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Why You Should (or Shouldn’t ) Use List Blogs

In my quest for SEO knowledge I have created a list of blogs to monitor daily.  I have been watching them closely looking for similarities, soaking in expertise, and at times being overwhelmed by the creativity of bloggers.  Trying to discover the subtleties of search I stumbled upon one of my own patterns: I open list style blogs more frequently than other blogs.  Additionally, I found myself being dissatisfied with some of the lists I opened.  But why?  I decided to deconstruct what it is that makes lists so great (and also not so great). Here they are for your viewing pleasure:

Why lists are great:

1. Lists create manageable chunks of information. A reader can easily see where one point starts and ends.  Readers do not have to relate list items to other items on the list; each list item serves as a separate idea. If information is irrelevant to a reader they can easily skip over the item and resume reading at any other point on the list without affecting comprehension.

2. Lists promise tangible returns.  The “top ten things you need to know” promises that having read the article you will gain potentially ten new pieces of information (though this is not always the case).  Lower numbers seem to work better ( ie. 3-12 since anything below three isn’t  much of a list) because the blogger can spend more time per list item and the reader is promised a digestible article.

3. Lists are easy to write.  They provide an easy way to insert humour and a simple way to organize content.

4. Lists suggest a hierarchy of information. While this is not always the case, we usually assume that #1 is a much more useful piece of information than #3.  Depending on whether #1 is placed at the beginning or end of the list   suspense can build or to the reader to locate the most valuable information immediately.

5. List are searchable and get noticed. End of story: lists attract clicks. Although, I am curious to know what the conversion rate from that traffic is?

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Why lists aren’t so great:

1.  Lists break up the logic of the writer.  By dividing the categories issues become separate entities in the readers mind.  When dealing with a complex issue or providing rational for decisions lists can detract from a holistic reading.

2. Lists encourage filler.  Bloggers may add unnecessary information to ‘beef up’ their articles that is not as relevant to the reader or takes away from the main idea of the piece.  That can impact how the reader perceives the blogger or company the blogger represents; you never want a reader to feel as if you are wasting their time.

3. Lists can be repetitive.  Please scroll though this post. Did you notice each of my items starts with “Lists “verb”…”.  Sloppy writing, shame on me, is encouraged by listing.

4. Lists impact overall perception of expertise.  There is a reason that lists show up so frequently on websites like Cracked.com or in magazines: lists lend themselves to shallow entertaining reading (a.k.a fluff).  When you read the blog of someone who is an expert on a subject they more often post in editorial style; in fact, if you might stop following a blogger if they switched to only posting list style.

5.  Lists can be one-sided  instead of nuanced.  How many lists do you stumble on that present the pros and cons of an issue? My guess is that they are far fewer than those that show one perspective.

So what can we learn from this? Lists can be useful, but use in moderation and with caution.  Like any other time gauge your audience and use only when appropriate.  A list now and again can been a good way to draw new viewers to your site, but meaningful content will keep them coming back again.

Photo credit: paloetic

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About the Author

Lauren Waters is an avid marketer and communicator. MA in Communication and New Media at McMaster University with a BA from Western in Media, Information, and Technoculture. Interested in education, social media, and environmentalism.