15 Powerful Tips For Writing a Viral Listicle

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15 Powerful Tips For Writing a Viral Listicle

These days, it's quite evident that people love listicles. You've probably read many of them, and more likely, dozens. You're actually reading one right now.

Writing listicles is a great way to get your content in front of your readers. But if you're not using the right strategies, then you're wasting valuable time and effort. In this article, we will cover 15 awesome tips that you can use for your next listicle.

15 Listicle Tips About Writing Listicles You Already Knew

If you're writing your first listicle, you'll want to pay close attention. If you're a seasoned blogger, let these tips refresh your memory. Chances are, you've let a few slip your mind.

What Is a Listicle?

A listicle-style article is one that is organized as a list. It may be a top 10 list, a how-to guide, or anything else that can be organized into a list format.

Title image for a top 10 listicle.

Many people attribute BuzzFeed as being the first to really popularize listicles. However, serious publications have since adopted it. Every month, thousands of list-formatted articles get published. I mean, let's face it, whether you like them or not, listicles are great assets for publishers.

Listicles are popular because they are easy to read and usually contain interesting information. That and people just simply love them. The anticipation of scrolling through a listicle in search of the next item on the list is just so exciting!

Furthermore, listicles are easy to read and scan. People can quickly get through a list of items without having to commit to reading a longer article.

Lists also offer readers useful information that they can easily reference later. Lastly, these types of articles are highly shareable, which helps them go viral to reach large audiences.

Image of popular items in a listicle style article.

Listicles Will Tell You What to Expect

Let's say you stumbled upon an article called “How to Eat Healthily.” This broad title is vague and doesn't reveal much about the piece. This title makes it sound like the article will be either:

  • Too long to read: Eating healthily is a vast topic that would take thousands of years to extensively cover.
  • Superficial and unimportant: Most web articles are not 10,000+ words in length, so it's easy for people to think that the article just summarizes information that's already known.

The worse part is that these impressions may not be accurate. The article is not likely to address the whole subject of healthy eating. That would be insane! Instead, the author more likely wants you to know something particular.

Readers embarking on a long and lonely journey through a wall of text.

Your title shouldn't make your readers feel as though they're embarking on a long journey. Now, for example, an article titled “8 Tips for Eating Healthy” isn't as daunting. The article contains seven pieces of concrete advice. See what I mean?

Listicles can also be very easy to scan. When time is short, it's easy for readers to scan through a listicle and find the most exciting entries.

Listicles Convert Information Into Manageable Pieces

Information presented in one large, undifferentiated mass is difficult to absorb. This is not how people work. When we need to learn more about complicated subjects, most of us break it down and then deal with each one individually.

How readers process listicles with their brains.

That's ultimately what a listicle does. The listicle distills the information into key points, then elaborates. And breaking chunks up further with pictures only enhances this, giving the reader a little break from words with a nice visual aspect.

How Do You Write a Good Listicle?

By now, you're probably wondering how to write a good listicle, so I'll waste no more of your time with my wordy, long-winded intros, extremely overly-complicated sentence structure, and seemingly endless paragraphs that can give Grammarly a serious run for its money.

1. Choosing a Fresh Topic

To begin, pick a topic that is fresh and interesting to start with. Going back to the previous example, “8 Tips for Eating Healthy” still seems boring. Your listicle content should have a unique draw to it.

What I mean is that there have been volumes written about healthy eating. The title does not indicate that this article is new. Instead, let's try something else.

Refreshing content is king!

An article entitled “8 Tips to Eat Healthy While Working” and “8 Unexpected Health Benefits of Matcha” is much more exciting and would be up against less competition.

2. Use Proper Grammar and Punctuation

Follow all the advice on writing well when you are creating your article. Use vivid language and avoid passive voice. Get rid of any unnecessary words. These are the things you should do when writing anything.

I always recommend Grammarly to my peers if you need writing aid. Why? After testing many of the most popular writing aids, I found Grammarly to be one of the best content writing tools around. I use them myself and haven't once considered switching.

Listicles should contain proper grammar and punctiation just as any piece of writing.

Read my guide on Creating Perfect WordPress Posts that will strengthen your traffic generation efforts for more information on following standard protocol.

3. Ensure Your Listicle Is in a List Format

Before starting, consider whether your article would be appropriate as a listicle. Listicles are great, but they don't work for everyone. If the answer is yes, only write it as a listicle.

Listicles are not a suitable format for narrative pieces. You shouldn't tell a story about a run-in you had with your angry neighbor if you don't want it to be a list.

However, you may discover as you write it that it works better as a listicle than a straight-up narrative. For example, “5 Hilarious Things About My Angry Neighbor.

Listicle about an angry neighbor.

4. Ensure Your Title Matches Your List

Imagine reading an article entitled “10 Surprising Benefits of Intermittent Fasting“, and item number five says, “If a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump its ass when it hops.”

Indeed, while it may be true, it doesn't really have the “benefit” that the title claimed. It doesn't make any sense.

Overwhelmed by all advice.

These mistakes look unprofessional, but they are pretty common. What causes them? Sometimes, the person who wrote the title wasn't actually the one who wrote the content. Or the author of the article was simply distracted. Either way, don't let this happen to you!

5. Do Not Write Clickbait

Listicles are viral but don't have the best reputation. A misleading title is always annoying. However, accurate titles are essential for listicles as they can help you avoid appearing as clickbait.

Don't use clickbait in your listicles.

It's not difficult to ensure that your title is correct. Be sure to pay attention and double-check your article before publishing it.

6. Create a Compelling Title

It's so simple and effective that it can be called a content marketing hack. Lists are highly shared pieces of content. You should title your listicle something interesting enough to get people to click through to it.

But how do you create a great title? These rules are similar to the rules for writing well. Use declarative sentences. You should choose the shorter term when choosing between long and short words.

While I don't recommend OptinMonster for WordPress, they have an excellent headline analyzer tool that's worth looking into.

OptinMonster headline analyzer for writing listicle headlines.

7. Use Curiosity To Your Advantage

It is better not to tell the reader everything in your article's title. Instead of answering a question, ask a question. These headlines are known as “curiosity gap” headlines, and they've been proven to increase clicks.

Now you're probably wondering if this is a “clickbaity.” tactic. Sometimes, the term clickbait is used a lot too often. It's perfectly fine to write a title that draws people into your content.

Attention-grabbing headlines have been around longer than clickbait or any device that can “click” a headline, for that matter. Attention-grabbing headlines are nothing new. Just understand that there is a difference between clickbait and drawing curiosity.

Remember to peak your readers curiosity with your listicle headlines.

Clickbait titles aren't bad because they're intriguing. The problem is that they often overpromise, use cliches, are too vague, or just plain wrong.

8. Don't Overpromise

Most likely, you've seen titles that include phrases such as “You Won't Believe,” “Number 12 Will Show You,” or the famous “One Weird Trick.” These phrases worked at one time, but now they're so commonplace that readers will just laugh at them.

Titles like these should be avoided because they overpromise. Ask yourself if item number 10 will actually shock your viewers. If not, don't write that in your listicle title.

9. Use Your Title Effectively

Your title is your opportunity to sell your article. Don't be a lousy salesman. When writing it, ask yourself this question: What's the most exciting and compelling way to describe it without making it dull?

There is a big difference between not telling your readers everything, and giving them no information whatsoever.

Example of Washington Post headine.

This headline is from The Washington Post and shows the correct way to fill the curiosity gap. It asks a question instead of answering one.

Consider, on the other hand, the title of an article, “12 Movies That Will Blow Your Mind.” That title doesn't tell you very much about the content of the article, except that it's about “movies.”

What makes these 12 movies so special? Will you be blown away by their good, bad, or just unusual qualities? Even so, what kind of movies are they — fiction or nonfiction? Many readers find titles like this annoying.

10. Use Surprising Entries

Make sure your entries are unexpected and surprising. The list format pulls the reader forward. As the reader progresses through the listicle, they're eager to see what the next item is. If it isn't unexpected or interesting, you might lose them.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't have high-quality content. You want high-quality content above all else, but when it comes to listicles, It's all about unexpected content as well.

Two heads surprised by listicle entries.

Let's look at the Health Eating Tips article once again. Imagine the tips being something like “drink lots of water” and “don't eat greasy food.” This is all great stuff and would be useful to anyone looking for information on staying hydrated.

The problem is that these tips aren't groundbreaking. Your readers will lose interest faster than a toupee in a hurricane.

But if the heading of your list is unusual, that will draw the viewers' attention. Your viewers will be interested–and possibly skeptical. “Huh? There's no way this matters,” is the reaction you are looking for. You'll win their attention if they're unsure.

Once they're doing that, you can depend on the quality of your content to keep them there. Google will see that you are increasing your rankings and every second visitors spend on your site is an opportunity to convert them into customers. Hire better writers if you aren't confident with your content.

11. Make Your Listicle Scannable

While excellent writing is essential, don't forget about your formatting. One of the most incredible things about listicles is their scannability. Even the most time affluent people don't want to waste their time wading through never-ending lists.

An all-seeing eye scanning listicle content.

Five pages of paragraphs without subheadings or pictures might be sufficient in a textbook. For a blog, however, it isn't ideal.

Listicles summarise the main points of each list item in one or two sentences. Then they elaborate. Scrolling through the article for 30 seconds can give them about half of its value if a reader is short on time or doesn't feel particularly attentive.

Then they can read the list of items for more information if they desire. If they find an entry particularly intriguing, they'll give it more focus.

Grab your reader's attention with your listicle headlines.

Listicles have a great advantage when it comes to scannability. Your list entries should be formatted in a way that makes them pop. I recommend using subheadings–preferably H2s or H3s. Additionally, Google will be just as joyful as your readers if they contain keywords you wish to rank for.

It's also a good idea to keep paragraphs short. No one likes reading long blocks of text on blogs. Bold important words and entire sentences. This helps to break up text and prevent eye strain. It also helps readers focus on the critical comments.

12. Use Quality Visuals

Don't forget to strategically embed images in your post. You should make sure they are partially related to the topic you are discussing. This will increase your list's relevancy and improve your SEO.

It's okay to occasionally insert images just because you find it funny! There's nothing like a good chuckle to brighten someone's day.

15 Powerful Tips For Writing a Viral Listicle | insert joke here for listicle

13. Choose the Correct Number of Entries

Many articles on the internet will tell you how many entries you should have, and much of the advice you receive can be contradictory. It's good to have odd numbers, particularly primes. People like them, but ten can also be a firm number. And apparently, 29 is the optimal number.

Okay, you can't possibly follow all of this advice. And not every listicle you write should have 29 items. That would be silly.

Don't worry about using every piece of advice. Just focus on creating quality content for your listicles.

In my opinion, this advice should not be considered a priority. Only write as many entries as you can provide meaningful, high-quality content. Don't force it or people will know.

You might write an article about “Overlooked Tourist Spots in China,” and if you have identified 14 of them, then you might discuss 14 of them. But by leaving one out, somebody else may be able to rank for it instead. Conversely, if you add a mediocre entry because 15 is a prime number, and you've read that prime numbers attract clicks, then you're lowering the quality of your content. 

The more uninspired and boring your content is, the more likely your readers will click the back button, so my suggestion is to focus on creating high-quality content over anything else. If you can use a prime number without forcing it, then, by all means, go for it.

It's important to understand SEO, but it's easy to get carried away. The search engine algorithm designers keep repeating the same message: high-quality content is the most important aspect. All else is secondary.

EDIT: Don't forget to match your entries to your title! …whoops.

14. Is There Such a Thing as Too Long?

The optimal length for your listicle should be around 1500-2500 words.

Not necessarily. The number of entries doesn't really matter. I recommend keeping your article length anywhere from 1800 to 2700 words. However, this varies depending on your industry.

Be sure to match each entry's length to the rest of the list. Each tip should be fairly comprehensive if your article is “6 Signs You're Drinking Too Much.” On the other hand, 35 tips should not have more than a few sentences for each tip.

In the case of long lists, you can write an article to cover each one in greater detail and link to it from the listicle. Google loves internal links!

15. Create a Strong Ending

Well, you gave your listicle an intro rather than just opening with item number one, didn't you? Hopefully, you did because no one likes being thrown into the middle of something without any lead-in.

You should give your list an outro as well. You can have it as a separate list entry or under a subheading that isn't part of the main list. It's always a good idea to entice your readers with a call to action, such as leaving a comment, clicking a link, or sharing a post *wink wink*.

Note that your article doesn't have to be concluded the same way as an essay for school. It only takes a few concise sentences.

You can even end your listicle with an image that lets the reader know there is nothing more.

The end of the road. There is nothing else to see here!

Yeah, something like that. Anyway, writing a viral listicle is not easy. But if you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to writing one that will get shared over and over again. Just remember to write from the heart, be creative, be helpful, and have fun!

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About the Author

Forced out of Colorado because of the housing market, Kyle now writes WordPress guides out of his Florida apartment, hoping one day to return to the mountains from which he came.
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