Why Do Titles with Numbers Work?

There are five ways to explain and master this

by Mike Meyer

If you are drawn to things that say “ Do these five things to be successful” you are screwed anyway. Don’t waste your time,

I’ve watched the rise of counter title stories over the last few years with a growing sense of disgust. These are another form of clickbait and clickbait is the plague of the 21st century.

As a kid I discovered an early form of this on back of comic books or, sometimes, on matchbook covers. I realize I need to explain matchbook covers as they are archeological items now. Most stores, bars, restaurants back in the mid last century had free paper matchbooks in case your Zippo was out of fuel and your chain smoking (another lost concept) was threatened to be interrupted by the absence of fire.

Ads for the establishment were on the outside matchbook cover but on the inside were ads for other things. Often these ads said things like, ‘send one dollar to this address and we will tell you how to make $1,000 every month’. These also included sending a dollar for your very own x ray glasses. In case the need for x-ray glasses was not immediately apparent there was a picture of a sexy woman in a dress. It was a simpler world.

The income guarantee was, of course, putting ads for a dollar on matchbook covers. Put out a million matchbook covers and your income is guaranteed.

We won’t talk about the x-ray glasses as I never knew anyone who actually tried that.

The early days of multilevel marketing. Now we don’t have to do that. With all websites desperate for revenue they sell clickbait ads at the bottom of every page. The same old scam. What is suggested is never delivered.

If you make lots of money writing stories about five ways to stop your cat from barfing on your carpet, more power to you. I’m just letting you know I won’t be there.

The lure of these counter title stories is interesting, though. What is the hook? Why do counting numbers in titles now make these things almost irresistible?

Because we know that the universe we live in is numeric. Science is mathematical. For those in the US and the other late stage capitalist cultures only things that can be counted have any value. Breaking things into a few numeric steps makes complex problems solvable. Well, at least appear to be possible to solve.

We are all lost in a sea of complexity that is not linear and cause/effect are not proportional. We are blasted by huge numbers every day maybe every hour that are meaningless to us. But those are the only thing with any real importance.

The most complicated thing we can imagine is still ‘rocket science’. If it is not ‘rocket science’ we might be able to understand it. If it is ‘rocket science’ we’re screwed.

The climate disaster is a lot more complicated than ‘rocket science’ Rocket scientists are intimidated by the climate crisis. Are extent of being screwed has been factored by a huge climate number.

This is the power of simple counting numbers. As long as the count is under twenty it is a friend. I can remember eight or even fourteen things to watch for to achieve success. Do they actually lead to success? No, but I can understand the concept and therein lies hope.

We are in so far over our heads that anything with an understandable number on it is better than sex. Well, the number of ways to make sex better is the real thing.

But this is all a form of clickbait and it is everywhere luring us to what we know is disappointment.

If you think about it, Donald Trump is the political personification of clickbait. That is misdirection, lies, suggestion and sleazy disappointment. It’s all a form of theft.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store