The Perfect Length for Your List

By Gregory Ciotti

We all know the power of lists. They organize content in a succinct, scannable fashion that promotes linking and readership. Just as they can provide value and generate interest, though, lists can turn readers off if they’re too short or too long. A list with too few items may seem lacking or limited, while a list with too many may seem overstuffed, verbose, or intimidating. Like Goldie Locks, then, we’re left looking for the list size that’s just right.

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Like most blogging tips, the answer depends on the blog, the post, the audience, and dozens of other factors. There are, however, some guidelines to follow. For example, research by WebProNews found that the most Diggable lists are the “Top 7” lists, followed by “Top 12” lists and the more traditional “Top 10” lists. “Top 3” and “Top 4” lists, on the other hand, tended to draw very little attention, as did “Top 8.” At least as far as Digg is concerned, then, the magic numbers seem to be 7, 12, and 10.

While this research can’t easily be generalized to blogging in general, it’s worth noting that the number 7 has psychological significance. According to the 7 plus or minus 2 principle, human short-term memory works best on sets between 5 and 9 items in length (a phone number, for example). Since web surfers are prone to scanning, lists in this range may be favored as more efficient and easily digestible bytes of information.

The WebProNews study doesn’t address the high end of the spectrum, but common sense suggests that very long lists are difficult to read. Sure, it’s nice to brag that you’ve compiled “1,001 tips for bloggers,” but no human being can process that much information in one sitting. Do your readers a favor; if you have a very long list, consider reducing it, either by removing items, combining them, or splitting the list into more than one post.



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17 Responses to “The Perfect Length for Your List”

  • SEO Genius

    Very interesting article, something i have considered several times when writing a “Top….” article i usually stick with the traditional “top ten” article however more recently i have seen a lot more “top 7” articles i may have to use this.

  • Webd360

    Thanks for the tips, I will definitely keep them in mind when I write my next list.

  • Jordan (MamaBlogga)

    Actually, that WebProNews article is a reprint of an article by Russ Jones of TheGoogleCache. (Most of WPN is syndicated articles.)

  • OneYearGoal.com – $100,000 in one year

    You’ve really turned this into a science man. Impressive.

  • William Profet :: OneJobTwoSalaries.com

    I try all my lists (task lists, shopping lists, fun lists :)) to be 7-items long (plus or minus 2). The meaning of “7” is an additional motivation factor.

  • Bret

    I think 7 has a far greater significance. There are 7 wonders of the world. You can sail the 7 seas. We all know Snow White and the 7 dwarfs. God created the world in 7 days, and afterward went to a 7-11 and had a 7-Up. 🙂

    Nice post BTW.

  • Jan

    I read somewhere that the reason for Top 10 lists being so popular is that we like counting on fingers.

    Since I am typing with one hand and thus only have one hand free for counting I settled for doing Top 5’s mostly 🙂

  • Flo

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. A site like yours is just what I need. I’ve been blogging for about 3 years but now I’m doing it for money so I need all the help I can get 🙂

  • Jermayn Parker

    That makes sense and could be very helpful to remember.

  • Daniel

    Stephen, yeah I agree, they can be the exception.

  • Mirko

    Like Tejvan, I was thinking of the 101 lists when reading this article. When well done, they are really my favourite. For example I keep going back to the 101 ideas to get more freelance work at Freelanceswitch.

  • Ramkarthik

    Yeah Stephen, 7 is a magical number. Thats the reason why most eBay selling items end in 7. I think the eBook on AdSense by Joel Comm also costed $7. Good post.

  • Stephen

    I’d say that post is the exception, not the rule. The point is to present your reader with information in a useful format that promotes recall. Tell me, can you read through that 101-item list and remember all of it afterward? 😉

  • Daniel

    Yeah I thought about it as well :).

    Most of the other popular posts are smaller though. But yeah 101 lists are also popular, provided they are concise and useful.

  • Tejvan Net Writing

    Useful information. Although its interesting that the most popular post on this blog is a top 101 things I learnt.

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