Listicle Articles: Ultimate Guide

June 22, 2020

What Is a Listicle?

Listicles move away from the conventional “text block” style of information delivery.

Here’s why:

More than half the global population is currently active on the web. As internet access peaks, online shopping is at the top of the list of popular online activities worldwide.

Today’s content marketer, therefore, needs strategies that effectively attract and retain a potential customer’s attention.

The average internet consumption per capita amounts to 170 minutes per day.  But the worldwide web can be an overwhelming sea of information for the consumer.

Enter the internet’s holy grail for effective content delivery: the listicle.

Web readers appreciate content that is:

  • Compelling
  • Specific
  • Scannable
  • Relatable

In today’s cluttered digital environment, listicles check all the above boxes. This makes them the most popular method of online content creation because they lead to:

Defining the Listicle

As the name suggests, the term listicle is a portmanteau of the words list and article.

It refers to an article (usually informal) made up of a list featuring varied styles, including:

  • Numbered items
  • Series of facts
  • Tips and quotations
  • List of examples
  • Sequence of events
  • Comparison of data

Although they are usually centralized around a specific theme, there are no “laws” governing the art of the listicle.

The number of ways in which they can be used to present arguments is infinite. They can even explain the same topic or sell the same product in so many flexible ways.

The Evolution of Listicles in Content Marketing

No matter where the original came from, listicles continue to hold their weight in the world today. This is because our brains naturally love order and sequence.

Some would argue that the original listicle came in the form of the world’s most unforgettable rule book: the Bible.

Others credit the origin of listicles to the sharp, if not amusing Japanese poet Sei Shonagon. She served as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Teishi.

Shonagon used the listicle style format to write The Pillow Book, a wildly popular book of poetry based on her observations of life in the Heian Court.

Content websites mastered the art of viral content using the listicle form. But in time, a few bad apples stirred the pot, making both readers and writers wary of the craft.

How to Effectively Execute Listicles

Naysayers wrongly labeled listicles as shallow, repetitive, and meaningless content.  But the problem is not the format. The fault lies in poor execution.

All content marketers should stick to the following guidelines to avoid missing the mark:

High-quality writing: Unique content stands out and encourages backlinks. Always find unusual but relevant angles.

No clickbait: Beyond attracting clicks, clickbait also tells your readers not to trust you in the future. Misleading titles add nothing to the consumer experience.

Establish and maintain focus: Don’t attempt to cover everything in one post. Specific listicles attract the right interest. It is also likely to have less competition online.

Be brief: Shorter lists achieve more for B2B content. Articles with smaller, but more in-depth lists prompt deeper engagement.

Show expertise: Multifaceted, insightful and well-researched content establishes a website as a trusted authority source.

“The hunger for list articles still exists, but as content marketers, we should be aiming to be part of the solution, not the problem.”

Sean Callahan, Content Manager, LinkedIn Marketing Blog

Why We Love Reading (And Writing) Listicles

No matter how dissenting opinions are on the format, listicles add value. They follow the brain’s instinctively preferred path.

  • They save time.
  • They have a formula.
  • They are predictable.
  • They provide answers.
  • They are (subconsciously) calming.

 “When we put lists on the cover, our newsstand sales go up.”

David Zinczenko, Men’s Health Editor, Men’s Health

People love lists because they make life easier.

Backed by human psychology, listicles zero in on the most fundamental aspect of delivery namely:

  • Simplicity
  • Digestibility 

Listicles can make complicated topics easier to understand. The subject tackled can be about anything. Even if a particular topic doesn’t naturally fit into a list, you can create one by approaching the subject with a quirky or new angle.

“There’s nothing about the form of the listicle itself that prevents it from dealing with highbrow or important subjects and increasingly, news of all kinds is being delivered in this form,”

Arika Okrent Ph.D., Source: The University of Chicago Magazine

An easy reading experience has distinct characteristics: The headlines are digestible. The information is brief but deeply relevant. The work is easier.

Listicles cater to shorter attention spans. The audience engages on its terms. Everything is bite-sized. Listicles make simple promises. And keep them.

Lists are a joy to read because:

  • The question and the answer are in the title.
  • They give you the freedom to skim to the best part.
  • You always get value no matter how little you read.
  • They make complex topics digestible.
  • They understand who their readers are.

Listicles present the main points under defined lists, which makes it easy to mark your place for later reading.

Here are the ways listicles provide benefits to content marketers and creators:

  • They are easier and quicker to write.
  • Content planning becomes more structured.
  • Updating listicle content on a website is easier.
  • Each completed list gives the writer a sense of achievement.
  • Content can be shaped around core keywords and long-tail keywords.

Based on these metrics, we can see that an effective listicle cannot be a product of short-cut writing.

“Thought leadership articles aren’t promotional but informative and add genuine value to the reader. But they’re way more effective because the reader will remember you, and even better, trust you.”

Helen Croydon, Founder, Thought Leadership PR

Why Are Listicles Effective in Content Marketing?

An effective listicle increases the content marketer’s chances of attracting 36% of online readers’ attention. All 4.13 billion of them.

There are four As governing a successful content marketing strategy. These are:

  • Attraction
  • Authority
  • Affinity
  • Action

The right content respects the above features. They create organic, loyal readers who willingly become customers who are ready to build and sustain community with a brand.

In terms of content strategy, listicles fall under the attraction segment.

Content marketers understand that the features which drive the popularity of listicles achieve a dual purpose: higher web traffic with low bounce rates.

Informative listicles, not clickbait, can drive traffic towards even more authority content on the same website.

People trust credible information. A well-written listicle can redirect a reader to a service, product, or subject matter. It is an excellent way to convert visitors to customers.

How Listicles Convert Readers Into Customers

Listicles appeal to a wide readership range for a number of reasons.

The use of numbers in titles and headlines has a psychological impact on the reader.

Headlines with numbers have proved 36% more likely to generate clicks compared to the alternative. Likewise, articles using odd numbered headlines often get 20% more clicks than even-numbered ones.

An article titled “7 Mistakes to Avoid in Content Marketing,” for example, immediately places the content in a specific niche.

The article example above promises finite content with an exact number of solutions to look forward to. It also lets the reader know how much time they need to read it.

Listicle content also has a high social media impact. Catchy titles with relevant images attract attention. And people always want to share content that they enjoyed with their social media followers.

These actions translate into more traffic to your website and more followers to your social media channels.

Most listicles do all the heavy lifting for the reader.

They contain a noticeable (mostly numbered) headline. They have a simple introduction, a neat body, and a crisp conclusion.

These simple formats naturally generate conversation and engagement in no time.

7 Examples of Listicles

1. How-Tos

How-tos are some of the highest-ranking content online. They give readers practical step-by-step instructions to real problems. They allow content marketers to show market expertise.

2. Analytical

Analytical listicles break down complex material. These types of articles can provide clarity to very complicated subjects. They further simplify subjects when visual elements such as charts, tables, and graphics are used.

3. Educational

Educational listicles also rank high among internet users. They offer sound advice and provide new, relevant information. They can quickly establish a content marketer as an informed, authoritative source.

4. Best Ofs

Best-of listicles are written with a specific audience in mind. The subject matter will more often than not lead to clicks because of how intentionally the content marketer plans and writes the content.

5. Curation

Curation listicles are driven entirely by data. They offer advice sourced from industry experts, books, social media, and other existing digital sources. The finished content is usually a comprehensive, solutions-driven article.

6. Guides

Guides offer helpful comparisons or essential processes to know. Depending on the material, guides can be brief or long. The order of items in this type of article matters, as they determine what steps the readers should follow.

7. Inspirational

Inspirational listicles can be a fresh reprieve from all the clamoring on the web. They are full of motivational quotes and inspirational ideas. Although they are an escape from the heaviness of the digital space, they should be used sparingly.

Scale Your Content Upwards

The ultimate goal of writing listicles is to bring in as many quality leads to your website as possible. The quality of the information you put out depends on the writers on your team. 

The best listicles: 

  • Inspire action from web readers beyond the initial click.
  • Have enough substance and relevance.
  • Bring fresh perspectives to known content.
  • Define each topic to match potential buyer needs and interests.
  • Share credible information.
  • Are structured in a reader-friendly way.
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.