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Listicle Writing Guide: How To Create List-Style Articles

listicle writing guide
Updated: | Content Creation vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Browse any online publication or company blog these days, and the chances are you’ll soon stumble across a listicle. 

But what makes these list-style posts so popular? And why should you consider using them on your own website or blog?

In this post, we’ll address these questions and cover everything you’ll need to do to plan and create your own top-tier listicles.

First up, a quick definition.

What is a Listicle?

A listicle, or a list-style article, is simply an article arranged in a list format. Unlike a regular article, a listicle will usually consist of an introduction followed by a series of numbered entries and a conclusion.

Why are List Posts So Effective? 

List posts are a popular format for online content due to the many benefits they provide both readers and content creators alike.

Easy to Digest

A listicle makes life easier for readers by organizing content into self-contained buckets of information that they can focus on one at a time. It’s far less demanding to process information that’s divided into smaller chunks than it is to tackle a giant wall of text (especially when dealing with multi-layered topics). 

Easy to Scan

In a world of tight schedules and ever-present distractions, people want the option to zero in on the information they need as quickly as possible. The listicle format caters to this need by being very easy to skim-read and by giving you the ability to skip straight to the stuff you find most interesting.

You Know What You’re Getting

List posts naturally lend themselves to specific, number-oriented titles like “14 Original Ideas for the Office Secret Santa”. Article titles like this give readers a clear expectation of what they’ll find in the post, instead of making readers check out the post before they can decide if it’s worth their time.

An In-Built Sense of Progression

One reason why listicles keep us engaged is that they capitalize on the psychological satisfaction we get from completing mini tasks. It’s just like when you strike off another item on your to-do list: reading one listicle entry feels a little rewarding and encourages you to move on to the next one.

Easy to Create

From a writer’s perspective, listicles are a little easier to create than other written content like case studies, white papers, and ultimate guide articles. Since listicles tend to cover a broader range of sub-topics than other articles, the research involved tends to be a little lighter. What’s more, because every entry in a listicle can pretty much stand on its own two feet, there’s less of a need to weave different sections of the post together carefully. 

None of this is to say that creating a listicle doesn’t require a fair deal of effort. As with all high-quality content, there’s no substitute for thorough research, a logical structure, and good writing. But more on that later in this post. 

Easy to Update

Another benefit that listicles offer over other article types is that they’re very easy to update. If you want to add or remove entries from a list post, you simply need to jump to the relevant section of the post, make the change, and leave the other entries as they are. Just make sure that you update the number in your listicle headline to reflect any changes.

Planning and Outlining Your Listicle

Now that you’re sold on the various benefits of listicles, let’s turn to see how you should go about creating one yourself.

It should come as no surprise that you’ll first need to lay some groundwork if you hope to create a well-crafted, value-packed, and traffic-driving listicle.

With that in mind, be sure to follow these steps before putting pen to paper.

Identify The Article Topic

The first step in creating a list post is to pick a topic that lends itself well to the listicle format. Building a listicle around a topic that would work better as a regular article will only result in an underwhelming reading experience and, in turn, poor search engine rankings. 

So what kinds of topics work best for listicles?

While there’s no definitive list (pardon the pun) of topics you should and shouldn’t cover in a list post, you should try to narrow it down to topics that it makes sense to split into a collection of sub-topics.

Tips, tricks, secrets, stats, quotes, examples, and anything else bite-sized is ideal listicle material. On the other hand, topics requiring a deep dive or involving a significant narrative element are better suited to a more conventional article approach.

An easy way to tell if your topic will work as a listicle is to look it up in Google and check to see whether the top-ranking posts are also written in list format. If they aren’t, you should probably steer clear from creating a list post on that particular topic. 

As for choosing a specific topic area, make sure it’s aligned with your brand and stands a good chance of either entertaining, educating, or inspiring your target audience. 

Finding it hard to identify good topic ideas? In that case, it might be worth checking out the type of publications and social media accounts that are popular with your target readers and making notes of any topics that stand out. You can also turn to search engine data for inspiration, which leads us to our next point.

Choose A Target Keyword

If your goal is to create a listicle that drives traffic to your website, you’ll need to identify a target keyword that people are actually searching for in order to optimize your post for search engines. Skipping this step will make it much harder to attract readers through Google. 

Fortunately, finding a suitable keyword isn’t too tricky. While there are many free and paid-for keyword research tools available (such as Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, and SEMrush), one of the most effective ways to identify a good keyword is simply to use Google Search.

When you start typing into the search bar, you’ll see that Google automatically suggests a variety of other related search terms.

search suggestions

Likewise, you can scroll to the bottom of the results page to see even more related terms.

related terms

You’ll improve your chances of ranking highly for your target keyword by focusing on long-tail keywords. Unlike generic keywords, these are less competitive and reflect specific user queries. When you target a long-tail keyword, you can create a finely-tuned piece of content that caters specifically to the user’s search intent, thereby boosting your ability to rank for that keyword.

Pick Your Listicle Type

Once you’ve settled on your topic and target keyword(s), the next step is to decide what kind of listicle will best serve your purposes. 

The right listicle format for you will depend on your topic and how much time you can dedicate to research and writing.

Again, the rules for listicle formatting are not set in stone, but here are some examples of common approaches:

  • Standard list: This is the most basic type of listicle consisting of a series of short entries with images. The order of entries may be arbitrary, but they are often arranged alphabetically, chronologically, or by their degree of importance.
  • Expanded list: This is the beefed-up brother of the standard list, with each entry expanded to include more comprehensive information on the topic at hand. These lists will usually contain one or more paragraphs per item instead of just a sentence or two.
  • Definitive list: These lists collect the most important things readers should know about a particular topic. Popular versions include “best-of” and “can’t-miss” lists. Definitive posts are an excellent way to position yourself as an authority on your chosen subject.
  • Experience-based list: These listicles are designed to pass on lessons learned during the course of the writer’s personal experience with a particular topic.
  • Roundup list: These lists pull together stats or opinions from various authorities and experts in your niche. Done correctly, they can create an incentive for anyone featured in the post to link to it and share it with their followers.

Evaluate The Competition 

The next thing you should do is evaluate the current top-ranking posts for your target keyword.

Sizing up the competition will give you a good idea of what information you should cover and what minimum level of quality you should provide in your own post. After all, Google selects its top-ranking results based on its best estimation of what users want to see. So if all the top list posts on your chosen topic contain 16+ items, then the chances are creating a 7-item post just won’t cut it.

Evaluating the competition may also reveal untapped opportunities for providing additional value to your readers. One simple way to identify important sub-topics that the competition may have overlooked is to check for reader feedback in their comment sections.

So the purpose of studying your competitors’ content is to figure out what you should include in your post and identify new ways of providing even more value. Be sure not to plagiarize their content and avoid including different information just for the sake of it.

Establish A Unique Angle

One of the surest ways to stand out from the crowd and provide more value to readers is to pick a fresh, exciting angle for your listicle.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but one approach is to look at the angles taken by your competition and think of how you could improve them with an unexpected twist.

So, for example, suppose your target keyword is “tips for traveling Europe,” and the top three results in Google are all variations of “X tips for traveling across Europe.” You might decide to set your post apart by adopting a more offbeat angle like “X tips for traveling Europe (that will keep you out of trouble).”

Some other great ways to add additional value include drawing on your own experiences, asking other influencers in your field for their opinions, and, of course, reporting any primary data that you’ve collected yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t just regurgitate whatever’s already out there. If your listicle offers nothing special compared to posts that already rank well for your keyword, your chances of attracting readers and backlinks will be pretty low.

Outline Each List Item

The final step in planning your listicle is to outline each item and gather any relevant research. Having a clear skeleton in place beforehand will make life much easier when it comes to writing the post. 

If your list entries need to be placed in a certain order, now is a good time to arrange them.

You don’t need to get hung up on the exact number of items in your list (provided it’s not way more or less than what the competition has). What’s more important is that you provide high-quality content for each item you have.

The level of detail you choose to include for each item will depend on the type of listicle you’re making. A standard list could do just fine with surface-level information, while an expanded list will obviously need more detail. Once again, you can use the competition to gauge how much detail is necessary.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that readers will be looking for the best content available on your topic. So before you start writing, be sure to arm yourself with the most up-to-date information available and collect any statistics, quotes, visuals, or screenshots that you think will help bring your post to life.

How to Write a Listicle

Now that your topic research and article structure are in place, it’s finally time to start writing your list article.

Create An Engaging Introduction

A solid start to your listicle is essential since around 55% of readers will stick around for just 15 seconds or less.

Your introduction has two jobs: pique the reader’s interest and tee up the rest of your post. It should also incorporate your target keyword.

So make sure your opening sentences cut to the chase and make it abundantly clear to the reader what value is in it for them. 

Add Body Content To Each List Point

The next step is to flesh out your list items using the research you collected during the planning phase.

As with your introduction, your readers won’t tolerate any fluff, so you should make sure that every sentence adds value. Also, if you make any bold, factual statements, be sure to back them up with the relevant citations. You should also include contextual links to other posts on your site and authoritative third-party content if you think it will add value to your readers.

When it comes to your writing style, your best bet is to keep it relatively conversational and to prioritize clarity above all else. Avoid using jargon if you’re addressing a casual audience, and make sure to provide definitions if you do have to use technical terms.

Finally, be sure to incorporate your target keyword throughout your body content to improve your ranking potential. However, don’t litter your post with awkwardly-placed keywords since doing so will put off readers and could damage your SEO efforts.

Use Images and Video To Add Context

Images, illustrations, and videos won’t just break the monotony of non-stop reading; they will also provide the context needed for readers to truly grasp what you’re saying.

In fact, research suggests that we remember just 10% of a piece of information three days after reading it, but as much as 65% of it if the information is coupled with a picture.

If you can’t source your own visuals, you can always find free, high-quality images from websites like Flickr and Unsplash. Just make sure you comply with any attribution rules. 

Include A Compelling Conclusion 

When it comes to writing blog posts, content creators often have a tendency to treat the conclusion as an afterthought.

This is a mistake. 

Your conclusion should restate the main takeaways from your listicle and provide some final motivation for your readers to take action with a clear call to action. For example, you could encourage them to go out and implement what they’ve learned, share the post with their friends and colleagues, sign up to your email list, or check out some other piece of content on your site. 

Best Practices for Listicle Posts

Now that we’ve covered the fundamental steps involved in building a top-notch list post, let’s take a quick look at some important best practices to keep in mind before you hit publish.

Pay Attention to Formatting

We’ve already seen that a major selling point of listicles is that they’re easy to scan and easy to read. 

But this is true only if you format them correctly!

Make sure that the sub-headings for each of your list items stand out by formatting them as H2 headers (or H3 headers nestled within a sub-heading), and don’t forget to number them so that readers can keep track of where they are.

You should separate your paragraphs with line breaks and try to limit them to around three or four sentences. It’s also good to use bullet lists, bold fonts, and italics whenever you need to highlight important information.

For especially long lists, you might want to include a table of contents with jump links either towards the start of the post or in the sidebar. That way, your readers can immediately skip to the section of the post that interests them the most. 

Avoid Clickbait Titles!

To the extent that listicles have a bad rap in the content marketing community, it’s because too many writers have lured audiences to click on their articles by using misleading titles.

Your headline must correspond with what you actually talk about in your listicle. And while the whole point of a headline is to grab the reader’s attention, you should steer clear from using sensationalist or overly-provocative headlines. 

Don’t Short-Change Your Readers

Similarly, avoid frustrating your readers by ensuring that you remove any vague or irrelevant information, factual inaccuracies, or blatant spelling and grammatical errors.

Fact-check and proofread your post before publishing and always keep in mind the overarching goal: to create a high-quality post that your audience will want to read.

Final Thoughts on List-Style Articles 

List posts have become an extremely popular way to present content, and with good reason. They provide a super-convenient way for readers to consume information, and they are easier to create than articles that follow a more conventional format.

Despite that, creating a top-tier listicle is no mean feat. To attract a wide readership and compete in the search engine results pages, you’ll first need to put in the effort to carefully plan, research, write, and format your list post.

The good news is this post has covered all the fundamental steps you’ll need to follow to achieve listicle success. So now it’s time for you to get out there and show the world how it’s done!

vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of WordAgents.com. I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!


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