In an online world where the quality of your blog content is only increasing in importance, the list post (otherwise known as a listicle) commonly gets a bad rap.
It's unfortunate, but definitely understandable. You can easily drown in a sea of particularly low-quality, low-value listicles — like the "7 Signs You're Monica from Friends" post I read earlier.
But not all list posts need to be low-quality. In fact, I'm a firm believer that the listicle does have a place in the world of high-quality blog content.
In fact, this post about listicles is largely a list post itself. You can be the judge of its quality, but I stand by my beliefs.
Here, we're going to dive into what a listicle is, how to write one, and listicle ideas to help you generate high-quality, engaging content for your readers.
What is a listicle?
Simply put, a listicle is an article written in list-format. Each list item will typically include either a few sentences or multiple paragraphs, and a listicle is meant to either educate or delight readers. You might read a fun listicle, like 'The Top 10 Movies of 2020', or a more informational one, like '7 Steps to Build a Website'.
Many readers love listicles. A listicle is easy to scan, and outlines specifically what a reader can learn in the post.
As marketers, we're often tasked with writing about drier topics to educate our viewers and attract leads. A listicle can help the reader scan for information they need and feel less overwhelmed by the amount of content.
For instance, "The Ultimate Guide to Building a Landing Page" might make some readers feel overwhelmed, or like they don't have time to consume all that content right now.
By reformatting the post into a listicle — "How to Build a Landing Page in 10 Easy Steps" — you're breaking complex content into bite-size pieces for your readers and enabling them to feel like they do have the time to consume your content right now. Best of all, if readers are already familiar with some steps in the process, they can skip to sections most applicable to them.
Additionally, listicles are incredibly shareable on social platforms. I'd likely share "13 Influencer Marketing Campaigns to Inspire and Get You Started With Your Own" on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook with colleagues or friends, since I'd imagine my followers would enjoy clicking through visual examples. I'd be less likely to share a more text-heavy piece like "How to Start Your Own Influencer Marketing Campaign".
Before we dive into how to create your own listicle, let's explore a few examples to inspire you:
- HubSpot's "6 Secrets to Achieving Work-Life Balance, According to HubSpot Marketing Managers"
- Buzzfeed's "23 Amazing Moments From The Harry Potter Movies That Aren't In The Books"
- Tasty's "10 Genius Ways To Cook Pasta That Actually Work (And Taste Amazing)"
- Nomadic Matt's "5 Steps to Booking a Cheap Flight Online"
- Huffington Post's "10 Literary Quotes That Perfectly Capture Parenthood"
- AdWeek's "The 25 Best Ads of 2019"
- Website Builder Expert's "How To Design a Website in 8 Simple Steps"
Now that we've explored some examples, let's dive into how you can create a listicle of your own.
How to Write a Listicle
Featured Resource: Listicle Blog Post Template
1. Make sure your content makes sense in list-format.
Before you begin writing your listicle, conduct research to ensure your topic actually fits into a list-format. If you search for your intended keyword and find most marketers are creating Ultimate Guides on the topic, you might decide it's better to avoid a listicle format.
For instance, perhaps you need to write about "Instagram Marketing". While you'd initially planned on titling the piece "10 Best Instagram Marketing Tips", your research has uncovered plenty of other angles you'd like to include, such as "why Instagram Marketing is important" and "how to create compelling content on Instagram". These sections might fit better in an "Ultimate Guide to Instagram Marketing", instead of a listicle.
If you do choose to create a listicle, it's critical each list item matches with the topic at-hand. To create a high-quality listicle, it's vital your content is consistent and parallel. If you're writing a list of best practices, you should only have best practices in your list — sneaking a few examples in the list will just confuse your audience (and you can always create another listicle for examples, later on).
2. Include valuable takeaways — no fluff!
The biggest indicator of a lousy list post is one that contains a ton of fluff and no real, valuable takeaways for the reader. Here's an example of what we mean:
3 Ways to Improve Your Social Media Marketing
1. Be unique! Do something to stand out from your competitors.
2. Take risks. Try out-of-the-box ideas.
3. Measure results! Use your analytics to tell you what's working.
What a fantastic list post! I've learned ... absolutely nothing. No wonder list posts have a terrible reputation. Sure, on the surface, each of these list points sound valuable. You absolutely should do all these things in your social media marketing. But it doesn't tell you exactly how to do those things.
Your listicle shouldn't just give readers a list of things to do and expect them to figure out how to do those things themselves. It should also include valuable content that tells readers how to do each step.
A great list post nixes the fluff and concretely explains each item in detail. And while every point you make on your list might not be new to all your readers, if a reader walks away thinking, "Well, I already put numbers 3, 4, and 6, into practice, but I can't believe I've been missing out on numbers 1, 2, and 5!" — then you've probably got yourself a high-quality list!
Of course, some listicles are meant to be more fun, but that doesn't mean you can't include valuable takeaways. The "Top Ten Best Ads of 2020" can be mostly visual, but it's still important you include advice your readers can use to create better ads for themselves.
3. Link to more in-depth information when necessary.
One of the ways you can make sure you're hitting on point #2 is to direct readers to other resources when necessary. Great list posts are comprehensive, so they can get pretty long and unwieldy. If this is the case, consider pointing your readers to another place for more in-depth information.
For example, we recently wrote a list post entitled, "Email Deliverability: 5 Quick & Effective Ways to Increase It". The last tip in the list was "Check to see your emails' legality" and mentioned GDPR, which could be a blog post in itself … in fact, it already is!
Giving our readers enough information for that section to be truly helpful would have involved copying and pasting the entirety of our GDPR post into our listicle, and that wouldn't have been the most helpful choice (and also might've hurt our SEO).
Instead, we explained the tip in a moderate amount of detail, and then directed readers to the other post where they could find more in-depth information if they needed it:
Don't be afraid to do this in your own listicles. And if you have to link to an external resource because you haven't the written the post yourself — great! You've just passed off some link love, and you also now have another article idea for your blogging backlog!
4. Explain list items using relatable examples.
Piggybacking again on point #2, sometimes one of the best ways to adequately explain a point on your list is to use an example to support it. Real examples are ideal, but sometimes even a hypothetical one works just as great.
The main thing to consider when selecting or creating an example is to keep it as relatable as possible to your readers. If the audience of your blog is comprised of a variety of readers representing different industries or businesses (like ours), this can be tricky. The key here is to keep your examples general so that everyone can relate.
For instance, in HubSpot's listicle "17 Fun (Not Cheesy) Ice Breaker Games Your Employees Will Enjoy", #6, Two Truths and a Lie, needed clarification for readers who haven't played the game before. To illustrate the game, I provided a personal example using a hypothetical example:
Ideally, most readers will find this example helpful for understanding the premise behind the game and understanding how it works in-action. Plus, it makes the content more interesting to read.
5. Number your items.
This is an easy one. If you're writing a listicle — and especially when you use a number in the title of your list post — number your list items!
This is particularly important when you have a longer list, because readers want to gauge their progress as they're reading through the list (i.e. "only halfway to go" or "I'm almost done!").
Readers may also like to reference certain points on a list later or share them with others, and being able to refer to a specific number rather than having to say "I think it's near the bottom of the list" or "It's the fourth bullet point down" is a much more user-friendly experience for your blog audience. Don't make things difficult for your readers.
6. Include an appropriate number of list items.
While we're talking about numbers, let's clear up some misconceptions about them. Some listicle writers believe that you should choose a number before you start writing your list and make sure you have enough points to fit that exact number.
At HubSpot, we don't agree. Sitting down and saying you're going to write a list consisting of 14 items makes no sense. What if there ends up being only 11 solid, valuable items that make up that list? Does that mean you should come up with three more lower-quality items just to achieve your goal of 14? We think not.
The rule of thumb is: just be comprehensive. This very listicle How-To post includes 10 steps for writing a listicle, because that's how many I thought were individually valuable and indicative of a high-quality list post for this particular subject. Originally I had brainstormed 11, but as I started writing, I cut one out because it wasn't that different from another point, and they could easily be represented as one.
As we mentioned before, listicles can easily become unwieldy. When you sit down to start drafting your listicle, decide how granular you want to make your topic. This will help make your list more manageable. The title you craft can also help you stay focused.
For example, if you work for a plumbing company and you're writing a listicle about the various ways you can unclog a drain, you might decide to stick to "The Top 4 Ways to Unclog a Drain," rather than writing a lengthy list post covering "The 50 Different Ways to Unclog a Drain."
Furthermore, do some testing and research if you want to glean some best practices for your list posts. An internal study of our own blog, for example, revealed that posts for which the title indicated six items or fewer didn't perform as well as when the title indicated the list contained seven or more items.
The lesson? While we sometimes still write lists posts containing six or fewer items, we don't include the number in the title for those posts. We might try to title it "Why Every Marketer Needs a CRM" instead of "3 Reasons Every Marketer Needs a CRM".
7. Use category buckets for longer lists.
When we published "34 Millennial Stats That Marketers Need to Know", we broke up the statistics into five sections: "General Stats and Market Opportunities", "Social Media & Digital Habits", "Behaviors and Financial Factors", "Education and Work", and "Political and Societal Views":
If some of our readers don't care about the average millennial's financial situation, they can easily scan the post and avoid that section. Perfect!
If your listicle seems long or unruly, consider breaking it up into subcategories to help readers scan for what they're looking for and feel less overwhelmed at first glance.
8. Ensure each step is ordered logically.
Your list, like any other post you write, should flow and tell a story. How you do this will depend on the subject and contents of your list, but here are some great organizational structures to choose from: alphabetical (great for glossaries), chronological (great for step-by-step guides), or by popularity/importance, like most to least or least to most (great for top 10/20/50 lists).
Another best practice is to emphasize your strongest points in the beginning, middle, and end of your list to keep readers engaged throughout.
When I sat down and brainstormed this list, for example, it was just that — a brainstormed list. It was unorganized and all over the place. But once I'd identified all the points I wanted to include, I rearranged the furniture a bit. I realized how easily numbers five and six would flow into each other, and how number five would make more sense after discussing points two, three, and four. Number one was a great starting point, and number 10 made the most sense last, since that's likely the last thing you'd tweak when writing a list post.
Sometimes your list points will practically arrange themselves (e.g. "5 Steps to Do X"), and sometimes there won't be as obvious a story (e.g. "20 Ways to Do Y"). Just put the time into figuring it out and ordering your items as logically as possible.
9. Make sure your listicle is consistent.
I'm not as strict about this one as some list post purists, but in general, I agree that your listicle should have a consistent and parallel look. Failing to do so only confuses readers, especially when they can't tell that they've moved onto a new item on the list because the header style was inconsistent or under-emphasized.
Here are some helpful guidelines to consider:
- Try to keep sections similar in length.
- Use the same header style to highlight your individual list items, and make sure it stands out.
- Make sure your list item headers are written in parallel fashion (i.e. if it's a list of action items, each should be led with a verb).
- Use images and bullet points to break up text when appropriate.
10. Have a clear and catchy title.
As we mentioned in the beginning of this post, one of the reasons people have always loved listicles is because they know exactly what — and how much — they'll get out of them. There is no guesswork involved, and expectations you've set for your readers are very clear. Make sure your title epitomizes that.
An effective listicle title should accomplish three things in order to entice readers to actually read the post: 1. capture the readers' attention, 2. clearly indicate the value or what the reader will learn, and 3. indicate how much they will learn with a number.
For example, earlier this week, we published "5 Steps to Create an Outstanding Marketing Plan [Free Templates]". Do you have to wonder what this post will be about? No! You know that after reading this post, you'll know exactly how to create a marketing plan (in 5 steps), and you'll have templates if you need help getting started.
Finally, let's explore some listicle ideas to help your marketing team brainstorm highly engaging content for your readers.
We'll explore a few more tactical pieces you might write for an ecommerce, B2C, or B2B company, but we'll also dive into some fun, "trendier" ideas if you work for a publication looking to expand your reach.
For Ecommerce or B2C Companies
- 14 Life-changing Ways to Reorganize Your Closet
- The 5 Types of Socks Everyone Needs
- How to Apply Red Lipstick in 4 Easy Steps
- 20 Things You Should Know Before Buying a New Mattress
- The 7 Best Sustainable Clothing Companies
For B2B Companies
- How to Choose a CRM in 4 Easy Steps
- The 11 Best Website Builders
- 5 Steps to Creating a Marketing Playbook
- 3 Steps to Create a Better About Us Page
- 7 Communication Channels Your Team Needs in 2020
- 12 Marketers Tell Us Their Favorite Marketing Campaigns of 2020
For Publications Looking to Trend Online
- The Best 6 Superbowl Ads of 2019, and Why They Worked
- How to Make These 3 Meals With Only 5 Ingredients
- 10 Cool Gadgets You'll Definitely Need This Summer
- 7 Hilarious Videos Trending on YouTube Right Now
- How to Become an Entrepreneur, According to 11 Successful Ones
- If You're a Leader, You Need to Accept Some Harsh Truths. These Seven CEOs Explain Why.
There you have it! Keep in mind, listicles should serve the same purpose as any other piece of marketing content: Attracting the right audience to your products or services.
Sit down with your team and brainstorm challenges your readers might be facing, and then decide whether that challenge can be solved with a step-by-step guide or a list of tools (that includes yours).
Now, you're well on your way to including more listicles in your content strategy. Happy planning!
Originally published Mar 30, 2012 2:09:00 PM, updated June 05 2020