Lists, am I right? They’re everywhere you look on the internet. They’re all over your Facebook feed, flooding your Twitter timeline. Even this blog post is a list. Lists are taking over.
But we just can’t help ourselves; there’s just something about them that’s so appealing. They’re one of the best ways to get people to your site. But why? What is it about lists that make our brains happy and how can you use lists to beef up your content?
1. The brain loves data
A list article – or a cafergot shipping listicle, as it’s been portmanteau’d – promises the brain exactly what it craves: data. Better yet, categorised data. The brain anticipates X items of information all about a clearly defined topic, and… the brain is sold. The listicle taps into the same thing that makes us drawn to statistics and bite-sized facts – it is that part of the brain that covets easily accessible data without the need for unnecessary effort. Maria Konnikova writes in her article about brains and lists: “In the current media environment, a list is perfectly designed for our brain. We are drawn to it intuitively, we process it more efficiently, and we retain it with little effort.”
2. Limited attention spans online Order
Look, we’re all busy. And if we aren’t, we like to think we are. The truth is, we are overloaded with information from various sources vying for our attention. The average internet user does not have time for a 2000-word analysis on this, that and the other, no matter how well-written it may be. So the listicle is the perfect way to say to your audience, “I only need you to pay attention for the next 5 minutes”, and in those 5 minutes deliver useful information and a call to action.
3. Lists are familiar
To-do lists. Shopping lists. Wish lists. Even for those of us who remember the time before the dawn of the internet, lists are a familiar everyday item – an often-effective device to gather up a bunch of the abstract and put turn it into something easily digestible. When we click into a list on the internet, we know exactly what we’re getting, and there is something reassuring about that. We trust things we are familiar with. That inherent trust is a really useful tool if you wish to create a rapport with your readers.
4. Lists do the organisation so you don’t have to
The last thing you want to do is make your content so inaccessible that it makes your reader feel stupid. You could be writing about the most technical, most niche, most scientifically complex topic out there and people would understand it if you made a list. Take the data, explain it in simple language, and order it into a non-intimidating list. When we understand information, we can feel like we own it; and when that happens we feel a connection with that information and the source we obtained it from.
5. Lists are easier to skim Cheap
Every reader skims. Whether you’re reading web content, a newspaper article or a book, skim-reading is something everyone does in order to decide whether it’s worth devoting time to reading the piece thoroughly. Listicles are particularly brilliant because, unlike with traditional long-form articles where skimming might cause you to miss important information, the content on each section of a list is usually concise and self-contained.
6. Educate, entertain, and create a sense of community
There are various reasons to write a list. The first is to inform or educate your readers. You may do what this very list does and choose to share your expertise with readers in an easy-to-read way; you might choose to use a list to present data about your company, and so on.
Secondly, lists can be used to entertain people. There are more lists about cute cats, puppies, and other assorted fluffy baby animals, than can be counted floating around on the World Wide Web. And, silly as they may seem to some, they are popular because they are a great way to bring people into a site and they are vastly shareable… especially if they include pictures.
A third reason to make a list is to create a sense of community among readers. We all seek to know that other people experience the same things we do. If you take a situation which applies to a great number of people and list things common to all the people within that situation, you have a potential viral post on your hands. Examples include: 5 things all copywriters hate, 15 things not to say to graphic designers, and 9 things you’ll only understand if you work in travel. You’re welcome to these.
7. Lists are fun to write
Okay, so I like writing long-form articles as much as the next writer. But you know what I really love? Go on, take a wild guess.
If you guessed ‘lists’, YES.
Your readers can tell when you’ve had fun writing something. And if you’ve had fun writing it, they’re more likely to have fun reading it. And if they have fun reading it, they’re likely to experience a positive emotional connection which makes them more likely to share the content. Everyone’s a winner.
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