Wondering how to write a listicle that gets results? Check out our tips for using listicles to drive traffic and educate, persuade or inspire audience members.
Listicles have been around for decades, but they’re currently experiencing a surge in popularity. That’s why learning how to write a listicle should be your top priority as a freelance writer. Once you have a good command of the listicle format, you’ll be better equipped to help clients drive traffic to their websites and keep visitors coming back for more.
The 411 on the Listicle Format
So what’s a listicle? In simple terms, it’s a piece of content formatted as a list. From a freelance writer’s perspective, listicles are a little easier to write than other types of content because they typically provide surface-level information. Instead of spending hours researching a single topic, you can put together a listicle pretty quickly.
Just because they’re easy to write doesn’t mean they lack value, though. Readers love listicles because the content is easy to skim and doesn’t require much of a time investment. Their skimmable nature makes them easy to read during a long subway commute, on a lunch break or in a few minutes between tasks. The average human attention span is just eight seconds, making it more important than ever for freelance writers to develop content that gets right to the point.
As an added bonus, listicles can help your clients improve their search rankings and drive more traffic to their websites. If you use Google’s search engine regularly, you may have seen that some searches bring up instant answers. Google pulls these answers from section headings, bulleted lists and numbered lists, which means a good listicle could land your client at the top of the search results for competitive keywords.
Why Listicles Are Good for SEO
Listicles add value for readers, but they’re also great for SEO—but only if you write and format them correctly. Google uses about 200 factors to determine how well a page ranks for specific keywords. Although you don’t have much control over domain-level factors, you can make a few tweaks to each listicle to ensure it gives your client as much of an SEO boost as possible.
Keywords are the words and phrases people use to find information on the information superhighway. Incorporating relevant keywords into your listicles helps Google and other search engines understand what each page is about, which can improve a page’s rankings. Google typically prioritizes pages that have the primary keyword in an <h1> header as well as <h2> and <h3> headers. Using latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords also helps with SEO. LSI keywords are keywords related to the primary keyword. If your primary keyword is “pasta recipes,” for example, “easy pasta recipes,” “pasta recipes without tomatoes” and “30-minute pasta recipes” would be good LSI keywords to incorporate into your listicle.
Page length is one of the many factors Google considers when determining how well a page ranks for a specific keyword. Although length isn’t always a sign of quality, longer pages tend to provide more value to readers, so Google prioritizes longer pages over shorter ones. Writing a long listicle could help your client take advantage of this SEO factor.
Google also checks to see if websites have multiple pages with duplicate content or content that’s extremely similar. You can help your client avoid a duplicate content penalty by making your listicle as original as possible and ensuring you don’t make it too similar to any content that’s already been published on their website.
How to Write a Listicle That Gets Results
If you’re ready to make the listicle a permanent part of your writing repertoire, follow these tips.
1. Choose Your Topic Carefully
Not every topic is appropriate for the listicle format. You wouldn’t want to choose this format for any topic requiring in-depth analysis, nor would you want to choose a topic that can’t be broken down into a series of list items.
A good topic for a listicle is one that can be broken down according to a single theme, such as “top gifts for a college graduate” or “best test prep books for the nursing boards.” You can easily create a list on either of these topics, and doing so won’t confuse readers or make them doubt the value of the content.
2. Pick an Appropriate Format
“Listicle” is a catch-all term for any type of content formatted as a list, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for every website. A standard list is the most basic type of listicle as it combines photos and images with little to no narrative. “Top 20 Gifts for a Medical School Graduate” would be a great standard list, as you could post an image of each gift with just one sentence about why it’s a great pick for someone who recently graduated from medical school.
Definitive lists provide more detail on each topic. “19 Thrillers to Add to Your Reading List This Fall” is well-suited to the definitive list format because you’d need to provide a little more detail to keep readers interested and help them understand why each item belongs on the list. You might write four or five sentences to describe each book and make audience members want to read more.
Framework lists tell a cohesive story through the use of narrative. These listicles tend to provide the most detail about the topic, making them extremely valuable for readers. Something like “15 Mistakes Every New Mom Makes” would make a great framework listicle, as you’d be able to tell a cohesive story that leaves readers thinking about the overall message of the piece. For example, you might want the overall message to be that readers should give themselves grace because every new mother makes mistakes no matter how hard she tries to do everything right.
3. Research Your Competitors
Before you write a single word, take a look at what your client’s competitors are doing. It’s extremely important not to copy from other sites, but you can use competitor research to come up with your own ideas. You may even be able to see what other sites are missing, making your listicles even more valuable for readers. For example, if your client runs a healthy eating website, you might notice that all the major competitors focus on “bad” foods or foods that people shouldn’t eat. You could reverse this trend by focusing on foods that people should be eating so they don’t feel like they’re depriving themselves. Taking this approach would ensure your client’s website has something different that readers can’t find elsewhere.
4. Choose the Right Length
Length is always an important consideration, but it’s even more important when you’re writing a listicle. As noted above, Google tends to reward websites with longer pages, so you don’t want to turn in a 200-word listicle that barely provides any value for readers. You also don’t want to force readers to go through 5,000 words of content to find the information they need. Typically, a listicle should range from 1,000 to 2,000 words. This gives you enough room to provide value without making it difficult for readers to skim the content.
5. Focus on Delivering Value
According to writer Jane Friedman, people value writing when it entertains them, surprises them or introduces them to a “deeper truth they never considered.” If you’re writing a listicle that focuses on commercial products, it can be difficult to inspire people or introduce them to a deeper truth, but you can surprise or entertain them. For example, everyone expects to see flowers, jewelry and candy on a list of the best gifts for Valentine’s Day, so it might surprise readers if you included something like sports equipment or a subscription to an online learning site. You can also entertain people by using an active voice and making jokes when appropriate.
6. Stick to One Page
If your client has you write in WordPress or a similar content management system, make sure you publish your entire article as one page. Many publishers try to increase their revenue by using slideshows or publishing one article across multiple pages, but these tactics often annoy readers. Imagine if you had a slow internet connection and had to click through 19 slides to read a single listicle—you’d probably give up after just a few clicks. The point of publishing content is getting people to read it, not annoying them into leaving a website.
7. Add Images
Images are an essential component of a listicle as combining text with images can help you appeal to readers with different preferences. People who prefer to read text can read your narrative, while readers who prefer visual content can look at the images and read the accompanying captions if they want more information.
Using images is especially important if your listicle focuses on products you want your readers to buy. Even if you’re skilled at writing product descriptions, a picture is often worth a thousand words when it comes to helping people understand what a product looks like and how it functions. Including images helps readers determine if the recommended products are the right size, colour and style for their needs, which can help your clients make more sales.
8. Avoid Clickbait Headlines
Clickbait headlines exist to make readers click on a link to learn more. When you’re writing a listicle, you definitely want people to read it, but you don’t want to use headlines that mislead them or make them think they’re getting something other than what you’re offering. If your client runs a budgeting website, “How to Save $5 Million for Retirement” isn’t appropriate unless the site caters to high-worth individuals who have the ability to save a substantial amount of money each year. “18 Ways to Increase Your Retirement Savings” is a better title because it’s more realistic. People at all different income levels are likely to click to learn more about how they can increase their retirement savings. The original title is likely to discourage people with lower incomes who can’t see themselves saving enough to have millions of dollars when they’re ready to retire.
9. Go Beyond the Obvious
One way to add value is to go beyond the obvious. If you’re writing a listicle about the best mystery books to read during the winter, you might be tempted to include obvious choices like Stephen King’s The Shining and Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen. These are great reads, but almost any list of winter mysteries is likely to include them. If you want your listicle to stand out, try to include a few items people don’t expect to see. Look for books that are set in the winter but don’t mention ice, snow, cold or other winter words in their titles, for example.
10. Use Short Paragraphs
When you write a listicle, it’s extremely important for people to be able to skim it and pick out the most important points in just a minute or two. Writing long paragraphs makes it difficult for people to skim your articles, so stick to short paragraphs whenever possible. It’s easy to do this with a standard list, which may have little to no narrative tying the items together, but be sure to pay attention to paragraph length when you’re writing a definitive listicle or framework listicle.
11. Apply the Right Formatting Elements
Formatting is just as important as grammar, spelling and punctuation when you’re writing content that will be published on a website. The right formatting elements make it possible to guide a reader from the title to the very bottom of the page, ensuring they see the points you want to make in the right order. Bold text, italics, numbered lists and lists of bullet points are all ideal for drawing attention to key points and making the text easier to skim. It can also help your clients improve their search engine rankings.
Listicle Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you know the best way to write a listicle, you also need to know what to avoid.
The title is the first thing most people see when they come across your listicle online. You don’t want to use titles that mislead people or, worse yet, make them think your listicle isn’t worth reading. For best results, include numbers in your listicle titles to help readers know what to expect. “7 Ways to Improve Your Search Engine Rankings” is better than “How to Improve Your Search Engine Rankings” because it tells the reader exactly how many tips they’ll get. It also sets the expectation that your article won’t be too long or time-consuming to read.
This goes along with the importance of not misleading people. Once you choose a title, every item in your list should relate to that title in some way. “10 Best Mysteries Coming Out This Fall” should include 10 mysteries, not eight mysteries, a biography and a children’s book.
Listicles are a little more superficial than long-form pieces, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have any value. Provide as much detail as possible within the structure of your listicle, whether you’re doing a standard list or an in-depth framework that tells a cohesive story.
Lack of Conclusion
Don’t just create a list of items with no conclusion at the end. Write a few sentences to tie things together and tell the reader what to do next. This is a great place to put a call to action directing the reader to visit other pages on your client’s website or to contact your client for more information about a product.
The Bottom Line
Not every topic is suited to the listicle format, but a good listicle can make you even more valuable as a freelance writer. Just remember to choose your topic and list format carefully, make the content as scannable as possible and avoid writing vague content that doesn’t add value for the reader.
Now that you know how to write a great listicle, sign up for Crowd Content to get paid for your writing expertise. Crowd Content has a freelancer-friendly platform with new writing and editing orders loaded daily. Visit our freelance writing page to learn more about how Crowd Content delivers unparalleled levels of assignment variety and flexibility.