Listicles are structurally designed to be fast, fun, and easy to read.
It’s an article structure that was first popularized by the likes of Buzzfeed and Ranger, and eventually took a life of its own. Today listicles are featured across millions of pages around the internet. However, like all forms of blog writing, there’s a right way and a wrong way of writing listicles.
In this blog, we’ll explore everything you need to know about listicle writing.
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Why is the Listicle Format So Popular?
Not everyone has the time to sit through several pages of content that just stretches on and on. People are in a hurry and want something that’s fun and easy. Listicles perfectly fit the bill because they feature short, surface-level information without going into too many details.
At the same time, listicles are a flexible format that can be customized to add enhanced information around each entry to make it more informative – if that’s your cup of tea.
Let’s deep dive into the main reasons why listicles are so relevant in today’s hyper-competitive environment.
i) People are always in a hurry
Listicles help readers quickly digest the most important pieces of information and continue on with their day. It works for professionals, students, and anyone who doesn’t have the time to read through giant chunks of text.
ii) Easy to write
Although we have been professional copywriters for years, we would be the first to admit that content writing is no easy task. All that research, constant deliberation, and back and forth can take weeks to get right. Listicles, by comparison, are just super easy to write for anyone who’s running on a tight schedule. All you really need is a list of 10 to 20 entries and you’re pretty much done.
iii) Sets the Right Expectations
If you want your readers to sit through your entire article, you have to set the expectations from the get-go. The number of entries on a listicle gives readers a rough idea about article length. As a result, they will be more willing to sit through the blog instead of skipping it altogether.
iv) Flexible and Comprehensive
Due to their flexibility, listicles can be very comprehensive and detailed instead of being short and to-the-point. It is possible to create a listicle that contains virtually everything that the reader wants to know on a single web page. For example, we did a quick search on Google for “100 things you should know” and found several blogs that go well over 100 items.
These types of listicles work in just about any kind of theme or situation. For example, a gym enthusiast might want to create a list of important exercises for biceps and share appropriate instructions. Or a content marketer could create a list detailing every type of blog post that exists.
That’s the gist of it.
v) Listicles Save Time and Money
Listicles can save your business time and money. How? When you spend less time writing in-depth articles (since listicles don’t take as long to write compared to long-form blogs), it leaves you more time to dedicate to your business. For entrepreneurs who are just starting out in their career, every second matters and a listicle can conserve their free time.
The reader also saves time when going through the content. There is no doubt that we live in an extremely busy world with short attention spans and time is very scarce. It is a lot more desirable for readers to just gloss over the blog and capture the main points with easy-to-read headings.
With that said, let’s discuss how you can write a great listicle.
How to Write a Listicle That Converts
Ready to write a listicle that works for your audience? To help you nail the concept of listicle writing, we have written this 11-step guide to help you trudge along.
1. Find the Right Theme
Not all topics are compatible with the quick and snappy format of listicles. Remember, you are supposed to provide just enough information to the target audience to digest everything without going into too many details. This requires finding the ideal balance between creating interest with the reader and aligning the listicle with your content goals.
Topics that you should generally avoid with listicles usually fall into product descriptions and service outlines. These do not necessarily translate into a listicle because product descriptions require a more detailed approach. A more appropriate idea would be something like this:
- 10 things you need to know about water purifiers
- 15 was of conserving water when you’re low on supply
Something along the lines of that…
2. Choose the Ideal Writing Format
When it comes to listicles, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all writing format. The trick is to find a style that works for your audience. Is it long and detailed, or quick and succinct?
You need to identify the ideal writing format that works for your theme. If we take cues from Buzzfeed, we’ll find three ways of writing a listicle that works:
The Standard List: The standard listicle is a very basic format with captions and images that usually have no common narrative tying them together. Examples include, “20 Items You Should Wear to the Bahamas” or “20 Amazing Throw Pillows That Don’t Suck.’ There is often very little actual writing involved and the list is mostly visual in nature, making it easy to follow. Infographics loosely fit this description.
Definitive Lists: These lists are more fleshed out and feature in-depth content that provides more value to the audience. More importantly, listicles feature an overarching narrative, like “Best Selling Books of 2020” and “20 Places to Travel to on a Budget”. Definitive lists do not have to tell a cohesive story, but there is a unifying theme that connects the listed entries.
Expanded Lists: This is fundamentally different than a standard list and all items are linked together by expanded entries offering a lot more detail. Expanded lists start off with a narrative, tell a unique story, and go in-depth. They easily run over 4000 or 5000 words (or even more).
Listicles such as, “10 Ways to Get Over Your X,” add more value to readers since it gets them to think about the subject matter in more detail when the article ends.
Before you decide to write a listicle, think long and hard about what style works best for you when you try to accomplish something and make sure to stick to it.
3. Learn From Your Competition
The truth about content writing is that virtually every topic out there has been done to death. So even if you have a great idea, you’re probably not the first author to have thought about it. As such, you will run into quite a bit of competition on the internet.
This can be used as a force for good, however.
It is perfectly normal for competitors to bounce off ideas from each other and end up creating truly remarkable content that adds value for the reader. The best way to go about doing this is to search the keywords you want to write on and look for things you can improve. Generic blogs such as, “10 Ways to Build Muscle with Dumbbells” are rather easy to write and give you the opportunity to add unique tips that your competitor probably didn’t include.
Keyword research can go a long way in helping you understand what is currently trending and stay one step ahead of your competitors.
4. Think About the Ideal Length for the Listicle
It is important to have an idea of blog length in mind before writing the listicle. While the listicle format leans towards readability, you have to be careful not to write a blog that is either disappointingly short or intimidatingly long.
For example, a standard blog with 5 entries and 2 images isn’t going to appeal to your audience, but the same list can become too overwhelming to digest with 40 items and counting. You have to learn how to toe the line between what is acceptable and what is not.
When you plan the outcome of your listicle, think about the approximate number of entries that you need to send the right message. As a rule, a listicle with 10, 15, and even 50 entries can drive engagement across all levels.
Are you sharing fitness tips? Favorite video game lists? Best throw pillows that are trending right now?
Try to think of the ideal content length that can inspire readers without overburdening them with too much information.
If you’re not sure what your ideal content length is, then aim for at least 2000 words with a minimum of 10 entries. This is ideal for framework and definitive listicles.
It is worth pointing out that shorter listless used to dominate SERPs, but this is no longer the case going forward in 2021. Search engines are now pivoting to long-form content and blogs with barebones content are gradually being replaced with their more informative counterparts.
5. Structure Your Listicle
Structuring your listicle is essential if you want to easily organize everything for your reader and make sure you stay on track.
People tend to avoid listicles that are mindless walls of text without any visual hierarchy.
There are two main ways of structuring your listicles and defining a visual heirachy:
- Bulleted listicles: This listicle can be used for posts that provide a very cursory and basic overview of items. They don’t have to be written in a specific order. However, if you use bullets, your posts should not be too long otherwise the readers will lose attention.
- Numbered listicles: This is the better of the two structures and also gives your readers an idea about how much they’ll learn from your blog.
A good idea is to divide large items into smaller bulleted points and provide a short table of contents at the start of the blog. This will tell the reader what information you will be covering.
6. Don’t Do Clickbait Folks!
There is a difference between creating clickbait titles and a compelling headline. Clickbaits used to work – but thankfully, that era of the internet is long gone as audiences have learned to avoid them like the plague. People are very intimately familiar with clickbaits and don’t give them the time of day anymore.
Every professional listicle writer should stick to a basic code of ethics when designing the title, instead of a mindless attention grab that doesn’t any purpose.
Even if your clickbait listicle gets a lot of clicks at first, if it adds nothing to the reader’s experience, it will harm your page in the long run.
Worse still, you’ll just lose your audience’s trust and they will no longer consider you to be a trustworthy professional. Resorting to clickbait may give you results in the short run, but it’s like shooting yourself in your own foot in the long run.
Furthermore, you should know the difference between a compelling headline and full-blown clickbait titles. A clear, concise heading can still entice readers without hiding behind trickery. Here’s a good example by Nerdwallet. If you want more info on writing a catchy headline, check out this blog.
7. Keep All Items on a Single Page
Isn’t it annoying to have to hit “Next” just so you could load the next entry on the listicle?
Despite being off-putting and annoying to readers, many websites are guilty of showing just one item per page, forcing readers to go through several pages to complete their listicle. This might make sense if you want to make more revenue, but readers hate to wait for pages to load as they try to read what they were expecting to be an easy blog. This really defeats the purpose of listicles.
Instead of exclusively thinking in terms of revenue, you should keep reader satisfaction in mind to keep your listicle limited to a single web page.
Having all content on a single web page also improves your chances of ranking higher on search engines as well. Splitting up keywords across several web pages can reduce the SEO-friendliness of your blog post. However, keeping the content on the same page provides more opportunities for keywords and backlinking to boost your SERP rankings.
Pro tip: If you don’t have the time to write content, hire listicle writing services to do the leg work for you.
Pictures are an important component of a good listicle. Not only do they add more context to the listicle, but they also improve the readability of the content. Our brains are designed to consume visual information. Did you know that we can process images 60,000 times faster than text.
Pictures become even more important when you are reviewing a product. A good idea is to include an image of each product on the list. In the case of abstract subjects, you’ll have to find engaging and relevant images. Stock photos are a great way to find pictures when you don’t have your own, but make sure that the picture doesn’t look too much like a stock photo.
Pro tip: Use screen captures of products to provide more information to prospects.
9. Add Extra Detail in Your Listicle
Most listicles on the internet already cover all kinds of topics. There are billions of websites to go around, and only a few unique ideas that haven’t already been touched. This makes it difficult to find something new, but a well-written listicle can overcome this hurdle.
Most listicles contain information that is too generic. That isn’t always a bad thing. But sometimes, readers want to go more in-depth and dig a little deeper. For example, the expanded list that we mentioned earlier is not quite as easy to write, but it includes a lot more detail than a regular listicle. This is useful if you are creating how-tos and in-depth guides.
It may be impossible to avoid repeating some information, but try to add at least a few pieces of content that offer something of more value to your readers. You will have to be more creative and think outside the box for this to work. Creativity is the hallmark of a good writer – so strive to be one.
10. Write a Catchy Opening
A great blog with a bad intro is wasted potential.
Here are a few things you can do to create a great opening:
- Write a hook: This will capture the reader’s attention at once. It should be succinct and relevant.
- Find a segue: Write a segue to seamlessly transition from the hook to the meat of the listicle.
- Write a solid thesis: The thesis provides supporting content to add more value to your listicle.
Pro tip: When writing the opening of the listicle, you can discuss why you chose your specific points and what led you to choose them in the first place.
11. Write a Solid Conclusion
Once readers have gone through your listicle, they will want to close things on a high note and get on with their day.
This doesn’t mean you should skimp out on the conclusion.
Most listicles either don’t feature a conclusion or have a lackluster one that contains vague text. This leaves your audience feeling empty and in need of closure.
This is why you need to think long and hard about your conclusion and use it to add extra value. Here are a few options:
- Provide unique examples to inspire your readers to follow through
- Offer a call to action
- Suggest techniques or activates for the reader to try
What Your Listicle Should Avoid
Now that you know how to write a great listicle, it’s time to learn about common pitfalls that can crush your listicle’s chances in the readability department. A bad listicle has the following features that must be avoided:
Bad title: An unclear title that does not add any value or stay truthful to the content matter.
Irrelevancy: The content starts veering off the main theme just to meet the word count.
Vague content: The entries in the listicle have nothing to do with the theme.
Bad quality writing: Too many problems with grammars, lots of repetition, run-in text, and unhelpful content.
Writing without a purpose: Lots of themes squeezed into one blog with no clear theme tying them together.
Offering advice that doesn’t solve a problem: The information is too generic and doesn’t offer anything of value.
Reads like a sales pitch: The main purpose of the listicle is to add value to the reader, not peddle your services two sentences later. So avoid that sales-y language. You can sell your products and services elsewhere on your website.
Don’t Assume Your Work is Perfect: Editorial mistakes happen all the time. You may end up writing “awesome” three times in as many sentences. You might get “principle” and “principal” mixed up. It’s relatively easy to make mistakes, and when you’re riding the blog post for the 500th time, it’s easy to miss them too. This is why you should find someone to proofread your content once the writing phase is complete.
Proofreading is important because you want to make sure your content is error-free, your readers will assume you have an equally laid back approach to the rest of your work. This jeopardizes your chances of conversions.
It’s a Wrap
While this listicle has demonstrated how to write a basic listicle, you can apply your own knowledge of writing and creativity to do something different. With just a little more effort and planning, you can absolutely dominate search engine rankings with your listicles. One of the best ways of doing this, from an SEO perspective, is to analyze your competition’s keywords, then create content around those keywords, and having a brand outreach plan.
This is easy to achieve with a listicle because of how naturally they fit in with keywords.
Douglas leads the content writing team at Content Marketing Champ and works with businesses to turn their ideas into powerful sales pitches that convert. He’s a big fan of video games and loves everything about space. Feel free to ask him a thing or two about content marketing!