Why Single-Idea Blog Posts Often Work Better Than List Posts

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jesse Hines of Robust Writing.

By now, almost anyone familiar with blogs knows that list posts (7 Reasons Why…or 10 Ways to Do…) are all the rage, an easy way to attract readers and to persuade them to read your post.

Most bloggers have done one (or tons) of these and it’s true–they are very effective.

The question, though, is in what way are they effective?

Clearly, writing a headline that says, “The 12 Most Important Things You Need to Know About…” will often get many people to read the post. So, a list post with a corresponding good title does bring you readers.

The Power of Singularity of Focus

But…true effectiveness and success is far more than just gaining readers; it’s really about persuading your readers of the strength of your argument by giving them something truly memorable to take away from your post–and then, hopefully, to act on your message, if appropriate.

A list of 10 different points, even if similarly related to one overarching topic, necessarily dilutes the effectiveness of each single point–your readers don’t have just one main, memorable idea to ponder, but now have 10!

As Dosh Dosh says, “Ideas spread when they are remembered. And they stick in the mind better when they stand alone, without competition from other opposing ideas.”

He adds:

“A persuasive blog post or sales letter argues one point and accentuates it thoroughly with analogies, metaphors, examples and references. Just one point, because too many and you’ll not only lose your own focus but the attention of your audience. You don’t want to distract them from taking action.” [Emphasis in original]

What to Do?

Even after I’d been blogging for awhile, I still suffered from the same problem that Michael Masterson speaks of:

“Like many writers, I often tried to put too much into each essay. I began with a main idea, but when that idea suggested a second one and then a third, I put those in too. That was a mistake. It made the essay too long and cumbersome. And instead of gaining power, the message weakened.”

The solution?

Masterson says, “My strongest pieces – the ones that got the most positive responses from ETR readers – were those that focused on one good and helpful thought….Because one good idea, clearly and convincingly presented, is better than a dozen so-so ideas strung together.” [Emphasis mine]

An Example of Laser Focus

Here’s a concrete example of how I used this insight–that one main idea strongly argued is better than 10 similar ideas argued together–to make my own writing more powerful.

On my original blog, I decided I wanted to write a post in which I shared a list of the bloggers I had most benefited from, those bloggers whose perspective and advice had most impacted me. I started out by doing a post listing five to 10 bloggers, along with some specific advice they had given and a little write-up about why I thought that advice was so helpful.

Thinking about it, though, I began to realize that I could give each blogger more exposure and make each piece of advice much more memorable by turning each blogger’s advice into a single post.

For example, instead of doing a post on top blogging advice that included points about “speaking persuasively and not commandingly,” and “how often you should post,” and “how a blog really makes you money,”–I should do a series on this advice, wherein I do a single post on “speaking persuasively and not commandingly,” and then another single post on “how often you should post,” and so on.

By doing this, I made each point of advice stand out far more effectively, gave each blogger more exposure, and–a bonus of this method of blogwriting–I ensured that I would have plenty of material to write about in the future instead of using it all up in one post.

By focusing each post on one main idea and arguing it with supporting examples and quotes, I could more effectively convey my message–which is the real point of writing anything anyway.

Putting It Into Practice

The next time you have a great idea for a post–say, 15 tips for better health–you might want to do this instead:

Do a series of 15 posts on better health, each post with a single tip, persuasively presented with evidence and examples. Done well, your readers will remember each tip more profoundly and you will have 15 posts instead of one. No need to make more work for yourself than necessary (by using up so much material in one post), especially when doing so will likely dilute the effectiveness of your message anyway.

As Dosh Dosh reminds us, “Too many statements and important points can be an obstacle. When you want your audience to remember a message, make it clutter-free and uncomplicated.”

For more from Jesse Hines, see his blog: Robust Writing.

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32 thoughts on “Why Single-Idea Blog Posts Often Work Better Than List Posts”

  • Sara says:

    I think both models (list and single focused topic) offer a benefit to readers. I’d argue that a judicious balance would be the most beneficial to readers. Going in-depth is great way to add value, but summary and list posts are great refreshers, introductions, or motivators.

    Overall, your point is well-taken. When pieces just aren’t “working,” breaking them down into their components and picking a single focus has been a great solution for me.

  • BarryG says:

    The list form is a very practical way to make technical or other practical information accessible. Seth Godin has a great example on his blog today, talking about amateur typesetting adn linking in a PDF file with the list. But I write on leadership, and I try not to be over-simplistic. So, working with a single subject is intuitively a better bet for me.

    I write articles and am working on some longer pieces for publishing, I only recently launched a blog and will be encouraging my newsletter list to convert in the coming weeks. I like that the blog insists that I get to the point. And with a self imposed length limit, I do not even have the 700 words to develop a concept- so I have to craft carefully. A list of the 8 unarguable truths would be a wonderful short cut to economy- but where is the space for discussion in that.

  • I agreed with this post very much, the two blogs I like the most are Scott H. Young and Dosh Dosh. Those are the ones that change my life, the point they propose often single and that makes me thinking and influence me. A list is not as much as effective as this one. As stated above, a list is weakening the message instead.

    Robert

  • Good post, Jessie
    It’s an interesting thought to just do a post on each single point.

    I’m not sure though whether it would work with all posts. I’ll give it some serious thought…and think of 10 reasons why single focus posts work better than list posts :-)

  • Anna says:

    Thanks for the article, I found it useful. Will try :)

  • Oh, thank you!!! I really don’t like those list articles – just give me one excellent, actionable piece of advice rather than a list of ten things I’ll forget! As a blogger, I try to write about one thing at a time.

    Sometimes the list articles are bordering on ludicrous: “17 Ways to Keep Things Simple” – pretty self-defeating, if you ask me! :-)

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • jennifer says:

    I think Jesse makes an excellent point–concentrating on one main idea in each post. I think that will definitely make any post more effective. It would also allow you to write more details about each topic instead of only writing a little bit about each one.

    However, I feel like sometimes splitting up the ideas might take away some of the impact and also could cause readers to get bored b/c they are still reading “15 ways to skin a cat” every morning for 15 days in a row.

    So I think the best thing to do is to have a combination of different types of posts, focusing on one main idea some days and listing out a few different ideas on others. That way your content is always relevant and fresh, and readers don’t get bored.

  • The message here is that there’s nothing wrong with having shorter posts. They don’t all have to be doctoral dissertations. In fact, I find that my shorter ones actaully work better!

  • Jesse Hines says:

    @Mary,

    Interesting–a list post of 10 reasons why single focus posts work better than list posts. I like it.

    @Andrea,

    “17 Ways to Keep Things Simple” Yes, sometimes the list post can be a little strange.

    @Jennifer,

    Yes, I agree that we should provide variety–lists posts as well as single-focus posts.

    I’m just arguing that I think we can more forcefully, persuasively, and memorably argue our point when we’re dealing with one point as opposed to 10.

  • My first thought while reading this was to first make a list post rough draft. Then write single posts about each list item then when you have finished posting each individual post you can post the list post with links to your own articles turning them into an instant series of posts.

    This gives you some internal link love and when the list post gets found by the search engines it can lead people to more articles on your own site.

    alternatively you could send out the list post to e-mail newsletter subscribers to help drive more traffic to the other articles as well.

  • Vlad says:

    Awesome advice! Thanks!

    Last time I wrote a huge all-you-can-eat post, I had a vague feeling something’s not right. Conversely, when I took a big topic and broke it down into 4 separate posts, I felt each of them come across much more strongly – like my ideas got the space they deserved.

    Thanks for putting the vague feeling into words, and explaining why it works this way. I’ll check out your blog for more great advice!

  • Single-idea blog posts are definitely powerful, but list blog posts are helpful as well. I like the lists that provide links to more information about the point the author is making.

    Your article is helpful nonetheless. Even when I write on a single idea I tend to give too many points. I’m going to work at breaking my long posts into shorter ones.

    Thanks.

  • In some part, I agree with Jesse on this. In fact, I often find posts that do lists uninspiring, and excessively commercial in format.

    As to why lists are often attractive to the reader — I got to be honest — I think one of the primary reasons is because we readers are often lazy. And lists gives one the impression of a bunch of sound bites mashed up together. In short: easy reading that doesn’t require much effort.

    I do lists sometimes, but usually only when I want to give my readers a fun little post that takes only seconds to read. There is no rule saying I can’t go back another time and do a completely separate post focusing on one bullet point from the list.

    Just yesterday I made a post that lists. It’s titled, 7 Great Ways to be Insane: http://punintended.com/blog/7-great-ways-to-be-insane/

    This is a perfect example of one of those lists I occasionally do for their light hearted nature, and extreme ease of reading.

  • Finklemeyer says:

    I’m very disappointed in this site. I expected more from you, but the posting is so erratic that I’ve dropped the RSS feed.

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  • Joe says:

    Hi, Thanks for the info. I’ll keep in mind. Joe

  • Boneygirl says:

    From a teaching standpoint, your advice makes perfect sense. When too much information is loaded into one article or one session, people get lost in the message and tend to focus on the minute details rather than the message being communicated. Great advice!!

  • Skellie says:

    I think you’re being unnecessarily reductive. A list of 10 ways to fight procrastination is still focusing on one idea (how to fight procrastination). I don’t think Maki is referring to only ever making one point in your posts. It’s certainly not his preferred method of practice.

    The truth is that lists posts are incredibly successful on social media, and staying away from them will limit your blog’s growth. Sure, single point posts should be part of your arsenal, but the truth is that they’re not as effective at capturing the attention of new audiences.

  • Jesse Hines says:

    Skellie,

    You said,

    “Sure, single point posts should be part of your arsenal, but the truth is that they’re not as effective at capturing the attention of new audiences.”

    That’s the key right there. I noted in my post that list posts will often get lots of readers.

    But, I also said that true effectiveness is far more than simply gaining new readers–it’s about persuading those readers of your argument and getting them to take action (if appropriate).

    And if a writer wants to really persuade his or her readers of something, focusing on one central idea and arguing it soundly is more likely to stick in their readers’ heads than a list of 25 reasons why such and such.

    It sticks with me more powerfully if a writer picks one main idea and argues it compellingly through examples, quotes, contrasts, questions and so on, rather than if he picks one main idea and gives me a list of 25 reasons why…with only a few words of explanation for each point in the list.

    But…both types of posts have their place. I will say lists posts are getting old to me and writing for social media isn’t as important to me as writing for my readers.

    I will still do list posts at times, though–usually only with two or three items, though. Too many points clutters up the central message.

  • Brendan says:

    What I hate is seeing a title 7 great “whatever” and when I click to the post it sits across 7 pages. Can you say “think up a hot title and wait for the ad revenue to roll in”.

    I’m looking for something decent to read in a short amount of time. I like the idea of publishing the list as 7 good well written topics all at once linked together.

    I try to write one good piece in my Quality Education series every Monday. http://schoolfinder.globalscholar.com/blog/350/quality-education-teacher-education/

    It is much more than a simple list post. I can also see how it could have been easily enough. It’s a lot of work, but I’d still rather try to give one well written post a week then shamlessly plug for traffic.

    Sort of a write well and they will come philosophy.

  • Edward Lomax says:

    I really like the idea of splitting up lists into a series. Short, high-quality posts that lead to other similar posts will get people signing up to your RSS reed or bookmarking your blog so they can return.

    Blogs are perfect for this, because people don’t expect a 10 page in depth article on multiple facets of a topic… nor would they read it.

  • Another benefit of short “on topic” posts is that you can focus on a specific keyword, which is something the machines love to see when they’re indexing a post.

    The search engines love specific. Fortunately, human readers like it too. However, as writers, sometimes keeping our writing specific can feel like a girdle.

  • Innocent says:

    Great post. I’m a beginner and try too hard to create lists and recently ruined a fine topic because I needed to get a list in there. I’m definitely stronger when I develop my idea in single point form. See the horrible list post @ innocentlyspeaking.com/self-improvement-for-the-rest-of-us/.

    Thanks.

  • Casey Quinn says:

    I think that lists are a great way to get a one time reader to come to your site but I agree that focused content that provide details around specifics instead of making generalizations will in the long run be welcomed by readers and have them coming back more often.

  • List post that provide links to more in depth coverage of each topic are often very handy.

  • Ribeezie says:

    There’s nothing wrong with putting together “list” posts but I agree, sometimes, the best and most engaging are the ones that hinge around one specific, great idea!

  • I have a crazy idea. How about we use list posts for…. ready?…. lists! You know, things that actually are lists? Funny that this post is on Leo’s blog, because he gets lots of flack for writing list posts. He does a lot of them, mainly because, as he says, “he thinks in lists.” Makes sense to me, because I often say while talking: ONE, I think…. TWO, blah blah….. and THREE…..

  • Dr Cirelli says:

    Thank you for writing this piece. I have a new awareness of how ineffectual lists might be.

Comments are closed.