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Top 10 Lists Must Die

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Top 10 Lists Must DieI’ve given up reading Top 10 lists.

We’re an industry that taught the world “content is king,” and we certainly practice what we preach.  We’ve also read a million times that a successful way to draw a reader or search engine spiders is to use something kitschy like a top 10 list (or top 20, or top 30).  Clearly it’s worked for Billboard and Mashable as entertainment.  I’ve certainly been swept up in the hype and recommended it to my clients more than once.  I actually have a “Top X” list somewhere on this blog.  But now I find myself ignoring tweets after tweets promoting another “brilliant” top 10 list.  I’ve seen a million white papers in the last year that have promoted the “Top 10 Best Landing Page Tips,” or “Best Social Media Tips,” “Best SEO Tips,” etc.  I’ve also seen the same posts again just using different words, almost as if it was spit out of The Best Spinner.

We’re talking about online marketing.  It’s bigger than 10 – it’s bigger than a million – and these fluffy pieces tend to make people forget it’s still only as applicable to your marketing campaign as it is relative. 

Today I broke my rule.  I just read a Top 10 from a popular search company, put out as a downloadable white paper (I know it’s a lead generation trick – I’m expecting to be ignoring a call any moment now).  This document was clearly written to be generic “industry” fodder. 

On this list, number four definitively suggested the best marketing landing page is bare-bones, one font page, with very little content, functionality, or design.  Sure, you’ve seen that before, but you’ve also seen others say the complete opposite – that a long, content rich page is the way to go. 

In our industry, for every expert opinion, there’s an expert opposing-opinion.  But not everyone takes it with a grain of salt.

Both of these design “tips” are general, and don’t know a thing about your vertical, customer or visitor habits, business goals, products, brand history, or your own company experience.  To me, that makes a lot of Top 10 lists nothing more than noisy fluff.

For example, are you running an inbound marketing campaign, where your top keywords are for a term or concept that the public isn’t really familiar with?  Do you need to be brief because your searchers are qualified, or do you need to provide options or funnels to support further information gathering?  In this case I’d have to think about what kind of landing page I’d want to create, but I’m fairly sure I’d be misled if I blindly followed this particular Top 10 list.

Personally, I think these lists need context, and need to be way more granular.  Granted, they wouldn’t have as sexy a headline or as wide an audience appeal, but they’d be targeted and, well, useful.  They’d actually provide content that is capable of moving the reader forward in their own goals.  If these lists exist, then I’d be all for them, but right now they’re as real as unicorns.  Maybe they’re just off my radar.  My Twitter stream may just be too polluted with fluff.



    Comments

    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. Bill Rowland
      January 16, 2012

      Bill,

      I agree, but it’s never going to happen.

      In many respects, quick & dirty bullet pointed lists are a function of the sound bite culture in which we live. Whether the reader is an SEO, online marketer or member of the public, few are willing to put in the work to really get value out of a truly thoughtful post or opinion.

      That said, maybe it should start with a personal boycott. If so, I’m in.

      Reply


    2. Bill Rowland
      January 16, 2012

      Bill,

      I agree, but it’s never going to happen.

      In many respects, quick & dirty bullet pointed lists are a function of the sound bite culture in which we live. Whether the reader is an SEO, online marketer or member of the public, few are willing to put in the work to really get value out of a truly thoughtful post or opinion.

      That said, maybe it should start with a personal boycott. If so, I’m in.

      Reply


    3. matt
      February 12, 2012

      Bill,

      Your letter reminds me of a post I read a while back about a website who was complaining that top ten sites were killing their page views… so as an informal response, that website posted a ‘top 10 keywords of 2011′ page.

      How’s that for SEO conformation? Stop crying, start conforming.

      Reply


    4. matt
      February 12, 2012

      Bill,

      Your letter reminds me of a post I read a while back about a website who was complaining that top ten sites were killing their page views… so as an informal response, that website posted a ‘top 10 keywords of 2011′ page.

      How’s that for SEO conformation? Stop crying, start conforming.

      Reply


    5. @billsebald
      February 16, 2012

      Funny, but would have been sad if the complaining website had conformed.

      Reply


    6. @billsebald
      February 16, 2012

      Funny, but would have been sad if the complaining website had conformed.

      Reply