Top 10 lists: Traffic source or waste of space?

Top 10 lists are the fast food of the article world. They’re quick to write, people can skim them and feel they learned something, and it’s easy for the writer to position themself as an expert or someone with unique knowledge. But these articles are often misleading and provide limited (although often targeted) information. Does society prefer superficial knowledge? Noam Chomsky refuses television interviews because, “nobody wants a real answer, just a sound bite – if you ask me [Noam] a question I will give you the full answer. It may take a while.” Facebook overflows with top 10 lists. Are they empty and useless or a great way to spread your message?

You won’t likely see me writing any top tens. Why? Because my writing isn’t geared towards earning Facebook likes or social popularity. What I sell is sophisticated and so are my clients. We don’t deal in cheap websites and $300 logos. We offer deep insight, accurate thought, and strategic guidance for ambitious business people. This isn’t meant to sound arrogant or elitist – quite the contrary in fact, because I understand that only a small percentage of companies need what we offer. My writing must focus on providing key information to a specific audience.

But what’s the right approach for you? Remember that communication has two sides: what you want / believe in, and what your client’s wants and needs are. It’s tempting to try to look contemporary by doing what’s hot now, but you risk looking dated, or worse, like a false expert with nothing to say.

Before investing in a communication strategy, do some research. Study your invoices to identify revenue sources. Picture each person who hired you. Where did you meet them? What type of person are they? Why did they hire you? For many business-to-business companies, relationships seal the deal. This is the basis of LinkedIn’s popularity. After meeting someone at an event, one of the first things I do is check their profile. What do they post? Do they have a professional page, headshot, history etc.? Have they written articles or created corporate videos? Profiles full of Facebook-like top 10 lists tend to set off a warning signal, unless they’re balanced with valuable content.

One of my recurring pieces of advice is to avoid following trends. Going for what’s popular may drive traffic, but is it the right kind of traffic for you? David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists are always a hit, but remember that his intention is to push for a response by being cheeky (and they’re really just a small part of his show.) Don’t base your strategy on tactics that work for others. Instead, devote time to figuring out why people buy your product or service. Then use your findings to guide the creation of a communication plan with a healthy balance of media types: video, images, written content, and if it fits your company… maybe even a top 10 list.