The Numb3rs Guide To Copywriting

For six years, the writers and cast of the hit US drama show ‘Numb3rs’ did something extraordinary. They made mathematics popular, and on a prime time TV show at that. By showing how maths has an intrinsic role in every aspect of life including crime, Numb3rs didn’t just entertain – it made you think. It made you question just how important the principles of mathematics were to things as diverse as how a water sprinkler works right through to data mining and social network analysis.

As Charlie Eppes states at the beginning of every episode “we all use numbers every day.” In Numb3rs’ case, the function of mathematics was to solve crime and make the world a safer place. But do the same principles apply to copywriting? Is everything really all about the numbers, or is there more to it?

The lawn sprinkler analogy

One of the most famous of Charlie Eppes’ analogies, and the first one ever used in the pilot episode of season one was the lawn sprinkler analogy. The FBI were hunting down the location of a killer and Charlie’s mathematical answer was to develop ‘hot spots’ – neighbourhoods in which the killer was statistically most likely to live. To demonstrate this, Charlie uses the principle of tracing back the path of spray from a lawn sprinkler to locate the source. The position where the droplets land form a predictive arc back to the source, namely the water sprinkler itself.

In the same way SEO copywriters can use a backtracking method to analyse a spread of keywords and how users apply them to get to the information they are looking for. The source of the data is the keyword. By analysing how keywords are used, you can disregard any that fall outside of a predicted pattern (keywords that have little or no relevance to your particular product or service) and focus in on the ones that produce a ‘sprinkle’ pattern of usage that catches the attention of both search engine ‘bots and human visitors.

Data mining

One aspect of mathematics that is repeatedly referred to throughout Numb3rs is data mining. Put simply, this is the analysis of vast amounts of data to find correlations and patterns that lead to a conclusion. Data mining is the basic principle behind the search engine algorithms, with the ‘bots doing the hard work by trawling through millions of web pages to link specific keywords to pages containing relevant data.

To understand SEO, you need to understand data mining. SEO copywriting takes this fundamental principle of data mining and applies it to the use of keywords and content, forming a direct link between key data paths and a final conclusion. In this instance, the conclusion is to identify which keywords are of use and to include them into your web content in such a way that they act as an attractor to both the search engine algorithms and your human visitors, whilst disregarding those keywords that have little or no value.

In the second part, we’ll take a look at how Game Theory plays a key role in both mathematical analysis and its application in copywriting. With the explosion in social networking and its increasing importance to businesses, we’ll look at how the numbers really do add up.


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