Don’t Be a Content Snob: Click Bait and Listicles are Alive and Well

June 14, 2021

“Click bait and listicles need to become extinct.”

Excuse me?

As one polarising Australian politician once said, “Please explain.”

I read the above quote about clickbait and listicles in a post by a fellow content marketer and immediately felt my hackles go up.

OK, I’ll concede that clickbait is generally used as a pejorative. Thanks largely to Buzzfeed, et al.

But you can hardly deny the success of the Buzzfeeds of the world… and their undeniable ability to get a sh!t-ton of traffic (e.g, 9 BILLION monthly content views) by tapping into the zeitgeist and catering to the so-called lowest common denominator.

But listicles?

They get a bad wrap because people don’t do them justice.

The same content marketer quoted above, said, “The reader is so much more discerning now, and things like, ‘Five ways to blast belly fat’? They’re not relevant.

Are you serious?

Even though I suspect the Five ways to nuke the flab I’m carrying around my midriff probably:

  1. Require more exercise than I am willing to commit to,
  2. Involve abstaining from things I am not willing to abstain from, or
  3. Are designed to part me from my hard-earned money…

I’ll still check them out if I am suddenly:

  1. Overcome with self-loathing,
  2. Inspired to be the best person I can be, or
  3. Genuinely curious to see if they have even just one good idea that could help me feel more comfortable taking my shirt off.

It’s About Understanding User-Intent

My point is if the solution matches the user-intent, then Bingo!


Just because as a marketer, or a copywriter, you’re bored, or even disdainful, of the listicle format… doesn’t mean your audience is, too.

Just because you’ve moved on doesn’t mean other people have to, or need to.

Consider: If I’m overweight and looking for ideas to get started on a weight loss journey, there’s nothing wrong with glancing through Five Ways to Blast Belly Fat.

In fact, some of the best content marketers – people who run (tried and tested) affiliate programmes – have enticed thousands of customers with that promise… and fulfilled it.

Because content marketers who rely on affiliate income are the best content marketers. They put their own money where their mouth is.

Don’t be a content snob; Clickbait and Listicles are alive and well.

They’re perfect Top-of-Funnel (ToF) content for people who aren’t yet fully aware of the issue or the possible solutions.

And they’re a great way to get an overview of something you suddenly realise you need to know.

Use Listicles to Get More Engagement

It’s a matter of understanding HOW to use listicles and clickbait to get engagement.

And then taking that person through a journey into Middle-of-Funnel (MoF) and Bottom-of-Funnel (BoF).

For example:

  • ToF – Five Ways to Blast Belly Fat
    • Navigational search query – intro, first click for a remarketing list
  • MoF – Flab Attack: Ab Workouts vs Paleo Diet
    • Informational search query – builds trust
  • BoF – Gary’s 10-Step Ab Workout for Toning Your Tummy
    • Transactional search query – buy course / book / protein shake

Consider: You work in HR and have been tasked with spearheading an employee wellness programme.

You’ve got a few ideas but could do with some more inspiration. You Google employee wellness ideas.

SERP - employee wellness ideas

Under the ads, the top organic result catches your eye (the coveted position zero), but there are only 10 ideas and you want more.

There’s also an image next to the text result which, in this case, links to a different URL than the text result preview (but I’ll get to that in a bit).

The second organic result (under the Related Questions) offers 121 ideas. Now you’re talking.

And it’s a pretty good resource. But as you skim through you’re a little underwhelmed by many of the ‘ideas’ – they’re just a single line and don’t offer much substance.

employee wellness idea

The post is obviously a lead generator for a food delivery service, which is fine. Content Marketing 101. As long as a post adds value, the ulterior motive is accepted.

We produced a post – 146 Remarkable Ways to Achieve Employee Health & Wellness – for one of our clients that included visual elements with CTAs offering free printables (like motivational posters) in addition to heaps of good ideas and embedded instructive videos.

146 Remarkable Ways to Achieve Employee Health & Wellness

Just because it’s a ‘listicle’ doesn’t mean it can’t be:

  1. Informative, relevant and useful; and
  2. Engaging, comprehensive and visually appealing

But effectively combining these two sets of attributes in a well-trodden format AND making a high-quality piece of content that matches user-intent takes some effort.

Crap listicles are just that. Crap. Lazy. Clickbait, in the disparaging sense of the word.

Listicles – like other popular formats such as checklists and cheatsheets – are simply a familiar framework that people like because they know what to expect and the information is offered up in digestible chunks. Perfect for skimming. Clickbait worth biting.

Use Visual Content to Target the SERPs

As content marketers, we have the opportunity to exploit these formats and incrementally improve them.

For example, by including images that combine text and graphics (like photos or animation) to help our clients grab a spot in an Image Pack on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for their target keyword.

Like this for the query employee wellness:

Employee wellness SERP

Every one of those images is a (free) traffic magnet. People love to click on images – especially on mobile devices.

Including this one, which even contains a CTA and lead generator to get people into their email marketing lists (and also snagged the sole image in position zero for the query employee wellness ideas).

Employee wellness CTA example SERP

That’s qualified organic traffic (and a potential solid lead) on page 1 of Google from a single graphic that combined contextually relevant text and imagery. Without a cent spent on advertising.

And that graphic, and the content in which it appears, is essentially evergreen. The gift that keeps on giving. Long term organic traffic for years to come.

That’s the power of visual content marketing… when it’s done well.

As part of a well-thought out content marketing strategy that includes solid creative and a good dash of technical SEO.

Even a simple size chart graphic can attract a healthy amount of organic traffic for ready-to-buy Bottom-of-Funnel customers.

It’s the same principle. Leverage Google’s predilection for user-intent to target the SERP Features that use images.

measure women workwear

Source: Alsco

You see, Google’s algorithms can now read text in images, and will choose the ones that most closely match user-intent.

Notice how Google can read the street sign that says Health Centre?

Words and numbers inside your graphics drive up the chance that the search engine will recognise an answer to the search query and improve your odds of snagging a top spot in the SERP.

Who Can Make An Awesome Listicle For My Blog?

Any content marketing agency can churn out a listicle or 50.

Finding an agency that will do the research, develop the content marketing strategy, consistently produce quality content, publish it, track its performance and keep doing it, all the while without touching your advertising budget, so you can focus on selling…

That’s us.

We’re not a one-night-stand type of partner. We get to know our clients.

We start at the top of the funnel and develop an in-depth knowledge and understanding of your product and your market.

Once we’ve produced A LOT of Top-of-Funnel content and gained a more nuanced understanding of your business, we move deeper into your customer journey.

And we’re not too precious to try low-brow formats like listicles that other agencies might scoff at – as long as it works – and we can PROVE that it works (i.e., attracts loads of qualified organic traffic) – then we’ll give it a go.

Media files attract organic traffic

And we’re intently aware of – and curious about – the way search engines are relentlessly reshaping the search landscape.

And we’re always looking for opportunities to innovate and adapt our clients’ content marketing strategies to ensure their businesses remain competitive in the often brutal, ruthless battleground that is the online marketplace.

Katrina McKinnon


I'm Katrina McKinnon, founder of CopySmiths and Small Revolution. In my 20 years of experience, I have helped online businesses create high-performing content specifically on an eCommerce store's blog. Find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.