By Prebuilt Sites Team
January 2, 2023
A lot of writers will run the second we start talking about writing a list post. And it’s fair that they get such a bad reputation, because there are so many bad list posts out there on tabloids and other similar sites. But there’s a reason these sites use them! Look back at all your most popular blog posts, and I bet you’ll notice that the majority of them contain a number in them. This is because the human brain loves list posts. It tells us exactly what the article is about and breaks the information down in a way that is easily digestible. But while a number is a nice booster, but it’s not a substitute for strong writing habits, solid content marketing strategy, or effective promotion. Keep reading to learn how to write a killer list post! If you have any questions about your writing or want us to handle anything for you, reach out to us at Prebuilt Sites or The BBS Agency. We’d love to help you out!
A lot of smart writers can’t stand list posts. What’s a list post? It’s also known as a numbered list post, or a (shudder) listicle, and it’s a post whose headline features a numbered collection of things.
This post, for example, is a list post.
There are an awful lot of crummy ones out there. The tabloid sites make frequent use of them (These 17 Celebrities Used to Be Hot, etc.). In fact, all of the CRaP blogs use them liberally.
So it’s natural that a quality-focused content writer (like you) might try to avoid that sort of bad writing. But that would be silly.
And here’s why:
Smart marketers have always focused on underlying human psychological drivers. And those drivers change very little, if at all.
One of them, for whatever reason, is that we get a tiny bit mesmerized by numbers.
How to write a killer list post
When we see a number in a headline, a part of our brains gets activated (what persuasion scholar Robert Cialdini calls a Click, Whirr response), and we’re that much more likely to take an action — like, say, clicking on that headline to check out the whole piece.
If you take a look at the Popular Posts category on Copyblogger, you’ll see lots of numbers.
Now did those posts become popular because they had a number in the headline?
And that’s the problem with how most people look at list posts.
They start with the number in the headline — but that’s not the right place to start. Which leads to my first tip:
#1: Don’t start with a numbered list
You may have received an assignment from an editor, supervisor, or client to “Write a Listicle on 10 Ways to Do Our Thing.”
Your first instinct may be to bemoan the fact that the word listicle is now part of your life. I’m sorry. If we can figure out a way to burn this out of the English language, we will.
But let’s move forward.
Even if this is technically your assignment, the worst way to create a list post is to open your writing tool of choice, put the numbers one through 10 in there, and then look for ways to fill them in.
It’s probably the fastest way. But it is not the right way if you want to write better content.
You must begin with the itch that needs scratching. There needs to be a seed of a problem, an unanswered question, a fascination to know more.
Those seeds can only come from your audience.
The seed of a killer list post for electrical engineers won’t work at all on an audience of Hello Kitty cosplay enthusiasts. (Although there may well be some overlap.)
Some of your best-performing list posts can come from strong, interesting, problem-solving content that you realize, after it’s mostly written, can be lightly re-organized into a numbered list.
#2: Understand what problem you’re solving
All good content starts with the same impulse: to solve a reader problem.
(Even if the reader’s problem is boredom, which is the case for pure entertainment sites.)
And when you master SEO for content writers, it’s your job to understand those “itches” of your audience.
You have to know what’s worrying them, what excites them. You have to understand what they’re afraid of, and what they cherish, and what they are unwilling to lose.
Human existence is full of problems to solve. Some of them are simple and some are so complex that they take a lifetime to untangle. Every collection of humans (in other words, every audience) has its own set of problems.
If you’re looking for a list post about what kind of content to create, build a list of your audience’s problems instead. Answer those problems in your content, using numbered lists (and any other persuasion technique you learn) when they make sense.
Keep listening for problems, and keep researching more effective ways to resolve those problems. That, more than anything else, is what creates your authority in a topic and persuades someone to keep reading.
#3: What makes a list post fascinating?
The cornerstone of good content is usefulness. But usefulness without interest is Wikipedia, and that’s already covered.
Boring content — even if it’s useful, and even if it’s “optimized” by whatever measure you choose — doesn’t succeed. It doesn’t get shared and it doesn’t get read. (Or listened to, or viewed.)
If you consistently write fantastic headlines for mediocre or boring content, all you do is train people that much more quickly to avoid your site.
Luckily for us, relevant problems are inherently interesting. If your target audience is people with celiac disease and you put a recipe for really good gluten-free cupcakes in front of them, they’ll find you.
But a good content creator doesn’t stop there. We look for angles. Fascination elements.
A strong writing voice will elevate a list post from “moderately useful” to “must-read.”
This is where the art comes in — and why writers who have the combination of killer and poet are the ones who enjoy the most success.
The killer knows what kinds of content to create to move toward certain outcomes. But it’s the poet who creates something worth the audience’s time and attention.
Make time to write purely for pleasure. Screenplays, poetry, fiction — whatever way you like to play with words. Writers who know how to play with descriptive language also know how to fascinate.
#4: What’s the strategic goal?
Creating content just to get traffic and make advertisers happy is the hardest way to make a living online — and one you should get away from as quickly as you can.
Content marketing is a different game. It doesn’t just attract eyeballs; it exists to support a business — to attract new prospects, and educate and nurture them until they’re ready to buy.
Different types of content serve different purposes.
Some content exists to find people who don’t know you yet. Others, to strengthen your relationship with your audience. And some content addresses objections and educates prospects on why you’re the best choice to solve their problem.
Even good writers can have a tendency to throw a bunch of content against the wall and see what sticks. That’s not a smart use of your time. Understand content marketing strategy and why you’re creating every piece of content you write or record.
Originally published on Copyblogger.