In 1517, Martin Luther wanted to share his opinion about what the Catholic Church was doing wrong. To do this, he didn’t just nail an essay to the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg. Instead, he made a list — 95 things the Church could do better, aka “the Ninety-five Theses.”
Few pieces of list-based content have the same effect as Martin Luther’s. But articles that include lists or are based around them remain a powerful tool in B2B marketing. Readers seem to love information presented as list-based articles, i.e., “listicles.”
To help you understand where lists might fit within your B2B SEO strategy, here are the three elements that make lists great.
Anyone who's ever been to a supermarket with a dozen varieties of strawberry jam knows that choice and happiness are not linear.
But up to a certain point, people do tend to choose more rather than less variety. Informational content that offers a few different routes to understanding a topic/figuring out how to do something has a natural appeal.
This means that compared to essay-style articles, lists offer different paths to understanding a topic.
Essay-style articles give readers the impression they can learn one thing. On the other hand, list-based articles have multiple potential points of interest. When one or two items within an article might be useful, there are fewer excuses not to at least read some of it.
All the way back in 2001, a time when Geocities was still a thing, a research group from Albany State University found that being online can be a disorienting experience.
The reason: information overload. Since then, the size of the internet has more or less doubled on an annual basis, a growth rate in information volume of around 1300% each decade.
While a large percentage of people are now “digitally native” and have grown up with digital technology, the problem of information overload has not improved.
Few web experiences are optimized for user experience. Most websites treat visitors as commodities, bombarding them with advertisements, pop ups, or incentives.
In this world of chaos, lists are wonderfully simple ways of presenting information.
As long as you meet the reader at their level of knowledge about a particular topic, lists are also less intimidating than essay-style articles. Just don't bundle up lists with opaque terms and language.
A poorly written restaurant wine list left New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner asking WHICH OF THE MANY WORDS IS THE ONE TO CALL THE WINE. Keep your lists simple instead.
Lists don't have to be sequential. They just have to present thematically linked and relevant information in digestible chunks. Some of the best lists are ones that readers can dip in and out of, finding the nuggets of information they need and then moving on to the next stop in the journey.
This is important because most people don't spend that long reading content online. Research from 2005 conducted by Problogger puts the average time spent on a blog by a reader at 96 seconds.
Today, the amount of time a reader spends on your top-of-the-funnel content is probably even less.
Lists help readers by giving them a lot of engagement in a short amount of time. As the sociologist Scott Schaffer puts it, lists "really get to the heart of what it is we need to do to get through another day on this planet.”
In our experience, lists are an excellent way to make a technically complex topic idea understandable. This means lists work great as frameworks for engaging top-of-the-funnel content.
Blog posts where you try to engage busy peers with your take on a topic they already know (i.e., thought leadership) work well as lists. So do blogs where you want to educate your readers about the problems your product solves.
Lists are less good (as an overall format for content) the further down the funnel readers get. For example, writing a case study as a list is generally not a great idea. “Three ways shadow IT can hurt your business is a great blog.” But “three ways we helped our client discover shadow IT assets” is not a great case study.
Generally, readers want to study bottom of the funnel content . They might want to share it with their boss and argue for an investment. A listicle is not what they want at this point.
At Content Visit, we have helped our clients produce hundreds of listicles. We’ve turned topics ranging from endpoint security to theme park virtual queuing systems into lists that have convinced readers to learn more about clients' businesses.
Contact us to learn more.
Written by Robert Galvin