Having written and read my fair share of list posts over the years, I must admit that they’ve always annoyed me in some way. You know the ones I'm talking about: "10 ways to do this" or "6 simple ways to do that." And I finally figured out what it is: They’re usually chock-full of content, but short on context.
On first glance, many of these posts often lead you to believe that they can help you achieve something, yet address such a wide audience that, while you might find one morsel of useful information, the rest leaves you hanging. Or these posts promise oh-so-awesome lists—50 must-follow people on Twitter, 25 most interesting people on social media—that turn out to be poorly executed attempts to get more links.
For the record, not every list post is useless—there are times I actually find a new tip worthwhile, or a new person worth checking out. However, it's gotten much more difficult to sift through all the clutter to find those rare gems. This is why today, I'm going to show you how to write a better list post—one that weaves content and context together into something memorable and useful, and that will help you gain your audience's trust and respect in your industry.
Exploit Your Niche
When’s the last time a general how-to article ever helped you get anything done? Tuesday of never, I’m guessing. Useful list posts focus on a specific topic that attracts the best audience for that information. The combination of a specific audience and a specific topic designed especially for that audience is the foundation for a successful list post. This is why the “50 best” and “25 most influential” type list posts are fails through and through.
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When writing your post, remember the audience for this list post and ask, what is the one thing that every item in this post will help the ideal audience achieve? For example, if you head up an app development company, instead of writing a post on the 25 most influential people in technology, how about the 25 most creative app developers of the last five years? The latter is far more interesting and compelling to your audience and niche.
Dig Into the Why
Businesspeople seek useful information that’s specific to their industry and its unique challenges. List posts with broad-sweeping topics don’t fit this bill and are a flat-out waste of time for the hungry and savvy business owner. Powerful list posts dig into the why behind the niche topic you’re covering.
For example, I could write a list post about the top 10 invoicing applications for small businesses. However, it's much more useful if you address a specific industry, such as brick-and-mortar retail shops, creative service consultancies (like graphic designers and copywriters), or professional service providers like attorneys and homeopathic practitioners. Digging even deeper, many small businesses aren’t challenged with invoicing, but with getting paid on those invoices—that's the pain point. An even better list post would be one offering a collection of invoicing solutions to specifically help people get paid faster, including features such as auto-payments, recurring billing and support of multiple payment types like eChecks, credit cards and PayPal.
When writing your post, make sure it's written for a specific audience, solves one specific problem and addresses the key pain point that drives why this audience needs to know how to do this one thing.
As a columnist, I've worked with many editors over the years and have been mentored by the best. They’ve always asked me to dig in, get deeper and find the emotional trigger that would prompt someone to read my article—all the way to the end.
How do I do this? First, I start each column, blog post or article knowing exactly how I want my readers to feel when they’d read the last word—I want people to feel that I didn’t waste their time. So, with that in mind, I make sure every list item is relevant and has some useful takeaway for the reader.
Next, I make sure to share the story behind why I'm writing it. To do this, think about what prompted you to write the post. Was it a frustration in your industry? Could you not find a good-enough guide on how to do something? Is there a challenge you're trying to solve for your own business by taking the time to create this list?
Remember, people want to learn from people they see as human, not some automaton cranking out heartless content in an overseas word factory. Chances are, as a business owner, you too have valuable information worth sharing.
Posts That Work
When the writer of a post does the following, the article is usually well worth my time:
- Understands who I am and what I do
- Understands my frustrations that result from who I am and what I do
- Understands my time is precious
- Understands that I want to do better
Next time you think, "Oh, I need content, so I'll throw together a list post," think twice. You'll only only be doing yourself and your audience a disservice—and wasting everyone's time. For a more useful post, know your audience, pick your niche, share and solve a frustration. That’s the difference between just creating content and creating solutions.
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