Your Lazy Sunday Reading: The Listicle

The “listicle” (an article consisting entirely of a short introduction and a numbered list) is a popular piece of content. As content marketers, we need to keep rewarding visitors who click on them or their appeal will vanish.

The listicle is a boon for content marketers, but there are signs that the format has begun a descent toward flabby link bait. These pieces are fast to produce, but they have to be good or they will flame out, even as easily digested nuggets for short attention spans. This Wednesday, Business Insider ran an article under its Strategy section called “7 Things The Most Interesting People All Have In Common.” The advice included such gems as, “don’t be boring” and “have three good stories.”

I’m bothered by this for several reasons—it’s lazy writing to begin with, but the foremost reason being: how is this strategy? Are we being asked to adopt these 7 things because only then we will be interesting?

Here’s another: “What 16 Successful People Read In the Morning.” The first example in the list: Warren Buffet. What does he read? Take a guess—go ahead. Did you guess The Wall Street Journal? The New York Times? USA Today? You are right. That’s what he’s reading. And guess what—so are millions of other people who are not nearly as successful as Warren Buffett.

Listicles can be fun, light reading. Or to provide utility and sound advice. But it seems that too many listicles are being assigned and created with the wrong intention in mind—simply to generate traffic, quick and dirty.

In the spirit of this blog post, I will refrain from giving you, dear reader, a numbered list of listicle best practices. But as marketers, let’s recognize that listicles that give users low value will give listicles a bad reputation and diminishing returns as a content marketing vehicle.