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How to Write a List Post That Readers Like, Love and Share

How to Write a ListicleWow.

I’m amazed.

Did you know that…

… the word listicle gets 5,400 searches on Google each month?

That’s what Google’s Keyword Planner suggests.

How could we take something named listicle serious? It reminds me of popsicles.

But the truth is: list posts work.

Here are some facts:

  • In 2013, 9 out of the 10 most popular posts on e-Consultancy, the UK’s premier internet marketing blog, were list posts (source)
  • In the same year, 6 out of 14 of the most republished Lifehacker posts were list posts (source)
  • The most shared Copyblogger post in 2013 was a list post, too (this one)

Why do list posts work?

Digits attract reader’s attention.

A number like 10 stands out, while the word ten blends in. Perhaps numbers stand out because they represent facts. Or maybe we like numbered lists because we love being organized.

Have a look at your Twitter stream. Which headlines grab your attention? Do they contain numbers?

List posts might have a bad name, but that’s only because many list posts contain shallow and regurgitated information. Often they’re articles quickly thrown together without regard for the reader and without communicating a big idea. They don’t help us. They don’t teach us anything. They’re written solely to produce another piece of content. They’re dull and tedious to read.

So how do you write an engaging post? And escape mediocrity?

Writing a good list post starts with deciding how you want to help your readers. What’s your key message?

For instance, 37 Tips for Writing Emails that Get Opened, Read, and Clicked explains why treating your subscribers as human beings, as friends is the key to successful email marketing.

Don’t write list posts because they’re quick to write. Instead, write them because they’re the best format for communicating your idea and helping your readers.

Follow the 4 steps below to write a list post your readers will love reading and sharing.

Step 1. Define your big idea

What is your topic?

And what message do you want to communicate to your reader?

Start with writing down a how-to headline as a working title. A how-to headline forces you to consider how you want to help your readers. For instance, my post 13 Ways to Move Forward When Self-Doubt Sabotages Your Business Progress started simply as How to Cope With Self-Doubt as Online Entrepreneur.

Knowing how you want to help your readers elevates your blog post from a random list of mediocre ideas to a memorable post.

How will readers benefit from reading your list post?

Step 2. Have fun with brainstorming

You can use mind mapping software, but I prefer scribbling ideas on a piece of paper. Being away from my computer sparks creativity–a computer is for productivity, a sheet of paper for scribbling, drawing, and having fun.

Write down as many ideas as you can. Don’t vet them immediately as this may hamper the creative process. Go for quantity rather than quality.

Once you can’t think of any further ideas, cross out the most obvious ideas because you risk boring your readers with common sense ideas. You may find you’ve generated 50+ ideas, but you’ll use only 20.

A shorter list with valuable ideas is more shareable than a long list with obvious tips.

Step 3. Select your post format

List posts can take different forms.

Long lists posts tend to be checklists. They don’t provide detailed information, but link to more in-depth resources. 58 Ways to Create Persuasive Content Your Audience Will Love, for instance, provides a checklist for writing seductive content.

Shorter list posts provide more guidance for each tip. They can be “random” lists–where the order of the tips doesn’t matter; or they can be a step-by-step guide.

Think about the purpose of your post. Are you providing a comprehensive checklist? A step-by-step plan? Or a short selection of more in-depth suggestions?

Step 4. Write and edit your list post

Don’t forget that a list post is more than a simple list:

  • Captivate your readers with a seductive opening paragraph
  • If your list contains more than 20 items, consider grouping them by topic, and create subheads to make readers curious and keep them reading on
  • Add questions in your content to re-engage your readers. Questions interrupt the tediousness of reading tip after tip after tip after tip
  • Consider a few bullet points as they add extra white space, break up a dull format, and make readers feel they’re gliding quickly through your content
  • Inspire your readers to take action with your closing paragraph

How does your post look? Does your post invite people to read? And keep them glued to your tips?

Your formatting needs to add interest, and interrupt a dreary flow. Your tips need to surprise now and then, and seduce your reader to keep reading on.

Beware of monotony.

The Truth About List Posts

Don’t write a list post because you think it gets more shares.

Don’t write a list post because you think it’ll be quick and easy.

Don’t write one when you’re bored with lists. Because you’ll surely bore your readers to tears.

Write a list post when it’s the best format for sharing your tips with your readers.

Enjoy the challenge of turning a tedious list into sparkling content.

And enchant your readers.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminders Henneke. Insightful as usual.
    Kelly recently posted…10 Strategies to Ease Academia PainMy Profile

  2. I’m about to start my creativity/art blog which will be a list blog. I’ve thought a long time about writing a blog for people excited by creativity and this feels do-able and fun to me. Thanks for the helpful tips! Lauren

    • Sounds good, Lauren. Creativity is definitely a topic that lots of people are interested in!

      Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Eric Silva says:

    Great post Henneke,

    I also enjoy writing things on paper or flash cards (especially when I’m at Starbucks :). It gets my creative juices flowing. I personally tend to enjoy smaller list posts with junkier information.

    Hope you had a great weekend!
    Eric

    • “I personally tend to enjoy smaller list posts with junkier information.”

      Eric, could we see an example of “junkier” information? Just curious… wondering if it would have more appeal to cool kids. 🙂

      • Eric Silva says:

        Hey Marie,

        I was just referring to “Shorter list posts provide more guidance for each tip. They can be “random” lists–where the order of the tips doesn’t matter; or they can be a step-by-step guide.” and just agreeing with that.

        Just lists posts that have more detail for each number or bullet point. HaHa cool kids!

        • I think you mean chunkier rather than junkier 🙂

          I don’t have a clear preference for a particular type of list post – it’s nice to write a mix. But I can see the benefits of shorter lists with more detailed information – they’re often more engaging.

          • Eric Silva says:

            HaHa, wow I feel like a 3rd grader and a dork. I’m not that bad a speller I swear 🙁

          • Don’t worry! I make mistakes like that all the time. Fortunately, I usually catch them on a second or third reading. I was just wondering what you were trying to say. 🙂

          • There should be ‘like’ buttons on comment posts… junkier, or chunkier… they both work for me. 🙂 Thx for the discussion – both of you. 🙂
            Marie Renn recently posted…Ghoulish GoodiesMy Profile

  4. Dave LeBlanc says:

    Thanks. Good to keep the essential things in mind at all times, right? I booked marked this page and the Copyblogger page to help me out.

    Dave LeBlanc

  5. Thanks Henneke for another interesting article.

    We do seem to be hard-wired to find lists accessible.

    I also think that as we are increasingly bombarded with online information, lists immediately stand out as something we know will be quick and easy to read.

    For example, I suspect that on longer lists, many people simple read the individual list headings.
    Craig J Todd recently posted…10 Green Websites You Should Know and UseMy Profile

    • Yes, you might be right regarding longer lists – most people probably just scan them. But they do tend to get more social shares than shorter lists (but that doesn’t mean at all that people have read it!).

      Good to see you again, Craig 🙂

  6. Thanks Henneke,

    I like your posts because they are wonderfully written and contain usable information. I have a draft post that contains a short list. I’m now inspired to finish the draft and get my new blog up and going.

  7. You might have turned this post into a list, at least!
    Kitty Kilian recently posted…Is bloggen narcistisch?My Profile

  8. You are the queen of list posts. Whenever you break 50, I feel a shiver. 😉

    Actually, I totally took a page outta your listicle book and put together this beast for Copyblogger that they had me cut down to 58 or so (it’s coming out on the 22nd).

    I absolutely used your previous lists posts as inspiration. Not so much for the content of the list, but especially for modeling the introduction and conclusion.

    Have you found the perfect number yet? I mean, for generating clicks and traffic. Do people love long lists or short lists?
    Aaron Orendorff recently posted…Why You Will Fail to Have a Great CareerMy Profile

    • You’re free to swipe my list format 🙂

      I don’t think there’s a perfect number. A higher number tends to get more shares, but as some other commenters have suggested, when the number is too high, then people might think that it’s too much to read. My early list posts were around the 50, but when I write a long list post now, I tend to end up somewhere between 25 and 40 – this allows a nice balance between the listed points and subheads with intros to give readers time to breathe 🙂

      I also try to avoid rounded numbers. I don’t have proof, but I feel 39 is more intriguing than 40, 27 is more interesting than 30. Rounded numbers feel too forced, too perfect. But that might be just me?

      Also, it depends on the blog – KISSmetrics readers, for instance, seem to like meatier (chunkier!) list posts, while Copyblogger readers seem to like the posts with a lot of soundbites.

      I look forward to your list post beast. 🙂 Will you email me a link so I don’t miss it?

  9. Really great post here, Henneke.

    “If your list contains more than 20 items, consider grouping them by topic, and create subheads to make readers curious and keep them reading on” I love this tip and the majority of the time, that’s what I see happening.

    I also like the fact that the majority of the time you come up with list posts, they start from “How To” ideas. From the example that you gave, I can definitely see the benefit of doing it that way.

    “Write a list post when it’s the best format for sharing your tips with your readers.” That’s probably the best advice I got from this. There have been times I’ve meant to create a list post and it just didn’t work out because it just wasn’t going to work for the message I wanted portrayed for that post.

    Really sound advice there.

    Thanks for this post. Hope you have a great week.

    – Andrew
    Andrew M. Warner recently posted…5 Disturbing Truths Readers Won’t Tell You About Why They Leave Your SiteMy Profile

    • Yes, starting with the “how-to” is a good discipline for any type of post, not just list posts. Because it forces you to think about the benefit of your post for your readers. I always start with a how-to, then write my post, and then play around with the headline again. Writing a headline first also helps me stay focused and reduces the risk of posts that go in all sorts of directions.

      Like you, I’ve sometimes thought I was going to write a list post, but discovered a better way to write it. The writing process is wonderful, isn’t it?

      Thank you for stopping by again, Andrew. I appreciate it 🙂

  10. Henneke. Interesting post on list posts.

    Distilled thought. That, at least for me is what I expect when I read the words
    offered up as a list post.

    Here comes some distilled thought now. I found them in your post.

    1. “Knowing how you want to help your readers elevates your blog post from a random list of mediocre ideas to a memorable post.”
    2. “A shorter list with valuable ideas is more shareable than a long list with obvious tips.”

    How I recognize distilled thought. One question. Can the statement I read be expanded into a paragraph? If “yes,” the point is distilled thought. If “no” little thought, less reflection and maybe no research produced the statement.

    Distilled thought requires heavy duty thinking. Else the point has no base to stand on and only serves to increase our bounce rate.

    P.S. I can only imagine how many list posts you digested to produce this post. It was packed with distilled thought. As always, it was enchanting. 🙂

    Cheers.

    • I like the phrase “distilled thought”. I might steal it and use it sometime. May I?

      Both sentences you mention were added while I was editing the post, because I felt my post was lacking some “sound bites” as I call them.

      I wrote my first list post early 2012, and studied quite a few to understand the format. Since then I’ve written and read quite a few list posts. Whenever I read something, I also pay attention to what I can learn from it – how to improve my writing or how NOT to write something. No dedicated research required – ideas just evolve over time.

      And, of course, comments and questions further sharpen my ideas – that’s why I love the enchanting community here 🙂

      Good to see you again!

      • Henneke,

        Re: “distilled thought.” I’m glad it works for you. Please, feel free to use it.

        Dedicated research = when I hunt for stuff. The gathering, reflecting, mulling over process you described is the one I like the best. The ideas find me.

        The pay off. The process facilitates your voice. Also, I’ve noticed that dots connect that dedicated research never seems to see. Dedicated research seems more linear than the more random gathering around a core idea. The first leads to something that reads like a report. The second leads to insight and a fresh way of saying things. Even if it doesn’t sell, I think distilled thought fascinates the reader and encourages their ideas.

        Cheers

  11. Ah Curtis! Flattery will get you everywhere.

    I have a love/hate relationship with list posts. On one hand I do know that people share them. But I’m not convinced many people read them all.

    For me, if I see a big number I can shy away because (perhaps stupidly?) when I read a post one of the reasons for doing so is to learn something and implement it. If I have 57 ideas to implement well… so I’m like Eric preferring the junkier list posts. (Chunkier will do too but I rather like the word junkier) 😀

    • Yep, you make a good point and I tend to agree – perhaps people read the headline, glance at a few subheads and then decide to share the post without reading anything.

      That’s why I feel writing a good list post is perhaps harder work than writing another type of post. The opening paragraph has to be so good that people want to read your tips, and then your subheads have to be so good that people want to keep reading. And then your final paragraph needs to ensure people do something with your list, too…

      I like the word junkier, too. Perhaps I can use it in a headline some time and dedicate the post to Eric 🙂

    • Caroline. 🙂 You sound like a fun lady! Thanks for saying, “Hi.”
      Curtis recently posted…October’s WindsMy Profile

  12. PS. You’ve changed your header image on the Blog? Very enchanting!

    • I’ve been playing with the illustration format and size. Is that what you mean? (there was also a glitch on my home page yesterday, but that’s probably not what you’re referring, too?)

  13. Adedoyin Jaiyesimi says:

    Great post once again. Thank you for this. I like the way you give advice that is very practical and easy to implement. I manage the content for an education-related blog and I have been looking for ways to spice up the content. I will try adding some listicles in the editorial calendar. I would also like to add the adding fun images make listicles more interesting for readers.

    • Yep, that’s a great point – images can really help make list posts more interesting and keep readers engaged. Thank you for stopping by, Adedoyin.

  14. Such a brilliant article, Henneke! You’re absolutely right about the fact that numbers attract more people – even on social media, we tend to pay more attention to posts that feature numbers and statistics.

    Thanks so much for the tips and keep up the good work!
    Ashley
    Ashley Andrews recently posted…How Do I Handle Questions Well When Doing Presentations?My Profile

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