIn
As someone who has never really gotten the point of LinkedIn, I was eager to see what the findings were.
I expected them to be very similar to the numbers for Facebook shares because they are so similar.
I mean, LinkedIn is basically just Facebook for work but more annoying.
And I was right on the nose with that prediction, with it almost being the exact same numbers as we saw in the Facebook section.
The only major difference was that the number 6 snuck its way into a top spot.
Note: a classic Dad joke (seven, eight, nine) formed on our graph.
Pinterest rounds out my list of the best numbers to use on social media.
This is fitting because I think the best numbers will be a large departure from what we have seen so far.
With lists, infographics and recipes dominating Pinterest, I expected the larger numbers to do best!
…well, I was kinda right, with the top numbered blog titles being a lot different from other social networks.
The number 11 led the others on Pinterest with the normal top dog, number 10, only receiving about half the shares.
Large numbers like 18 and 19 moved up from the basement of the other social sites to near the top of Pinterest.
However, the mid-teen numbers did not fare as well, dropping to the bottom of the list pretty spectacularly.
Plus, the number 3 moved down the most dropping from one of the top spots to barely out of last place in Pinterest shares.
Do written words or numerals perform better?
The final question I would like to answer is, should you use the word or the numeral in your blog title?
Like, would a title that had “3 Best” or “Three Best” perform better?
In my articles I have always stuck to the numeral because it stands out from a wall of text. Your eye is immediately drawn to it because it is different from the things around it.
That’s why I was not surprised when the articles that used the numeral outright dominated the word articles.
Numeral articles received more than 400% more median shares.
Like, it was not even close across every single metric you should care about.
With nearly double the shares across all the social networks, I think it is clear we can crown a winner.
And in terms of link building, the numeral articles received almost 7x more links on average!
So if you are thinking about using a word in your title, stop and use a numeral instead.
It honestly could be the difference between hundreds and thousands of people seeing your content.
Including a number in your blog title is one of the best ways to stand out from a crowd and grab the eyes of a new potential reader.
Just remember that it shouldn’t be just any random number that you like.
Or one that you picked because you ran out of ideas.
Instead you should remember:
- Wacky numbers don’t really make a difference
- The number 10 is actually your best bet
- The number 5 is a close second
- Never use number 2, like ever
- Don’t use most teen numbers
- The numbers 3, 4 and 7 are a good choice
- Always use the numeral, not the written word
Stick to those seven rules and you will maximize the potential of your wonderful article with a great blog title.
You might wonder what the ideal length of a blog post is. That’s also a big question and the answer can vary. But when I do get around to tackling that topic, I promise to be just as thorough!