In this iteration of our This Vs. That series, our team goes head-to-head over whether you should rely on numbered blog posts — or listicles — as a way to title and promote clicks on your content.
The question: Listicles are clearly a popular way of organizing content, but are they just a gimmick you should avoid using on your blog?
Con: Don’t Use Gimmicky Numbered Posts on Your Blog
Let me begin with full-disclosure. If you search this very blog for posts I’ve written, you’ll find I have indeed written a listicle. I’ve seen the error of my ways and repented, and you can too! Here are 72 easy ways how.
We’re entering a golden age of the internet where where content (finally!) comes first. But using a numbered list in the title of your blog post because Upworthy did it and it works isn’t focusing on the content — it’s putting lipstick on a pig. Using numbered posts on your blog to mask poor content is a bandage and an excuse to have bad content and still get clicks. Call it the lazy man’s blog approach!
The Onion’s Clickhole pretty much breaks it down: Why should anyone stop creating bad content when bad content still guarantees clicks and clicks guarantee revenue?
Listicles Contribute to the Dumbing-Down of the Internet
You’ll never see an article about scientific research turned into a listicle (14 Ways Research Has Discovered Something This Year!). Some things can’t be dumbed down, so why degrade your own content? By doing so, you’re contributing to the ultimate dumbing-down of the internet.
Listicles Are A Passing Fad
Writing listicles is still a relatively new phenomenon. The longer the practice stays around, and the more that people use them, the less potent listicles will become. Eventually numbered posts will become part of the din of bland, useless content and people will start ignoring them. They’ll become immune to clicking on anything that’s numbered. Since this is clearly just a trend, do you want to look back at two years of your blogging life to see a graveyard of posts that prove you can’t come up with better ideas?
Pro: Listicles are Good for the User, Content and Traffic!
You won’t believe what happened to our blog traffic when we posted a listicle.
For the past year, the most popular post on the Mightybytes blog, responsible for nearly 13% of all our blog traffic, has been Buddy’s 5 Alternatives to Using a Carousel on Your Website Homepage. That’s right: it’s a listicle (and Buddy wrote it)! And it’s generated nearly 10,000 views since we posted it last December.
Part of the reason this blog post is so popular is because it’s ranked #2 in Google for the search term “website carousel.”
But I believe there’s another reason: because it’s written as an easily digestible list. Take a look at some of the other search results that pop up when you search for the term “website carousel”:
The Mightybytes post really pops off the page thanks in part to the fact that it’s a listicle. Looking at our result from the SERP, you know without clicking exactly what you’ll be looking at if you choose our content.
Listicles are Good UX
Blog posts that are written as lists tell the visitor exactly what they’re going to get from your article before they click. In a single format, they indicate the time commitment and value the visitor will receive from the article. And that’s great user experience!
Our click through rate from Google to the “5 Alternatives” post mentioned above on the search term “website carousel” is 25 percent. This means of the total number of times our post has been served up in the Google SERP for the term “website carousel,” one quarter of all people who’ve viewed it clicked on it. Not bad!
Some folks clearly view listicles as link bait, but I would argue that they’re efficient and therefore clickable not for sinister reasons (“you won’t believe what happened next!”), but rather because web users know just what to expect when clicking on a list. They understand the format and know it can easily be scanned.
Your Content Should Still Be Good
You’re not doing something dishonest by writing a blog post as a numbered list. If that’s what makes sense for the content, you shouldn’t shy away from it just because some people view it as an automatic degradation of your content.
It’s not the listicle format that makes the content silly or useless. It’s the content. It’s not like we’re posting content like “12 Websites That Think They’re People!” Since we don’t sell ads on our blog, useless clicks don’t help us.
If your content is terrible, your bounce rate will likely be quite high. But our 5 Alternatives to Using a Carousel post has a lower bounce rate than most of the rest of the content on our blog — by about 6 percentage points. People are clearly clicking through and sticking around, engaging with the content versus just clicking away.
Why Not Use Listicles to Boost Traffic?
If numbered lists help website visitors understand the format and don’t decrease bounce rate, and your content is valuable, why not use a numbered list to increase your click through rate and boost traffic?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with it unless you’re using it to mask weak content and manipulate people. And you’re not doing that, right?