5 Best Tactics for Writing Lists Readers Can’t Refuse

The online publishing world seems to be going bananas (b-a-n-a-n-a-s) for list-based articles and blog posts.

Why? It’s all about the clicks.

Whether “Top 10”-type lists delight you, or you see them as a clear sign of the coming apocalypse, there’s no getting around the fact that most people will find them hard to resist.

But before you follow your friends off what could be another trendy content cliff, we’ve put together some tips to help you do lists right. Here’s how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls of this online marketing craze.

1. Make sure your content is list appropriate.

Nobody likes a bait and switch, so don’t promise a quick read and then deliver a 1,500-word essay. Even if it’s broken into several different parts, you’ll annoy readers. The good news is that nearly any topic can be turned into a great, succinct list with disciplined writing and editing.

2. Use specific and accessible words.

A list is an easy read; that’s why people click on the headlines. So save your deepest thoughts, industry jargon and thesaurus for another post. However, do be specific about what the content will deliver and the benefits of reading.

Most-Used Words from Buzzfeed Lists

3. Don’t use click-bait.

You’re probably familiar with “click-baiting” — the unsavory practice of using misleading headlines simply to generate clicks. Facebook has already begun to phase out this practice, but unfortunately it still persists elsewhere. The only way to reach the audience you really want is to be truthful about what the content delivers. So fight the urge to write click-bait headlines, for in the end click-baiters will not prosper.

4. Make it sharable.

You’ve invested valuable time in creating this highly digestible content, so make sure that the post or page can be easily shared online. This includes open graph markup to ensure that your post’s thumbnail image, title and meta description appear exactly how you want when viewed in news feeds.

5. Find the magic length.

How many items should you include in your list? We went to the online list leader, Buzzfeed, to make some inferences about the optimal length, assuming that Buzzfeed creates new lists with past analytics in mind. The takeaways from our unscientific research show that “Top 10” is the most popular. If you want to go shorter, don’t go lower than “Top 5.” If you’re going bigger, stick with increments of five. And if you’re looking to get a little crazy…stop short of 50. “Top 40” should do the trick.

Quantity of List Articles Featuring Numbers 1-50 on Buzzfeed

The bottom line is that readers like lists — and if you do them right, you can provide valuable content in a highly digestible format. Whether you’re writing about this year’s top 10 most grounbreaking research tools or 15 ways to boost pharma R&D, keep in mind these best practices to watch the clicks roll in.