How You're Killing Your Credibility With List Posts

This is where your list posts will take your credibility

This is going to sound like sacrilege. But list posts are killing your credibility.

Those of you who write three or more list posts a month aren’t going to like this, so I suggest you skip to the end and leave a few bullet points explaining why I’m talking out of my backside. But if you’re worried about providing great content, building a solid reputation, or just not coming across as a fool, you need to read on.

Four Reasons That List Posts Are Killing Your Credibility

Right. That should’ve separated the wheat from the chaff. So if you’re still here, I can assume you’re ready to open your mind and discover just why list posts are killing your credibility.

So let’s begin.

1) You’re Writing Shopping Lists, Not Recipes

If you’re writing a list post, the chances are that each point is summed up in around sixty words. Probably even less. You introduce a concept, and explain why you think it’s important. What you don’t do is explain why.  So what you produce is something a little like this:

  • Pasta
  • Meat
  • Tomatoes
  • Onion

Right. I can see you’re making a meal. But what are you cooking? Spaghetti bolognese? A pasta bake? Without the recipe, your list post is useless. It’s the same when you post “30 Things to Do To Succeed” and lead off with “1) Write well; 2) Promote Properly.”

You’re just listing ingredients. You’re not telling us how to cook them or what the finished dish should look like. If you want to be a credible blogger, you need to flesh out those ideas.

It’s easier to flesh out ideas when you’re not limited by the short, sharp list format, so stop and think. If you leave too much unsaid, you’re damaging your credibility.

2) You’re Lost In The Morass of Meaningless Numbers

I’ve just opened up my RSS feed. Here’s a selection of titles that I can see.

Does this really arouse you?

7 Headlines
6 Free…
5 Movies…
4 Ways…
3 Things…
2 Turtle Doves…

Yawn. Everyone knows that in the fast moving world of RSS, Twitter and social bookmarking, your title has to hook in a reader instantly. Yet whenever you scan a list of blog posts, you’re confronted with a sea of numbers. So which one hooks you in?

Are you a seven sorta guy, or the kind of girl who won’t click for any less than twelve? Guess what. You’re neither. Because numbers are boring, not attention-grabbing. That’s why you’re reading a blog, and not a phone book.

Here’s a few interesting ways to grab a reader’s attention. How! Why! What! When! Who! Where! Seventeen!

Notice how the last one’s only interesting because it’s red?

If you’re going to be credible, you need to attract attention. So don’t let the format hold you back. If you must use the list post layout, don’t use the standard list post headline.

3) Trying… To Avoid… Clichés

Why do you write list posts?

Here’s why. Because it’s easy. Because putting information into a list format is far less challenging and demanding than writing a consistent narrative and making your point that way. And if that’s not why you write list posts, it’s sure as hell why the content farm rent-a-bloggers do it.

So many poor quality writers, scrapers and churners have leapt aboard the list post bandwagon that it’s become bogged down in the sucking swamp of clichédom. And that makes me so mad that I’m mixing my metaphors.


Because most of them could do so much better.

If you’re writing a list post just because you’re stuck for ideas, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Don’t just churn posts out. Think about them. If they’re not ready, give them more time and attention – not just a quick and cheap gimmick.

4) Because List Posts Aren’t Working Any More

Six months ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of writing this post. Because six months ago, list posts were absolutely magic. Hell, back in 2009 I was recommending you used the list post format.

But times change. People move on. Bloggers move on. We move on.

Why? Because list posts don’t work. They don’t provide enough relevant, detailed and helpful information. They no longer stand out from the crowd. They’re a byword for a lack of imagination. And I don’t know about you, but that isn’t a winning combination in my book.

Sure, there’ll be the odd amazing list post here and there, and the odd curmudgeon might even use a list post to proclaim the death of list posts, but they should no longer be your go-to format.

So if you want to save your credibility, try something new once in a while. Don’t be penned in by a format that you think is a quick and easy way to success.

The world just doesn’t work like that.

15 Comments comments for "How You’re Killing Your Credibility With List Posts"

  1. Marc at 3:57 pm

    Interestingly, this post actually demonstrates your first point and consequently how a *good* list post works. Well done (and said) Andrew 🙂

  2. Paul at 3:50 pm

    List posts have been the backbone of easy journalism since the first glossy magazine hit the shelves in…some previous year ago.

    31 Ways To Get Fit For A Bar Mitzvah
    5 Reasons Not To Eat Concrete
    11 Pictures of Celebs Being Sick In McDonald’s

    They promise the reader a nice, easy, non-threatening read. And probably indicate that they won’t have to wade through the “writing” to get to the content.

    I think predictions of the death of the list post may have been greatly exaggerated…

    …But I like your style. And I agree that always resorting to the list post is the last resort on the uncreative cad.

    • Andrew at 4:29 pm

      It’s that always that’s the key, isn’t it Paul?

      A few easy list posts can break up a heavy blog, but there are far too many people who rely on it.

  3. Rhys at 5:58 pm

    The one thing I hate? Overuse of superlatives!

    Need to find the example, but a blog I read recently had something like “The Top 15 Least Best & Most Dangerous SEO Traffic Killers”.

    I stared at it and thought “eh?”.

  4. Tom Albrighton at 6:19 pm

    Good post. There’s no doubt that this format has been done to death. As you say, it’s all about clickable titles – and, specifically, creating titles that show the reader EXACTLY what they’re going to get before they click.

    As we’ve discussed before, departing from literal titles can be fatal. Take my own latest title: ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Copywriter’. It gives only the haziest sense of what my most recent post is about. Something to do with copywriting and other jobs? In order to work as a literal description, it needs support from its summary/standfirst (visible on my blog) or an abridged teaser-line (which I usually add when I tweet my posts). Without them, it doesn’t give a lot of clarity – but then it still might generate *intrigue*, which a list title doesn’t. As a writer, there comes a point where you have to back yourself to write something a little different and, yes, creative, banking on your ability to pull in interest with something different from the norm – something you just wanted to write. After all, blogs started as online diaries, not entertainments or brochures.

    I think ‘Why’ is a great fallback for post titles. My most popular post was ‘Why I hate networking’, a title which in four words hit much harder than ‘seven reasons I don’t like networking’ would have (even though the post contained seven reasons, in bullet-point form).

    Sometimes, it’s better to go for a more laid-back, unusual or allusive title just because of the kind of interest that generates. Although more traffic theoretically means more chance of social mentions and backlinks, it’s not just a numbers game. Some real ‘tumbleweed’ posts on my blog have eventually pulled in backlinks from other related blogs, because those other bloggers appreciated the thought and reflection I’d put in. Although the post was not ‘popular’ in the immediate sense, it did its work. It’s not all about ‘traffic today’.

    Also, if you’re blogging regularly, I think you’ve got to consider how the entire blog is developing as a work. If every other post is a frivolous list, all you’re building is a rag-bag of unrelated, bitty content – not much different from your Twitter feed. I’m not saying I’m the best blogger in the world, but I do try and make it so each category offers a good selection of meaty, thematically related posts. Again, getting backlinks is about keeping people on the blog and pulling subscriptions – I’m not sure whether self-contained list posts, not really linked in to your other content, will achieve that.

  5. Aaron Bradley at 6:32 pm

    Great post. I have my RSS feeds organized into categories and, perhaps unsurprisingly, some days my “Blog and Content Marketing” feeds read like a list of lists.

    Let’s hope this long-established trend wanes, and is followed by the the demise of similar titles in the brick-and-mortar publishing, covering everything from the famous “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to checkout stand impulse purchase bait like “501 Movies To See Before You Die.” Um, how about “1 Reason I Won’t Buy Your List Book: It’s a List Book.”

  6. Clare Lynch at 9:48 pm

    Perhaps the slightly shouty “why you’re doing this all wrong”-style post will have it’s day eventually, too?

    Not too soon, I hope, because they’re always good value.

    (And I’m about to publish a particularly sneery one myself).

  7. Helen at 10:20 am

    List posts do generally make for easy reading as Paul says. But agreed that the ‘lazy list post’ is a whole other creature. It takes credibility and grinds it into the ground. I reckon it’s easier to spot a lazy list post at a glance than it is to spot a lazy post disguised in a narrative.

  8. Bel at 7:47 pm

    I was instantly drawn into this post: 7 Mistakes that Lead to Guest Post Failure 😛

    Seriously, I like your blog although I haven’t a clue why I’m reading it. 😀

  9. Ralph Ferrett at 1:21 pm

    Hmmm… so the “My top 10 favourite list blogposts” blog I was planning needs to be canned then? 😉

    I think that one can incorporate listed points into a narrative blog post and it still be interesting. It all depends on the topic, and how it is written.

  10. Pingback: Analogy Banality – Larner Caleb
  11. Ali Short at 11:06 am

    Okay , Agreed , but there need to be a substitute to replace the list posts [And I think a visually nice one using images] … Would be great if you could write something and introduce some new stuff.

  12. Bon Crowder at 2:27 pm

    1) Numbers aren’t boring (I write a math blog, so duh – I’m going to claim that)
    2) If I know there are only 7 points, I feel more comfortable digging in
    3) You make a good point – I’m going to clip and ponder this


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