If you use Twitter or Facebook, chances are, you have seen list articles at least once in your online life. Seriously, they are very hard to miss. You’ve probably seen dozens of them in the past year. In fact, they’re hard to avoid. From Top 10 Foods that make your belly fat to the Top 3 Dirty secrets Facebook doesn’t want you to know to the Top 8 Reasons why women find funny guys sexy, so on and so forth. It all follows a basic formula: There’s a number, there’s a particular need or an emotion and then you just plug in an introduction and a numbered list and a short conclusion.
It seems that list articles are written in such a way that they come off of a template. In fact, this is precisely what’s happening with many outsourced content companies. They have some sort of template called the swipe file which the writer would then customize to fit the particular theme of the list article that they are working on. After all, who wants to reinvent the wheel, right? Well, the problem is that most list articles suck, seriously.
It has reached the point that many users of Twitter and Facebook don’t even read them after a while because it’s like seeing the same formula over and over again. Sure, every once in a while you get a very creative writer that manages to breathe some life into the formula, however, finding a creative writer in the online content marketing space is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. They’re few and far between. Most of the materials produced online are outsourced to companies that really crank out these products like the factory cranks out peanut butter cookies.
There’s not much difference, it’s all about meeting a quota, it’s all about getting some backlinks for SEO purposes or social media mentions. Sadly, treating list articles as a commodity really destroys the intrinsic value of list articles. Here are some guidelines on how to make sure that your list articles don’t suck.
List Articles Work, But…
The main reason list articles work is that most people online have attention deficit disorder. Seriously, the more you use the internet, the shorter your attention span. This is not some sort of mental disease, this is not some sort of cognitive disorder, this is just part of how your mind copes with so much data.
Really, if you turn on your Twitter and you’re just going through your feed and you have a decent number of people you’re following, you won’t run out of stuff to read. There’s just so much stuff to process. Twitter has been described as trying to drink from a fire hydrant. Sure, it’s possible, but you definitely don’t want to do it because it’s definitely uncomfortable and pointless.
Unfortunately, there’s just so much information being blasted towards the typical internet user from Facebook, Twitter and other sources that most internet users develop a coping mechanism that mirrors attention deficit disorder. In other words, you either hook them in the first few seconds or they close the window and move on to the next piece of information. At the very best, if you do manage to get their attention, they’d just scan the subheadings and maybe just read a sentence or two of the supporting paragraphs. If they really find your article compelling and entertaining, they will then take the time to read the material thoroughly.
Do you notice the filtration process here? For every person that actually manages to read your complete article, there are many more that just click the back button. This is why most websites have high bounce rates. A lot of the time it’s because your content is weak. It’s so weak that it doesn’t give them enough reasons for them to stick around. List articles are built to fix this reality. List articles quickly identify with the mind of the reader that there are so many items that they need to pay attention to. Also, the list articles title, if it is written properly, communicates why they need to pay attention to the article.
List articles are very easy to read because if you want, you can just focus on the subheadings and have enough information to move on. That’s how powerful list articles can be. Unfortunately, they’ve been beaten to the ground and most importantly watered down that the power of this format has really just vaporized in the eyes of many internet users. If you want to bring back some life into the list articles that you are using for your websites or your blogs, pay serious attention to the discussion below.
Constantly Disappointing your Readers and Losing List Articles’ Power
This is the bottom line. List articles have been so debased and beaten up by writers in marketing companies that don’t know what they’re doing that it has triggered a downward spiral. Readers would look at a list article, try to read it, get disappointed because the content sucks, and then they would see another list article posted by another blog, and then they go through the same process. There’s only so many times a person can go through this process until they completely block out the list article format. This would be a tremendous loss because from a content marketing perspective, the list article format is very powerful.
Remember, it is aimed at appealing to people with short attention spans. It is a very powerful vehicle unfortunately people have just been abusing this vehicle. There’s a constant series of disappointment and you can only disappoint your readers for so long until list articles have completely lost all power. The key is to make sure that your list articles don’t suck. At the very least, you should make sure your list articles don’t commit any of the seven deadly sins listed below.
The Seven Deadly Sins of Most List Articles
What follows are the most common features of weak list articles. It didn’t take me long to filter my Twitter feed to come up with this list of the 100 or so list articles that have based this list of deadly sins on. Only a handful managed to avoid any of these errors. You would do well to produce list articles that don’t commit any of these errors. At the very least, you would stand head and shoulders above your competition.
List Article Deadly Sin #1: Deceptive of Lying Headlines
How many times have you clicked a link because it has a powerful headline? Whether on Facebook or Twitter, we get really excited when we see a link that promises some sort of secret or threaten some sort of scandal or make some sort of promise, but when we clicked through, it turns to be a list article that really doesn’t really get off the ground. The only thing it has going for is the awesome title. This happens again and again. If writers and content marketing companies keep pairing powerful headlines with articles that have nothing to do with the headlines, they’re basically just shooting themselves in the foot. Eventually, their great list articles will stop attracting clicks. Make no mistake about it. If your list article is weak, but the headline is strong or makes some sort of promise, you’re deceiving people. You’re lying to people.
List Article Deadly Sin #2: Promising One thing, Delivering Something else
This is closely related to the first deadly sin above. The big difference is some headlines just slap you across the face as outright lies. They basically just make a bold face lie. They make a claim and then when you read the article, it has nothing to do with the claim. It just happens all the time. Some marketing companies and writers try to dial it down a notch or two by promising something and delivering something else.
Well, this is really not much different from lying. This is just like telling a white lie or baiting and switching. Again, the end result is disappointment. You can only disappoint your readers for so long until they get sick and tired of you. It’s a bad idea. Even if you try to play it soft and go heavy with a strong headline but try to steer the conversation elsewhere with the actual meat of your article, you are still disappointing people. You may not be lying per se, but the end result is disappointment.
List Article Deadly Sin #3: Captain Obvious Strikes Again
You would be surprised of as to how many list articles out there with amazing headlines claiming all sorts of secrets, all sorts of little known information and all sorts of promises being stock by obvious information. Let’s face it, if I clicked a link that says there is some sort of secret or some sort of method that I need to know so I can take my business to a whole new other level, and I’m taken to an article that talks about installing WordPress or something basic like that, you know what I’d feel. I would feel disappointed.
So would you and 99% of the rest of humanity. Unfortunately, this just happens all the time. It’s clear that who wrote the article really doesn’t have too many list items to begin with so they try to pad the list by adding really obvious common sense stuff. If you’re tempted to do this with your list articles, resist the temptation. Otherwise, you’re basically just educating your readers to disregard your list articles.
List Article Deadly Sin #4: Assuming the Reader is a Newbie
As the old saying goes, if you assume, you make an ass out of ‘u’ and me. This is precisely what’s happening with badly crafted list articles that always assume that the reader is a novice. While this might make sense if your target audience are composed of total beginners, but guess what, the longer a person reads your blog, the more expertise that person builds. This person is probably not just reading your blog, but reading other people’s websites and blogs as well.
Don’t always assume that your readers won’t progress past a certain point. If your list articles are always geared towards newbies, you turn off people that have developed a loyalty to your content or to your Twitter feed. This is precisely the group of people you don’t want to turn away. This is precisely the group of people that might eventually put money in your pocket. Remember, these people are already familiar with you. They already like your content. To a large extent, they already trust you. Closing sales is built on trust. In other words, when you drive away these people with newbie list content, you are driving away the segment of your audience that is in prime position to buy from you.
List Article Deadly Sin #5: Starting with the Weakest Parts of the List
Unless your list has a logical progression, it’s a bad idea to start your list with the weakest part of your list. Why? Remember, people don’t have that much time to read materials online, so they’re going to scan your article. If you start your list article with the weakest part of your list items, many of your readers would stop at that point, click the back button or close the window. They’re going to scan something else. The whole point here is to make sure that you draw the reader into your list.
So it’s a good idea to start strong and then include some weak items in between the strong pieces. This way, you keep pushing the reader along. You keep pushing the reader down the page. You have to remember, the longer reader is on your page, the higher the chance that they would read your materials. The more they read your materials, the more they like you. The more they like you, the more they would trust you. They more they trust you, the more they would buy from you. This is the process. Posting list articles with the weakest parts at the top disrupts this process.
List Article Deadly Sin #6: Bad Grammar or Low Production Quality
A lot of the materials posted online are outsourced from developing counties. There’s no problem with this per se, however, if you’re publishing this material on your blog or website, it’s your responsibility to proofread the materials. Make sure that you spot bad grammar or you look for bad sentence construction. Nothing destroys your list articles’ credibility than spelling errors.
Think about it. In the mind of your reader, if you didn’t even take the time to check for spelling errors, it means you probably don’t respect your readers. You probably don’t take the time to truly pay attention to their needs. Remember, each and every piece of content you publish sends signals to your readers. Keep sending the signal that you don’t care due to sloppy mistakes or just bad editing, don’t be surprised if many of your readers stop visiting your blog or website.
List Article Deadly Sin #7: No Graphics and Bad Formatting
You have to remember that list articles are still text blocks. Even if you cut them up, even if you use fancy fonts, even if you space them out, you’re still dealing with text. Let’s face it, text can get boring quickly. You have to make sure that you put graphics with each list item or at the very least have one central graphic that would centralize the attention of the list reader. At the very least have some sort of graphic that would encapsulate all the issues raised by your list article. Without graphics and organizing element, your list article can look very generic. Remember, people are scanning, and the more reasons you give them to stick around, the higher the chance that you would make some sales later on down the road.
Now that you know the seven deadly sins of most list articles, it’s your job to do the opposite. In other words, come up with a strategy to fix the problems raised by these seven deadly sins. These are very common. They take many different forms. It’s your job to identify the different forms they take in your particular content and stop it. If you just cut out these seven deadly sins, your list articles will look very different from your competition. This is precisely what you need to gain a competitive advantage.