On Monday, Jakob Nielsen released details of a study that his group did relating to the first 11 characters of link titles. Every now and then, they publish results that get me thinking about things differently, and this is one of them.

If you only had 11 characters to describe your content, what would your message say? As it turns out, sometimes that’s all that you can get people to “see” when they’re scanning for links to click. This puts importance on how you’re using those first couple words in your page titles, but it also has a ton of implications for things like your headlines, headers, and how you start paragraphs.

I had an experience with this when I received an email summary from StumbleUpon.

Recommended sites from the StumbleUpon reminder email. It features thumbnails of the featured site and shortened titles.

First, I was annoyed that I couldn’t hover over the shortened links to see the full title. But then I just based my clicks on the information I had about each item: a photo and about 30 characters of text. Some good stuff may have been¬†ignored because of shoddy page titles. For example, “Dailymotion – Part 6 – 3D” didn’t mean a lot to me, so I skipped over it.

More examples of where this limited information has quite a bit of influence:

  • Search results
  • Digg
  • Delicious (RIP)
  • Shared links on Facebook
  • Browser bookmarks
  • Links from other sites and blogs

It’s interesting because this is hints at why “top 10 list” articles do so well (e.g. “10 photo editors to consider buying”). Including a number early in your title packs a lot of info into a minimal amount of text.

If you take this info to heart, it could really change the way you write. And it could lead to more exposure for your web content.