Time, there’s never enough of it. There’s just too much to do, too much to learn, too much to plan… and precious few hours in the day to make it all happen. Perhaps that’s why we’re all grateful when a trusted source gives us the highlights of a story instead of the unabridged version.
Sure, even with our hyperconnected, fast-paced lifestyles we all sometimes set aside time to delve deep into a topic. But, most of the time our schedules just won’t allow for that kind of research. We live in an on-demand world. We want our purchases, our entertainment, and, yes, even our knowledge, neatly packaged, shipped to our doors, and ready to consume at a moments notice.
When it comes to making information easy to create, consume, share, and recall, few formats work as well as the listicle, short form articles comprised mainly of lists.
People simply love lists. They like Christmas shopping lists, year-end best of lists, top ten favorite band lists—you name it and people are more willing to read it if it’s in list form. In that spirit, here are the ten reasons why lists are so popular with content creators and still earn more than their fair share of views, clicks, likes, and shares:
Lists can be produced and consumed rapidly. There’s no need to parse out the meaning of the article or hunt for the key information. It’s all right there in front of you. Content creators, likewise, benefit from a format that can be assembled quickly, often from existing assets.
The human brain is an organizing machine. It takes the messy, chaotic flow of information coming at us and neatly categorizes it all into something more sensible and easier to absorb. Lists make that job even simpler. The author has already done the work of providing the framework for understanding the information.
When you start reading a long-form, narrative style article, you never quite know what to expect. Will it address all your questions? Will it cover the aspect of the topic you’re interested in? The only way to find out is to actually read it, and the TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) generation often decides it just isn’t worth the effort. Lists let the reader see exactly what information they will find at a glance.
Every list works the same way. You start at the top and move down (or left to right for slideshows). If you aren’t interested in a particular item, you skip it and move onto the next one. Consequently, listicles encourage users to make it to the bottom of the page, which helps decrease bounce rates and increase engagement.
Who hasn’t found themselves at one point or another paging through a list or slideshow, passing item after item that isn’t terribly interesting, and yet unable to stop scrolling? Our natural inquisitiveness and desire to know more is often driving us. Sure, the last twenty entries were tiresome, but you just can’t quit when there’s still a chance the next one will be something special.
Even extremely complicated topics benefit from list formatting because they are so easy to skim. They also help break down dense material into bite sized chunks. Plus, you can put them down, attend to some other matter, and get right back into them without missing a beat, picking up right where you left off.
The information in lists (if it’s a good list, anyway) should all fit together into a larger picture. Each new item extends and solidifies the information preceding it. This style of learning helps implant the material being presented and makes it stick.
When we see something good or useful, it’s only natural to want to share it with others, and thanks to the internet and social media that has never been easier. But, many people worry about being the friend or family member known as an over-sharer, passing around irrelevant links, overlong articles, and other digital junk. Lists, though, are a low risk send that is usually well received.
Lists are great at starting a conversation. Not everyone has an opinion about the latest development in the news, but just about everyone wants to put in their two cents as to whether “The Godfather” should be counted among the top five movies of all time, or whether the Philly Special is one of the best Super Bowl plays ever. Lists spark heated discussions on social media pages, online forums, and coffee shops every day.
There’s enough doom and gloom in the world already, and lists are typically not used to cover extremely weighty subjects (at least not exclusively). When a listicle shows up in your inbox, you can usually expect something a little less imposing to read, which is often a welcome sight.
Digiday’s managing director, Jack Marshall, weighed in on the rise of listicles a few years back: “Some argue the listicle is not just a passing fad but a reaction to the demands of younger audiences and the rise of mobile media consumption.”
His words are proving mighty farsighted. The internet has changed a lot over the years. Flash animations, Myspace, and AOL have all lost their luster, but the humble listicle lives on.