Listicles: We're All Hooked...And We Need An Intervention

You’re hooked on listicles. I’M hooked on listicles. Can anyone blame us? Reading big blocks of text is exhausting. Lists break content up into nice, consumable bites of useful information, right? Listicles are the fast food of content. Quick, dependable and scrumptious:

“…a list is the easy pick, in part because it promises a definite ending: we think we know what we’re in for, and the certainty is both alluring and reassuring. The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it.”- Maria Konnikova, New Yorker

In a sea of information, listicles make option paralysis that bit more manageable. Easily-digestible list headlines tell us what we're in for, avoiding the terrifying prospect of wasting our time nibbling away at large, rambling paragraphs – all to be led to nothing of substance.

It’s also easier for writers to use a listicle format. Hell, I write listicles. They’re effective and popular – some of the biggest blogs and influencers use them. They're also far easier to write than a normal article. Listing off isolated points (without considering how they connect to the overall message) is pretty straightforward.

Guilty Pleasure; Empty Calories

Despite their popularity, listicles aren't nutritious. Their very structure limits the flow and evolution of a thought, idea or story - the very things that make articles so memorable, useful or entertaining.

Think of the most captivating pieces of writing you’ve read. They’re probably not listicles. Instead, they’re well-thought out articles with a focus on the development of an idea  and a foundation in compelling storytelling.

Listicles don’t just affect content's potential. Their format is actually homogenising the online environments we visit. Social media feeds have become a soup of numbers with little to distinguish one post from another. A factory-line of lists upon lists of information - with insight and originality often left at he door.

Added to that, desperate writers trying to distinguish themselves resort to sneaky clickbait tactics to attract attention - overpromising, under-delivering, and disappointing everyone involved.

What's The Diagnosis, Doc?

Behind it all, the great machine of content marketing drives the listicle trend, and every wannabentrepreneur and their grandma’s hopping aboard for a piece of the pie. Naturally, an echo chamber occurs; old authority content is copied and rehashed, drastically increasing the number of listicles on the web. Why? To increase traffic. To increase prospects. To increase profits.

But when it comes down to it, ‘content marketing’ is all about providing value. Offering readers unique insights, information or entertainment. And many marketers have lost sight of that.

Maybe the reality of listicles isn't so bleak. Sure, there are plenty of well-written, entertaining or useful listicles out there. But we can do better. Articles can be formatted in a readable, digestible manner – whilst maintaining the quality of insights that the listicle format often throws aside. At the end of the day, content is a business, and we all have to eat. We just need to improve our diet.