How to Write a Great Listicle for 2020

Cover image for blog post on how to write a great listicle with notebook and pet image

Listicles aren’t exactly a new concept. The list article structure has been around for over a decade and has played a significant role in the evolution of content marketing. Popularized by sites like Buzzfeed and carried forward across countless pages around the web, listicles are fast, fun, and easy to read.

However, like all forms of content marketing, there are right ways and wrong ways to approach the concept of a listicle. This is what you need to know about how to write a great listicle for 2020.

Why Listicles Work

The term “listicle” refers to any article constructed in list form. Rather than long-form content that often delves deep into the specifics of a topic or prompt, listicles tend to be lighter and superficial, offering a quick way to get surface-level information. While content writers can create listicles on any topic, most listicles aren’t serious in nature, instead offering fun or informative content in an easily digestible manner.

For readers who don’t want to commit to a large time investment when reading content, listicles are perfect. The list nature makes them ideal for skimming, adding value for readers in a convenient manner. 36% of readers prefer list-based headlines, in large part due to the simplicity in processing highlights and key details without actually reading from start to finish.

“We’ve been using listicles for years for our various health and wellness clients, explains Linda Miriam, the CEO and Co-Founder of Crunchy Buzz. “It’s great for this niche because people enjoy digestible breakdowns of the benefits of a product [or] service. Also, with Google snippets recently serving listicles in search queries, successful listicles can really boost SEO.”

8 Tips for Writing a Great Listicle

Want to write a great listicle? Keep these tips in mind to improve the likelihood of success when creating your next blog post.

Pick the Right Topic

Not all topics are right for the listicle format. In general, listicles are good-natured and light-hearted, providing enough information to hold reader attention but not so much detail that will turn readers away. This means finding the right balance between a topic that will draw attention to one that meets your content objectives.

Trying to make any topic into a listicle isn’t a great idea. Long-form pieces, detailed descriptions of products and services, or posts with one theme that can’t be divided into lists, for example, are poor choices for creating a listicle. Save the listicle style for when it makes the most sense instead of trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.

This listicle about being a kid of the 1990s is a great example – those born in the 1980s and early 1990s are highly nostalgic, so this topic will appeal to a large number of internet users.

screenshot from a listicle example covering 90s trends
A 90’s kid will surely understand. Am I right?

Pick the Right Style

Listicles aren’t one-size-fits-all, even though that isn’t always clear to the audience. There are actually a few different approaches to writing a listicle, and if you want to succeed, you need to choose the right one. Buzzfeed, often considered the ultimate authority in listicles, uses three basic forms:

  • Standard list: The most basic format, a standard listicle uses captions and images with no overarching narrative. Titles tend to be things like “17 Items You Need this Winter” or “11 Great Amazon Deals You’ll Love.” There’s often very little detail and content is very scannable.
  • Definitive list: This kind of listicle is more in-depth, featuring more research and providing more value to readers. These lists tend to be linked by a common topic, like “18 Great Places to Travel on a Budget” and “2019’s Best New Books.” There’s not necessarily a cohesive story, but overarching themes connect list items.
  • Framework list: Unlike a standard list that is linked together by little and definitive lists that offer more detail surrounding a common theme, framework lists work off of a narrative, telling something of a story through list entries. These lists, which often have titles like “15 Truths You Learn in Your 20s,” add the most value to users and work best when they leave readers ruminating on a topic when the article concludes.
A list of different types of listicles with explanations of each
Do you have a favorite type of listicle?

Before putting pen to paper, so to speak, decide what style is right for what you’re trying to accomplish and be sure you’re sticking to convention.

Know Your Competition

Virtually no topic is unique on the internet anymore, so even if you have a great idea, you’re probably not the first person to think of it. As such, you likely have some sort of competition on the web.

Before you dive in, take a look at what else is out there. Search the keywords you’re using to build your article and thoroughly review your competition. See what topics are commonly included, look for weaknesses that you can take advantage of, and create a strategy in a way that can trounce what the alternatives have to offer. Take, for example, this listicle about summer diet tips. With such generic tips, it’s easy to find a way to combine images and text to come out on top, like this listicle.

As you can see from this screenshot, this listicle uses great images and graphics as well as provides benefits and resources that support the items that made the list.

If you haven’t done any keyword research, consider this as well. Keyword research can clarify where to put your focus to best rank in the SERPs – ideally ahead of your competitors.

ALSOQualitative Keyword Research: How to Invest 10 Minutes into Your Content Marketing Process & See Your Content Rise to the Top of Google

Pick the Right Length

Length is always an important factor when planning any kind of article, and this is true for a listicle as well. While the format lends itself to readability, there’s such a thing as too short and too long. For example, a standard listicle with images and captions will be a disappointment with only five items, but a framework list can become overwhelming with 30.

While planning for the outcome of your order, think about the rough number of list entries you will need to send your message. Are you sharing life tips? Favorite destinations? Best finds at a casual clothing store right now? Think about the kind of context you need to provide to find the balance between inspiring readers and crushing them with information.

When in doubt, shoot for around 1,000 to 2,000 words for definitive or framework lists, like this detailed list on winning at SEO. While shorter content used to rule search engine results, the opposite is now true: longer content ranks better. For standard lists, word count is less important, but try to provide at least 15 items to keep reader attention and provide enough value to make an article worthwhile.

ALSOHow to Determine Optimal Content Lengths (and Why Longer Isn’t Always Better)

Avoid Clickbait

Listicles are prime candidates for clickbait, or articles with catchy titles but absolutely no substance. It’s easy to say nothing of note in a short list – whether intentionally or not – but try to avoid this. Content marketing should be a way to communicate important information, and clickbait fails to do anything of the sort.

It’s true that clickbait does get clicks, but it adds nothing to the reader experience. Despite putting more eyeballs on your page, it’s also likely to make readers distrust you in the future. If you are trying to establish yourself as a reputable player in your industry, resorting to clickbait isn’t an effective way to accomplish this.

It’s important to note the difference between a great headline that makes readers want to click and true clickbait, however. You want to kick off your listicle with a compelling title that makes readers want to learn more, but in the body of the list, it’s imperative that you actually provide the detail readers are expecting. A clear, concise title can still entice readers without hiding behind tricks, like this list of ways to save on groceries.

As you can see from the beginning of this listicle, there’s a warm introduction and tips with thoughtful explanations.

Keep All List Items on One Page

For sites that rely on ad revenue, it’s very common to see one list item per page, forcing readers to click through a dozen or so pages just to read the entirety of a list. This can be potentially effective from a revenue standpoint, but readers hate waiting for pages to load while attempting to skim what should be an easy-to-read article.

“Having readers get redirected to a new page every time can be extremely frustrating, not to mention that exiting the page is very likely in that case,” says Téa Liarokapi, a content writer for Moosend. Instead of working to further your own agenda, keep reader satisfaction in mind and keep your listicle limited to a single web page.

This strategy can improve ranking as well. Splitting up keywords and content across many pages can reduce the SEO-friendliness of a blog post, while keeping content in one place offers more opportunities for the use of keywords, key phrases, backlinking, and other techniques to boost SERP rankings. Web designer and growth hacker Sef Walter feels the same way, stating that “the higher-ranking listicles online are the master listicles featuring one master resource curated on one page.”

Use Images

Images are a key part of a good listicle, adding context and improving the readability of a post. Further, they resonate with readers, too: people follow instructions conveyed through images 332% better than written words alone.

If you’re reviewing products, for example, be sure to include an image of each item on your list. More abstract topics may require a little more creativity; however, be sure to use engaging, relevant images, Instagram posts, or original content rather than stock photos.

Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVOIP, takes this concept even further: he recommends screen captures of products or services in use to provide the best possible information to customers. “This works better than leaving a long drawn out wall of text for readers to scroll through – many readers would’ve invariably dropped off partway through the article, and never get to the section of the listicle that might’ve resonated with them best,” he explains. Buzzfeed is the king of images in lists, creating content with engaging images that makes readers want to keep going.

Surprise Your Readers

Most content on the web already exists in some form or another; with billions of websites in existence, there are few unique ideas that haven’t already been tackled. This may make recreating the wheel seem impossible, but a great piece of content can overcome this kind of hurdle.

In creating a listicle, be sure to write points that aren’t generic or found in any other listicles of similar titles. It may be impossible to avoid regurgitating information – it’s going to be hard to write a list about a healthy lifestyle without mentioning diet and exercise, for example – but try to add at least a few points that go outside the box or offer something new. Creativity is a mark of being a great writer, so do your research and strive to offer readers something new, not more of the same.

Content marketing analyst Vishalsinh Mahida at EM2 Inc feels the same way. “As a reader, there are few things more frustrating than clicking on a listicle only to be met by empty words with no real value. It’s far better to have fewer sections with more value than many sections with little – and readers are smartening up to this,” he states. Take, for example, this list about products for a great road trip. Instead of the standard, like air mattresses and lanterns, this list goes way outside the box.

Listicle example
As you can see from this screenshot – these items probably aren’t totally necessary for the ultimate road trip, but allow the reader to think outside the box and entice them to keep scrolling.

What Not to Do

So, you know what makes a great listicle, but what makes a bad one? When writing your listicle, avoid these common pitfalls:

  • A horrible title. With a listicle title, you want to send a strong message. Be clever, be catchy, and create a message that is both intriguing and genuine.
  • Lack of relevance. When you set a topic, stick to it. Don’t veer off track for the sake of meeting a word count target.
  • Vague content. Listicles aren’t the same as an in-depth blog post but that doesn’t mean they should be worthless. Instead, provide points a reader will care about.
  • No ending. You wrote an intro for your list, so write a conclusion, too. Don’t let your list fall off the edge of a cliff when your list items are done.
  • Low-quality writing. Listicles are often associated with a lack of quality, but don’t be that writer. Create a list that is both interesting and reads like a professional wrote it.

This is a pretty bold example – a bad topic, a lack of content, and no value added for the reader whatsoever – so keep this in mind when planning what not to do.

Wrapping It Up

Listicles aren’t a new concept online, which means that if you go down this path in 2020, you need to do things the right way. By avoiding clickbait pitfalls, keeping content on a single page, and adding value with the right topic, it’s possible to create a well-ranking listicle that resonates with Google – and with readers!

Meghan McKenzie

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Meghan heads up Enterprise Sales with Crowd Content and comes with 10 years of sales and marketing experience. She loves selling awesome writing services that are proven to work, because she'd rather express herself through eating cheese and drinking wine and leave the writing to the pros.

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