Have you noticed how every article seems to sound the same these days? They might be on different topics, by different authors, from different sources, etc but they all sound the same. If you’ve been having an overload of the 5 things that will change your life, or the 7 things you just have to try, or the 3 things people always get wrong, you know what I’m talking about.
Most of this is born out of people following what has been proven to work – in others words, best practices. At a certain time and place, somebody somewhere did a study and realised that being specific to the point of mentioning the number of talking points in the title is great and improves click-throughs dramatically. It is true – I can almost remember a time when I would find these titles engaging.
But it can only be taken so far. When every single post you publish gives you very specific numbered instructions, it can get boring – or tiring – real quick.
This was a good idea at some point, but that time is gone. Here’s what I think happened:
- Over-usage: There’s only so many times you can be exactly sure of the number of things influencing something, or causing something, or whatever. It works well when the post is based on propriety research, where you own the source. It falls apart when the post is subjective, which leads us to the second factor.
- Incorrect usage: When a title reads ‘the 5 things you need to revolutionise your lead management process’, or ‘7 things you’re doing wrong in your content strategy’, you scroll faster to avoid being annoyed at the presumptuous tone. To a large part, I think these pieces discredit the ones that actually do use the numbering tactic correctly. For example, an article titled ‘7 things you can do to improve your content’ is perfectly acceptable but our minds are blunted by the bad ones and we have a blind spot to the ones that do it right. Its time to move on.
All this really means only one thing – when everyone adopts the same best practice, its not the ‘best’ practice anymore.
Best practices, I think, are best used as cheat sheet to get you started – they are hardly a rule-book to live by. Use them to get going but test and innovate and find what works for you. If you’re too scared to take the risks and try something different, you’re probably never going to be the ‘best’ you could be.