Why Listicles Are Still Alive: How We Generated 7,000+ Pageviews and Ranked #1 on Google

By Tom Whatley

Why Listicles Are Still Alive: How We Generated 7,000+ Pageviews and Ranked #1 on Google

 

While reading this, you’re probably going to fit into one of two categories:

  1. You believe listicles are awful and should go in the bin
  2. You get value from listicles (and perhaps create some yourself)

The former is a message I’ve seen touted by many content marketers. Many of them believe that listicles have no place in the content marketing ecosystem:

(Yes, that’s a listicle about the death of listicles.)

But I believe they’re wrong, and I have several data-backed reasons to prove it.

What Are Listicles, Anyway?

For those new to the content marketing game, listicles are blog posts (and other formats) that present several tools, tactics, approaches or ideas under a single blog post.

It’s the perfect format for delivering chunks of value across a broader topic. Each individual idea is introduced under a single high-level topic.

For example, here’s a listicle created by our friends at UpLead that features several sales prospecting tools:

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Under each item, you can provide additional resources (owned and third-party content) that shares more information in greater depth.

How We Reached #1 on Google with a Listicle

Before I dive into the data, let’s look at it from Google’s perspective.

No matter what your opinion on listicles is, we can all agree on one thing:

Search traffic is key for long-term traffic and content marketing growth.

A huge part of content-driven SEO is understanding user intent. For example, when I search for the keyword “social selling,” here is what I’m presented with:

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According to Google, this is what people searching for “social selling” want:

  1. A definition of what it is, and
  2. How to do it

Therefore, you could safely assume that creating a high-quality, definitive guide for this topic would make Google happy. It’s also likely to resonate well with your audience.

During his time at Sales Hacker, Gaetano Di Nardi and I worked together on an in-depth piece of content as part of their SEO efforts. After looking through his own keyword research, we decided to target the topic “lead generation techniques.”

While conducting deeper research, we noticed that the majority of results on page one were (you guessed it) listicles:

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So, I took this as a nod from Google to go ahead with a listicle of our own. The end result was a 5,000+ word* guide that presented actionable steps for every technique listed:

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* Note: The aim wasn’t to create something with a high word count. The outline for the content itself was directed by influencer- and data-driven research. The depth of the content was a result of that research, not the other way around.

Here are the metrics behind this listicle at time of writing (thanks to Colin Campbell, Sales Hacker’s current Director of Marketing, for these stats):

  • 5,416 sessions
  • 7,378 pageviews
  • #1 on Google for our target keyword “lead generation techniques”:

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What was most surprising is how quickly we hit page 1. From memory, I recall hitting that spot within two months (possibly even less).

But memory is unreliable, so let’s look at the data. Interestingly, there’s an asymmetrically low number of backlinks in comparison to the competition:

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If you look at the data (via Ahrefs), our Sales Hacker listicle has far fewer backlinks than the competition. Furthermore, there are larger brands on page 1 with a stronger DA – namely Marketo, HubSpot and, well, HubSpot again.

So, Why Did This Listicle Perform So Well?

At Grizzle, we believe in leading content marketing and SEO activities with quality as the primary factor for achieving results. Backlinks are part of our mandate, but it’s secondary to comprehensive and in-depth content.

Looking at the results for our Sales Hacker article, we can see this in action. Arguably, this is the best article in the SERPs on this topic.

Furthermore, because it’s so comprehensive, the Sales Hacker community naturally shared it. This, in turn, lead to organic backlinks without the need for quantity-driven outreach.

5 Principles of High Performing Listicles

Hopefully, I’ve made a compelling argument.

When you couple search intent with high quality content, you have a greater chance of outranking the competition.

Before I share actionable tips to help make your listicle the best it can be, be sure to start at the beginning…

Ask yourself: does the market want a listicle?

Analyzing the SERPs must be part of your content research process. If the SERPs are listicles, it’s safe to use this content format.

1. Treat Each Item As “Micro-Content”

One of the biggest arguments against listicles is how little value they provide.

Indeed, most listicles present each idea without giving actionable advice.

Which is why you must go as in-depth as possible. Treat each item as a piece of “micro-content” in itself.

For example, Brian Dean does this by creating short step-by-step instructions within certain items on his listicles:

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You can even get meta, adding micro-listicles within your listicles. Which is exactly what we did:

The format of each item doesn’t matter. The important thing is providing as much information and value as possible, empowering your audience to take action.

2. Curate & Improve

It can be hard to come up with dozens of items for your listicle.

Thankfully, other bloggers have already collected them for you.

Check out the top ranking listicles for your target keyword:

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Then, add each item to a spreadsheet. For example, the HubSpot article below includes the following list building techniques:

  • Create remarkable email content
  • Encourage subscribers to share and forward your emails
  • Segment your email lists by buyer persona

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Once you have a list, it’s time to prioritize and merge. For example, tips such as “create remarkable content,” “create a new lead generation offer” and “create bonus content” could be merged into a single item. This allows you to provide as much value under a single idea.

Once you have a finalized list, go all-in with the value you provide for each item. Include comprehensive lists, tools, examples, screenshots and step-by-step instructions.

3. Crowdsource Your Content

While curation is efficient, it won’t make your content original.

Which is why you should inject your own ideas, experiences, and third-party stories into your content.

There are several ways to do this:

  1. User-Generated Content: Add examples from other brands and individuals to reinforce what you’re teaching. Embed YouTube videos, Tweets and LinkedIn posts. Screenshots also work well.
  2. Ask The Audience: Head to Twitter or LinkedIn and pose a question. Use polls on Twitter. Comment on LinkedIn posts, asking industry influencers and decision makers questions on your topic. You can also use Quora as a method of sourcing content.
  3. Interview Experts: Reach out to thought leaders and executives in your industry. Ask them for their experiences on a particular topic. Inject these into your listicle. Stories keep readers engaged and makes learning new ideas simple.

4. Inject New Trends & Case Studies

Don’t just rely on best practices and evergreen content to get create your content.

Look for new trends and tools that haven’t been covered yet.

Start with the influencers in your space. What are they currently talking about in their content? What do they share on Twitter?

For example, I notice that Jay Baer is regularly writing about word-of-mouth marketing on the Convince & Convert blog:

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This would make a great addition to a listicle about content distribution or B2B marketing strategies.

I could also get Jay involved in the content by quoting him directly. This could lead him to sharing my article with his audience and link to it in future posts. It’s simply another way of adding value to influencers.

You should also look at what the leading publications in your industry are writing about. For example, here’s what I uncover when searching for “content distribution” on the Forbes website:

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Digging deeper, I can look for new ideas and trends that I may not have thought about:

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Finally, be sure to draw from your own experiences. Injecting case studies into your listicles can add authority, social proof and an original spin.

For example, here’s how we did it within the Sales Hacker piece:

Feature stories of how you’ve helped your audience achieve their goals. Pepper them throughout your listicle in order to boost engagement and build your brand.

5. Interview Your Customers

Whether you’re just starting with a content marketing strategy or doing a fresh batch of research, talking to your customers is fundamental.

By interviewing your top customers, you can uncover product- and non product-related challenges that you can turn into content.

You’ll also uncover the communities, channels, publications and influencers they follow. These are the distribution channels you should promote on.

With listicles, customer interviews can provide original items and a fresh angle.

There are two primary ways customer interviews can enhance your listicles:

  1. Uncover challenges that your customers are looking to overcome. You can include these in your listicles and expand upon them in standalone content.
  2. Include stories of how they overcame a challenge or achieved a goal. This takes a leaf out of the “crowdsourcing” book above.

No matter what your content looks like, you should always direct your topic ideation from the best source you have available: your customers.

Conclusion

This article preaches two messages.

  1. Listicles are still great content formats to deliver the right value, and
  2. You should look to Google for user intent during content research.

If the market wants new information presented in a list format, then provide that to them. The data and the market should direct your content strategy.