How to Level Up Listicles (Think About the Linear Thinker)

Level up your listicles by keeping the logical thinker in your mind by Bridget Willard on

Sometimes listicles get a bad wrap. Yet if they’re so “bad,” why are they so common? Let’s take a look.

What is a listicle?

A listicle is an article that’s mostly a list. Nice one, Captain Obvious, I know. But it should be said. Articles are hard. Lists are easy. Or are they?

Plenty of content marketers use listicles as part of their content strategy. In fact, our good friend Syed Balkhi started List 25. It’s no Tumblr blog, let me tell you.

What is a linear thinker?

Do you prefer information given sequentially?

Have you ever been around that friend who can talk about 10 things in the space of two minutes? They’re not a linear thinker.

I like information presented in a logical manner, one idea at a time, preferably in a sequential order. Have you ever read, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?” This is the perfect example of sequential information.

It starts with,

“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.”

One thing leads to another and he ends up thirsty again and asking for a glass of milk. The point of the book is teaching consequences to actions and thinking a few steps ahead.

This is the way I think. In a straight line: linear. I like lists. I like to make lists and I like to read lists. And I like them in order.

So, if you’re a linear thinker, this post is for you.

What should you expect from a listicle?

You’re answering silently with “list,” right?

The big question here is whether or not the listed items should be, in fact, a list. Again with Captain Obvious. I know. I’m terrible. But the format matters.

Should it be 1, 2, 3? Or should it be a bulleted list?

If the post says, “Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media” then I want to see 1, 2, 3… 7.

If the title is “Things I learned from the Conference X” then I don’t expect the information to be listed, but still in order.

In blog posts, using the <ol> or <ul> formatting can look kind of jenky. In “Anatomy for a Perfect Blog Post,” Kevan Lee from Buffer recommends using H2/H3 header stacking. (If you check out the link, notice that above the fold, they outline the seven points in a numbered list, then expand on them in the copy that follows. Well-played, Buffer. Well-played.)

“Use subheads to make your post scannable. Subheads are the heading tags that appear inside your post editor. They might be represented as Heading 1 or <H1>, depending on the editor you use. …We use H1 headings for our headlines and H2 and H3 headings for the subheads inside each story.”

The point of the list, even if the article is 1500 words, is that it should be easily scannable. Keep to parallel formatting, whatever you decide, to win the linear thinker’s heart (yes, we’re emotional, too).

Listicles in Content Marketing

All content should be considered in a wholistic, inclusive content strategy.

There are many reasons for content marketing but education should be at the forefront. Providing useful, relevant information is how you win hearts, cozy up to Google, and, eventually, earn customers. Think about tutorials or tips and tricks. Of course, for our WordPress audience, this is one of the most popular categories.

So while you may not want every article to be a list, this can still be a valuable way to enrich your editorial calendar.

Think about how often lists are used:

  • Song Titles “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”
  • Legal Documents “Bill of Rights” originally had ten.
  • Open Letters “The Ninety-Five Theses”
  • Movie Titles “Fifty First Dates”
  • Checkout Lines “10 Items or Less”

Clearly, I could go on and on so I’ll stop now.

Why are listicles so popular?

We like to have quick access to answers.

Google content marketing ideas.  Not surprising, the top five organic results were numbered posts.

Do these results for "content marketing ideas" surprise you? They are all numbered.
Do these results for “content marketing ideas” surprise you? They are all numbered.
  • 50 Content Ideas for Your Website or Blog
  • 7 Stolen Content Marketing Ideas You Can Use Today
  • 8 Remarkable (and Stolen) content Marketing Ideas
  • 5 Content Marketing Ideas for January 2016
  • 10 Content Marketing Ideas to Grow Your Audience in 2015

The first result is a blog post from Forbes that dates back to April 2014. The third is from June of 2013. Clearly, these guys are still getting traffic.

We like traffic, right? Well, we like relevant traffic. We’re not stuffing Justin Bieber in our keywords just to get a hit.

Leveling up the Listicle

How to make a list without it looking like a list.

So website visits or sessions are good, right? They’re not good if people are bouncing.

What’s better than just a bunch of visits are relevant sessions and returning sessions. Even better is if you can get time on site over two minutes. The longer the time, the more likely they’re reading. Reading is good.

So, a WordPress shop probably shouldn’t write a post titled, “25 things Adele needs to Sing About” or “52 Reasons why the Chargers should stay in San Diego.” I mean, if that’s your side passion, go for it, but buy another domain or post it on Medium.

One way to step up the listicle is to still write long-form content. Buffer does this very well.

Another way to level up your listicle is to write highly-relevant and useful content to your demographic.

Have you seen our “Shiny New Toys” series? It’s a list of interesting, new, free plugins from the WordPress Plugin Directory. Our primary demographic is WordPress developers. So we could easily write a listicle called “Top 5 plugins in the WordPress repository this week.” Only we didn’t call it that, did we? Nope. It’s a listicle, and a series, but it’s just called “Shiny New Toys.”

The list-style format keeps them easy to write, but the content changes every week based on the plugins, and it becomes a medium for us to talk about the WordPress plugin space — which we know a thing or two about!

Your Turn

Linear thinkers like a nice flow of information, presented in a logical way. Are linear thinkers part of your demographic?

Do you incorporate listicles in your content strategy? Do you have other ways that you improve on the “listicle” format?

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