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push your listicle to the top

Quick Tip: Push your listicle to the top

Quick tip: Push your listicles to the top

AP Style and everyone else says to spell out numbers up to nine when you’re writing copy or content, right?

But you really should break this rule when naming a numbered list (listicle).

Here’s why.

Consider two white papers, called:

—Three Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

—3 Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

The first title follows the recommended style, so it’s more proper, right?

Yes, but… it will appear lower in any search results.

That’s because computers sort numbers before letters. They’re programmed to do it that way.

Don’t believe me?

Try it yourself: Sort your files in any folder with any software. Any file name that starts with a numeral will percolate to the top of the list.

Or see this report from the National Information Standards Organization:

Headings beginning with numbers written in Arabic numerals should be sorted in ascending arithmetical order before headings beginning with a letter sequence. (p.8)

That means in any list of search results, our two titles will show up in this order:

—3 Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

—Three Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

The second might even be pushed way down to page 3 or 4. That’s not where you want it, right?

So break the rule in your titles

Use a numeral at the start of the title of any numbered list white paper you do from now on: 3 Things, 4 Myths, 5 Hidden Gotchas, 6 Ways, 7 Strategies, and so on.

That will push your paper up ahead of all the rest that follow the rule set down before computers were invented.

Being on top is as easy as 1-2-3.


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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