Ten Reasons Why List Posts Are Bad

List posts are bad. They are highly popular, but they are the junk food of blogs. They hold out the promise of doing something interesting, but in the end they’re usually linkbait.

If you read posts on how to get more traffic for your blog, making list posts is high on the inevitable list that you find in all of these posts. I don’t know why people love lists, but they sure seem to. Would David Letterman be as popular if every night he had a feature called “Some comical observations based around a humorous theme” instead of the “Top 10 List”? Almost certainly not.
Gold top 10 winner

Personally, I don’t like them. I don’t like reading them, and I don’t like writing them. Here are my top 10 reasons why list posts are bad:

  1. List posts take complex topics and dumb them down. There’s no way around it. If you read most of the list posts that you run across, you’ll see that they tend to substitute glibness for analysis. This is my primary problem with list posts. Every time I write one, I start making the list items, and inevitably for each one I think to myself “this really deserves a post in itself, not just a sentence.” I usually have the same feeling when I read one. I understand the value of brevity, but most of the time these posts aren’t really being concise, they’re just being superficial. Often, list posts aren’t actionable either. This directly follows from their superficiality. So this is my main problem with list posts. They just don’t dig in enough.

So that’s my list. And my innovation for the day – I’m making a list post with only one item. What about numbers 2-10? Well, you’re smart people – I’m sure that with a little thought, you can fill those in on your own. And going through the exercise of doing so will be more rewarding than just reading a superficial list put together by me. If you need a list, I say make your own!

(picture from flickr/sam_churchill under a Creative Commons License)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Ten Reasons Why List Posts Are Bad

  1. Nice post. Its like you reading a book, jolting down some notes and expecting your friend to get the whole concept of the book by reading your notes.What you say is true, I would say yes its good and bad. Bad for the reason you have stated. Good if the list is insightful, makes you explore things further and brings in a network effect. Network effect by bumping into other informative stuff when you are engaged in the exploration. If the list post is as good, then its worth it. But majority of the time, things don’t work out that way.

  2. Well done, sir. Well done.

    An alternate might be to simply number the paragraphs in any particular piece and call it “# Thoughts on X” or something.

    Kudos. I like this angle.

  3. Raj – thanks for stopping by & thanks for the comment. The analogy of books & notes is a good one. You’re absolutely right about the network effect – list posts do seem to get shared a bit more than others so they do have that going for them.

    Brian – thanks for the comment. The numbered paragraphs idea is hilarious!

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