During the last several months I’ve been experimenting with what is called the “list post.” For anyone who isn’t a blogger, a list post is one where you use both a number in the title and then you write the post around the ideas offered by that number. The reason I got started was that one of my favorite bloggers is Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. As a hugely successful blogger he reports one of the strategies behind his enormous growth was using the list blog post. In fact, it is estimated by List.ly that 30% of all blog posts are lists. So as an experiment I’ve been giving it a try and ten of the last eleven posts I have written have been in the form of a list. So do I keep it up or let it go? Here is my list of why I am both for an against list posts.
Five reasons in favor of the list post are:
1) A list post offers a focused title. As a person who follows lots of other blogs, I know that a catchy title either grabs my interest or turns me off. I think most readers are the same. Blog statistics show that the most widely read blog posts usually come with a direct, focused and catchy title. As Andy Crestodina from copyblogger.com says, “Any headline that lists a number of reasons, secrets, types, or ways will work because, once again, it makes a very specific promise of what’s in store for the reader.”
2) List posts drive traffic. According to a number of other bloggers who primarily write about the best ways to get started and grow your blog, a list post is search engine friendly. That means that it is easy for search engines like Google to index your blog. And then when people search a topic, you are easier to find and show up more often. That brings in more readers and also makes your blog more likely to be shared.
3) List posts are easy to read and/or skim. Let’s face it, we are all very busy and if you know in advance that my post has five important elements you can read those points quickly and decide if you want to read more. And because I tend to write longer than normal blog posts, I think this is a benefit to my readers.
4) List posts are easy to write. It’s true. When I write I very naturally put the information I want to include into an outline. Once I have that outline my posts practically write themselves. As most of us bloggers know, there are thousands of things to write about and one of our (my) challenges is selecting what I want to say about any topic. List posts keep me on track and help the reader follow along.
5) List posts break down the complicated and appear very practical. A big reason that I like list posts myself is that they appear to take a big issue and break it in to very discernable facts in a practical way. My brain likes the neatness of a list. When done well, a list post can contain an amazing amount of information and present it in an easy to understand way.
Now, here are five reasons against doing list posts:
1) List post after list post gets annoying. One of the blogs that I follow does a list post EVERY SINGLE WEEK. I’ve been getting them so long that I actually laugh when I get the email announcing a new post because I can’t believe they can come up with so many different ways to do a list. Probably even worse, because a list post title is so targeted, when they are very similar week after week, that really stands out and quickly becomes overdone.
2) List posts usually only offer bits of information. When writing a list post the accepted practice is to only write short paragraphs in support of your list. For example, look back over this post and you will see a series of short paragraphs for each item in the list. Sometimes that is fine but occasionally it is very important to dig a bit deeper into the topic to really explain it as a “case study.” A list post doesn’t offer that benefit.
3) Sometimes it’s better to learn from “story” instead of a list. While lists may make a blog post easy to read, they don’t usually carry the same emotional weight as a story. A story usually offers conflict and resolution. A story is about real people. A story allows the reader to empathize and relate. A list relays information very well. A story makes us care about that information in a more human way.
4) List posts imply that there is a simple solution to any situation. Hey, I’m as guilty as the next person. Just because it is easy to make and write a list doesn’t mean that it is at all easy to do what the list is suggesting. But because they usually come in such tidy package, the impression is that what they offer is easy—and it’s usually not!
5) A list post can be all fluff with no valuable takeaways. Because lists are relatively easy to write, some bloggers can come up with a list without much thought and put it out there. Unfortunately that can lead to lots low-quality, low-value blog posts. As a blogger it is critical that we do our best to share high quality, valuable information or why bother? Using a list should never be an excuse to put out less than our best.
So there you have it. This is my list of pros and cons for the list post. I thought blogger Andy Crestodina offered the same comparison on his blog copyblogger.com when he said, “Lists make your content more visible…. Stories make your content more meaningful.” Of course, there are some times when writing a list just makes sense and is the best and easiest way to convey information. But let’s not forget that sometimes the story or case study is a better approach. In the end it’s always SMART to know the difference and make the choice accordingly.
So what do you think? Please participate in the poll below and let me know what YOU think about list posts!