A popular way to get viral content spreading like poison ivy on a hot summer day is to do a top [insert a number here] list post. We have seen these in the blogging industry as top bloggers or top designs as bloggers around the world look to attract new traffic and show appreciate to others in the industry.

The big question: Does this same theory work outside the blogging industry as it does inside?

Well…I decided to take on a tall order last week and launch two posts with the same theme on two different sites to test the theory.

Case Study: Top 30 Of Something In Your Niche Article

Now…I used 30 but obviously you can use and number of items you want. On my mountain biking sub-domain of Bike198.com, I published an article titled “Top 30 Most Influential Cycling Blogs and Websites of 2010” and on RobbSutton.com I posted “Top 30 Most Influential Bloggers and Website Owners of 2010“.

The task was simple. Post two very similar posts in two completely different niches and watch the results and trends.

Side Note: I published both of these articles during a holiday week in the states. For optimal results, I would not recommend placing articles around periods of time when traffic is normally lower…like I did.

As you can probably imagine already, list posts such as these can generate a lot of new traffic for your blog, so let’s take a look at how they did. It is also worth mentioning, Bike198.com get triple the traffic of RobbSutton.com (love out accurate those Alexa numbers are?! Don’t pay attention to public online statistics) which makes the results even more interesting.

Results: RobbSutton.com Top 30 Post
  • Comments: 75
  • ReTweets: 108
  • Facebook Shares: 77
  • Newsletter Sign-up Increase: 100%
  • 1st 2 Days Traffic Increase: 200%
Results: Bike198.com Top 30 Post
  • Comments: 11
  • ReTweets: 17
  • Facebook Shares: 88
  • Newsletter Sign-up Increase: 10%
  • 1st 2 Days Traffic Increase: 20%

As you can tell by the posts, both of them did pretty well, but the RobbSutton.com posts far outperformed the Bike198.com post in total increases. Especially given the exposure and traffic differences between the two sites, the RS article really jumped out and pulled its own weight while the Bike198 article saw lower returns on the thousands of visitors it sees a day.

After Careful Contemplation: What Do These Results Mean?

There are several things that you need to take away from this test, so let’s spell out what I have learned from this whole experiment (besides not posting long, viral articles next to a holiday).

#1 – Comments Are Not A Measure Of Success

In the blogging niche, we tend to think of conversation on our blogs as a measure of how successful our blogs are online. However, having a lot of comments on your blog has nothing to do with how successful your blog is online. Outside of the blogging/MMO niche, comments are a lot harder to come by as your core audience is not used to using that form of communication. Within your target niche, your audience might be more used to Twitter, Facebook or forums as a way to communicate with others. Try to ignore the “I have to get as many comments as I can” syndrome. That theory does not apply to all.

#2 – You Need To Know How People Are Going To Spread Your Content

Hopefully, you already know the answer to this question. If you have been blogging for awhile, you should have a pretty good idea of where your content is spreading. When you are looking to make strides with a viral article like both of these, it is always a good idea to place at least your top two content spreading sources at the bottom and top of the article to make the viral condition of the article easier on your readers.

List posts are typically long, so do you really want to make them scroll all the way back to the top of the article to hit that RT button? Plan accordingly and you should have better results than if you just going along as business as usual.

#3 – Know Your Audience: What Do They Want To Read?

Honestly, I hit the nail on the head on RobbSutton.com but I could have done a better list on Bike198.com. I wanted to take this chance to form relationships and show my appreciation to other cycling sites (which I accomplished in spades), but my readers would have been more likely to comment and spread a list more like “Top 30 Mountain Bike Parts You Wish You Never Used” or something along that nature.

The tendency for many bloggers is to use something that works in the blogging/MMO niche and apply it directly to their sewing blog. The idea is to apply the techniques, not the direct application. Keep that in mind as you structure your next list post. You need to ask yourself the question: I know this worked on ABC’s blogging blog, but how can I make the same theory work on mine?

#4 – You Need To Go Over The Top With Your List

Far too many bloggers out there try to half ass this process by just putting up a simple list and hitting publish. If you really want to see success with a list post, you need to go over the top with the content. Because there are so many half ass’ed ones, you really need to set yourself apart. With both of my lists, I chose the imagery very carefully and stylized each one. I then carefully wrote a description/definition of why I thought that blogger or website should be on the list.

Over the top content will produce over the top results. Basically…you get what you put in.

#5 – It Is Not Always About The Stats

One of my main objectives with each of these posts was to show appreciation to others and create more relationships within my respective niches. On that front, these posts performed well above expectations. I was able to reconnect with bloggers I hadn’t talked to in awhile and I even got to meet some bloggers that I didn’t even know existed. If I didn’t get any increase in traffic or conversions at all…that would have still make it all worth it.

Are List Posts Worth Doing?

Absolutely. Regardless of your niche, you should be able to find a list that you can put together that your readers will soak up and then spread it out for you like wildfire. However, you need to carefully plan out your posts content, timing and formatting to insure the best results. Do not go out there and be just another “me too”. You need to hit the market with some over the top content that will bring you new readers, subscribers and new connections.