You can hardly open your sock drawer these days without another list post popping out. They’re everywhere. But are list posts a parasitic blight on the soul of marketing, or a totally legitimate tactic?
Let’s find out.
1. Lists can’t tell stories
List posts are just one darn thing after another. Each post pings from item to item. There’s no logical link. That affects how open readers are to your message, because when you link ideas in a logical sequence, you create a story. And we’re wired to learn through stories.
It goes back to our cave person ancestors. They gathered round the fire, listening to the story of how Grok drank from the stagnant pond and wasn’t right for days.
Stories flow. The opening scene grabs our attention (Grok sees the pond, ignores the floating green tendrils and scoops up a mouthful). Momentum and logic draw us in, along to the conclusion (Grok; indisposed).
All the way, we’re processing the text not as a set of points on a page, but as a place we inhabit. When people read stories, their imagination is engaged and their critical faculties are down.
For deeper persuasion, tell stories. For shopping, use lists.
2. Lists shrink our thinking
When we write in lists, we rush. There’s barely a tweet’s worth of space to play with.
To show expertise, you need room.
Not a cavernous, boring space. Just enough room to show nuance and connections between ideas.
Why shrink all you’ve learnt to fit the list? It’s like going to a job interview dressed in the clothes you wore when you were twelve.
There’s one more reason to go deep. Google loves long content. Now it can’t just be long. It has to be useful enough for people to love it. To share it. But depth does give your readers a substance that listicles can’t reach.
3. You can feel pressure to add items just to make up the numbers
It’s really bad.
4. List posts are so 2005
There was once a time when list posts were fresh: in 9500 BC when Grok came back to the cave, noticed some pebbles in a line and thought ‘Uck! List posts!’ Then he sat down and wrote: ‘Ten things you can do with a burnt stick (you won’t believe number seven!)’
Every marketing tactic is the victim of its own popularity. List posts work, so marketers everywhere start doing list posts. For readers, all those list posts start to blur. You’re competing for attention against all the other blog posts that flit across your reader’s screen. They’ll judge your content from the headline alone. Why use the same headline tactic as everybody else?
5. List posts limit our options
There are so many other trusty blog formats out there. Case studies, Q&As, explainer posts, product comparisons, how to posts… So why do list posts proliferate?
It’s because list posts are pop-corn content. Made to be consumed quickly, leaving nothing but salty residue and lingering regret. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, we do just want popcorn.
Sometimes, though, we want steak. Nourishing, substantial, and worth sinking our teeth into.
If you keep churning out popcorn, not only are you competing with the stalls of other popcorn vendors — you’re passing up the sizeable steak-loving market.
When you choose the blog style, you don’t just choose a format, you choose the type of story it lets you tell. List posts compress the message. They erase the narrative.
When you write a blog, there’s a whole palette of colours to choose from. Why keep painting with a burnt stick?