free strategy session

Tapping Into the Psychology of Listicles

Date published: March 05, 2018
Last updated: March 5, 2018

Everywhere you look online, there are listicles. Short listicles, long listicles, helpful listicles, boring listicles…they’re everywhere. But have you ever thought about why you include them in your content strategy? Hint: It’s more than just a trend.

3 Reasons Listicles Work 

From a content creation perspective, listicles are easy to write. But the popularity of listicles has less to do with the content writer and more to do with the reader.

Let’s check out a few of the specific reasons why they’re so effective. 

1. Dwindling Attention Spans 

Adults like to complain that children have terrible attention spans, but according to research, the joke is on us, as well. Research shows that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to roughly 8 seconds today. (For perspective, goldfish are believed to have an attention span of 9 seconds.) In other words, we find it difficult to focus on anything – something that the rise of the internet and mobile devices has made worse.

Combined with dwindling attention spans is a rise in the popularity of snack-sized content. Short 15-20-second videos and compact memes have trained people to be impatient content consumers. Listicles, to some degree, help marketers overcome this problem.

Numbered headlines with clear subheadings make content appear much less intimidating and more easily digestible. Even though the content may be just as long as a non-listicle article, the delivery is more appealing in a world where dishing out uninterrupted focus is hard work. 

2. Categorization of Topics 

Another benefit of listicles is that they do a fine job of categorizing topics. The human brain likes to see logical progression and systematic organization. Whereas a traditional news article only gives the reader a hint of what to expect, a listicle gives the reader a precise category to wrap the brain around.

“The brain tends to recognize patterns, and the predictable structure of listicles makes them easy to understand and digest,” blogger Grant Lingel writes. “Furthermore, completing each point in the list feels like accomplishing a milestone, making readers more compelled to finish the list.”

This listicle is a great example. It serves the purpose of categorizing a topic that would otherwise require multiple articles or a series of blog posts.

3. Need for Curation 

In 2011, psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wanke spent time studying a concept known as the “paradox of choice.” This is the phenomenon that more options make people feel worse.

“They concluded that we feel better when the amount of conscious work we have to do in order to process something is reduced; the faster we decide on something, whether it’s what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to read, the happier we become,” The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova explains.

Unfortunately, the internet is anything but simple. Millions of words of content are published daily and there’s no possible way for people to read everything on a topic. Listicles solve this problem by curating ideas into comprehensive resources.

“Within the context of a Web page or Facebook stream, with their many choices, a list is the easy pick, in part because it promises a definite ending: we think we know what we’re in for, and the certainty is both alluring and reassuring,” Konnikova notes. 

Diversify Your Content Strategy 

Clearly there’s immense value in listicles, but don’t get carried away. A good content strategy is well diversified. In addition to list-based content, you also need infographics, video, case studies, and other immersive forms of content that interact with people in a variety of ways. The more you diversify, the better your results will be.


Privacy PolicyCookie Policy
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram