Listicles: The Checklist of the Blog World

If you have information that can be divided into paragraphs, complete with bullets and numbers, the listicle blog format might be just right for you.

Whenever I hear the words “top ten,” my thoughts flit to former late-night talk-show host David Letterman. Letterman was famous for his lists, which were a regular feature on his shows, “Late Night with David Letterman,” and “Late Show with David Letterman.”

The topics in these lists ranged from “The Top Ten Things I Have Learned Working for ‘The Late Show’” to “Ricky Gervais Shares the Top Ten Stupid Things Americans Say to Brits.”

Everyone loved those lists, not only because they were funny, but because they were -- well, they were lists.

Think about this. When you delve into a project, you don’t just jump in and do everything at once. Of course not. Instead, you focus on your objectives or goals, determine your steps, the resources you need, what you will delegate, and so on. In other words . . .

You develop a list.

Now, let’s move to the kitchen, where you are considering a recipe for a meal. When you want to buy ingredients for that recipe, you don’t take the entire cookbook to the store.

You develop a list.

Get the point? So, if lists are so helpful when it comes to getting us through Life, why can’t they be used as a way to say, organize content?

Guess what? They can!

Welcome to the listicle, a blog that allows you to create content in a -- er -- list format.

What They Are

What, exactly, is a listicle? Turning to my old faithful, Merriam-Webster, a listicle is defined as:

“An article consisting of a series of items presented as a list.”

To further define this, anything with a headline such as:

“Top 5 Ways To . . .”

“10 Reasons Why . . .”

“15 Top Methods to . . .”

. . . is likely a listicle, also known as a list post. A listicle headline introduces some kind of numerical factor, followed by information that tells your reader how/why the content that follows can make improvements to his/her life.

Thanks to social media (especially Buzzfeed, among others), listicles seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. But categorizing stuff goes back a few millennia.

Like this. A very ancient listicle.

So, while this format has been around for awhile, it's being used as a different way to get information to readers.

Why They Work

Let me get this out of the way. Listicles have drawn their fair share of disapproval.

Critics of this format claim that list posts are little more than shallow content, offering all fluff and little substance. Other complaints point out that listicles trivialize content and topics, reducing them to the least common denominator.

Yet, the above is also what makes the listicle a great format, for the right content. An article in Psychology Today explains this, pointing out that lists allow people to prioritize, and help them determine steps needed to reach a goal, while helping to make sense of inner (or exterior) chaos.

Listicles do the same thing, through the following methods.

  • Great headlines. People love catchy headlines. Creative headlines, such as “5 Reasons why You Should Avoid Murder Hornets,” (yes, I’m still obsessed with these) are great for encouraging readers to click through to your blog.

  • Brevity. Thanks to social media, colleagues, friends and relatives, we are awash in mountains of information. It can be difficult to determine what all of it means, or what is important. Listicles help put order to the informational chaos, doing so by organizing topics and presenting them in short, sweet sentences and paragraphs. Your readers’ brains are drawn to content that is neatly presented, making the information more memorable.

  • Spatial processing. Spatial processing allows us to observe where objects are, in a given space. Listicles present information in a well-ordered format, boosting spatial processing abilities. Thanks to this handy skill, you can quickly move from one topic to the next, which can also lead to . . .

  • Shareability. One goal in your content marketing strategy is to ensure that your content can be easily shared with others. Listicles are ideal for this purpose. If content is interesting and easy to digest, your reader would ideally say “Hey! Take a look at this great piece of content!” and share it on social media or through an e-mail.

Tips for Listicle Development (or “6 Things to Remember when Creating the Perfect Listicle”)

See what I did here?

Anyway, listicles don’t just happen. While they are easier to compose than your regular multi-paragraph editorial blog, they take some thought and planning. And, as you think and plan, you should also consider the following.

1) Make sure your content can be adapted to a list format. Not all copy can -- or should -- be sliced into listicles. For example, if your blog requires in-depth analysis, it likely won’t make a very good list. The best way to determine if your content can work in a listicle format is to break it into paragraphs. If those graphs can stand on their own as short points of interest, you have a listicle. If not, move on.

2) Know your competition. Just about everyone and their uncle (aunt?) is creating listicles. So, once you’ve figured out that yes, your content will divide nicely into easy-to-digest entries, plug your SEO keywords into Google search, and see what else crops up. Then write about something else relating to that topic. Your want to offer something different to your reader, not regurgitate what is on your competitor's website.

3) Avoid clickbait headlines. While it might be tempting to slap a dramatic, catchy title atop your listicle, (as in one that has little to do with the content, but will really drive interest) don’t do it. The goal of a well-written headline is to attract your readers by giving them a taste of what they can expect if they click through. Shock and awe doesn't do it. Under the category of “here is Amy tooting her own horn yet again,” take a look at my recent blog, “5 Actions that Can Sour Media Relationships.” The headline is catchy, it’s informative, and mirrors the topic of this particular listicle.

4) Create a Memorable Opening Paragraph. Yes, you’re creating a list. But that list still requires some kind of opening paragraph, one that lets your readers know why they should bother with the rest of your content. Putting it this way, the headline is your hook, and the first paragraph ensures that your audience sticks around to read more. Even the Ten Commandments have an opening paragraph, or rather, an opening line. Check out Exodus 20, in the Bible.

4) Ensure consistent entry lengths. No, you don’t have to count every single word or character of each entry or paragraph. But you do need to make sure that the entries are more or less uniform in length. In other words, don’t mash together one-line entries with those encompassing half a page. Make up your mind, ahead of time, how long you want those entries to be, and stick to that length.

5) Provide a notable conclusion. So, you could just end your listicle with the final entry and call it finished. That's fine, if you want to leave your readers hanging. Ending your post with a conclusion is much better, as it ties everything up in a neat little package. Your final sentence, or sentences, don't have to be fancy. They can summarize your entries, and remind readers about the benefit of your topic. Above all, don’t forget the call to action.

And, here is my conclusion.

Listicles can be an ideal blog format, one that presents your content in bite-size, easy-to-understand portions. When written correctly, this form allows you tap into your audiences’ desire for organized, thoughtful writing, helping to make your presentation and ideas readable and memorable.

Need help with listicles or other forms of content? Feel free to reach out to The WordSorters by logging on to, e-mailing or calling 214-536-5457.

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