Psychology of Listicles

By July 29, 2015Newsletter

Easy to read, scan and digest; it’s no wonder that “listicles” are so popular. For the uninitiated, listicles are articles formatted as a list. One of the first published was probably the Ten Commandments (it was even formatted for tablets). They can also be found in magazines at the grocery store checkout line and everywhere online. So, why do we prefer to read them instead of other types of articles?

Let’s compare two potential headlines:

Things You Didn’t Know About Pizza
19 Things You Didn’t Know About Pizza

The first headline could be anything. You could be jumping into a borderline thesis on the complexities of pizza or it could be a single paragraph. The one thing it has in common with the second headline is that it could pique readers’ curiosity.

The second headline however, has exactly 19 things about pizza. It’s safe to assume that the article is a type of list. And as with any list, it should be easy to read and take little to no time to finish. When we’re pressed for time (and who isn’t?) this type of article draws us in by simply having a number in front of it.

Even if you’re not in a hurry, having a list helps our brains process information. We don’t have to think while reading a list. The writer has already curated the “important” information. We don’t need to look for it embedded in paragraphs or sort out the information. That kind of effortlessness is what our brains crave. This craving is backed by the principle of least effort theory. This theory generally is supposed to govern linguistics, but I believe that it translates to our everyday lives as well.

In addition to these reasons, it satisfies our natural curiosity. There are 19 things I probably didn’t know about pizza. Or I might feel validated that there are some things I did know! If you add a number in front of your headline, it feels more like this list is factual.

Regarding ranked lists (such as the Billboard 100). A study published by the Journal of Consumer Research in 2013 titled: The Top-Ten Effect: Consumers’ Subjective Categorization of Ranked Lists; found that consumers find jumping from 11 to 10 more favorable than a jump from 10 to 9. The study attributes this phenomenon “occurs because round numbers are cognitively accessible to consumers due to their prevalent use in everyday communication.” As marketers, we should keep this study in mind when we generate content for ourselves or clients.

These are just a few of the reasons listicles have higher click-rates than traditional articles. Anyway, who’s hungry for pizza?

Author 33dtrio33

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