We all know the power of lists. They organize content in a succinct, scannable fashion that promotes linking and readership. Just as they can provide value and generate interest, though, lists can turn readers off if they’re too short or too long. A list with too few items may seem lacking or limited, while a list with too many may seem overstuffed, verbose, or intimidating. Like Goldie Locks, then, we’re left looking for the list size that’s just right.
Like most blogging tips, the answer depends on the blog, the post, the audience, and dozens of other factors. There are, however, some guidelines to follow. For example, research by WebProNews found that the most Diggable lists are the “Top 7? lists, followed by “Top 12? lists and the more traditional “Top 10? lists. “Top 3? and “Top 4? lists, on the other hand, tended to draw very little attention, as did “Top 8.” At least as far as Digg is concerned, then, the magic numbers seem to be 7, 12, and 10.
While this research can’t easily be generalized to blogging in general, it’s worth noting that the number 7 has psychological significance. According to the 7 plus or minus 2 principle, human short-term memory works best on sets between 5 and 9 items in length (a phone number, for example). Since web surfers are prone to scanning, lists in this range may be favored as more efficient and easily digestible bytes of information.
The WebProNews study doesn’t address the high end of the spectrum, but common sense suggests that very long lists are difficult to read. Sure, it’s nice to brag that you’ve compiled “1,001 tips for bloggers,” but no human being can process that much information in one sitting. Do your readers a favor; if you have a very long list, consider reducing it, either by removing items, combining them, or splitting the list into more than one post.