So yesterday I had some time to kill and ordinarily I would have looked up fake Mark Twain quotes on the Huffington Post but I was in a particularly unusual mood. Not sure why but something drove me to use a few of my favorite real time search and social search websites to search for “X Tips” blog posts.

After reading a few I noticed a trend. Many of the posts I found really didn’t have any tips at all. Near as I could tell many of these provided little to no value for who I reasoned was the intended audience. Surely whoever these posts were written for would have known what I thought was common resident knowledge for the industry.

So it got me thinking, if I created a tips blog post (which we don’t do much of here) what would I do differently? Apart from starting it off with a little dry humor here’s what I’d do:

1. Don’t be Lame

Don’t make your list a throwaway list. A good list has impact on the reader and will want them to dig deeper, share, and actually remember their visit.  The worst thing that can happen is a 3 second visit from someone who skims your post and pushes the back button. That’s low engaged traffic and increasingly Google is getting smart on how users engage with your site and low engaged traffic sends all the wrong signals.

2. Be Careful of the Magic Mythical Number

Except for lists about unicorns, then use 13. With some lists you can just tell when someone ran out of ideas. They probably had in their mind that they will create the best 7 tips post but they only really had 5 rock solid pieces of advice. So they added 2 more on for good measure but those 2 are throwaways and completely degrade the value of the list. If you have an idea for a list post then start with ground breaking insights, if that adds up to 6 then make a decision. Ask yourself if six is powerful enough headline (I believe the number 3, 5, 7 are the golden numbers) and if it isn’t then take one off and use it as a bonus. Don’t make one more lame tip to meet some tally that degrades the total integrity of your list.

3. Hey Captain Obvious, Have Tips Your Audience Wouldn’t Ordinarily Considered

Whoever your intended audience is make sure the tips are something they wouldn’t ordinarily know or think about.  I look at it this way, the most valuable thing you have in this world is time and if your choosing this moment in your life to visit this list I better as hell make it worth your effort. Heavy responsibility I know but I think that’s the way you should approach your content.

4. Learn to Employ Compositional Surprise

I bet if you were skimming this list you either read this one first or the bonus tip down below. Compositional surprise is a technique used by Magicians and employed masterfully on screen by the great Alfred Hitchcock (something I learned a little bit more about in a letter from Teller of Penn & Teller fame). Essentially when you have someone’s attention (like when they are reading your list) feed a little here and there, let them think they know where you’re going then spring it on them. Inject a surprise.

5. Think About Conversion

Not only do you have to think about who are you making the list for and why they should care but what will get them to convert to an offer? What type of arguments can you put in the list both in the body of each tip but overall that will convert? That list you’re creating isn’t all for them it’s also has to serve a purpose in your content marketing. Think how you can build elements within your list that support leading to a call to action.

Bonus Tip: Include a Bonus Tip Where You Give Away Money

Okay, everything but that whole giving away money thing as that’s usually not required but I bet it got your attention. The bonus tip is like a P.S. in a letter, email or sales letter, everybody seems to reads those. Most people skim tips post so including a bonus tip makes it stand out and often if this bonus tip is good this is the one people will actually start to read first. So this is also the best place for you to put an inline text link call to action. But the CTA has to be one that is congruent with the topic you talked about in your list.

To wrap this up I do think list posts have some redeeming value. I just think they should be approached with a high quality calling as if you were writing a manifesto.