The Power of List Posts and Why They Work

The list post has become increasingly popular in recent years. From the top five places to visit during July to the top 10 burger joints in Denver, lists happen to draw in readers and have become favorable material for the public to read and invest their time into. The formatting of such lists might frustrate some, forcing site visitors to click through many pages to reach every post, but there is no denying the importance of creating list posts, both in terms of traffic and interest. Here are several reasons as to why list posts work and why the provided content is just so powerful.

Numbers in Titles Generate Interest

One of the best ways to make a post instantly more desirable is to include a number in it. Instead of “The Top Water Parks in North America,” a title of “Top 5 Best Water Parks in North America” will generate additional interest and more clicks. According to HubSpot (2017), when a title includes a number it generates more traffic and readers are more interested in clicking on the post. In fact, 36 percent of Internet users prefer a number within the title of a blog post. The next closest is a post addressing the reader (“Top Water Parks You Will Enjoy”) at 21 percent and “How To” articles hitting 17 percent.


Why exactly does a list prove so popular? What is it with numbers that attract the attention of Internet users far and wide? There are a few reasons for this. For starters, the human brain likes exacts. It likes definitive answers. So, when a person sees a number post, the brain likes this because before even opening the link, it knows definitively what it will find. Readers also know they will be able to scan over the content easily. Some lists provide paragraph blurbs about each point. Others simply add a visual aid with the section title. Whatever the exact format, it's easy to scan and gather all the information of a post. The same isn't always the case with a "how to" or question post. In the age where instant gratification is everything online, list posts deliver.

It’s Not “Fake”

The term “fake news” is in the air more now than ever before, and that’s likely not going to change. Now, it’s not to say people can’t just create number posts or print their own opinion lists as there is nothing wrong with that. However, a list post provides clarity. Many readers are fed up with being duped or tricked into clicking on an article that doesn’t deliver what they assumed would wait for them on the other side of the link. Other post formats do not always deliver on what a reader believes they will find. However, if a title is the “Top 5,” of something, the reader knows exactly what they will receive on the other end. There are no surprises, and, in their mind, the headline isn’t “fake.”

Another post form growing in popularity is the suspense-filled headline. This kind of title generates interest by peaking a reader's interest. They want to know what will happen on the other side. It's basically a cliffhanger in title form. What will happen is likely anyone's guess, which is why it can leave some frustrated as it doesn’t always deliver what they thought (or want) to happen.

The number posts will always deliver. As the HubSpot (2017) research suggests, 36 percent of readers say number posts are the clearest, while only 11 percent of readers say the question posts are the clearest.


Odd Numbers Do the Trick

Even in the lists world, some will perform better than others. In general, an odd number seems to fair better and generate more traffic than an even number list. The exact reason behind why odd numbers generate more traffic than even numbers isn't known specifically. It might be because people are so used to reading "top 10" lists that something with a different number tends to stand out. Whatever the reason behind it, odd numbers do bring in further traffic than even numbers. According to Medium, odd numbers don’t just bring in the traffic, but the number 25 brings in the most traffic. It’s an odd number, easy to digest and it offers more information than a top 5 or 10 list.


Many times, people want to see their own favorites on a list. It makes it more agreeable. So, whether it is the "Top 25 Super Heroes" or "Top 25 Kinds of Cereal," it gives the reader more options to find their favorites. People, in general, want to be proven right. They want to be acknowledged and accepted for a correct assessment. While adults do not receive the same kind of praise and approval as a child, lists can provide, in a way, recognition.

Lists are Scannable

The ability to quickly gather information from a post is extremely important. People do not want to spend much time reading a post if they don't have to. They will scan it, take from it what they need and if it proves enlightening enough, they might dig deeper into the actual context of the material. What many online publishers do not understand is writing for the Internet is substantially different than writing for a newspaper. Newspaper publishing has shifted in recent years to make content easier to scan (or at least break up long chunk paragraphs). However, few other posts are as easy to scan as a list. It's why other kinds of posts, like listicles and "how to" articles, do well. These are easy to scan and generally right to the point.

Internet users are not just searching for instant gratification. They don’t have much of an attention span. Between the flashing links and knowing other websites provide similar content with the click of a button, visitors become more likely to back out and head over to a different site. According to Time Magazine, the average attention span of an Internet user is eight seconds. It's difficult to concentrate on a single bit of information on a screen when not only are there varying windows on a screen but often multiple screens (tablet, phone, computer) in front of a user at the same time. It is imperative to give a reader what they want, when they want it. If they don't receive it, they likely will not stick around both on the current visit and on future site visits.


Lists are Easy to Share

One of the top reasons why an Internet publisher needs to focus on lists is because it’s easy to share. Not only does it bring in the initial wave of readers who are interested in easily scannable material that may align with their own viewpoints, but they can share the content with their friends and followers on social media with the click of a button. Whether they decide to tweet the list, post it to Facebook or pin it to Pinterest, a list is easy to share. According to Buzzsumo, list posts are the second most shared kinds of posts online (behind infographics, which is more or less a list built into a singular image with visual accompaniments to it). Infographics see, on average, around 14,000 shares. Lists sit at second with 11,500 shares. The next closest kind of post is a “Why” post at nearly 8,000 shares. The average post share style receives around 7,500 shares, so the list is far above what nearly all other post types can deliver in terms of social sharing and generated traffic.


List Phrasing is Also Important

Lists are great for readers looking to take in quick bursts of information without reading a full article. As mentioned previously, lists are easy to share and post on social media. However, the phrasing of the list title (and the subject matter) plays a big role in not only the frequency of social shares but what social media service the content is shared to.

According to BuzzSumo, lists are five to 10 times more likely to be shared than all other format types (this does vary a bit based on readership, which will be covered further down). However, the individual phrasing of certain posts plays a role in where the content is shared. Facebook, in general, is perceived as the top social media site for sharing content to. Most of the time this holds true. However, when titles include how-to based information, revolves around arts and craft projects or recipes, even when in list form, the content sees a sizeable jump in social shares on Pinterest. As the graphic demonstrates below, an article titled “10 New Uses for Zucchini” saw 3,000 shares on Facebook (with just four on LinkedIn and 68 on Twitter). However, it saw a whopping 1.3 million shares on Pinterest. So even when a post is done in a list format, the topic of the post and the title of the post makes a big difference in where the content is more likely to be popular. Websites looking to boost following and subscriber numbers on certain social media platforms need to keep this in mind when creating new list posts.


(But) Understand the Readers

It is important for a website to understand it’s current readership and what people are looking for. Some websites will see greater success with other kinds of posts based on what people are looking for. News organizations, for example, have readers who often want longer content or content that has a bit more information to it than the standard number post. BuzzFeed directly compared the number of social shares of its own posts with that of The Guardian, a news organization out of the UK. BuzzFeed lists saw the greatest number of shares at around 7,900. The next closest article type was “How to” articles at around 6,000 shares. However, The Guardian saw “Why” posts reach the highest level of social shares. Why Posts had around 1,400 shares, while list based posts received just around 400 shares.


Beyond indicating the popularity of BuzzFeed, it demonstrates that while producing list articles is important for all blogs and websites, understanding readership and the key demographic is still crucial. It can indicate what post types will bring in the greatest amount of traffic and how it might affect returning visitors. Above all else, bloggers and website owners need to experiment with posts. List posts have the potential of connecting with the reader while making it easy to scan and share. The Buzzfeed article demonstrates how the right blog can take advantage of lists when the right audience subscribes to it. The only real way to determine whether lists will prove beneficial to a website is to experiment with the lists and monitor both bounce rates and social shares.

The BuzzFeed and The Guardian comparison did highlight that, despite the kind of post or the original publisher, most content remains Facebook share heavy. Most of all content is shared on Facebook. The Guardian did see an increase in Twitter shares, no other social service, whether it is LinkedIn, Google+ or Pinterest sees anywhere near the kind of share traffic as Facebook. So, when creating a list (or any other publishable content), it is important to tailor it to display on Facebook.

In Conclusion

It is important for a blog or website with regular posts to spread out the kind of material and topic styles. Different topics and different methods of writing bring in varying readers. One of the top ways to do this is by varying the kind of posts published and includes popular list posts. People enjoy list posts as there is a desire to not only compare similar products, ideas, and services against one another, but to see if the reader agrees with the post or not. While it is important to not solely base posts on this style, including lists will generate interest, bring in more traffic and keep readers (and subscribers) interested.


Tells Us –

Have your readers found list-type posts to be more engaging then other types of content? Would you recommend everyone utilize the power of list-type posts when blogging?

Written by Mike Williams

I am a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of business experience. My goal with this blog is to pass on some of what I have learned in order to help you achieve success in business.

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