Why Is the Listicle Format So Popular?
Listicles Tell You What to Expect
These impressions aren’t necessarily accurate. The article probably isn’t trying to address the entire subject of “healthy eating”; there’s something specific the author wants to tell you about it. But the title fails to communicate that.
On the other hand, an article named “7 Tips for Eating Healthy” doesn’t sound as intimidating. You know what you’re getting with the article: seven pieces of concrete advice.
Listicles Break Information Apart Into Manageable Chunks
It’s difficult to absorb information when it’s presented as one big undifferentiated mass. People don’t work that way; when we have to learn about complex subjects, most of us break them down as much as possible and then tackle each piece one by one.
The Qualities of a Good Listicle
To start with, pick a fresh and interesting topic. To continue with the example from above, “7 Tips for Eating Healthy” is still a pretty uninspiring title. Volumes have been written on the subject of healthy eating, and the title doesn’t make it clear that the article offers anything new.
On the other hand, an article titled “7 Tips for Eating Healthy While Traveling” or “7 Unexpected Health Benefits of Drinking Oolong Tea” wouldn’t face as much competition.
When you write your article, follow all the usual advice about writing well. Avoid the passive voice, vary your sentence structure, use vivid language, and get rid of unnecessary words. Those are things you should be doing when you write anything, of course.
Why do people like listicles?
Writing a listicle is easy. Just open a blank document, list a bunch of things and you’ve got a listicle. But writing a listicle that drives traffic and that people actually want to read is a bit more complicated.
1. Choose a topic
Because keywords typically represent topics, you can do this with a good keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. Just search for a broad topic, then go to the Phrase Match report where you’ll see keyword ideas sorted by their monthly search volumes.
2. Ensure it makes sense
Not every topic is suitable for a listicle format. That’s pretty obvious for some topics, like “how to tie a tie.” You can tell from the query that people are looking for a step-by-step process, not a listicle with lots of different methods.
You can figure this out by looking at the top-ranking results in Google. Because Google’s business model relies on them delivering relevant search results, the top results are a great proxy for what searchers want to see.
Looking at the screenshot above, you can see that only one listicle ranks in the top five for “seo expert.” As the rest are step-by-step guides, this probably isn’t a good topic for a listicle.
If you’re struggling to find a suitable topic for a listicle, try adding these words to the Include filter in Keywords Explorer: ideas, tips, best, tools, things, strategies, tactics, list. This will narrow the results down to keywords that include at least one of those words, which will often be great candidates for listicles.
3. Decide on length
Generally speaking, the number of items on your list should roughly match the number of list items you see among top-ranking pages. After all, if they’re all well into the double or triple digits, then a list of five items probably isn’t what searchers are looking for.
Is this a hard and fast rule? No. If you think a list of 100+ items is completely pointless and doesn’t actually help searchers, feel free to deviate from this advice. What we’re doing here is using the top-ranking results as a proxy for what searchers want, but it’s not 100% foolproof.
4. Choose a format
5. Choose a winning angle
Although you could choose an angle based solely on what feels most interesting, it’s better to take inspiration from the top results. Remember, these are the best proxy for what searchers want to see.
However, things aren’t always this clear-cut. Just look at the results for “marketing ideas” where there are two dominant angles: creative and free. The best one to choose is anyone’s guess.
6. Brainstorm list points
Bringing new and unique ideas to the table is crucial when writing a listicle (or any content for that matter). So while it might seem tempting just to copy everyone else, if all you create is a carbon copy of existing listicles, nobody will care about your post.
For that reason, you should jot down your own ideas before even thinking about what existing listicles on the topic have to say. This process doesn’t have to be complicated. Just open a blank doc and start listing potential ideas.
7. Expand on your ideas
Unless you’re super knowledgeable about a topic, you’ll probably struggle to come up with enough points for a comprehensive listicle on your own. Getting input from friends or colleagues is one way to solve that, but you can also take inspiration from the top-ranking pages.
a) Use the “also talk about” report
Plug your target keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and go to the Also talk about report. This shows words and phrases frequently-mentioned by the top-ranking pages for your keyword.
b) Check subheadings
Most listicles use subheadings for each point. So a good way to extract inspiration from top-ranking pages is to extract the subheadings. You can do this for free with Ahrefs SEO Toolbar. Just install it, open one of the top-ranking pages, then hit the little page icon in the top left for the on-page report.
How to Write a Listicle in 6 Steps
1. Pick the Right Listicle Topic
Suppose a number of the high-ranking articles for your keyword are listicles. In that case, it’s a good indication that searchers expect or prefer a list format to tackle the topic:
Another good place to look is your own Google Analytics data. If you see that a specific topic gets a ton of traffic, then it might do well as a listicle if you can easily simplify the content.
2. Do Your Keyword Research
Keywords are the terms searchers type into a search engine to get information on a particular topic. They’re also the words Google and other search engines use to identify your blog post’s or web page’s focus.
3. Outline Your Listicle Content Points
There are tons of articles about how to write a listicle, but only one in the search results above is a listicle itself, and we already know that listicles get more clicks. That means there’s an opportunity for me to create better content than what everyone else has already published.
Next, brainstorm and jot down any points you think would be relevant to your listicle. Then go through all the points you’ve written down. If they would be presented best in a particular order, organize them accordingly, and merge any redundant points. Split up any items that may be too weighty for just one point and try to make them multiple points.
Look at “People also ask” questions in Google. These are questions that people commonly search about the same topic. They’re an easy way to make sure you’re covering the topic thoroughly.
Flesh out each post by adding examples that show why each item in your numbered list was included or how to do it if you are creating a step-by-step guide. For example, this listicle on HelloBar about lead magnets provides an example of different lead magnets and talks about why they work.
As you write your content, link to more in-depth information when necessary, but make sure you don’t link to posts trying to rank for the same keywords. This creates more informative content without making your article too long.
4. Number the List Items
You don’t have to use lists to create a listicle, but it creates a better user experience. As readers go through the article, moving down the numbered list creates a sense of progress. There’s also a feeling of accomplishment, which motivates readers to keep reading. It also makes sense to number the items if you use a number in the post title.
If all the other posts are 10 points long, it might be good to have even more, like 25 or even 30. On the other hand, if most other listicles in your niche are really long, a short, snappy post might do well.
5. Add Interesting Images
It’s challenging to sustain readers’ attention with just a wall of text, numbered or not. Images make your content more visually stimulating, making them an essential ingredient in successful listicles. They improve the posts’ readability and help to increase traffic.
Images or gifs capture readers’ attention in a way plain text can’t. For example, people follow instructions that include images 323% better than written words alone. Articles with relevant images get 94% more views than those without images.
When choosing images to add to your listicle, custom photos are ideal. For example, if your article involves reviewing products, you can include pictures of those products. This Digital Trends article about the best desktop computers includes custom images of the computers, which establishes trust in the content because it shows they’ve actually tried the computers.
6. Avoid Listicle Content Clickbait Titles That Don’t Deliver
If the honest answer to either of these questions is “yes,” your title is most likely the decried clickbait headline, and you may want to avoid it. Listicles have a bad reputation for being clickbait.
New content marketing strategies crop up every day. The only constant is high-quality content. Smart digital marketers understand the importance of high-quality content that’s optimized for search engines and valuable to readers.
He is the co-founder of NP Digital. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies. Neil is a New York Times bestselling author and was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 35 by the United Nations.