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The Late Show does it. Wayne’s World did it. Buzzfeed does it. “Simpsons did it.” All right, that last one is just quoting South Park, but there’s a high chance that the Simpsons did, indeed, do it. Lists are something that everyone and their grandmother’s apple pie have done at one point or another to share tips, ideas and information. According to Heinz Marketing, detractors of lists blame the writers, but “list-related content is just as popular (if not more so) with readers.”

Just Why Are Lists Popular?

Let’s look at the website, TheTopTens. This is a site specifically made for, well, lists. If there’s a list you can’t find on the site, you’re welcome to create one, but the site really does have a list for practically everything.

According to its statistics the site currently has:

  • 39,556 top 10 lists
  • An average of 19.6 items per list
  • 76,158 personal lists created by members who reordered the original top 10 lists to create a list of their own.
  • 774,436 items on the site that can be voted on.
  • 15,205,072 votes cast.
  • 1,508,429 comments.
  • 96,342 registered members

And this is just one site that specializes in lists. The numbers speak for themselves – lists are definitely in.

What Makes Lists so Popular?

1. They’re Easy to Read

“Like it or not, low-attention-span readers like to read in chunks,” says Heinz Marketing. Darren Rowse, in an article for Pro Blogger, adds that online readers are “notoriously lazy. A list helps communicate a number of points quickly and easily.”

While it’s true that readers can have low attention spans, there’s another factor that makes an easy-to-read list valuable. According to this infograph by Brianna Smith via Social Media Today, the best posting times for Facebook and Twitter are early afternoon. Where are most people between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.? At work. Yet, somehow, higher traffic occurs at this time. Having a list that’s easy to skim through will appeal to an audience that doesn’t have much time to sit and read something thoroughly.

2. Audiences Can Pick and Choose Which Points they Agree (or Disagree) With

Lists are essentially your opinion written out and numbered. While your audience may not agree with every single point, chances are they’ll agree with something on the list. And if they don’t agree with something it’s a good opportunity to create a discussion.

For example, let’s look at this list of Top Ten movies of 2013 from TheTopTens:

  1. Iron Man 3
  2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  3. Despicable Me 2
  4. Man of Steel
  5. Gravity
  6. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
  7. Fast & Furious 6
  8. Star Trek: Into Darkness
  9. World War Z
  10. 10.  Monsters University

Now if you look below the list you see add-ins numbered 11 – 100 from others who feel like a different movie should’ve made the list. Where’s the Pacific Rim love? How did 12 Years a Slave not make the list? The Conjuring was a perfectly creepy movie. No Captain Phillips or The Wolf of Wall Street — how can this be? By sharing this top 10 list it opened the door for discussion, keeping the conversation going and getting the list several hits.

3. They’re More Approachable

Lists feel more open to interpretation. It doesn’t feel like the end all, be all opinion on a subject. With a list, there’s several points being made, and there’s this feeling of, “Why stop at five? Why not 10?” Someone lists off five reasons behind something and it gets you thinking, “There can’t be just five, right? There’s more to it than that.” And, usually, there is.

Or you question, “Why those five? Why not these five instead?” Lists get you thinking about the topic and inspire you to come up with opinions of your own. “Sure Iron Man 3 is good,” you say, “but is it the best movie of 2013?” Since lists are more approachable, they’re easily sharable, a key factor in social media and marketing. It’s easy to share a list and add your own two cents about it.