5NumberFiveInCircleThe month of May is going to be an experimental month here on the blog. It is the fifth month, and of course some of you will be making a big deal about the fifth day of the fifth month, or Cinco de Mayo. Well, for the reasons I list below, I’m doing an experiment. Every post this month will be a list of five thing. Five tips, five ideas, five reasons, five this, five that. A gimmick? Perhaps. But I want to play around a bit and see how this works. Read on for more.

I love list posts. But I used to hate them. When I first started blogging, I avoided them like the plague, even though all the books and articles I read about blogging told me how wonderful they were. Finally, I gave in and decided to give them a try, and wouldn’t you know, they were right! And to this day, list posts tend to be among my most popular posts on the blog.

List posts are big in the world of social media and online marketing, but they are also met with a lot of scorn and derision from purists and those who feel that lists aren’t intellectual enough. I used to think that way, but lists actually have culture and history on their side. In an interview with Der Spiegel a few years back, semiotician/author/philosopher Umberto Eco was discussing his book, The Infinity of Lists, and discussed the importance of lists in our lives and culture:

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.

The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists.

…in cultural history, the list has prevailed over and over again. It is by no means merely an expression of primitive cultures…the list is certainly prevalent in the postmodern age. It has an irresistible magic.

Lists are a part of our culture. We all make lists, whether they be lists of our favorite books or songs, or even something as simple as grocery lists or to-do lists. Lists help us keep track of things and organize our lives. They bring order to our lives and help us focus on what is really important.

In the world of blogging, they can be incredibly helpful as we seek to explain and communicate. Here are 5 reasons I like to use lists on my blog as I seek to educate and inform others on the topics of social media and marketing:

1. They drive traffic

List posts draw people in. The title is enough to entice people in, while setting expectations about what they will be finding. If the title of a post is, “7 Ways to Use Vinegar to Clean Your Home,” the reader knows exactly what they are getting. There are no surprises because the titles tend to be more utilitarian and less literary. When they read the title, they know right up front whether they want to click or not. No matter what, when I look at the traffic on my site, the posts that generally do the best are the ones with numbered lists in the title.

2. They work well with how we read

Sadly, we are losing the art of reading. At least long-form reading. I know that when I’m online and perusing blog posts, I tend to scan. I look for certain words that grab my attention, based on what I expect to find. We scan; we skim. And a nice list separated by numbered headlines or bullet points makes it easier on the reader. And with the rapid growth of mobile technology, this is becoming even more true. When reading a post on a small device, it is much easier to read a list than it is straight text in narrative form.

3. They are built for SEO

List posts tend to be easier to structure for search engine optimization using keywords and various H1, H2, H3, etc. headers. Plus, since they drive traffic, they are more likely to get inbound links. In short, they offer everything that Google wants. That isn’t to say that other types of posts don’t, but it tends to be easier to optimize a list post.

4. They are easier to write

When writing a list post, it’s easier to organize your thoughts in a meaningful way, while avoiding the rambling that can occur from normal narrative writing. Think of it as writing an outline before you write a paper…and then never writing the actual paper. It’s a skeleton on which you can put as much flesh as you want. I’ll admit that when I sit down to write a list post, I generally don’t even have a number in mind. I might start with “7 Tips” and as I write, two more tips come to mind, upping the number to 9. In fact, as I write this post, I keep thinking of more points, but rather than go beyond my goal of five, I’ve decided to try and combine thoughts and make more generalized points. So to that end, the number that you use is purely arbitrary, depending on how broad or focused you would like to get.

5. They are easier to use and remember

Have you ever tried to describe a blog post to someone when it is written in a more narrative form? Sure, it can be done, but it’s not always easy to get to the heart of what is being conveyed by the writer. But if the post is a list, it’s easier to remember and tell your friends,

“Hey, I saw this post with 5 ways to….”

And then rattle off the five points from the post. They are easily actionable because they are easy to remember. This is one of the reasons why we write recipes the way we do. They are easier to follow. And if lists are easier to read and remember, they will also get shared more often, as people find them useful.

Coming up Fives

So now, for the rest of the month of May, all of my posts (at least the ones on weekdays) will be lists of five. Some will be original to me, some will be guest posts. In a few cases, I might take an older narrative post and convert that content into a list of five things. Even my non-marketing posts for the Friday Blogging Experience will be lists of five. In fact, if you’d like to contribute to this month’s experiment with a list of five, let me know in the comments and we can chat about what works, and I’ll share the results of this month-long experiment with you sometime in June.

Do you keep lists? How have you used lists on your blog?