It’s the worst kept secret in the entire blogosphere – numbered lists get more clicks. Any consumer of modern web content has experienced the ubiquity of these type of posts. That’s because numbered lists appear everywhere on the web, from the Harvard Business Review (e.g. 4 Things You Thought Were True About Managing Millennials) to Buzzfeed.com (13 Proven Steps On How To Hold Your Purse Exactly Like Taylor Swift) and everything in between.
It’s been demonstrated that numbered lists are some of the most popular posts on any given blog. In fact, in her book Social Media for Social Good, author Heather Mansfield asserts that numbered lists “are the most retweeted, liked, and shared blog posts on the Social Web today.” Mansfield prescribes that bloggers for public health non-profits should aspire to publish at least four numbered lists per year to earn optimal traffic.
But why are these types of posts so incredibly effective?
1. Creating sub-conscious question
Titling your blog post as a numbered list provides the reader with enough information to know what they can expect from the article before clicking, but also leaves them with an inherent question (i.e. what are the 3 reasons?). As Maria Konnikova eloquently put it, “[L]ist-style headlines often provide that optimal balance of information and ambivalence, intriguing us just enough to click, on the chance that we’ll come across something particularly relevant or exciting.”
2. Easy to scan
People don’t read blogs the way they read books. Perhaps due to the overwhelming amount of information online, we’ve trained ourselves to scan over web content looking for key phrases, ideas, and conclusions. Numbered lists play to this tendency. For example, you could easily scan this article by skipping the introduction, reading each of the bolded list items, and then circling back and reading the supporting text for any list item that you found particularly interesting.
3. Numbers are eye-catching
As mentioned in item #2, we tend to enter “scanning mode” when absorbing web content. Numerals in titles can be eye-catching, and increase the likelihood of getting a “click.” For example, when looking at a list of most popular posts on a particular blog, any article with a number in the title will tend to stand out from the rest, if they are all text based.
4. Our brains love to categorize
We have a psychological tendency to group, organize, and summarize information that we absorb. Numbered lists are appealing, because they have already begun this synthesis for us. Rather than having to pore over blocks and blocks of text, to ascertain key concepts, numbered lists inherently break up an article into discrete, easy-to-digest ideas.
5. Pre-defined length
We know what we are getting into when we click on a link to a post with a numbered list suggested in the title. By clicking on this article, you signed up to receive 5 bite-sized pieces of information on a certain topic. You were able to instantaneously judge that the article would be relatively brief, but present numerous unique ideas – of which you are likely to agree with or learn from at least one or two. Plus, it has been suggested that the reader feels some type of sub-conscious or gratification for the completion of reading all 5 items. You’ve just finished number 5. Do you feel accomplished?
References and additional resources:
Flickr creative commons:
https://flic.kr/p/7MhBfD – by jayneandd
https://flic.kr/p/72pPYr – by Ben R