Viral lists or listicles are a mainstay of the social web for one simple reason: time.
A good list saves you the time it would take to research and curate a wide range of content related to a specific topic or keyword.
Sites such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy and ViralNova have built million dollar businesses on top of viral lists. But what is the key to making a great list and what is the best way to make one with WordPress?
In this post, I begin by thinking through the steps to making viral lists, and then explore 4 different WordPress plugins that you can use to make the list creation process (potentially) easier.
How to make viral lists
On the surface, list making is a simple process:
choose a topic > research and bookmark content > arrange those bookmarks in a blog post > add a title, photo and descriptive text for each item > hit publish!
In reality though, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Let’s take a look at each step of the list making process and think through some of the strategies involved.
1. Choose a topic: this is the market research phase of your list. For me, it’s the most important part. It starts with choosing a general topic then narrowing it down to a select combination of keywords. For example, let’s say you’re interested in making a list about lions, the narrowing down process might look something like this:
lions > lions as predators > lions’ eating behaviour > other predators that lions are capable of killing > lions against leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs
The next step is to check your keyword combination on the Google Adwords Keyword Planner app. Try different combinations of your keywords to gauge for search frequencies against your keywords.
At the same time, you should also run a google general search and a google blog search for your target words to see what sort of competition you’re up against. Is your topic completely saturated with posts already or is there room for more? In the case of the former, think about ways or refocusing your keyword choice.
2. Bookmark the best stuff you find: once you’ve found your topic, you can start searching the web for content. This step is relatively straight forward. Of course, you need to have a good grasp of the topic to discern which content will bring value to your users. You can use popular bookmarking apps such as Pocket or Diigo to save your items. You could also use Pinterest boards and add links back to your blog post to generate extra traffic.
3. Choose which bookmarks to share: once you’ve collected material, you begin the curation/editorial process, which is really about creating the right order for the list. You might start with a strong impact, or build up the intrigue factor as your list progresses; you might make it a logical progression, ordered by time or place; you could also opt for strong contrasts between list items to draw attention to a particular item. It really depends on the content matter and your overall intention.
4. Write some accompanying text: not all viral lists have text for each entry, but many do for the simple reason that it helps contextualize the content and also allows you to fulfil some basic SEO requirements (reusing targeted keywords; reaching the minimum 300 word post quota etc.) In any case, the copy should be informative and relevant and should improve rather than detract from the impact of the list.
5. Double check everything before publishing: is your post SEO optimized? Do your keywords appear frequently enough? Is each list item clearly dinstinguishable? Is the list order effective? Would you be interested in reading this list?
Ok, so that’s an overview of the list creation process. Let’s move on to making lists with WordPress. Below are two free and two premium plugins that can help you create your list.
Free WordPress plugins for Viral Lists
Why use a plugin? Why not just make your list straight in the post composition screen? One of the reasons why I began searching for plugins was that I found myself spending more time on the composition stage of the list than on the research. This is because the default WordPress post list is limited to single functions. It works well for numbered lines of text, but it gets trickier when you started adding images, videos, animated gifs, text and titles. With that in mind, I started looking for some plugins to help me compose viral lists and this is what I found.
1. Listic Listicle Creator
Let’s start with free plugins. A quick search in the wordpress.org plugin database returns these 2 plugins:
The first of these plugins, called the “Listic Listicle Creator” is not really what I was looking for. It “allows users to quickly and easily create multi-page listicles of any size within a single post. This is accomplished by using the [listic] shortcode along with item names or numbers of your choice.”
The result looks like this:
It breaks a manually drafted WordPress post list into a string of paginated posts. The type of lists I am interested in are full page lists. So this solution is no good for me.
2. Listly: Listicles for WordPress
The second plugin is called “Listly: Listicles for WordPress.”
This is exactly what I was looking for. However, here again there’s a caveat. In order to use this plugin, you have subscribe to and create you lists using the list.ly service.
It’s a free service for basic users, but if you want more options and plan on making a lot of lists, you’ll have to buy into their premium plans.
Their plugin basically allows you to embed a list created on list.ly into a WordPress post.
Here’s an example of a list in masonry style:
It looks cool and it has all the dynamic elements I want, but having to always go through the list.ly service and essentially publish your list twice (once on their site, once on your WordPress blog) was too much of a drag for me.
I want something standalone, that I can control. So I started looking at paid plugins. Here’s what I found:
Premium listicle WordPress plugins
The first premium plugin I looked at is called “ViralPress”
ViralPress is a widget that transforms your WordPress blog into a BuzzFeed clone, allowing you to post viral lists, quizzes, videos, images, news and polls.
Here’s an example of the plugin in action:
Reading through the plugin’s comment thread, it seems to have good reviews and good user feedback. But for me, I didn’t want to transform my entire site into a buzzfeed clone.
The second premium viral list plugin I looked at is the one I ended up buying. It’s called “Xlist – Multi-Purpose WordPress listicle Maker“.
The plugin is simple to use and allows you to insert dynamic viral lists into your posts from your WordPress post composition screen.
It also allows you to extract content from popular lists sites or any lists with an RSS feed.
Once you install the plugin you get an additional section in your post composition screen which looks like this:
You can insert a url to extract content automatically and render it in list form, or you can add list items manually.
The manual input screen looks like this:
The plugin allows you to organize your lists in different layouts, and comes with 8 templates preinstalled, including basic, grid, article, numbered article and others.
This is what the Xlist screen looks like once you’ve created a list:
Xlist was a cheap option and while not perfect, it does what I want. It allows me to cut down on list composition time, it has social connectivity and it is easy to use. I recommend it.
If you know of any other plugins to make viral WordPress lists, I would love to hear about them.