In many ways, Buzzfeed has changed the way we think about content. Just five years ago, we never though that “serious” news sites like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times would try to make their content more like that of a site that regularly publishes articles with titles like “21 Dogs Who Took It to the Next Level.”
But listicles (which are usually short, somewhat pithy articles centered around a numbered list – like, “5 reasons you should dump your best friend”) are a lot of fun and they’ve been really valuable for publishers and marketers alike. Why? Because they organize information in a way that’s accessible to readers and readily sharable on social.
Living in the content age means that we’re trapped in a brutal cycle of content creation in which Internet content doubles in volume every 9 to 24 months. People seem to like lists, so it can be tempting to keep churning them out.
However, the question remains, have we reached peak listicle?
Let’s Face It, Listicles are Everywhere
The truth is, too much of a good thing can be the kiss of death for content marketing. And right now, most websites are jam-packed with “Top Fives.”
A recent study by Lumanu found that out of 1,500 travel articles by top publishers like Thrillist and Lonely Planet, nearly one-third of content was in listicle form, which means marketers who rely on lists to educate consumers are going to be up against a lot of similar content.
Are Lists Really As Effective as We Think?
The Lamanu study also found that listicles do get shares, with 10% more engagement across social media than other types of posts. But that engagement doesn’t necessarily translate to a successful piece of content.
In a similar study, BuzzSumo and Moz analyzed over a million pieces of content to see, once and for all, if social media engagement translated to content success.
The results were pretty disappointing. Highly shared content, like listicles, didn’t necessarily get a boost in inbound links, which means that even if a piece of content was pretty popular on Facebook, it didn’t usually shoot to the top of search results.
Better Content, Better Results
Instead, BuzzSumo and Moz found that the content getting engagement on social as well as inbound links was content that added value, such as longform articles and research.
Content that combined research and opinion got the best results, meaning that while audiences might share lists, they’re spending more time with content that educates and informs.
That’s great news for marketers looking for new ways to educate audiences who seem to share lists but don’t seem to be reading or engaging with them.
The Future Looks Interactive
In fact, research out of Columbia University estimates that 59% of links shared on social media have never gotten a single click. So that “Top Five Ways” list that seems to be getting so much attention might not be performing as well as appearances suggest.
To combat an environment in which everybody shares but not everyone reads, Moz suggests educating audiences through unique content experiences. For example, a list called “Top Twenty Spots for New England Travel” might get a share from a New Englander who looked at two destinations and gave up, but a quiz called “Where in New England Should You Leaf Peep?” gets audiences coming back multiple times to gain personalized suggestions for future travel.
These multiple engagements are more valuable than a hollow social media share because buyers are able to educate themselves through their engagements with interactive content, and that education has proven valuable to consumers at all stages of the buyer journey.
Listicles have served us well in the past, but it’s time to reimagine what successful content looks like. Instead of shares, it’s time to shoot for true engagement, which comes from meaningful conversation with customers that educates as well as entertains. Let’s let go of the top five and embrace an interactive future.