Ah, the list post.
I think most bloggers learn pretty early on that lists posts can bring you a ton of traffic. Heck, there are even bloggers who write nothing but list posts.
So you sit down at your computer, punch on a pretty great list post, and…
If you’re writing a list post, traffic is not a given. In fact, a lot of list posts really suck, because bloggers get the entire concept wrong.
Here’s a hint: it’s not the list part that matters.
Okay, okay, let me start at the beginning and teach you how to write a list post that really does catch the attention of your readers, and maybe even goes viral.
First, the Number Doesn’t Matter (So What Does?)
Well, it does matter a little, and we’ll get to that, but when you are coming up for the idea of the blog post, the number doesn’t matter at all.
It’s the idea that matters… the topic. The topic has to solve a problem.
I want to give you a collection of list post titles I’ve seen recently that got this all wrong. I don’t mean to call anyone out here, so I’m not going to link to any of these. They’re just lack-luster titles from bloggers who might have otherwise had hits on their hands.
- 4 Ways to Increase Your Pinterest Visibility
- 8 Tips for Busy Bloggers
- 5 Industries Changed by Social Media
The fact that these are list posts do not matter at all because the topics are not really that great. The numbers make them look a little more enticing than they are, but actual topics are pretty bad. Look at them without the numbers:
- Ways to Increase Your Pinterest Visibility – To start, “ways” is a pretty vapid word, but worse, “increase your Pinterest visibility” doesn’t tell us at all why we should care.
- Tips for Busy Bloggers – Again, why should we care about this? And what kind of tips should we expect – writing? promotion? something else? It’s way too broad of a category for anything to take notice.
- Industries Changed by Social Media – This is probably the worst one, because at least the other two will help a blogger in some way. Why would anyone care about industries changed by social media? It doesn’t teach us anything.
So let me show how you could take one of of these titles and make it a list post people actually want to read. Let’s work with the first one, since it has a decent amount of potential – “4 Ways to Increase Your Pinterest Visibility”
Picking an Enticing Topic for More List Post Traffic
For a moment, let’s ignore the “4 Ways to…” part of this title (we’ll talk about those elements in the follow two sections of this blog post.
Increasing your Pinterest visibility is actually a topic that most bloggers should care about, since Pinterest can bring you a lot of traffic. However, this title doesn’t really stand out because the topic doesn’t overtly solve a problem. Unless you already specifically know that you want to be more visible on Pinterest, this post is not going to catch your eye.
On your blog, the posts that have the best chance of going viral are going to solve a problem for someone, and this problem is reflected in the title in a very in-your-face way.
So what is the problem that increasing your Pinterest visibility solves?
Think about the problem as a question that someone might type into website like Yahoo! Answers or Quora. What would they be asking in this case?
Depending on the exact content of the post, the question would probably be, “How can I get more traffic from Pinterest?” or, more broadly, “How can I get more traffic?”
You might also want to specify – “How can I get more traffic to my blog?” or “How can I get more traffic to my etsy store?” for example.
Another route to go with this post might be “How can I make more money from Pinterest?” – if you can tie in your post to making money, that’s a really good thing, because “making money” is one of the few broad topics that really interests people (another of these is health).
In this case, making money from Pinterest might be the ultimate goal of your readers, so you would have to think to yourself, “Are my readers sophisticated enough to know that Pinterest traffic will lead to sales? Or do I need to make that overt in the title?” When in doubt, always be overt.
So, a better title would be “4 Ways to Increase Your Sales with Better Pinterest Visibility.”
If I were coming up with an actual title to use, I would also spend time coming up with a few alternatives. Then, I would plug some of the keywords in my titles into Google’s Keyword Planner tool to see what people are actually searching, so that my title is optimized for search engines in addition to being catchy on social media.
When I do that, I find that people aren’t really searching “better Pinterest visibility,” but a related option might be “using Pinterest for business,” which is searched 480 times per month, with an additionally 5000+ searches per month for the shorter form “Pinterest for business.”
When I do a quick search for “using Pinterest for business” on Google myself, I see that some of the results on the first page are pretty weak – they are older or by smaller sites, so I have the opportunity to land on the first page of results, which is my personal earmark for success. (For some people, you might only be interested if you can land in the top three results or even the top result. That’s really a personal choice based on your blog.)
NOTE: The amount of time you spend on keyword research depends on how much you care about bringing in search engine traffic. If you are 100% focused on social instead, you can skip it completely (but… I recommend caring at least a little!)
So, in my new title, I’ll include the keyword “using Pinterest for business” or even “use Pinterest for business,” since it looks like Google’s search results include both no matter what is searched (Google is good at recognizing different forms of the same verb).
Again though, I’ll want to tell people that I’m solving a problem. This will make my title more enticing. The person interested in reading this post probably ultimately wants to make money, so a good options might be:
“4 Ways Using Pinterest for Business Can Make You a Millionaire”
I always start with a more outlandish claim, and then work my way backward once I write the post. If I finish writing my tips and think, “Well, I don’t know if this will make the average reader a millionaire, even if they follow my steps exactly.” If that’s the case, I might instead change the title to:
“4 Ways Using Pinterest for Business Can Increase Your Sales”
It’s not as sexy, but a little more ethical. All the list post traffic in the world won’t matter if your blog post doesn’t deliver on the promises you make in the title. That’s hands-down the fastest way to lose readers.
(If I were actually writing this post, I might brainstorm a few more options, but this is at least WAY better than our original!)
Picking the Right Number
Okay, now that we have the title “4 Ways Using Pinterest for Business Can Increase Your Sales” it is time to start outlining the post… but wait…
That number is a little…lackluster. (Wah wah, sad trombone)
My best advice for picking a number is this: go big or go…small!
Yep, it isn’t always necessary to “go home,” if you don’t have a large number of tips to share. The key is to go small if that is the case, instead of trying to force more tips out of a topic that doesn’t lend itself to 101 tips!
Because here’s the thing…
People like large list posts because they subconsciously (or even consciously) think, “Something on that list has got to work for me!”
But ultimately, what people really want is the best. When they see a post that claims to have found the best solution to their problem, they can’t help but to click, because if this is the real solution, they just saved themselves hours of sifting through stuff that doesn’t work.
So, if your list can’t have a large number, instead, make it clear that this “list” post only actually lists one thing.
Which is more enticing to you?
“4 Ways Using Pinterest for Business Can Increase Your Sales”
“The #1 Way to Use Pinterest for Business for Increased Sales”
It’s a no-brainer, right?
Now in the beginning of this title re-do, remember the topic was actually a little more specific: “Pinterest visibility.” So, what you could instead of writing “4 Ways to Increase Your Pinterest Visibility” (insert sad trombone noises here) is to write “The #1 Way to Use Pinterest for Business for Increased Sales,” and in the post, talk about how the #1 way is to increase you visibility on Pinterest.
Then, you can list out all the ways to do that.
If you already wrote a list post that is a bit lacking, this is a great option! Instead of changing it around completely, think about the overall topic of your list (in our example, “Pinterest visibility”) and then ask yourself, “What is this a solution for?” (in our example, increasing sales).
Then, you just have to write an intro that talks about why better Pinterest visibility is the #1 way to get more sales when using Pinterest for business, followed by your original lack-luster list, which now is breathing new life.
On the flip side of things, if it is possible, compiling a longer list also does well.
Whenever possible, don’t use a number that ends in 6 through 9… they end up looking smaller than they are. For example, if I compiled a list of 29 Ways…. I would look for one or two more, so I could instead do “31 Ways to…”
For some reason, 31 looks a LOT bigger than 29 to most people. (That’s why stores price things at $29 instead of $31 – when it comes to prices, you want things to look smaller; we want the reverse in our case.)
Really insanely big numbers do well – think 100+ if you can manage it! But I’ve personally found that anything larger than 30 tends to look pretty big to people.
Ultimately, it does depend on your topic. Numbers smaller than 30 can sound insanely large if the topic is very narrow. For example, “7 People who Founded Million-Dollar Business Before They Graduated High School” – in this case, 7 sounds like a big number, because many people didn’t even know there was 1 or 2 people who did this, let alone 7!
A little note on numbers… always use the actual number instead of spelling it out (like 7 instead of seven) if you want the most list post traffic.
I know this is not always grammatically correct, but I’ve done a lot of testing on the topic across several niches, and the number always gets more traffic and attention than the spelled-out version. I think numbers just catch people’s eyes more.
Picking the Right Words to Describe Your List
Finally, you need some words to describe your list better than “ways” or “things.” This is actually the hardest part in my opinion, because there are no tools or formulas to help you do this… you just gotta come up with something. 🙂
Unless your title is already super long, I recommend an adjective and a noun for most list posts.
You want your adjective to be very description, something juicy so it really attracts attention.
Let’s go back to our example, and say that I settled on “43 Ways to Use Pinterest for Business for Increased Sales” at this point.
I would start by coming up with an adjective first, that really described my list.
If you’re having a hard time, start with “easy,” “fast,” or “inexpensive.” People like to be reassured they can do whatever you’ve telling them to do (i.e. that it is easy), and the are always looking for ways to save time or money. Instead of using easy, fast, or inexpensive as your adjectives, though, brainstorm some words that more closely describe your list and are a little juicier.
Maybe it isn’t just easy, it is mind-numbly simple.
Maybe it isn’t just fast, it is accelerated.
Maybe it isn’t just inexpensive, it is nearly-free.
Thesaurus.com is your friend on this one!
Once you’ve brainstormed some adjectives int the easy, fast, and inexpensive categories, expand a little, always thinking about what words most accurately describe your list.
Maybe these are 43 Powerhouse Ways…
Maybe these are 43 Daring Ways…
Maybe these are 43 Shameless Ways…
I like to collect “power words” in a notebook as I hear them, so when I’m coming up with blog post ideas, I have a list of options ready to go. Jon Morrow posted a really great list of power words that you can use to start your own list of favorites.
For our example, I’ll go with “43 Insider Ways to Use Pinterest for Business for Skyrocketed Sales”
(Notice, I added an adjective at the beginning of my title, then also changed one of the words within, from “increased” to “skyrocketed,” since it is a more powerful, enticing, and exciting word.)
Now the only thing left to contend with is the word “ways.”
Again, you want to think of powerful words that accurately describe your list.
Almost anything is better than “ways” or “things” which are two words that people use too often in list titles. Even “tips” is a better word to use!
“43 Insider Tips to Use Pinterest for Business for Skyrocketed Sales”
But I think we can do better!
How about… “43 Insider Secrets to Use Pinterest for Business for Skyrocketed Sales”
Depending on my ultimate search engine goals with this post, I might even switch is around to be:
“43 Insider Secrets for Skyrocked Sales with Pinterest for Business”
This title isn’t as good for SEO, but if my traffic comes more from social sharing anyway, I might not care. It really depends on your blog.
Either way… if you were a business person given the choice to read:
“43 Insider Secrets to Use Pinterest for Business for Skyrocketed Sales”
“4 Ways to Increase Your Pinterest Visibility”
…which would you choose?
Of course, a great title isn’t everything. You have to deliver on content, make the post super sharable with great graphics, and promote the heck out of it. But with a lousy title, you’ll never see the same results you could have had with a great title!
To review, here are the steps to bringing in the most list post traffic:
- Come up with a topic that solves a problem, and overtly put that problem in your title.
- Do some keyword research to narrow or broaden your topic as necessary.
- Outline your post, and go for either a very high number of a very small number (one).
- Write the post, making sure to deliver on any promises you make in the title.
- Add adjectives and nouns to the title that accurately describe the list, but also entice the reader to click.
- Revise as needed and publish!
Title writing is an art that takes years to perfect. I’ve been blogging professionally since 2006 (so, for 10 years as I’m writing this post), and I still do not consider myself a master. Look at your titles with a critical eye, and always think about ways you can improve them.
And then.. do it!
How to Revise Your Titles
If you see a title on your blog that could be better, especially a post that is already getting a decent amount of traffic, revise it. When you do this, you want to be careful of two things:
- Do not also change the permalink to your blog post. For a lot of bloggers, the permalink has the title in it, but if you change the permalink along with the title, all of the links out there to this post will be broken. If you HAVE to change the permalink, use a redirection tool such as this plugin for WordPress to make sure that older links are forwarded to the post. Even if you do that, it’s not a great option, since Google would rather not see a ton of redirecting links on your site.
- Look at your post’s performance on search and avoid deleting keywords. You might have accidentally used a keyword in your title that is bringing in a lot of search engine traffic. If you change the title, you could lose all of that traffic. If I have a post performing well on search, I tend to leave the title alone or change it very minimally. At least check out the top search terms bringing people to that post, and if versions of these terms are in the title, make sure the new title includes those same words.
You might also need to make new social sharing graphics for your blog post if you change the title. I always include a pinnable graphic made with PicMonkey, for example, so if I change a title later, most times I will change this graphic as well. You can’t control the graphics already out there on Pinterest or other social networks. They’ll just have the wrong title. But you can correct it going forward, and if you do this, I suggest re-sharing the new graphic.
Always remember that it is sometimes best to just look forward instead of constantly revising your old posts. You don’t want to spend so much time on older posts that you don’t have time to write new posts, since this is one of the best ways to get more traffic. It’s only worth your time for posts that are getting a large amount of traffic in most cases, or that have the potential of a lot of traffic if you revise.
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