List post, they’re as easy as A,B,C, 1,2,3 you and…….
Ok so it’s not quite as easy as the Jackson Five may have suggested but for many bloggers, list posts are an almost weekly occurrence, and for good reason.
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We as bloggers love a list post, they are easy to create, they generally stay relevant for quite some time (evergreen content) and they always bring in traffic.
For our readers they too love them, they are easy to scan, great fun to comment on and make them look good when they share them.
However, that doesn’t mean that we should just throw them together without a care in the world, there are certain things we as the author need consider if we want to make a truly great list post worthy of being shared over and over again.
1. What the Number Say
Obviously, you want to decide on how many points you are going to put in your list. While this can mostly be dictated by your knowledge on the subject there are certain things you need to keep in mind when it comes to settling on a number.
If you’re producing a huge resource list, go for as many items as you can, like our 101 Blogging Tips, but if you can’t get that many then aim for 25 of 50, they still give the reader the feeling that it’s going to be comprehensive.
- Not enough. If you only have three or four points on a topic it will not entice readers to click through and read. Firstly they will decide what the three or four points are without reading it and decide “yeah I know all that” despite not even looking at it and secondly, they will assume you don’t know very much about the topic if you could only manage three or four. Either way, they will not read it.
- Round numbers (eg. 5, 10, 20, 100) tend to give the reader a greater impression of authority. So if you are trying to convey your expertise in a subject then you should aim for a nice round number.
- An Odd number can have two effects, the first being that it catches the readers attention as a headline and can increase click through rates by up to 60% and the second effect is that it leaves it open for you to as the reader to submit one of their own. So if you use “9” or “19” then ask the reader to add number “10” or “20”. The obsessive compulsive nature of people will mean that many will have to get closure and submit one.
2. Leave room for rubbish
Not every idea is going to be golden, we all know that. Yet we decide on having ten points in our list, we go off and think of ten and expect them to be all brilliant. You and I both know that is not always the case, there are one or two in there that probably don’t make the grade.
The best way to combat this is to come up with more than you actually need. This way you can audit the list when you are done and cut out the ones that don’t quite cut it. Plus you won’t feel under pressure to make it work just because you said 10 and if you cut it you’ll only have 9. Go through each one and get rid of any that:
- Doesn’t quite fit in with the other points, if you are talking about jeans or a coat and one of the items is a pair of “jeggings” or a “cape” then they will need to go.
- If it can’t stand on its own two feet. Perhaps one of the points hasn’t quite got enough substance to stand on its own but would be better as a sub-head in another point, then move it in there.
- It is simply not good enough. We want the list to be all killer, no filler, so you need to brutal and cut the one(s) that don’t quite cut the mustard.
It can be tough, I know. When I was writing my “5 Key Ingredients to Successful Social” it was originally supposed to be seven, but I felt that one of the points was a little undercooked, so I cut it completely. This left me with “six” points, but I decided that “five” was a more authoritative number and that the sixth point would be an added bonus and a nice surprise to the reader.
3. Always number the items
The beauty of a list post is that we are setting an expectation for the reader and they know that when they read it they are going to get “X” amount of tips or recommendations.
Yet many bloggers never actually number their list items within the actual article. The reader needs to know that you delivered on your promise of “10” or “25” things and they do not want to have to count them. In fact, I have seen some author deliberately not number them and leave it short, so instead of “10” there will actually only be “9”.
So make it clear to your audience that you are giving them exactly what you told them you would. As I said in my last point at times I have given more than I said I would just so mu audience would feel like I over delivered.
4. Stick to the format
We all know that our readers love to scan list posts and pull out bits of information. After all, we do it ourselves on the blogs we read, so don’t expect your readers to be any different.
So often we see list posts where the author has decided to use <H2> heading for the first one, then slips into <bold> for the next one with a hint of italics and before we know where we are, we’re not sure if it’s a new point in the list or an extension of the last one. Get the format straight in your own head before you start and stick with it.
- It doesn’t matter if you use bullets or numbers for any points within one of your list items (we’ve used bullets as you can see), what matter is that you stick to that format all the way down, so pick one and stick with it.
- Decide on <h2>. <h3> or <bold> for your main list points. Using <h2> or <h3> is the preferred method of displaying the main list items. For one it helps the reader scan it easier and the second being that the search engines love <h2> and <h3> so it will help your S.E.O. However, if there is only a line or two of text after each <h2> or <h3> it may look a little ridiculous and overwhelming and in that case, you may be better of using <bold> to make each header stand out.
- Keep the headers roughly the same length. as you can see we have used four words in our first header item and we have kept it to roughly four or five words all the way down. The reader loves that consistency so try and deliver upon that. It’s all about making their life easier.
- Spacing and length also need to be consistent. If you have written one or two paragraphs on one one list point, try and do the same for all of them. This will not always be possible, but where you can you should try and avoid one or two line explanations of each main points unless all of them are going to be that short. Also if you have double spaced between the main list point and the associated explanations then do that for all of your main points.
5. Think about the order
It is wise to list out your items on a page prior to starting, that way you can put them in order if they need to be. Some list post will need to be in chronological order, others will not. So people will read all of the items in the list other will only read a few, so we need to strategic about where we place items.
- A “how-to” style list post like “5 steps to “X:” will need to listed in order, so make sure that each item is in the correct order.
- A “Top 10” style list post should go in ascending order from worst to best, starting off with number 10 and counting down.
- A “resources” list post could be done in alphabetical order. This allows readers to scan through your list. Believe it or not, they will actually be looking to see if a “resource” or piece of “kit” or “makeup” is on the list as they having been thinking about getting in it. They need to have their “want” justified.
- An “Action” list post should always be done in chronological order. For example Life Hack’s “How To Get More Done In a Day: 7 Ideas That Really Work“. They start at the beginning of the day and move from there in a time sequence of the day.
If there doesn’t need to be an order, then you should place your best items first, second and last. If you lead with an obvious one the reader is going to assume that the rest are “obvious” and they will not read any further. Likewise for those who only scan they generally tend to read the first and the last points, so make those good, this way the “scanners” will also get value from your content.
6. Invite your readers in
One of the biggest complaints we hear from bloggers is that they don’t get very many or indeed any engagement on their website. People just don’t seem to leave comments. A list post is a great way to drive engagement if you ask for it.
At the end of your list post ask you audience for their “top 5” if it’s applicable or even ask them for their “number one” tip or place or product. As I’ve said in point number 1, using odd numbers is a great way of getting people to finish your list by commenting.
When it comes to inviting comments, there is one cardinal rule that you must abide by and that is “engage”. Bloggers complain about a “lack of engagement” yet they themselves don’t engage in conversations on their blog. So when someone does comment be sure to engage with them.
7. Think about the title
I have left this one to last because it is one of the most important things you can do. Don’t just throw in any old headline when you are done, give it some time and respect.
Crafting headlines is a real science as we have spoken about before, but here are a number of tips that will help you craft a list post headline that gets clicked.
- Always have the number in the headline, it sounds obvious, but I’ve seen far too many “My top tips for…”. Where it should be “My top 5 tips for….”
- Use bracketed clarification. Use what now? Bracketed clarification is the process of telling the reader what it is within brackets at the beginning or end of the title. For example [Video] How to create a custom Ghostcode for Snapchat. This way the reader knows what to expect, in this case, a video. So we could go with [List] Top 5 tips for “X”.
- Negativity sells. By putting a negative spin on a headline we can increase click-through rates by 30%. So instead of “Top 5 accessories this Christmas” it could be “5 accessories you can’t be without this Christmas”. Remember people don’t like missing out!
- Don’t over promise and under deliver. Your headline should be proportionate to the article. You can’t have something like “the ultimate must have…” when there are only three or five items on the list, it’s hardly a definitive list with only that many items on it. If you want to go down that route, then make it “My ultimate must have…”
So there you have it, seven tips for creating an even better list post. So remember, it is not just a case of throwing down 10 things on the page and hitting publish, give it the respect it deserves and it will serve you well.
Are list posts working for you? Why not leave a comment and link to your most successful list post so everyone can have a look!