How to Write a Headline That Converts (Using Number Psychology)

Write Headlines That Convert: 10 “Number Psychology” Tips!

by Barbara Sturm


Want to know how to write a headline that’ll convert like gangbusters?

Need a headline game-changer that captivates readers?

Your marketing buddies leverage some surefire number psychology and pricing tactics to attract their targeted consumers.

Why can’t you do the same?

Let’s shamelessly borrow a page or two from their playbook to ramp up the magnetism of your own headlines!

We’ll start with the obvious question…

Why Do Numbers Make Delicious Marketing Candy?

Chances are, you’ve fallen victim to psychological pricing tactics.

“Charm pricing” uses number psychology to influence our brains to perceive that $19.99 is considerably less than $20.00. It’s so simple, it shouldn’t work. But it does.

Marketers use psychological pricing tactics like these because they know numbers are powerful communication tools. Smart copywriters, bloggers, and SEO experts know this too — which is why they use tactics drawn from number psychology studies to influence headline click-through rates.

But why are numbers so powerful?

Psychology and marketing researcher Nick Kolenda says that when we see a number, our brain triggers the foundation of sensory elements that we used to learn numbers.

Curiously, this foundation often distorts our perception of numbers:

YouTube video

In content marketing, it makes sense to understand why readers are so attracted to numbers and what specific numbers draw greater attention.

In 5 Reasons Why Using Numbers In Your Headlines Work, Mike Hamers explains that numbers are our “Brain Candy”:

“Our brains are attracted to numbers because they automatically organize information into a logical order… like candy for your organizational mind.”

Further, the science of targeted number selection can have an impact on your headlines’ conversion rates.

In Psychology: How to Effectively Use Numbers in Your Marketing, the Wix Team states:

“Like colors, numbers have their own psychology surrounding them. …knowing the meaning behind numbers can allow you to effectively apply them…”

So, that’s why numbers are so effective…

Now let’s go over how you can use them to supercharge your own headlines.

Numbers: Power Words for the Nonconscious Brain

Want a proven blueprint for crafting compelling headlines?

Start by using a headline formula or template built around the keyword you’re targeting. Then, artfully select and arrange persuasive power words to promote your article’s message while catering to the demands of search engines and your readers.

In short, click-worthy headlines:

  • include the primary keyword, and
  • demonstrate a benefit to the reader

Primary keywords are pretty straightforward to work into your headlines, but it’s trickier to satisfy our readers’ WIIFM (what’s in it for me) mindset. Which is a shame, because being able to express your content’s benefit to the reader is what turns good headlines into great headlines.

Breaking them down, benefits can be expressed in headlines either explicitly or implicitly:

  • Explicit benefit headlines lay it all out for you. These are obvious: “How to Eat a Paleo Breakfast”.
  • Implicit or implied benefit headlines take some nonconscious noodling to interpret. “Breakfast Blunders Paleo Newbies Get Wrong” hints that we’ll benefit by avoiding bad choices.

So, where does number psychology come into this headline writing gameplan?

Let’s take a look at how we can add numbers to our best headlines to amplify our readers’ perception of benefits.

1. Big or Small: Pick a Number That’s Just Right for the Job

You can write compelling headlines that strengthen the appeal of a benefit by implying additional benefits through the use of numbers. Example:

3 Great Gifts for Writers That’ll Fit Any Budget

The explicit benefit expressed here is you’ll discover some gifts for writers you can actually afford.

But wait, there’s more! Did you notice the hidden bonus benefit that’s implied?

That small number of gifts impacts your impression of the benefit. Instantly, you anticipate a quick, easy-to-read list post that went for quality over quantity. [CLICK!]

Why does this work?

Numbers are adjectives. But instead of the actual value they represent, we tend to interpret numbers in headlines to suggest the relative nature or size of the noun it describes.

Huh? Is this a grammar lesson?

I’ll explain…

This headline’s implied benefit doesn’t change much if the number of gift ideas changes to either 3 or 5. The relatively low value emphasizes that the post is an easy read. But, raise the number to 7 and the implied brevity of the post slips away.

We are especially likely to over-infer quantity when asked to make a difficult, concurrent, or snap judgment, like when we’re scanning different headlines.

Take a look at Neil Patel’s catchy headline:

How Wearing a Dot Com T-Shirt Lost Me $190,450

Neil emphasizes the implied “wearing t-shirts prevents you from making money” with a sizeable dollar amount, further enticing readers who want to avoid losing sh*t-tons of money!

Numbers in Headlines Tip #1:

Use extremely small or large numbers as exaggerators.

Small numbers can suggest relative simplicity or insignificance. Conversely, large numbers can suggest complexity or substantiality.

Limit the number of steps in “How to” headlines to 9 or fewer to emphasize simplicity.

2. Warning: Watch How You Say it With Numbers

Proceed with caution, though.

Readers’ perception of implied benefits hinges on the correct use of specific time units or the order in which benefits are presented in headlines.

Not All Time is Created Equal

When expressing a concept that’s based in the future, pay attention to how units of time will be perceived.

Small units of time (4 weeks) are perceived as shorter, even when compared to equivalent larger units of time (1 month).

For example, headlines of habit-breaking content should express timelines in days, which is more palatable than the equivalent number of weeks.

Which timeline is more appealing? Compare:

  • 21 Days to a Flatter Stomach
  • 3 Weeks to a Flatter Stomach

Is “This” Better Than “That”?

Relative value is perceived higher when a larger numerical benefit is presented before a less appealing benefit. We “anchor” our perceptions when the larger benefit is presented first.

Consider this powerful headline on Smart Blogger:

This click-worthy headline is more appealing because the larger traffic-increasing benefit appears before the relatively short time investment.

Numbers in Headlines Tip #2:

When using numbers in headlines to express benefits with time elements or “trade this for that” notions, consider number comparison psychology concepts to assure the reader perceives a positive benefit.

3. No Time Like the Present: Current Year Implications

The current year in headlines implies the bonus benefit of up-to-date information.

Consider the covert power of this little number! It instantly tells the searcher the headline promises timely information inside.

However, if timeliness isn’t relevant, don’t falsely revolutionize your content with a current year headline. Example:

“How to Change a Diaper in 2024”

Unless you’re unveiling something particularly innovative, don’t use the year in the headline.

These headlines reveal we’ll find up-to-date piece of content on Smart Blogger:

Numbers in Headlines Tip #3:

When timeliness is relevant, include the current year in number form in headlines to reinforce the timeliness of the information within.

Numbers in Headlines: Vanity Brain Candy

Readers are clearly attracted to headlines that demonstrate a benefit to them, but there are other incentives at play.

In addition to demonstrating benefits, we use tactics such as personality, surprise, emotion, or curiosity in our headlines to entice our target audience and appeal to their vanity.

Let’s take a look at how to include numbers in headlines that’ll engage readers’ curiosity and emotions.

4. Popular Numbers Get the Vanity Vote

Quick, what’s your favorite number?

Number psychology tells us that there are common number preferences and number connotations based on gender, group, or cultures. We can leverage these findings by engaging the curiosities and emotions of our targeted readers.

No big surprise, but lucky number 7 is the most popular number used to increase click-through rates in consumer-targeted headlines. Other common favorites are odd single-digit numbers (our brain loves patterns that come in threes).

Buzzsumo reports that the number 5 draws a higher social media engagement rate in B2B headlines:

buzzsumo report numbers starting headlines


Numbers in Headlines Tip #4:

Use common “favorite” numbers in headlines to attract the curiosity of readers in your targeted audience.

5. Odd or Even Pheromones? Numbers to Influences the Sexes

Gender helps us with our perception of the world, so it’s possible the parity of a number (whether even or odd) may influence how our target audience interprets the gender of other parts of a headline.

Studies have shown single-digit odd numbers are perceived by people as masculine, and single-digit even numbers are perceived as feminine.

Men tend to rate double-odd numbers (like 57) and double-even numbers (like 28) as overly masculine, and generally rate most two-digit numbers as masculine as well. Only women consistently rate two-digit even numbers as feminine.

So, how can you apply this information when writing headlines?

Emphasize femininity with even (or double-even) numbers and masculinity with overly masculine double-digit odd (or even) numbers.


Numbers in Headlines Tip #5:

Add single-digit odd numbers in headlines to appeal to men and single-digit even numbers to appeal to women. Double-digit even numbers appeal to both sexes, but double-digit odd numbers have greater appeal to men.

6. Why You Shouldn’t Fear Unlucky 13

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, and it’s more common than you’d think.

An estimated 10% of Americans share the fear of the number. Many hotels will actually skip the 13th floor and go right to 14 so they can appease superstitious guests.

The good news? By using the number 13, you can engage a sense of uneasiness or bad luck that’ll make your headline jump off the screen.

Check out these scary headlines:

  • 13 Slimy Secrets Your Creepy Boyfriend Hides from You
  • 13 Gruesome Horror Movies That’ll Invade Your Sweet Dreams

Numbers in Headlines Tip #6:

Use the number 13 in a headline to elicit a feeling of uneasiness or fear.

7. Why Multiples of 10 are Best for Besties

We are all grounded by the number 10. Our number system is based on tens, which make it easier for us to group things:

  • 10 fingers and 10 toes
  • 100 pennies makes a dollar

The number 10 symbolizes to us the completion of a cycle, and “10” signifies a perfect score.

Buzzsumo analyzed numbers used in list posts and reported on the popularity, based on the number of social media (Facebook) shares:

buzzsumo report engaging numbers headlines

Perfect number 10 is the most engaging number to use with a list post, followed by the number 5 and 15. Our favorite number 7 rounds out the top four numbers used in engaging “listicle” headlines.

Top 10 post headlines like these (with bonus CTR boosters — more on those in a moment) draw us in with neatly compartmentalized topics:

What if you can’t come up with a multiple of 10? Go with an even half!

Check out the nice round numbers in these articles from Forbes:

Numbers in Headlines Tip #7:

For the most engaging list post headlines, group items in multiples of 10’s or 5’s.

Throw Out the Rule Book (But Play Fair)

The best headlines are works of art. And sometimes, to create art, you have to be a little unconventional.

Like so:

8. Ignore Grammar Rules (Use Digits Instead of Spelling It Out in Headlines)

Except for the rare occasion when spelling out a number is more appropriate, take advantage of the click-through-boosting effect of numbers.

Men’s Health wins brownie points for grammar with this headline, but they lose the brain candy game. How would you rewrite this to take advantage of number psychology?

Numbers in Headlines Tip #8

Use symbols like %, $, or digits instead of words to express percentages, dollars, or numbers in headlines.

9. Make a Big Number Sound Even Bigger

What if you want a headline number to sound R-E-A-L-L-Y big?

Readers use a larger amount of mental resources to process numbers with more syllables and falsely infer the magnitude of the number is larger.

A comma in a number changes how it’s pronounced. Compare:

  • 1550 = “fifteen fifty” (4 syllables)
  • 1,550 = “one thousand, five hundred fifty” (8 syllables)

Numbers in Headlines Tip #9:

Use numbers with more syllables or include comma separators in large headline numbers to increase their phonetic length.

Doing so will influence their perception of magnitude.

10. Promise and Deliver Customer Assurance

Numbers in your headlines can work against you if they’re not supported by your content. Promise “9 Tips for Happiness” and list 7 or 12 in your body copy, you’ll be hung out to dry.

Research for this article uncovered a list post promising, and providing, seven tips on writing headlines. But, the author’s fourth tip is simply a restatement of his first.

Ironically, his fifth tip is: “Trust me: people will check.”

Yup, we did. Busted!

Numbers in Headlines Tip #10:

Be on the up and up and make sure your headline numbers align with your content.

Bonus Tip: CTR Boosters are Conversion Seducers

We’ve seen that strategic number selection can make headlines more appealing to target audiences.

But what if you could boost headlines’ conversion rates even further by combining these number psychology tactics with some simple punctuation marks?

Let’s take a clue from some pros. Zip your eyes through the list of Smart Blogger’s most-popular posts:

headlines with ctr boosters

Each catchy and effective headline includes at least one of the following:

  • a punctuation mark, specifically a colon or parentheses
  • a percentage symbol
  • numbers, sometimes signifying the current year

Coincidence? Hardly.

CTR Boosters Turn Good Headlines into Great Headlines

Clearly, these posts are popular because their content is awesome. But, their symbol-and-number-riddled headlines are also helping to boost their popularity. They’re sporting that oh-so-charming brain candy that encourages open rates, reads, and social media shares.

You might know this brain candy as click-through rate boosters.

(These click-through rate boosters work great in tweets and email subject lines, too, by the way.)

But let’s back up for a moment. What is a headline click-through rate, and why does it matter?

The vital role our headlines play in attracting and engaging our readers was expressed by David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising”:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

In the digital marketing world, click-through rates (CTRs) are used to measure the effectiveness of an advertisement. Simply, it’s that vital ratio of people who’ve clicked on an ad to the number of times the ad is shown.

Similarly, Google — in addition to other metrics like dwell time and bounce rate — uses headline conversion rates from search engine result pages (SERPs) to measure a post’s success in satisfying search intent.

Higher CTRs, which indicate the effectiveness of attracting and engaging targeted traffic, may raise a post’s relative SEO ranking.

In short: CTR boosters can help you get more clicks, which will compel Google to rank your content higher in search results.

Is This Jedi-Mind-Trickery Considered Cheating?

Worse yet, is it “clickbait” (like you might find on BuzzFeed or Upworthy)?

The Urban Dictionary sums up clickbait (negatively) as:

“a link which entices you to click on it. The “bait”… is usually intentionally misleading… Clicking will inevitably cause disappointment…”

But Copyblogger’s Stephanie Flaxman states:

“If your content delivers on your headline’s promise, it’s not clickbait. Period.”

The takeaway?

Crafting a compelling, click-worthy headline isn’t “clickbait” if your content delivers on the promise made in the headline. So, don’t be afraid to make your headlines enticing — that’s their job, after all.

Numbers in Headlines Bonus Tip:

Good headline CTR boosters are seemingly trivial numbers, symbols, or punctuation in headlines that grab the primal curiosity of potential readers and draw them in. Combine them with compelling number psychology tactics, and you’ll shine a spotlight on your headlines.

Use Numbers to Ramp Up Headline Conversion Rates

SEO-friendly, compelling headlines are tough to write, aren’t they?

Number psychology isn’t an exact science, and neither is great headline writing. But, strategically implementing what you’ve just learned will make your headlines more compelling. Decades of marketing data say so.


Want to take your headline writing game to the next level? Want to write better headlines that grab the reader’s attention (and, by extension, the attention of search engines), stop them in their tracks, and compel them to click?

Then you need to shamelessly borrow moves from the number psychology playbook.

You got this!

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Barbara Sturm

Barbara Sturm is a Smart Blogger Certified Content Marketer and SEO Strategist who geeks out over researching a variety of topics and delights in enlightening others with her discoveries.


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Written by Barbara Sturm

Barbara Sturm is a Smart Blogger Certified Content Marketer and SEO Strategist who geeks out over researching a variety of topics and delights in enlightening others with her discoveries.

33 thoughts on “Write Headlines That Convert: 10 “Number Psychology” Tips!”

    • You’re welcome, JoAnne! I’m happy that you’re inspired to sprinkle some numbers into your email subject lines to boost conversion rates.
      Let us know how it goes!

  1. Hi Barbara,

    Numbers in headline is a very interesting topic. For example, a study (by Conductor) found that 36% of people prefer headlines with numbers. That’s more than other types of headlines.

    Having said this, you’ve trashed this topic with thorough research and great delivery. Many insights I’ve never heard of! For instance, the timeline comparison is interesting. 7 days instead of 1 week.

    Furthermore, I love the tip about combining different types of numbers depending on the gender. This helps to attract your ideal audience to a piece of content.

    Also, I’d like to add that numbers in headlines add specificity to the headline. It transforms it from being subjective to the author to being objective to both author and readers.

    For instance, “how to make a lot of money in a few days” is subjective. To someone, $10,000 is a lot of money. To another, it’s $20 million. Same for “a few days.”

    But “how to make $100,000 in 15 days” makes the headline specific. This helps the author to create a better post and leave their audience satisfied. Writers should think of numbers that make their goal for an article specific.

    Once again, great job on the post.

  2. Wow Barbara, what a deep dive into how numbers can affect CTR! Instead of using random numbers going forward, I will definitely implement your “strategery”!

  3. I LOVED this post, Barbara. So fascinating!

    I’m so happy you wrote this–I’m currently crafting a headline that requires a couple of numbers, and this will really help me out.

    It’s funny, whenever I read a sales page or watch a marketing video, I’m often aware of the number magic being employed to motivate me to buy (Ex: price juxtapositions). You know what’s even funnier? I can still feel it working on me, even though I know what’s happening. This stuff works deeply on our psyche.

    • Yup, we can try, but sometimes we just can’t outsmart ourselves!

      Thanks for your comments, James. Glad you enjoyed the read and good luck crafting that captivating headline!

  4. Barbara,

    I really enjoyed this post!

    The details matter and getting the headline right should be priority #1 when it comes to copy. Those 60ish characters can make or break a post.

    This is bookmarked as I will definitely need to study this more to get these tactics to stick.

    Great work!

    Take care
    Steven J Wilson

    • Hey Steven, my pleasure!

      You’re right in line with David Ogilvy: “When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” Extra time and attention on your headline are VERY worth your while.

  5. Thank you Barbara for the post on headlines and numbers.

    It helped me rethink my numbers and post strategies for my headlines.

    Especially I didn’t know that genders perceived #’s differently.

    That’s very fascinating and good info, thank you.

  6. Great article, Barbara!

    I found the odd-even pheromone stats especially fascinating. I’ve never heard that before. I’ll definitely try some of these strategies in future headlines.

    Thanks for the deep-dive!

    • Hi Dawn, thanks!

      I’ve always been drawn to numbers, but this research took my interest to a whole new level. It certainly was, and continues to be… a deep-dive!

    • Hey Khasoa!
      In the Personal Finance space? Of course!
      There’s gotta be zillions of opportunities to leverage these number tips in your headlines. ZOOM!

  7. Loved getting the background on the general “use a number in your headlines” advice. And special thanks for embedding the video. I watched it end-to-end and put the book on my reading list. Yes, I am a bit of a psychology / cognition (cognitive biases) geek 🙂

  8. Thanks Barbara,

    I knew numbers were great for headlines but you threw in some reasons I hadn’t thought of… It’s very helpful to understand why you should use certain numbers.

    And as for 13, with one of the most convoluted names for a definition I’ve ever seen, I have to find a way to use 13. It’s a fascinating secret headline weapon!

    • Hey Lyn!

      Can I wish you luck with number 13? Yes? No?
      Wow, I’m messing with my own mind now!

      By the way, the next Friday the 13th is in November of this year. 😉
      Let us know how the numbers work for you!

  9. Hey Barbara. Great article with excellent practical advice. I liked that little snippet about clickbait – if it delivers on the headline it is not.

    • Hi John!
      Yes, consider clickbait as a form of false advertising. But, if your headline aligns with your content and converts, you’re simply advertising and doing it right!
      Thank you for reading!

  10. Hey Barbara, I liked your article so much. Great psychology research and great tips for writing headlines that convert. This will definitely help to improve content writing. Thanks a lot.

  11. Hey Barbara,

    Really great post.
    Great psychology research and It definitely helps to increase my CTR.
    SmartBlogger is my go-to website for learning new writing tricks.



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