If you feel like list posts are fluff, you’re not alone. A lot of people – both marketers and average joes – view list posts as entertainment for naive masses. Do you want to pander? If you think of yourself as a serious businessperson, you might worry about this.
But list posts don’t have to be fluff, nor do they have to pander to those who care nothing for substance. On the contrary, a list can be a great way to organize information.
Viral listicles have given list posts a bad name for those who want their content to be taken seriously. But really, you don’t need to fear the list post. Your reputation will stay intact if you can handle this type of post with grace and fill it with substance. Basically, if you are passionate about your industry and feel that this is the best way to present information, then you should go for it!
If you’re still not convinced, try this approach. You can do this!
Give Your List Post a Title that Convinces People it’s Not Clickbait
One of the biggest reasons people shy away from lists is the fear of being lumped in with other clickbait posts. But there’s a simple way to avoid that classification. Just give your post a good, relevant title.
Wow! Look at These Amazing, Phenomenal, Mindblowing Ways to Increase Pageviews
doesn’t sound too legit, but
8 Simple Ways to Get More Pageviews
carries more weight.
Why? Because the second version doesn’t come across as an aggressive marketing tactic. The first one seems more like an ad. And what has driven people away from ads and towards content?
It’s the perceived value of content versus the perceived lack of value in ads. Content provides readers, viewers, and listeners with something for nothing. It offers useful information and asks for little in return.
Now, as a practitioner of content marketing, that might seem like a bum deal. But it’s not. Rather, content does several useful things that could never be accomplished by advertising.
For one, it delivers information in exchange for attention. So, maybe not something for nothing. But it’s certainly not the forceful message in exchange for a purchase that advertising once was.
For another, content establishes your authority within your field. By writing about what you practice, you get to show that you’re out for more than sales. Blogging, or making videos, or podcasting – they all demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about and care enough to share it with the world.
But can’t you do all this in a long-form post rather than a list, you ask? Well yes, but a list does have some serious advantages. There’s a reason these types of content have become known as clickbait. It’s hard to resist clicking on them. Why? Let’s check it out.
List Posts Make Information Accessible
The number one reason list posts are popular and useful (see, it’s the #1 reason – we still can’t escape the list) is that they’re accessible. Lists – at least when well composed – are easy to read. So you’ll reach the maximum audience this way. And the audience you do gain may appreciate you presenting the information in a straightforward way.
List Posts Are Already Popular
This is a format people are already familiar with, so a list post attracts an audience that is accustomed to this already. Your audience knows the “10 Ways to Do This!” situation, so it’s unlikely to put them off. However, if you’re concerned that the most serious people might shy away, you can almost certainly alliviate their worries with appropriate wording and substantial content.
List Posts are Memorable
Even if you think your carefully worded post is already memorable, there’s a possibility that it may have even more staying power when composed as a list. That doesn’t mean that every post could be better as a list. But some may definitely work better that way. Evaluate the possibilities when you decide how to compose your posts.
List Posts Are Succinct
What are you looking for when you search for information online? Oftentimes it’s quick, simple information. List posts deliver that. Sometimes when you access a regular blog post, you get someone talking about what they ate for breakfast before they took the dog for a walk before they sat down to write the post.
Is all of that necessary? Not everyone wants or appreciates that much information. List posts are straight-up. They might start off with a bit of background, but you can skip to the important stuff and you know where it is. The organization is killer in a list post – if the writer knows how to do it, that is.
Where to Go from Here
So now you know why list posts can be useful, but how do you approach them as a serious businessperson? There are a few strategies that will make this format much more accessible. Try some of these:
Start with a defined purpose in mind and make sure that each point on the list stays true to your purpose. In other words, each listed item should parallel the others in terms of type and presentation.
Lets say you’re composing a post called 10 Ways to Add Value to Your Home. If one of your points is about the importance of increasing your home’s value, you’re not being consistent with the post’s self-declared purpose. Instead, you can talk about the importance in the introduction or conclusion, but don’t include it as a list point.
If you can’t come up with a list of 10, just decrease your number of points. 9 isn’t a nice, round number like 10, but better to go with 9 points rather than have an inconsistent list for the sake of rounding up.
Points that would make sense in the context of this example might include:
- Do some low-cost landscaping
- Replace your heating/cooling system with a newer, more efficient one
- Repaint exterior trim
If you’re not sure if a particular point fits, try rephrasing your title as a question. E.g. What are ways to add value to your home? If your list point doesn’t directly answer the question, then it does not belong.
Expand on Your Points
Once you’ve got a list of points that all address a central question, your work has just begun. A simple list, composed of one or two sentences, can deliver useful information. But for most purposes, it’s not enough.
Not only does a short-answer list fail to deliver the comprehensive information that people seek for (most) topics, it doesn’t get readers to fully engage with your content. Content marketing seeks to establish the writer as an authority and to get consumers to form a relationship with a brand. A list post that fails to go in-depth is unlikely to accomplish these goals.
A better way to accomplish your goals while providing readers with maximum value is to expand with relatable examples or stories.
Here’s an example within an example:
Lets say you’re plugging along on your list post about ways to improve your home’s value. You’ve already ditched your point about the importance of increasing value because it wasn’t relevant. So of course you want to do all you can with the points you have left. Looking at low-cost landscaping, you offer some brief examples: use inexpensive pavers arranged in geometric patterns; repaint old planters in bold, bright colors; plant perennials and ornamental grasses.
These are all helpful suggestions. But if you want to take your post to the next level, you could add in a personal story (or even a fictional story that could be about a real person’s experience).
So for our example you might use something along these lines: A friend of mine had a relatively small backyard that was overrun with weeds. She was wary of planting grass and other plants because she had a dog and feared that all would be destroyed in short order. We worked together to come up with a less expensive solution that was also more practical for her situation. First, we purchased some cheap gravel and laid it down over most of the yard. Next, we located some large, used planters and painted them bright yellow for a pop of color. We planted some hardy perennials in the planters and lined them up along the side fence. Voila! A new, attractive, and virtually indestructible yard for hardly any money.
Adding the story beefs up your content in multiple ways. For one, it adds additional substance by providing a real-world example. For another, it draws the reader further in – a personal story is often more interesting to read than pure exposition. And finally, it adds to your authority. You helped someone with an actual landscaping problem. You’ve been there, seen that. You know what to do!
In this situation, it would be helpful to include pictures of your friend’s landscaping endeavors (if you have any). Images increase the visual appeal of the post and add to your credibility. If your story is fictional or hypothetical, it’s best to make that clear from the get-go.
Subdivide Longer Lists
One of the biggest reasons list posts are effective is that they are well-organized and easy to skim (and also to remember if you read them straight through). If you have a lot of information, it may help to subdivide it into multiple categories.
So, for instance, if you were ultimately able to come up with 20 points about increasing your home’s value, you might divide your list into indoors and outdoors. Or you could divide it even further into indoor structural, indoor cosmetic, outdoor structural, and outdoor cosmetic.
A list with too many points can seem scattered and may lose sight of its own goal along the way. This is especially the case if you expand on each point a lot, providing lots of stories and additional information. How many points you have depends a lot on the topic, but you can make longer list posts accessible with subpoints.
Establish a Natural Flow with Your List Points
You might start with the most important point and proceed to more minor points. Or you could do just the opposite, starting with the more trivial issues and proceeding to the essential.
Whichever way you go, try to choose a list order that you think will best and most continuously engage your audience. If you decide to go least to most important, it helps to inform your readers of the order in the introduction. That way, they will read with the knowledge that they are working towards the most significant point.
Another way to approach your list order is to follow a logical storyline. In other words, your list points may follow one after another in a way that makes sense to the reader.