Why Authors Who Blog Should Avoid “The Listicle”

listAh, the listicle. Do a Google search on how to increase your blog traffic, and chances are you’ll see listicles that advocate “Write your blog post as a listicle.” It’s true, listicles generally increase blog traffic. They’re not called click bait for nothing, after all. But as an author, mass traffic to your blog is not necessarily the reason you’re blogging. And because that’s so, the listicle is probably not going to be of much help to you in the long run.

The listicle in action

As a freelance content writer (or, more appropriately, a freelance content writer on indefinite hiatus, if you read my last post, When It’s Time to Make Those Tough Decisions), I’ve written my fair share of listicles. But these posts were for sites where mass traffic was appropriate. Why? They were news portals whose main revenue streams came from selling ad space. Some sites sold products to the consumer market, and some were selling SaaS (for those who don’t speak B2B, that’s Software-as-a-Service; think Google Apps, Salesforce, Citrix GoToMeeting). All were sites where indiscriminate traffic would either indirectly boost, or result directly in, sales.

But as an author, what’s the likelihood of selling your books to the masses that flood your blog because you’ve written a listicle? What’s the likelihood that you’ll retain a loyal following to the hordes that swarm your site because you told them the “Five Ways to Create Character Conflict”?

Slim to none? Yup.

The listicle exposed

Here’s the thing with the listicle: it’s almost always going to be watered down. You only have 500 to 700 words to capture and retain readership—that’s the unofficial blog post “sweet spot” (as I outlined in an earlier post What Do I Blog About—Overcoming “Epic Post” Syndrome). I’ve read enough listicles where, about half-way through, I gave up because it was so topical. “Where are the examples,” I wanted to shout at my computer screen. “Give me a live case study, show me how to do it.”

If you’re writing a listicle, you can’t really dive into each point, flesh it out, expose the meat. Believe me, I know this first-hand. The listicles I wrote received praise from my various editors. They were attractive to readers. They glossed over all the main points with enough detail that they looked substantial. But they weren’t. There was so much more I could have said about each point, but didn’t.

In the end, I felt like I was cheating the audience.

The author’s blog is different

If I felt like that as a freelance writer, where half the time my name wasn’t even attached to the published article, there is no way I would present a watered-down listicle on my own blog. The whole point of blogging as an author is to attract and retain a loyal following. I ask you, how loyal a following can an author expect to have if his or her posts are as topical as most listicles are?

What’s the better option? Instead of a listicle, I suggest that you write an individual post on each list point. You can even write them as a series. That way, you will a) have far more material over a longer period of time, and b) end up providing individual posts that are fleshed out enough that your readers will actually benefit from them.

Now don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that the listicle is always bad, and that you should always avoid it. The listicle can be useful and fun in some cases. For example, I wrote a post a while ago called 5 Novels that Inspire Me as a Writer. It’s technically a listicle, and it is a good example of how a listicle can have a place in the author-blogger’s repertoire. My point is that the listicle shouldn’t be your go-to, or even a frequent format. They’re usually not as helpful as they could be, and for the author, they usually don’t attract the right kind of traffic.

If you’re an author, your blog should showcase your personality, your expertise and your voice. Make sure each post you write is a solid example of who you are and what you have to say.

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