7+ Tips to Writing Effective List Posts

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Are list posts the sign of a lazy blogger, or an incredibly effective way to draw traffic to your blog?

As someone who has blogged professionally for over five years now, I vote for the second option. List posts, done right, are an effective way to draw traffic to your blog.

In this post, I’ll share my secrets for writing list posts that work.

Over the years, I’ve written dozens of posts and attracted thousands of page views. During that time, I’ve noticed that some of my most popular and effective posts are in fact, list posts.

List posts work because their scannable and usually quick to read. But not all list posts are created equal.

Here are seven (plus) tips for creating effective list posts.

Tip #1: Do Your Homework

Creating a list post is not an excuse for slacking off. Your information has to be good or you’ll lose your credibility.

If you’re listing resources, examine each one closely. Make sure that it is still available and has good reviews.

I often include the price of a resource and specify whether a trial version of the tool is available. Readers love trial versions.

If you’re listing principles or steps, double check to make sure that each point is valid. Also, make sure that you did not leave a step or principle out.

Tip #2: Pay Attention to Length

A quick rule of thumb is the longer the list, the shorter the copy in each list item. This post, for example contains only eight list items, so I can include quite a bit of text within each list item.

However, for lists over ten items I typically only include a sentence or two with each item. If you add anything more, your list will get bogged down with big chunks of text and your readers won’t read the whole thing.

Also, if I need to include more than one paragraph within a list item, I use the headings to number the list. This post is a prime example of that.

Tip #3: Use Formatting

Just because you’ve got a list doesn’t mean you can ignore other types of formatting. Remember, formatting breaks up text and makes your post more scannable.

Use bold, italics, or even hyperlinks to add interest to your lists. And don’t forget about images, which are a great way to draw the eye and add interest to your post.

Tip #4: Numbered Lists vs. Bulleted Lists

When I started out, I didn’t realize that readers automatically assume that a numbered list is ranked. I only realized this when I started getting comments like, “why isn’t my tool listed first in the list?”

Of course, I hadn’t ranked the list at all. It was in random order.

To avoid this, I often include the phrase “in random order” in a numbered list’s introduction. Or, I alphabetize the list and include the phrase “in alphabetical order.”

Of course, you can also avoid the perception of ranking by using a bulleted list. But I prefer numbered lists if the heading includes a number. That way the reader can see that I didn’t cheat and leave out a list item. ;)

Also, some lists, such as step-by-step procedures, should always be numbered.

Tip #5: Details Matter

It’s the little things that make for a high quality list post. Double-check your work to make sure there are no typos or spelling errors. Also, click on any hyperlinks to make sure they are not broken.

Some time ago, I read that posts with a numeral in the list’s headline (7 Tips) get more page views than posts with the number spelled out in the headline (Seven Tips). I’ve tested this myself, and it really does seem to make a difference.

Tip #6: More Extras that Make a Difference

Readers love to get something extra. That’s why I often include a bonus list item (and tell the readers that I’m doing it).

I start out by referring to the extra list item in the heading (7+ Tips) or (7 Plus Tips). Then, when I share the extra tip I label it as a bonus.

This is more effective than just labeling the post “8 Tips…” because readers think that they got something extra. It’s psychology that works.

Tip #7: Promote, Promote, Promote

The best list posts in the world won’t get read if you don’t share them. That’s what social media is for.

I share my list posts on:

  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon

Share more than just your own posts, though, and be careful to follow each social media site’s rules.

Bonus Tip #8: Revisit Your List Posts for More New Post Ideas

By their very nature, list posts are usually overview posts. That’s because a list doesn’t allow you to provide a lot of depth about the list item.

The good news is that you can often develop new post topics from your list posts.

For example, from a resource list you could select a resource for an in-depth review. If you’re listing business principles, you can select one principle and make it the focus of an entire post.

Some of My Most Popular List Posts

Since the topic of the post is list posts, here are some of my most popular list posts:

What Do You Think?

What additional questions do you have about list posts? What suggestions would you add?

Comments

  1. says

    I like lists. They are easy to read, although not always as easy to put together. Lists are perfect for the web, as such articles are easy to scan with the main points highlighted and each point split into manageable and digestible smaller paragraphs. Laura, I agree that using a numeral instead of spelling the word out works best. It violates AP Stylebook practices, but it does work.

  2. Laura Spencer says

    Thanks Matt!

    A good long list can take most of the day to put together.

    I think the AP Stylebook was originally based on print. It should probably be adjusted for web content.

  3. says

    While I will admit to reading quite a few list posts, and that those on my site get more views, they sort of annoy me. It’s a vague annoyance, though, that is hard to pinpoint and describe. I think it is just their ubiquitousness. They are just everywhere, and my inner rebelliousness pops up. Silly, eh? After all, they are everywhere for a reason!

  4. says

    Hi Dava,

    Not all list posts are created equal. Some are not well done or worth spending even the few minutes it takes to scan them.

    I always try to make sure mine are worth the reader’s time.

    As far as popularity, list posts are one of the most scannable types of posts. Like it or not, today’s online reader is in a rush and scanning a list is a quick way to digest bite-sized chunks of information in a hurry.

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