Any PR or marketing professional who follows industry related websites will have definitely noticed a surge in listicles. With "top 10" this, '7 ways' that all over the net, it comes as no surprise that on average, 20-25% of the daily content produced by publications such as PR Daily and E-Consultancy is made-up of lists. And the reason behind the number that's used? Well that's dependent on how many points the writer can think of...
"What's the problem with listicles?" I hear you cry! Well, unfortunately for the reader, most of the time these top lists are just a rehash of existing lists. They will of course be slightly reworded, yes, but still, what's the point in reading another 'top 10 email marketing tips' post if there's nothing new to it?
So what is a copywriter's motivation behind an umpteenth compilation list? Well, let's try to compile them... in a list...top 10, top 50, top 100?... No, just a rather disappointing top five, I'm afraid...
1. Copywriters are lazy
Why should copywriters sit scratching their heads trying to come up with fresh ideas when there's plenty of top lists out there they can replicate? They're easy to find, just subscribe to any RSS feed or do a Google search and you'll get tons of them! Tweak them a little, reword them a bit, re-order them and in less than 2 hours you will be able to publish a ‘new’ piece. So is it the end of original content? Probably. Although copywriters will argue that they cannot always be on top of their game and just need easy ways to create content, it is worth noting that more and more of them seem to specialise exclusively in compilation lists these days. Does it make them bad or bottom tier copywriters? I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
2. More content, faster
Content marketing is the current big buzzword in our industry. As more and more content directors are being hired, their responsibility is to bring in content managers and copywriters who will quickly come up with creative copy. Writing a thoroughly researched piece, however, takes time and it seems like quality and originality are no longer what they’re after. What is now seen as vital is the number of words and the number of pieces created per day. Fresh content at all costs - it helps with SEO, right? And the safest and easiest way to achieve this is through top lists. So until this trend fades away, it looks like we will have to put up with more compilation lists for the foreseeable future.
3. Guaranteed views
Content marketing trends don't come out of thin air. And if I were to point my finger at anyone it'd be at Matt Cutts...or just Google in general. Isn’t it scary to think how a single person or organisation can change a whole industry? So, recent modifications to the Google algorithm and a few blog posts by Matt Cutts led to the marketing industry thinking content was the answer to improve their organic listings. And – rightly or not - with these top lists usually ranking quite high in Google searches, it didn’t take long before an abundance of those, and there will be until Google realises their search results are inundated with this type of content, and change their algorithm.
So what will be the next SEO trend? Matt Cutts probably knows. But at the moment it's content and top lists.
4. Readers are lazy
Lists are a great way for readers to skim across an article without fully reading it. An equivalent to Cliff Notes in some way. The reader will also be able to quickly get a feel of what the article is about and whether or not it's of interest to them. For those reasons alone, it's no wonder that compilation lists are so popular. But repetition could bore even the laziest of readers. So are top lists a temporary trend or deeply-rooted practise?
5. Editorial guidelines
It's a vicious circle really: since Google ranks those top lists so high in search results, most content directors will push their copywriters to produce more and more of these on a frequent basis. A quick look at the number of visits in Google Analytics will reassure them that this is a good content strategy. But what about average visit duration? From experience, top lists rank very low in this category compared to more researched articles. Unfortunately, most content marketing people have very limited analytics skills; but the industry is changing quickly and the need for copywriters familiar with Google Analytics (or any other analytics tool) is growing. Could editorial strategies soon be up for review and would this mean the end of listicles? Perhaps...
So what are your views on top lists? Love them or hate them? Let's discuss!