What is… a listicle?

To kick off our new ‘what is…’ series, where we break down content jargon, we explain one of the most common editorial content types – the listicle.

Split-testing, responsive design, PSAs, CTR – not a clue what I’m on about? Well then, you’re in the right place.

Every sector has its own vast whirlpool of acronyms and jargon to drown you with, and the content sector is no exception. But if you’re a business owner looking to get a handle on your content marketing, it can pay to know a bit about it. Enter Big Bee with our ‘what is’ series to help you navigate the choppy waters of content.   

We’re going to start with something you’ll have come across time and again, but may not have known it: the listicle.

Let’s take a look at the Google dictionary definition:

Dictionary definition of Listicle:
a piece of writing or other content presented wholly or part in the form of a list.

Listicle is a portmanteau of ‘list’ and ‘article’. At its most basic explanation, the listicle is an article that is comprised (‘mainly’) in the form of a list. But as with everything in life, the listicle is much more nuanced than that.

They may be simple in concept, but listicles span the intellectual spectrum from 100 things to do with a banana to the top 100 mathematical theorums.

The way a listicle is structured also varies significantly from a simple link list, to an in-depth exploration. Most listicles, however, will include context for each point within the list. If the listicle is structured as a gallery, each image will have a caption explaining why it belongs on the list. If the listicle is copy only, there will usually be at least a sentence or two.

What makes a listicle so popular?

Listicles are so popular with content producers because they’ve been proven time and again to drive large volumes of pageviews. You only need to look at the meteoric rise of digital publishers like Buzzfeed, Lifehacker and PopSugar, who use listicles as their lifeblood, to realise their success.

Buzzfeed screengrab shows 5 articles concurrently showing numerical titles.

I can personally vouch for them. In every content role, in every sector, listicles have consistently risen to the top of my analytics board, driving more organic (non-paid for) traffic than any other article – where there’s a listicle there’s a win.

One thing you may have noticed is that most listicles are written with numerical titles: ’101 must-see locations around the world’, ’25 ways to structure your business’, ’99 times a cat photobombed and improved the picture’. A 2019 study by the University of California, Berkeley into neuroscience and curiosity found that, “To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful.”

The finding could hint at why numbers in titles, especially high numbers are key to drawing people in – the brain is teased with how many pieces of information it’s going to receive just by reading one article. It’s all too tempting for our curious minds to reject.

How to use a listicle for your business

Some publishers capitalise on this by creating expansive click-through gallery listicles, creating a new page for each item, and selling advertising on each. Note to the wise, these may generate revenue, but they will put off your customers, who have to wait for each page to load in order to be bombarded with advertising. Publishers who create these kinds of listicles exist to sell advertising space – it is their entire business model. But if you care what your customers think about you, this isn’t the right approach.

Instead, use listicles responsibly to both drive traffic and to provide useful information for your customers. Deciding how to write your content, as well as what to write should always come from insight into your customers’ needs. Listicles are ideal for when your customers could use information in larger quantities, particularly for inspiration.

A hairdresser, for example, might speak to their customers and discover they struggle to know what to do with their short hair, so they write a listicle titled ‘100 ways to style your short hair’ featuring hair they’ve styled themselves. It’s useful, engaging and inspirational. But more than that. It shows that they are absolutely boss at what they do.

If you have skills and expertise to share, a listicle is a great way to show how much you know.

I’ve most definitely missed a trick not writing this as a listicle. Tune in next week for 101 reasons to love a listicle.

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