5 Reasons I Was Wrong About Numbers in Post Titles

picture of small dog looking like it was proven wrong
You can't hide from the truth.

In my first blog post, This Is What It’s Come To, I stated that:

“…for now I don’t intend to optimize the content for clicks with tactics such as…Content titles with numbers. For example, ‘8 things you should NEVER do in Italy!'”

When I wrote that post (2 months ago, so young, so naïve), I had just begun the blog as a passion project. I had been traveling around Italy for 6 months, and the motivation was to create a site to publish and share my recommendations with fellow travelers that I was constantly meeting.

I’ve changed my mind on this (to an extent). But first things first.

Why I Don’t Like Titles With Numbers

My personal opinion is that when I’m scrolling through search results and see articles with numbered titles (“listicles” as they’re often called), I assume they will have low quality content. You know what I’m talking about. Some thrown-together SEO-optimized slop that has more advertiser content than actual content, with travel recommendations from someone who hasn’t even been to the city they’re writing about. Yes, that is a thing. I swear, half of these articles have no human touch to them whatsoever. It’s like you spend more time trying to find the damn “X” on the ad pop-ups than reading the article.

What Changed

In the last two months, I’ve researched pretty heavily about blogging. Firstly, I’m genuinely enjoying it. Even the little feedback I’m getting so far is very encouraging. I’ve also learned that with strategy and patience one can grow their readership and monetize their efforts with things like affiliate marketing. I know this isn’t easy, but it’s a new challenge and very exciting to me, and it’s scratching an analytical itch. 

5 Things I’ve Learned

Time for a list!

1. Follow the data. Titles with numbers are more attractive to readers. 

The reason for this still isn’t entirely clear to me. But as an engineer, I can’t put what I like ahead of what the data shows.

2. Attractive titles and clickbait are not always the same.

As Veritasium points out in this excellent video, clickbait can be separated into two categories. One being sensationalized and misleading, and the other being intriguing and relevant. A title can be both attractive and enticing yet help someone more quickly find the information they are looking for. 

3. I am not my intended audience.

For example, I think the internet would be a better place if all sites looked like that of Derek Sivers, with content being the priority and without unnecessary CSS, images, etc. I also use a solid black background on all of my devices. I get it – I am not most people. My preferences are less important than what the audience wants.

Having core values and philosophy is good, to a point, but not when it sacrifices the end user experience. 

4. Lists are reader-friendly and organized.

I have a tendency to both write and speak rather aimlessly, and the use of lists helps keep me on topic. It also helps readers skim the article and get where they want to go faster.

5. I want this website to be sustainable.

If I can monetize the time and effort that I’m putting into this blog (spoiler alert: it’s a lot), I can keep doing it and create better and better content.

Supporting the Main Goal

My goal is to create content about travel and life in Italy that’s either useful, interesting, or entertaining to readers and/or fellow travelers. It’s very rewarding to me to hear that someone went to a restaurant I recommended in Florence and loved it. Or that they are using the interactive population map of Italy that I created to help them decide where to live in Italy.

Much of my thought process here is derived from insights shared by the aforementioned Veritasium video on the topic of clickbait, if you’re interested.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to do so, numbers or not. If you enjoyed this post, please check out some of my other content.

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