Top 10 Tips on Writing Top 10 Lists

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Nearly everyone loves reading top 10 lists. Whether it's listing the most beautiful celebrities, the world's richest people, important features you need to know about a new product, or even cats that look like Miley Cyrus, a top 10 list is a winning format.

Why are top 10 lists so good? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Posts with "Top 10" in the title get clicks.
  • Easy to read/skim. Readers can jump to whatever section of the list they are most interested in.
  • Complicated topics can be broken down into smaller parts to make something easier to understand.
  • The format is extremely flexible, regardless of your niche: a top 10 list can be long or short; use text, images, or videos; and you can use it to entertain, inform, or educate your audience.

For all of these reasons, and more, businesses and marketers have taken notice and are creating more and more lists.

There are many different ways that you can write your lists, and in many cases what is most successful will depend upon your content. Here are 10 tips on how to write a good list.

1. Choose the Right Topic and Tone

The biggest piece of the puzzle is coming up with a subject or topic for your top 10 list that will really make it stand out amongst the rest. Some of the most typical posts that we see today include Top 10 Tools for X, 10 Ways to Master X, and 10 Tips to Help you X. So how do you come up with something better?

The best content answers a question. What questions are your readers or customers asking? Start there. The possibilities are endless.

As for tone, keep it light if you can. A top 10 list is a good place to bring in some humor because people usually aren't looking for a very serious and detailed article – they’re probably still in either their first stages of research or just looking for a quick answer.

2. Write Great Headlines and Subheadlines

Once you've got your topic, you need a headline (or title) that will grab readers. If your headlines fails, your list fails, no matter how great it is. A strong, click-worthy headline is essential.

Headlines are extremely challenging. The best headlines are optimized for search, yet also for social media. Great top 10 lists will attract valuable links and social shares.

Subheadlines (or subheadings) aren't as critical, but (unless you're simply using numbers) should tell the reader quickly what each point or section is about. That's why this section's subheadline is "Write Great Headlines and Subheadlines".

3. Be Bold With Your Formatting

Make your subheadings stick out. This increases readability.

In the case of this article, each subheadline sits on its own line, bolded, with a larger font size than the rest of the article. This gives extra emphasis to each of your points and guides the reader to sections they are interested in.

Below are a few examples of how Search Engine Watch has published top 10 lists. As you can see, all have a slightly different feel based on the author and topic:

Top 10 Predictions for Video in 2014:

Top 10 Predictions for Video in 2014

Top 10 Trends in Mobile Across Paid, Owned, Earned Media:

Top 10 Trends in Paid Owned Earned Media

Top 10 SEO New Years Resolutions for a Successful 2014:

Top 10 SEO New Years Resolutions

4. Organizing Your Top 10 List

If you’re not writing a list that involves steps or things that need to be learned in order (which is how I would categorize this article), then you have the freedom to decide which point goes first and which will go last.

With that said, you should always put your strongest tips first. People who read lists often skim them, so you want to catch their attention right away and keep them on your page as long as possible. This is your best chance of getting the reader to stop skimming and actually read your article.

5. Don't Makes Lists Within Your List

Always avoid creating a list within a list especially if you're numbering your lists. Your readers could easily start reading and think, "didn't I just read number 1?"

This can get confusing and make your article, ironically, look unorganized (or just plain confusing when you're in Section 5, Subsection 2.1). A list within a list would look something like this:

  • OK, people, don't make lists within your list:
    1. Really, this just looks strange and confusing.
      • Lists within lists. Is this some weird version of "Inception"?
    2. Seriously. No. Just no.

6. Make Sure Your List is the Start of Your Article.

It typically works best if your list is the highlight of your article. In other words, don’t bury your list under a four-paragraph introduction and a few different subheadings.

Keep your introduction short so that people can see your list right away. If the list isn’t supposed to be the main aspect of your article then this might not be as important, but it’s still a good way to start and grab those with a short attention span.

7. Use Images

Just as top 10 lists work, readers love images. BuzzFeed is one site that has mastered the art of combining lists with pictures.

However, your images should tie in with the topic, even if it's a metaphor. You should avoid using a bunch of random pictures that do nothing to illustrate the theme or topic of your list.

You could even have a top 10 list of amazing pictures, no text required (beyond a short caption and attribution, if necessary).

8. Be Consistent

The more consistent you can get with your lists, the easier they are to read.

For example, if you're doing a list of 10 products, and put a line with the price or a range of prices beneath the subheadline, do that consistently for each of your 10 sections. Or if you’re going to hyperlink your subheadlines (such as the names of 10 books you're reviewing), do this for all of your subheadlines.

Keeping a consistent format should be a no-brainer. This will make it easy for readers to know where to go and what to expect from the rest of the list.

9. Have an Opinion

Ultimately, every top 10 list is an opinion. Everybody has an opinion. Top 10 lists can cause conversations in your comments section, especially when readers disagree with rankings or when a topic touches a nerve.

For example, SEW published "10 Old SEO Methods You Need to Stop", which generated a ton of comments and disagreement among readers. Regardless, it was one of the most engaging posts of 2012.

10. Don't Forget to Edit

Once you're done writing, check your grammar and spelling. Check for factual errors. And make sure the post meets your style guidelines.

If you don't have a professional editor on staff, ask someone you trust to look over your post before publishing or pushing your content live.

Mistakes could hurt your reputation, or even cost you readers or customers.

The Takeaway

Writing lists can often be easier than writing other types of articles just like they are easier to read. The best lists are the center of your article, or the "meat" as many writers would call it. You have to worry about your content and whether a list is appropriate, but once you find a great topic I think you’ll find that lists generate quite a few clicks.

Do you have any tips for writing successful Top 10 lists? Are you a reader and have found certain formats to work best for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.