There is a wide range of approaches to authoring blog post content. One of the most popular formats is the list post.
Not only does a list post offer a ready made structure to start brainstorming list items, but it is also highly likely to earn social shares. In face, according to recently published analysis, list posts are second only to infographics in average number of social shares, higher than all other content types.
But don’t just create a list post without some rationale behind it. A badly structured or written list post won’t get any more shares than a poorly written diatribe. You still need to take a coherent approach to building it.
Below are my tips for how to manage your list-based blog post creation. These should help you increase the odds that it will hit the mark.
Pick a Compelling Topic
As with any blog post, the topic will play a huge role in your success. A good topic should be relevant, current, interesting or entertaining, and possibly educational. Or make it intriguing. But whatever you do, make sure it is a fit for the target audience you want reading the content.
I always like to start by looking at trending topics to identify what is hot, and what is being ignored. Sometimes I just go with one of those two options.
In other cases, I might look for different angles on the same topics. For example, I’ve seen a few bloggers talk about list posts recently. None of them covered how to approach the writing part. One was about what not to do. Another was about why to do it. So I decided to add to the conversation with this post itself.
Of course, as a subset of topic, the title matters a lot. Fortunately, you’ll find it much easier to craft titles for list posts. The most common approach is to start with the number and simply say it in plain language. For example, a recent post I published: Writer’s Block? 7 Ways To Get Past It.
Outline It In Advance
A mantra of mine when writing any blog post is to outline the key points up front. This is even more important for list posts.
The biggest benefit of outlining the post in advance? You can decide on the subheaders (e.g. H2 content) before starting to write out the body copy. This helps you not only get a head start on the content, but it also forces you to break up the content. As any good internet marketer should know, scannable content performs better than materials with long blocks of text. Subheads are the best way to make a blog post scannable.
For list posts, the outline should be very easy to build. The first step is to start creating the list items themselves. Try to keep the verbiage brief enough that you can easily port over the list items into subheads. It’s always better to have the subheads on a single line whenever possible. Is it okay to have a two-line subhead? Sure, but just not ideal.
In many cases, I will choose what list I want to create but have no idea how many list items to include. Outlining also provides you with an opportunity to flesh out what items are possible. Sometimes I surprise myself with how many ideas I’m able to cook up during the outlining process. That’s great, because readers often like longer lists of up to 24 items.
Omit Weak List Items
While the outlining process might be great for brainstorming ideas to expand your list, not all ideas will be winners. I like to make the list as long as possible, so I have the option of crossing out some items before moving forward.
You should be able to figure out which items to remove rather easily. Review the whole list with a critical eye. Which of them are the most insightful? Are there any that are common knowledge? If so, how can you put a unique spin on those items? If you cannot, don’t just publish it because you included it in the original outline. Reconsider whether it’s worthy of inclusion among the other good ideas.
Of course, you may have to leave in weaker list items to be sure the post makes sense as a whole. For example, lists where some items are dependent on other items would require you to include all of them. You should be able to figure out the tradeoffs with a little common sense. But do take time to analyze whether there are items on your list that are optional, and consider reducing it to the most impactful points when you can.
Make Sure It Follows a Logical Flow
Once you build the outline, it pays to review the flow of the post before starting to write the body copy. More often than not, I’ll build out the list and then have to reorder it before considering it the final list of items.
For posts where you are building a progression of ideas, this should work itself out. For other list-based blog posts, it is important to ensure that you aren’t all over the place. If a review of the list items feels like it jumps randomly from point to point, reconsider the order of the list. You might want to group together ideas on similar techniques. Or maybe you want to go from small to big, or from strategy to tactics.
Any good list post should have a logical flow of thought built in. Make sure yours is easy to follow, or you’ll risk writing a blog post that fails to resonate with your target audience. That would result in a lost opportunity to drive social media-based interest in your content.
Consider Possible Image Overlays
Without a doubt, we have become a visual focused society. Images and videos are uber effective at driving interest. Social shares include imagery when the page is marked up properly for social. So it’s important that you include one or more images (or a video) on any blog post you publish.
This can add a ton of richness to blog post content, especially in the case of list posts. At a bare minimum, you should include a feature image or one image within the content. When it makes sense, you can include a separate image for each line item within the list. For example, take a look at this blog post reviewing Disney analogies for internet marketing job roles. That topic is ready-made for images on each and every line item in the list.
Tell a Story With The Blog Post
Along with the flow of the post, you can really draw the reader in by building a story throughout the post. Perhaps you experienced something very uncomfortable and the list was how you remedied it. Great! Use the introduction to outline the problem. Then spell out how you addressed the problem through the list items, and conclude with a comment on how it fixed the situation or improved metrics.
Or you could include anecdotes and very short stories about how you’ve used the list items in different situations. A story doesn’t have to encompass an entire blog post. It could be simply 3-4 sentences under one of the list items.
Stories are one of the most effective tools for engaging the reader. When you have a good and compelling story to tell, use it to your advantage. Some of the most successful content I’ve ever written was based on a story, or at least written as a solution to a problem that I told in a story. This is the reason case studies are so successful – they are just carefully spun business stories!
Leave Some Stones Unturned
When outlining your blog post, you will be tempted to brainstorm every single possible list item. And you should absolutely do that.
But even after you’ve removed any of the weaker list items, you may want to go further and remove a couple of others. Why? It leaves room for conversation.
Think about it. When you read a blog post or article that covers all the details, proactively fends off objections, and buttons everything down too much, what’s left to talk about? Readers love to add to a thought process with little tidbits that come to mind, but only if those tidbits are omitted from the original piece.
This isn’t an academic paper you are writing, it’s a blog post! It is meant to be the start of a conversation. That means there should be some give and take, and some room left for others to take part. Don’t stress yourself out trying to write the “perfect” blog post. Write something that will stimulate conversation, and move on. In many cases, you’ll find it pays off better via audience engagement.
List based blog posts are a huge trend, and for good reason – they get more social shares. But it takes more than a pithy attempt to build a compelling list post. Hopefully these tips will help you write better, more successful list posts in the future.
What other tips would you add to the above? Did I miss anything big? Or in other words, what stones were left unturned that you want to talk about more?
This post is copyrighted by Return On Now – Austin Internet Marketing Consulting Services
President and Founder, Return On Now