The 6 Step Guide to Writing Listicle Content
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.
Let’s address the elephant in the room
“Serious” readers, journalists, and publications have expressed their ire over the format. They’re shallow. They’re clickbait. They’re giving you ADHD. And more importantly, they’re cannibalizing “long-form, thought-provoking pieces” and making the world a dumber place.
Most of these were parodies of listicles, starting off with “just kidding” and proceeding like any old long-form piece to make a point. Did these end up being the thought-provoking content that critics assume listicles are replacing? Mmm. No, not really.
As I read through their arguments (skimmed, for some), I didn’t find any points against the humble listicle that could have been said more effectively in long-form than if it had been in list form. Trite content can come in many formats, not just in listicle.
That’s not to say there are no bad listicles—the internet is teeming with them. But just as there is a time and a place for a thought leadership piece, there is a time and a place for a listicle too.
So why do listicles work in spite of these objections?
By 2016, Buzzfeed became the 47th most popular website in the United States, and 140th in the world garnering a whopping 7 billion views each month from 200 million unique visitors. And among their most viral articles, 65% of them were listicles.
One study by Social Media Today explains that Buzzfeed’s success has a formula, breaking down the company’s top listicles by the average number of characters it uses in its headlines (among other quantitative observations).
Others believe that Buzzfeed’s success is simple “social supply and demand.” The company tracks down content that people are already eating up, and packages it into one comprehensive listicle that’s easy to share on social media.
But one Entrepreneur article was able to look beyond these technicalities and identify the company’s real “secret sauce”—the reason why, until this day, Buzzfeed is still raking in millions of views in spite of the company’s dip in popularity.
How Listicles Can Work for You
It has a lengthy intro that digs into the topic and tells you why you should care. It lists a ton of tools – 52 of them – in specific categories. It has a defined and logical structure so users can browse to precisely what they want to see. Each item has an associated image (even if it’s just a screenshot of their website) and a paragraph or two describing what it is and why it’s relevant. And, that’s it! But that’s all it needs to be.
- They have short, punchy, descriptive titles that tell the reader exactly what they’re going to get, often before they even click on the Google search result or the social media link.
- They’re formatted in a way that is exceedingly easy to skim to get to the exact information you want, making them a massive victory for fast access to information and usability.
- They can break down a complex topic into easily digestible chunks, which can be parsed in order or consumed at the rate the user wants to see.
- They can be shared and skimmed easily, and if even a single nugget of value triggers the user’s satisfaction, they can easily click to share it themselves.
- They’re relatively easy to write. Pick a topic, set a number, and fill it out. You can even fluff it up with a little more formatting, like if the Qualaroo article added subsections for URL, Price, or other information to the description. A listicle can easily hit 3,000+ words, depending on the topic and the number chosen. Here’s a more advanced listicle I wrote that topped 7,000 words.
- Listicles can target core keywords while still hitting an array of related long-tail keywords. Smaller listicles can target long-tail keywords and feed into larger listicles and topic pillars as well.
- Listicles are easy to update. If an item is removed or changes enough that it doesn’t belong on the list, it can easily be removed and a new one put in its place or the list number adjusted. This makes listicles a simple kind of content to keep up to date for search ranking purposes.
And, my favorite: listicles are an easy target for 10x content. If a competitor of yours writes the “top 15 content marketing tools” list, you can quickly write a “top 35 content marketing tools” post and blow theirs out of the water. Even if 15 of your 35 items are the same as their 15, you have more than double the value in the post because of all of the unique items you added.
How Should You Plan and Write a Listicle?
1. Do your research into the topic and keyword. Some keywords lend themselves to listicles, and others do not. Sometimes, if you can write a listicle about a complex issue, you can get special attention for the novelty. Other times, it just becomes an exercise in frustration.
Listicles are bad for topics that are deep, complex or require nuance. Every individual item on a listicle has, typically, 50-100 words worth of content. If you can’t explain the value of the list item in that amount of space, you’re not making a listicle; you’re making a resource post.
2. Choose your keywords. You generally want a primary keyword and a list of secondary keywords you’ll hit along the way. The SEO example is a good one because “SEO Checklist” is a good starting keyword. Then all of the relevant SEO keywords relating to metadata, content quality, backlinks, and so forth all make good items within the listicle.
3. Search for your competition. Listicles are an excellent format for 10x content, as I mentioned above, but you can’t 10x the competition if you’re not aware of the competition. Do searches for your keywords and for related keywords to see what comes up. Ideally, you’ll either find a wide-open keyword (which is rare) or a bunch of mediocre lists that you can take, merge, add value to, and sculpt into mega-content.
When writing a listicle post, my first step is to open up all the lists in the top 10-20 Google search results. If they’re extensive lists, I might make a spreadsheet and paste them to see and remove duplicates more easily. If they’re shorter lists, I might go through one after the other, skipping items that are repeated.
At this point, you may also want to look for a unique angle for the topic, especially if the existing competition is fierce. For example, if the space for “SEO Checklist” is packed (which it is), I might look for a unique angle on it, like:
Picking a unique angle, a unique spin, or a unique framing for your listicle can go a long way towards making it more relevant, even if 90% of the content inside it will be the same. SEO for different site types is generally the same, with a few unique tips for specific elements like recipe posts or product descriptions.
4. Determine your formatting. I typically do subheadings for the list items, an image representing the tip or tool, and a paragraph describing its value. For longer lists, I write shorter descriptions. I make each list item stand alone for very long lists and write more robust descriptions for categories. For shorter lists, I might write longer or multiple paragraphs for each item or create categories for information such as pricing, industry/niche, or subject for each.
5. Build your list. Depending on how much of an expert you are on the subject, you may do more or less planning. I often make a spreadsheet of tips, with the ones I can think of, the ones I can find, the ones in other lists on the same topic, and so on. This helps you figure out how long your list will be and thus how much writing each element will require. It also enables you to figure out what kind of formatting you want.
I recommend aiming to make your listicle an odd or unusual number of items. A list with 17 items draws more attention than a list with 20 items usually. If your list is enormous, aiming for 69 or 420 can be great just for the humor factor.
6. Write the list. Doing the actual writing isn’t all that difficult, but it’s easier if you’re an expert in the subject or have easy access to the data necessary to make your points. The more research you need to do, the longer it will take. Don’t forget to harvest specific information you might need, like pricing, and take screenshots if you’re going to.
7. Add any extra information you want to work into your article. This includes your intro and conclusion, section headings and descriptions, or extras like links to sources, links to other lists, links to other resources you’ve created, and your calls to action.