October 17, 2017

I’ve got a little list

Eight thoughts about the length of your listicle

Thank you, David Letterman.

I've got a little list image

Is 10 tops? How many items should you include in your listicle?

The Top 10 list rules the web — or at least, Buzzfeed. The number of Buzzfeed listicles with the numeral 10 in the headline outranked the next most popular numeral (15) by 142%, according to research by Noah Veltman and Brian Abelson, two Knight-Mozilla fellows. Fiddle around with their addictive “listogram” for details.

Listogram of buzzfeed listicle lengths image

Perfect 10 The number of Buzzfeed listicles with the numeral 10 in the headline outranked the next most popular numeral — 15 — by 142%. Image by Noah Veltman and Brian Abelson

But just because Buzzfeed writers like the number 10 doesn’t make that the best number for your listicle. So how many items should you include? Here are eight thoughts about that:

1. Consider including more items.

Abelson found a slight correlation between Buzzfeed list length and the number of tweets the list gets: The longer the list, the more tweets.

List length vs twitter shares image

More may be more The number of tweets rises along with the number of items on a listicle. Image by Brian Abelson

But don’t forget: Tweeting doesn’t mean reading.

“We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading,” writes Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, which measures traffic for sites like Upworthy.

2. But don’t include too many.

Hundreds of items might overwhelm potential readers. “6 steps to 6-pack abs”? Maybe. 66 steps? Forget it!

And no matter what the headline says, there really aren’t “99 Things You Need To Know About Franz Ferdinand Before The 100th Anniversary Of His Assassination.”

3. And don’t include too few.

When it comes to lists, remember what you learned at Three Dog Night camp: One is the loneliest number. Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.


Besides, posts with headlines promoting seven or more items outperformed those with six or fewer, according to an internal study of HubSpot’s blog. While HubSpot still posts pieces with six or fewer items, writes Pamela Vaughan, HubSpot’s lead blog strategist, the inbound marketing experts don’t promote that quantity in the headline.

4. Embrace your oddness.

Oddly, odd numbers on magazine coverlines sell better than even ones, according to Folio:. Bloggers have taken note.

“It’s long been a superstition in the business — for years — that an odd number will do better than an even number,” BuzzFeed’s Jack Shepherd told the folks at Neiman Lab.

So 7 Steps may be more effective than 10 Tips.

5. Or maybe 10 is the magic number?

Lists with 10 items received the most social shares, according to research by BuzzSumo. The provider of content marketing analytics itself analyzed the number of shares of more than 100 million articles.

Top 10 lists had four times the number of social shares — 10,621 on average — than the second most popular list number: 23.

Runners up: 16 and 24.

6. Steer clear of 20.

“Yeah, I think probably people shy away from 20,” Shepherd told Nieman Labs. “Twenty feels real weird.”

7. But do use a number.

Numbers sell, because they indicate quantity and value in the information.

“Honestly,” Shepherd said, “I’ve often made posts where the post didn’t need a number, and then I’ll throw a number into the headline — just because people like that more.”

We know, Mr. Shepherd. We know.

8. Or don’t.

The best length for your list: the number of items your research turns up.

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