Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

3 Reasons Why You Read Those Ridiculous Lists on the Internet

“13 Ways to Look Sexier.” “47 Celebrities Who Have Killed People.” “8 Secrets to a Happier Marriage.” If you’ve ever scanned a celebrity website, read a marketing blog, or browsed your local grocery store magazine rack, you’ve noticed that media outlets love lists. But why?

Grocery list

Photo Credit: SeanPressley(Peezo) via Compfight cc

What’s all the fuss about list posts and so-called “click bait”? The Internet is full of these lists that we know aren’t the best journalism out there, but we can’t help but read them. Can we?

Here’s why list posts and click bait work

The truth is this stuff works. In certain moments of weakness, I can’t resist clicking those tantalizing headlines. I’ve tried to reform my ways, but still find myself crawling back to this embarrassing addiction.

Maybe there’s a reason why. (In fact, there are three.)

  • Lists create order out of disorder. Even if it’s sometimes artificial, the numbers in a list tell the reader there’s a defined start and end point to the article. The organization gives the person a sense of security. You know what to expect, which makes it easy to “get in” and “get out.”
  • Lists (the right kind) provoke the reader. It’s not just that these lists are about some random topic. The numbers themselves are not enough to create interest; there’s always an element of mystery and intrigue to the catchiest headlines we see on Buzzfeed and similar sites. Whether it’s a voyeuristic look into the lives of celebrities or a painfully honest portrayal of teenage life, we can’t stay away from these articles.
  • Lists are easy to scan. Whether we like it or not, the Internet is full of scanners — busy people browsing the web, asking, “What’s in it for me?” A good list post can capture a person’s attention and keep them engaged long after they’re done picking through a website.

I know. It seems cheesy and beneath your intelligence to do this. But why would these magazines and high-traffic websites do this, if it didn’t work? They care about one and only one thing: eyeballs. And they only do stuff that gets results.

So what can you and I who have a message to share with the world, a message that hopefully matters, learn from this? We can redeem the list post, using it to capture attention while doing more than contributing to the noise.

Redeeming the list post

Here are three simple steps to take to make your list best better than the average Internet drivel most readers encounter:

  1. Write a good “lede.” Don’t just jump straight into the list. Use the first paragraph (often called the “lede” or lead) to tell us what you’re going to share and why. Actually write an article — don’t just drop a bunch of random bullet points on a page.
  2. Don’t go crazy on the list items. Don’t write a list of seven things when three will do the trick. Refrain from doing a brain dump and expecting your reader to follow along, and please, for the love of Pete, don’t just pick some arbitrary number and try to fill it. Value your audience’s time.
  3. Make it exclusive. Write something specific that not everyone will be able to relate to (examples: “7 Signs You Grew Up in the 90s” or “19 Awkward Moments Every Vegetarian Understands”). What makes this content go viral is that it’s extremely relevant to the reader. These bloggers aren’t writing for the masses; that’s impossible to do nowadays. Instead, they are targeting a particular niche. And it’s working.

Oh, and here’s a bonus tip: Tell the truth. Don’t use the list to manipulate or coerce someone into reading your stuff. Use the power of a list to share something important that when they click your link, they are wowed, not disappointed.

Your readers (the real ones, not just those scanning for free tips) will thank you.

Note: I’m currently running a blogging challenge this month for anyone who wants to use a blog to reach an audience and share their message. We’re several days in, but you are still welcome to join.

What’s an example of a great list post or article you’ve encountered (or even written) lately? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Dan Erickson

    Nice lists about lists. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I’ve always wondered about using list posts on my blog. I write an inspirational blog focused on helping women find joy in Jesus, and list posts seem kind of counter-intuitive. But I’m intrigued by your reasoning. I might just give it a try this week!

    • List posts would be awesome for that type of blog, even if they’re short lists. ‘4 Ways to Help Kick off a Joy-Filled Day’. ‘5 Bible Verses that Encourage When Nothing Encouraging is Happening Around You’. Etc. But I’m a guy and am way too into lists. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Cathe Swanson

    THIS – Lists create order out of disorder.

    I think many of us can identify with this.

  • Margaret

    Love this! I have to say, I like writing list posts because of the order they create too

    • It’s fun to organize your thoughts isn’t it, Margaret?

  • Jeff, I’m now writing for the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Mind Body Green, and the Good Men Project, lists have become my best friend. You don’t always use a list, but most of the time you do, and those posts usually get the most clicks (depending on the content). If you’re going to pitch a large website, I would suggest using a list because the editors fly through submissions and they’re looking for scannable articles. A list will greatly help. I just used a list in one of the hardest and most honest articles I’ve ever written, it was scary to put this out there: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/7-things-wish-never-done-kcon/

  • Katrina Cureton

    I like writing and reading list posts, because it’s a simple way to easily get good information in an uncomplicated way.

  • Chris McDonald

    Relieved I am not the only one that “sometimes” looks at them. It does appear I will have to attempt this and measure the results

  • Elizabeth Jones

    I appreciate the suggestion of lists. I haven’t used that one yet! Two of my recent posts were quite popular. First, on my daily blog A Year of Being Kind, where I was kind to myself: https://wp.me/p4cOf8-gm. Next, on my weekly blog Matter of Prayer, where I talk of the spiritual nature of walking a labyrinth: https://wp.me/p43g3i-5r . I appreciate your regular tips and pointers, too! Thanks again. @chaplaineliza

  • I agree with you Jeff. I use list posts on my blog often. The key is to stay relevant, tell the truth and write well. The current, most popular post on my blog is a list post “10 thimgs every bride should know before her wedding night” https://intentionaltoday.com/10-things-every-bride-should-know-before-her-wedding-night/

  • Embed the list in your blog with listly. It’s fab. http://www.list.ly

  • Truthfully, I struggle with posting lists on my blog. The funny thing is that the way I start generating ideas for anything I write is by making a list of what I already know and also of what I want to explore further. I like lists for ideas, but they often don’t give me enough meat, and I think that’s why I don’t post that way. Not opposed to them but struggle with them at the moment.

  • Great advice! I had heard about this recently because I am also guilty for clicking on those crazy attention grabber lists. I gave one a try on my blog recently just to see if people would like it. https://www.hellomygoddess.com/4-things-you-can-do-now-to-stop-stressing/

  • You’re right … lists are adictive. I’m a sucker for them far too often !!

  • womanofworth

    What gets to me about these lists is how redundant they’ve become. I am on a certain ministry email list, and it seems every article title is something like “Seven signs you are heading for a church split.” or “Nine ways to tell if he’s the one.” I often wonder if they come up with the number first and it becomes a stretch to fill in those last few numerals or are these just random numbers the author pulls out of a hat? I used to find myself gravitating towards these articles, but lately they’ve become as trite as the saying “at the end of the day,” or the wretched “baby bump.” Now I find myself staying away from these articles even if they sound interesting.

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Oh dear – do not get me started on list posts! *can I please roll my eyes* YES, it IS okay to utilize link baits in moderation, but I want to scream when every (supposed) ‘social media pros’ employs this ‘strategy’ over and over again!

    LOL – on the other hand, I have had the pleasure to read some creative list posts that restore my faith in this technique!

    Thanks again, Jeff #HUGS

    Kitto

  • Hi Jeff, thanks for the insight. I agree on most of what you wrote except the part where you said, “write a good lede/lead”. I’m not sure I agree as I’m basing this on my own actions, I don’t read the lede/lead. I go straight to the list. I see the title and then go to the numbers. If there are no numbers, I scan for bullet points…and read those.

    Not sure what you think of this.

  • I love me some lists – and am glad I’m not the only one with the embarrassing addiction. I eagerly await the “19 Awkward Moments Every Vegetarian Understands” since I have many vegetarian friends – I’ll finally get all the inside jokes! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Pakinam Elhadary

    Hi Jeff! Great post! Here’s a blog post I wrote a few months back, using this technique! ๐Ÿ™‚
    https://www.pakinamwrites.com/article/5-things-youre-expected-to-be-when-you-are-a-personal-assistant/

  • Great points Jeff ๐Ÿ™‚ I see what you mean and I can totally relate. I am not a big fan of list posts – I’ve written a very few of them.

    From what I see on the internet, most list posts are brain dumps. I’d do that on a brainstorming session – pushing myself to generate as many ideas (list items) as possible. But publishing it to fill a number of items and make it a list “post” doesn’t justify – and that shows serious disrespect of reader’s time!

    Enjoyed the post ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Ironically, my podcast today started off as “How to Get Out of That Funk.”

    Not really enticing.

    As I was writing the outline, I realized I had 7 steps. So I rewrote it as “7 Steps to Getting Out of That Funk”

    Just a wee bit better ๐Ÿ™‚

    https://www.mattmcwilliams.com/episode-016-how-to-get-out-of-that-funk-podcast/

  • One of my most popular post is “Money Loves 10 Things…” https://yourlifeexpression.com/money-loves/ I used to think it was “random chance”. Then people really enjoyed another post “10 signs that you are unconsciously blocking the abundance flow”. It is so true that writing a list-oriented headline can draw some head turning attention from readers. Jeff, thank you so much for sharing your experience & knowledge! Appreciated!

  • Ngobesing Romanus

    Jeff, you are right. I am usually more attracted to a list-post than to one that is not. I love writing list-posts myself on my blog https://yoursuccessinspirer.com. and I find that it is a plus. Following your post, I’ll try to take a critical look at the way I do it to make sure I do not overdo it or make irrelevant lists. Thanks for the tutorial.

  • Ha! I love this list-post about list-posting. If this catches on, one might write a list of list-posts about list-posting–could be a niche!

    Here’s one where I tried to list the reasons why you should pretend to argue with an expert in order to get yourself writing something interesting: https://www.scottwhisler.com/why-you-should-pick-a-fight-with-an-expert/

  • Love this post! It relays speaks to why lists work.

    Here’s one I wrote that I loveโ€ฆ 10 Ways to Rock Your Next Interview

    https://ranacampbell.com/2014/01/27/top-10-interview-tips-from-someone-whos-been-around-alot-of-darn-interviewing/

  • Lists create order out of chaos. that is SO TRUE! I can’t get anything done in my day without making a list first… This post explains a lot about how my (and probably most peoples’) mind works. There is just too many thoughts! Too many “to do’s” – lists are the only way they make sense to me. But the truth factor is important too. Thanks Jeff!

  • Trish Sabri

    I despise slabs of electronic text. I like lists. And subheadings. And white space. So I intentionally format my work emails like a Jeff Goins list post. Pow!

    P.S. Now I feel like less of a sucker for getting dragged away by listy headlines! …Or maybe Iโ€™m still as much a sucker, just with company? Either way, thanks Jeff. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • List posts are easier to read and readers can easily return to check out a point. And I think it attracts more traffic than normal posts.

    Check out one of my popular list posts:

    https://storieswithoutborder.com/2014/07/15/3-reasons-why-you-should-not-give-up-yet/

  • sandi

    I do not usually spend allot of time reading a long lists.Give me quality meat. That being said, the meat cannot go on indefinitely with no direction.. As I got to the end of this article, I realized that listing does not necessarily mean bullet points. The list needs to be in my head or on paper as to express good information and get to a quality end. I will go to my last draft before I hit publish

  • Love the title of this one, Jeff. “You had me at hello.” ๐Ÿ™‚

    Lists actually do make reading simpler and the point gets across faster. My eyeballs are drawn to lists.

  • Love this post Jeff! I am partial to lists as they help organize a post and make ideas easier to both convey and digest. I agree with you though about having a lead – it shows that the author has put some thought into their post and cares about his/her readers.

    My current most popular blog post happens to be a list too ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s the top 50 motivational business quotes for entrepreneurs https://epreneur.tv/motivational-business-quotes/

  • rabartu

    Hey…
    take a look to xlist with this awesome tool you can make list posts easily and fastest…

  • Melinda Taylor

    I guess that I am not a list person and I never read them. I don’t know why. Just not interested.

  • Donna Freedman

    This may look like a listicle — “9 Writing Sins to Avoid” — but it has valid points rather than fluffy ones:
    https://writeablogpeoplewillread.com/9-writing-sins-to-avoid/

    Here’s my favorite tip from the list.:

    9. QUIT ABUSING THE WORD โ€œLITERALLYโ€! You do not literally go crazy over a product. You donโ€™t literally flush money down the toilet. A problem is (almost certainly) not literally driving you crazy. And nothing other than physical ailments, poisons or accidents is literally killing you.
    As Weird Al Yankovic notes in his delightful โ€œWord Crimesโ€ video, you need to learn the difference between whatโ€™s figurative and whatโ€™s literal. Skip this at your own peril: In the same video he notes that misuse might make readers want to come at you with a blunt instrument. Literally.