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Good Copywriting Tactics: 6 Reasons Lists Work
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Analyzing the Prevalence of this Tried and True Copywriting Method
Think about it - how often do you click an advice column or other blog post with a catchy-sounding headline, only to skim through the body text without really getting the "gist" of the story? Conversely - what if that same situation took you to a post with a bulleted or numbered list? Suddenly, it's easier to read, and easier to focus on what the post is about. Good copywriting means knowing how to write great lists, and today we're going to talk about why list posts are so effective.
The concept of the list isn't one that's strictly of the Internet age. In fact, short lists have proven to be excellent ways of transmitting information for thousands of years! One could point to the Bill of Rights, the Ten Commandments, and more recently, the ever-popular David Letterman Top Ten lists as evidence that when things are arranged in lists of 10 or fewer, we feel like this is something we can wrap our brains around. Does that make Moses the first blogger? I don't feel quite qualified to speak to that, so let's just move along and see if we can figure out just what it is about list posts that make them so successful, shall we?
1. They're easy to read
We'll get to the obvious point first. The simple fact is, humans are skimmers when it comes to the Net, most of the time. We want information we can consume "on the run" and digest later. The bullet-point list is an excellent way of gleaning not only the thesis statement, but also all of the high points of any given article. And then, if the points are interesting to us, we'll continue reading further. They're a great way to gain readers, because a list post is a promise to your reader that he or she will be able to understand quickly the general ideas presented in the article, and can then choose to read more thoroughly if desired.
2. They're easy to write
Let's not ignore the other side of that coin. It's far easier to write a list post than a long-form article about a given subject. Lists provide focus, and once you have the bullet points of your list outlined, it's usually no problem to extrapolate on those points and write a compelling post. Moreover - easier writing makes for faster copywriting, and that makes for more great content for your website. It's a win-win!
3. Lists are social
List posts aren't exactly guaranteed to get more social shares than non-list posts, but they're certainly weighted in that direction. Due to the highly accessible, easily digestible nature of list post copywriting, they also perform quite well as Tweets or status updates, because readers are far more likely to click on an article titled "Do You Have One of the 5 Warning Signs of Heart Disease?" than one titled "A Study of the Risk Factors of Heart Disease." This goes back to another topic we discuss here often - the importance of writing a good headline. A headline that both pushes the urgency of the issue at hand while also demonstrating that the information is presented in an easily accessible list format is far more likely to succeed in the social media realm than the alternative much of the time.
4. Lists use numbers
Well, of course they do! We're not sure why, but headlines containing numerals in general tend to perform better than headlines that do not. Perhaps it's because saying "70% of Americans prefer this toothbrush" is shorter than "A majority of Americans prefer this toothbrush," and therefore, more of the headline is indexed by search engines. It is also quite likely that many of the headlines containing numbers are, in fact, list posts themselves, but the facts are undeniable. Good copywriting means using numerals in headlines whenever possible, even if they begin a sentence. We're taught in English class that beginning a sentence with a numeral, such as in "3 weeks ago, I started college," is a no-no. But any good copywriter knows that this rule was made to be broken, and that a headline reading "7 Ways to Improve Job Satisfaction" is not only a-OK, it's just good copywriting practice.
5. Left-Brain Marketing
When you create a list post, you're tapping into the left side of your readers' brains. As you know, everyone's brains have two sides, and while the right brain tends to look at big-picture issues, the left brain is more analytical and tends to prefer step-by-step instructions. The good folks who work for IKEA creating those iconic instruction manuals are catering to the left brain, and when a copywriter crafts a list, he or she is doing the same thing. People read articles when they're interested in learning something, and learning is a very left-brain activity.
6. You're Reading this Article
It's no accident that a post about why lists work is in the form of a list. You may have caught the tongue-in-cheek nature of the headline when you clicked it, but if you didn't, take a second look, and try to remember. Did the fact that the headline promised a list affect your decision to read this article? If you've made it this far, you have proven the point: List posts work, and you're living proof.
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