There are posts all over the place about how using lists is one of the best ways to craft a popular blog post. Even at Podcamp Boston 3 this past weekend, Chris Brogan, made an entire point of using lists to make popular posts. In fact, while writing this I just Stumbled on a blog post called “7 Unmissable Tips For Writing Great Content For The Web.” Look at point number 1: “Lists Work Like a Charm.” Lists are everywhere!

Before I go on in my rant about why I don’t like list-based blog posts, let me be crystal clear in saying that I do recognize that lists work. I am in no way claiming that they are not a great way to get popular posts. If they didn’t work then their wouldn’t be a list featured on the front of just about every Cosmopolitan cover. (note that there are two lists featured on this cover)

Hayden-Cosmopolitan-Cover

My dislike for them, therefore, does not lay in the results they achieve. My issue is more ideological, or philosophical, or some other sort of -ical.

So why don’t I like lists? The answer can be found within the reason why so many other people do like them. As Abhijeet Mukherjee, author of the post I mention above, says:

The primary reason behind the success of list posts is that most people like to scan, and if it’s interesting enough, read it in full and maybe leave a comment. So, a list post that is carefully crafted with bold headings does a good job as far as grabbing the attention goes.

Lists are great for scanning. But that’s it. Mukherjee indicates that lists allow a reader to scan and read deeper into what he’s interested in. I disagree. 99% of the time, there is nothing deeper to read in a list post. Therein lies the core of my dislike for them: they are educationally shallow.

Hopefully right now there are half of you booing and half of you cheering. If this is happening then we can have a list/no-list slugfest in the comments of this post and all get riled up. Before that happens, though, I will go into a little more detail about my viewpoint.

Personally, I like reading posts that delve deeply into the subject. I very rarely get any benefit from list post because they do not go deeply enough into the subject matter. If you write a blog post on the “10 best social networks for marketers,” I will learn which ones you like, but I will not know the details of how you formed your opinion. That means that more often than not, I will then look for a deep post on one or two networks that I gleaned from your list. That is just more work for me.

The second reason I do not like lists is really an offshoot of the first. Because lists do not delve deeply into the subject matter about which they are concerned, the writer doesn’t need to know anything about the subject matter. I do not know a thing about Linux, but I could go to Google, pull a random ten Linux-focused sites I find and craft I great looking post called “The Top Ten Sites About Linux.” Think of all the people I would mislead. Conversely, I could not write a post about why one specific site is the best Linux site on the web. That depth of analysis requires knowledge of the subject matter and therefore is much more difficult to fake.

My solution to this lists-work-but-I-don’t-like-them problem is to create a “Deep List”. I have not yet done one of these, but the idea is:

  1. Make your list (e.g. “5 best social media marketing campaigns”)
  2. Before you post your list, write a blog post for each of your five points going into detail about each one.
  3. Publish each of your Deep Posts first.
  4. Then post the list with each element of the list linking to it’s respective deeper analysis.

That way, you go deep, provide real value and expertise, but still get a list-based post with which you can rocket to the top of all your favorite social media sites. You get to use the list as a tool, but still provide value to those of us that want more than a surface-level understanding of things.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.