I abhor list articles.
You know the type:
“9 Ways to Excel at Your Social Media Strategy in 2014”
“15 Design Trends You Won’t Believe are Coming”
“Three Ways to Be Productive If Your Office Doesn’t Have an Air Conditioner”
You probably see a hundred headlines like those on your average social media break. I’m not amused to see how many people accept to write them and drown in mediocrity, when it’s so easy to be different by doing the exact opposite of what everybody else is doing.
The problem I have with most list articles is that they don’t make me smarter
The above headlines? I made them up just now. People actually write those, and some people actually click them. And when they do click, they quickly discover that the content is shallow, of low quality, and rehashing of the rehashed. I’ve clicked enough of them to know that I should actively avoid them forever.
List articles are often written by people whose job is to maximize page impressions and ad revenue, for people who are bored. Rarely do I see a list article with real value and deep thought. Value often comes from specific examples, authentic stories and ballsy writing.
To me, list article headlines are nothing but a sign of bad content and lazy writing (and I’m not the only one to think that, although some people strongly disagree). They’re cheap tricks that websites monetized by advertising play on bored people, posing as valuable content. They’re the result of copywriters selling copywriting when the Internet was still young.
If your target audience are bored people with nothing to do and your business model is advertising, you’ll probably always have a fresh new stream of readers for your list articles, forever. But if you write content to persuade, influence, get business leads and to sell your products, you want to attract alert people in active pursuit of solutions to their problems. I strongly believe the latter group pays better in the long run.
A better alternative: an article which is a collection of links to your older related posts
Why don’t you write an article containing summaries with links to at least three or more in-depth articles on a similar topic? That would then be a valuable post-mortem list article and not a dishonest attempt at link bait. If you can also refrain from using that lovely attention-grabbing number in your headline, kudos to you! You’re a true rebel.
You can have your cake and eat it too:
- You can have a bulleted list of ideas in your article. Online readers love bulleted lists.
- Your content won’t be shallow because there’s a link next to each bulleted summary, leading to another blog post where you dive deeper into the subject.
- You satisfy the needs of both worlds: the bored people and the value seekers. The bored people will read your article and maybe subscribe to your stuff (if you exposed them to a well-placed call to action). The value seekers will follow all your links and fall in love with the depth and the breadth of your thoughts. These guys might continue to request a demo of your product or instantly buy your inexpensive infoproduct. Giving value = payday.
So for example, this is how this approach would work for me:
- I write blog posts on a certain topic - planned or ad hoc.
- After a while, I realize that I’ve written a whole series on a specific, narrow topic. For example, I love writing about creating sales proposal documents (subscribe to my Simpfinity newsletter to read exclusive articles on that topic). I could easily create a list article titled “My best and proven rules for laying out an effective sales proposal document” and link to previous blog posts where I talked about sales quote layout rules.
- I keep writing blog post on any other topic of my choosing. As soon as I have three or more older blog posts on a specific and narrow topic, I can create a new article which is a collection of them.
Stay specific and narrow
Do you wonder why I emphasized the words specific and narrow twice? One of the reason most list articles are of low quality is that they deal with broad, bigger than life topics which should fit in a book and not in a blog post. For example, “My best rules for writing sales proposals” would be too broad a topic; “My best rules for laying out sales proposals for selling web development services” is just specific and narrow enough (I’ve narrowed it down to layouts of a sales proposal document and to web development services, which is a specific industry). By being specific and narrow in my writing, I successfully laser-target my intended audience (professionals selling web development services who are also concerned about the effectiveness of their sales document layouts).