Why list content worksWhy list content works

Why list content works

Written by Axonn on 20th Jan 2015

The top ten places you should visit before you die.

Five weird ways to get married.

Nine atrocities that will make you hate humanity.

We’re all used to these kind of lists. There is nothing more satisfying than scrolling down one of them and there is a reason why the likes of Buzzfeed and List.ly are dominating social media feeds. But you are probably wondering: why?

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Well, I need to apologise in advance for the paradoxical nature of this post, as we are going to try and digest why lists work so well in content marketing in an, ahem, list. Here we go.

There is a stream of content

As soon as we encounter new information, it is natural for our brains to make immediate sense of it. After what is seen is understood, the brain puts this data into personal context to see if the article is even worth reading. All of this occurs in less than a second, almost instantaneously, and we don’t even realise the decision has been made to either read on or stop. These lists prevent fewer moments where we can just stop reading, and so we continue scrolling down, and therefore bounce rates become diminished.

Have we got your attention yet?

Have you ever stopped reading just to process the words? You read an entire page and realise you have not taken anything in. Well, the list format aims to break this pattern, with the focus on visual content helping this process. Like a Facebook or Twitter feed, most of what you see is made up of images and small pieces of text. Much like the engaging attraction of these endless feeds, list-based content has a similar effect.

How smart are you?

Regardless of whether they are about skyscrapers in China or Britney Spears’ career, consuming lists is a learning experience. They can either prove we are smart by being an easy way to check off what we already know – and therefore are very self-validating – or we can find something that we didn’t know or expect. Regardless of whether it is an ego trip or the satisfaction of learning something new, the warm fuzzy feeling we get inside is addictive.

Information in digestible amounts

Psychological research has suggested that, at a subconscious level, we like to organise information in understandable chunks and these have to be separated spatially. For example, when we make shopping lists, we make bullet points, not just to make it easier on the eye, but if we just happen to forget the list at home, we can still recall what was on it due to the location of the words. In this chaotic world, we try to find a sense of order and meaning. There is nothing more satisfying than organising what is otherwise overwhelming, and lists definitely fall under this category.

As neuroscientist Walter Kintsch suggested in 1968, information is processed much better in list format and they allow us to feel better, which, for the human user experience, is what content should be all about. Small digestible information – it’s that simple.

The story is finite

These concepts were further elaborated by psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke in 2011, when they suggested that the more information we have, the worse we tend to feel – essentially, the fewer options we have and therefore the faster we make our decisions, the happier we feel. This is known as ‘the paradox of choice’.

With a list, we know that a definite ending is coming, and with headlines usually telling us how many bullet points there will be, there is something reassuring about knowing not only that the experience will end but when it will. And once you have completed the task, there is something fulfilling about this achievement; a buzz that is sure to keep us clicking onto more lists. Social psychologist Robert Zajonc has written much about the positive feeling of completion in informing future decisions.

…and they are all about the user

Here at Axonn Media, we are all about the user experience, from becoming aware of a brand to ending up as an advocate. When developing personas, you need to be aware of what concerns your customers have, and what it is that makes them inherently human. Nothing reflects this better than list-based content. How are you offering them solutions to their problems? Where do you fit into the story that is their life? Offer them the chance to relieve their stresses and reveal to them why they need you.

If you haven’t noticed, your social media feeds are inundated with these lists, so for the most sharable form of content, start developing list-based content.

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