How to Write a Listicle That Gets Ranked (Using AI)
Listicles are a proven way to increase SEO, boost sales, and expand your readership. One study found listicles average 218% more shares than how-to tutorial articles and 203% more shares than infographics. Our brains love the organized and easy-to-scan format of listing valuable information.
But — notice I said valuable information. As a professional writer, there is nothing more frustrating for me than a misleading title that links to poorly-written clickbait.
Luckily, we now have AI to help us generate some of the listicle content.
In the past year I've experimented with several ways to use AI to generate high-quality listicles that rank on top of Google's result.
In this article, you’ll learn how to write a listicle that lives up to its own hype, including how to choose a concept, create a catchy title, and structure your list. Plus, I’ll be sharing some crucial tips I’ve learned about listicles in my years of writing.
What makes a good listicle?
1. A list-friendly concept
Some articles are not well suited to a listicle format. Pieces with a strong narrative or storyline, for example, can be difficult to put into a list. In-depth research articles may also not work well, as they require more context than a short summary can offer.
For a great listicle, start with an easily quantifiable concept. Anything that can be grouped or categorized, such as events, travel destinations, or products, will work well. Same for step-by-step instructions.
2. Actionable value
You know a listicle is low-quality when you get to the end and realize you have learned nothing valuable. To help ensure this doesn’t happen to your readers, ask yourself these questions:
A. Is this topic interesting/relevant to my intended audience?
There are a number of ways you can find out what your readers are interested in, including:
- Competitor research.
- Enter your keyword into Google and see what other keyword suggestions appear.
- Check which of your existing content is performing best.
- Creating a survey to ask your readers what they’d like to read..
B. How will this topic benefit my audience?
Consider who your target audience is and how much they already know about a topic. It’s important your listicle offers something of genuine value, rather than generic information the audience already knows or that is self-evident.
C. Is there a practical takeaway?
Include a clear takeaway or action that the reader themselves can follow in each section. This can help avoid readers looking elsewhere to apply what they have learned.
If you don’t have the space to explain a topic fully, including internal and external links to more in-depth information can benefit your readers and your SEO.
3. A unique angle
If your listicle offers the same advice as 10 other high-authority websites, it will be difficult to stand out among the competition.
A helpful way to find an interesting topic is to research other listicles within your industry, then look for hidden topics within an article. A subheading could be expanded into another whole article, or you could take the subject of an existing article in a unique direction.
It helps me to list all the tools or skills to learn around a specific goal. For example, when considering the topic of how to write a listicle, I could expand to ways to market a listicle, how to improve listicle SEO, content ideas to create a listicle, etc.
Your own experiences, expertise, and opinions are also an excellent source of unique content. What knowledge do you have that other people writing similar content might not?
4. A consistent structure
High-quality listicles have a consistent structure. That means that each section includes roughly the same amount of detail and uses similar language and tone.
The introduction should make your inclusion criteria (that is, how you decided what makes it onto the list) clear from the start.
For instance, will you use statistics to choose your recommendations, your own knowledge, or expert recommendations? If your listicle compares different products or services, how will you measure which option is better? Will you focus on price, proximity, reviews, or other factors?
If you’re ranking elements or putting them in a specific order, be sure to say so in the introduction. Creating an outline can help with this, but even if you don’t, deciding how you will rank items from the start will help your listicle stay clear and on topic.
Some other options include ranking your list in order of importance, in step-by-step or chronological order, or even from lowest to highest—when you want to save the best for last.
Finally, each section should include an explanation of why it was included.
How to structure a listicle
Every listicle should have a catchy and clear title. Since listicles are designed for people to quickly skim, if your title doesn’t make it clear what readers will get from your article, fewer people will click.
See these listicle titles from the Wordtune blog:
- 10 Super Useful Time Management Tips for College Students
- 9 Steps to Avoid Plagiarism as a Student (Including Using AI)
Notice how both titles tell you exactly what you’ll get from reading.
Here are some additional tips for an engaging listicle title.
- Perform keyword research. Adding the right keywords to your main title and section titles can help your listicle to rank higher for relevant searches. Use a keyword research tool such as Semrush and Ahrefs, or type your topic into Google and see what other recommendations come up.
- Consider your target audience. Rather than just writing “7 Best Zero-Drop Shoes” tell people who you are writing for: “7 Best Zero-Drop Shoes for Trail Runners.” Are you targeting beginners, experts, individuals, businesses…?
- Include numbers. Numbers give people a rough estimate of how long it will take to read your article and provide insight into how much they will learn.
- Use odd numbers. You can receive a 20% higher click-through rate by using a headline that contains an odd number instead of an even one.
- Add superlatives. Words like “best,” “top,” “most,” or “ultimate” can get people excited to click on your listicle. Just make sure you have worthwhile content to back up your headline. Anything that comes across as clickbait will put people off.
How AI helps with the title: Once you have an initial title for the listicle, use the rewrite feature to suggest other variations of the title. I usually see the results that come up on Google, and try to think of ways my listicle can stand out. Then, I write the prompt to help Wordtune come up with the alternative.
A strong introduction should set the tone for your listicle. In no more than a couple of paragraphs, provide more insight into what your listicle is about and why people should care about it.
This is a great place to include your criteria for including items in your list and how you compiled it.
How AI helps with the introduction: Using the statistics feature, you can generate relevant facts that will be helpful for the introduction of your listicle.
3. Body content: The items on the list
With a suitable concept, a listicle title, and an intro, it's finally time to build your list. For each one of your subheadings, do these three things.
Briefly explain what it is or how it works.
Write for skimming and avoid over-explaining. No need to define things your target audience already knows.
These nine pro writing tips can also help you write more concise sentences. If you need quick evidence, you can also use Wordtune Editor to find statistical facts and examples to support your message.
Relate it back to your title.
For example, if you produce a guide to the seven most popular countries to visit in Europe, each section must actually explain why the country is popular. If a detail doesn’t relate to the title, it is not worth mentioning, and may feel like filler content.
Conclude with a judgment or practical takeaway.
What can a reader learn or remember from each section? Think about the overall aim of your listicle. Do you want people to buy a product or book a service? Are you hoping they will apply your expertise and recommend your website?
How AI helps with writing the list items: Listicles usually follow a structure. If you are writing a tools listicle, for example, you will usually repeat the same criteria for each tool. In a guest post I wrote for Clickup, I used the same structure for each of the copywriting tools I mentioned.
You can feed this structure to your favorite AI tool and have it fill in the blanks.
A strong conclusion for your listicle involves a brief, skimmable roundup that outlines the key points and takeaways from your listicle. Remind your readers of the purpose of your article and how your input has benefited them. Add a call to action if needed.
If you need some help summarizing using AI, we recommended the technique in this article. Skip to the bottom and you’ll find it also recommends Wordtune, which can pull together the key points of your content to help you build your conclusion. Here is an example below of how Wordtune summarizes text:
Listicles are everywhere in 2023, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. Follow these tips to ensure your listicle stands out from all the others.
Start with a simple, quantifiable concept. Decide how you will rate your items and organize your list before writing. Create a catchy title using an odd number, use keywords and sub-headings throughout, and link each point to your title — and you’ll be on your way to writing a compelling, high-value listicle that readers will want to share.
How AI helps with writing the conclusion: While I like to write my own conclusion, you can feed the content you already have to a tool like ChatGPT and have it produce the conclusion for you. You can also summarize the article with Wordtune and use that for your conclusion.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.