Brand Reputation

Top Lists: Why We Love Rankings

Lists loom large in every aspect of daily life. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Lists of places we want to visit, to travel to, to eat at, of what we’re going to cook this week.

Our brains love lists, so it makes sense that the phenomenon has significant impact online.

Think about how you search. What do you type? What comes to mind? How do you get to the answer you want, and need, most effectively and efficiently?

Starting a search usually means needing to consider options, and make comparisons. The best way to do this is by starting a list.

So it’s natural that a list, already put together, is a great starting and ending place.

Informative and enjoyable lists also pave a path for internal metrics to improve because they will fuel search engine factors, such as Google’s E-E-A-T, that we’ll go into deeper in this article. We’ll also explore how lists create engagement to grow your audience, and in turn also elevate website traffic and rankings that can help increase and stabilize your brand visibility. 


Concept of Top Lists

There’s a concept called the Zeigarnik effect, named after the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, who is credited with being the first person to truly note the brain’s obsessions with pressing tasks. The brain remembers things that need to be done much more than it remembers the things we’ve already done.

A study from two Wake Forest professors found that the simple act of making a plan to do the things that we haven’t done yet can release the brain from anxiety. Going further, a system is needed to fully relieve the stress around unfinished or lingering tasks, so organizing these is essential.

The concept of the list follows the way the brain and eyes work together to read and retain information, especially on the digital page. As has become more common knowledge, our eyes scan, thanks to exhaustive research from the Nielson Norman Group. Having headers draws attention to what’s most important. In a list, it’s almost all about headers, and it gives the reader the option to just scan the list to learn the Top 10 whatever, or to go deeper and read more on each entry if that’s what they want.

Why Are Lists So Hot?

The New Yorker dove into the reasons why our brains love lists — 10 years ago! What they had to say still rings true today. Even further back, in 2010, two scientists from the University of Basel in Switzerland discovered that “Unconscious information processing reduces information overload and increases product satisfaction.”

The more information and options, the worse we feel. Condensing things to a list makes it more quantifiable, digestible, and attainable. Plus, if you are searching for the “Top social listening tools” for instance, being able to see which options are on a list will ease the decision-making process. 

List love is due to quite a few reasons:

  • The headline captures our attention and eyes amidst a sea of content
  • A list spatially organizes information for the brain to more readily absorb
  • A list will have a defined, finite length
  • It removes the burden of reading through paragraphs to find relevance
  • It creates order and a system that’s easy to follow and skim
  • Lists appeal to our tendency to categorize the world around us


People love “Top Lists” for many reasons:

  • They inspire debate
  • They are easily sharable
  • People can comment on what the list got right, and wrong
  • An image of a list can easily fit into a social media post
  • Lists provide easy links
  • If their favorite is on the list, it can be a source of pride
  • A list can spark discussion among friends
  • They’re entertaining
  • They create emotions

If your brand is featured on a “Top List” it can be used to create a social media post across every channel that is a humble way of saying, “Look at us, we’re awesome! It’s verified!” You are creating a cross-collaboration with the list maker as well.

Use it on your website and branding. Create a blog article about it and talk a bit deeper about what the list talked about, and why you were included, to expand on the features that made you stand out.

The Popularity and Impact of Ranked Articles

“Top List” popularity is ever-increasing. While some branded websites have made their name off of lists, such as Buzzfeed, other places have taken the trend and ran with it.

For the older generation out there, you’ll remember David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists. It was a clever format, full of humor, and it built to a crescendo that the audience shared in as the top answer was revealed.


What about the Billboard Hot 100? Lists have existed long before the internet. The internet just made them more accessible, easier to argue about, and in some cases, funnier.

ESPN’s SportsCenter ran with this as well, counting down the 10 best plays of the day or week. Now the sports channel is full of lists on their debate shows. Nearly every single pop culture website contains lists. Branded websites contain lists.

There are tools online to help you determine what is at the top in the list category you want to create. You could prune data from a few sources and merge them together to create your own one-of-a-kind formula. From professional to playful, any brand can take advantage of their own curated “Top List.”  

This summer Forbes Hungary unveiled their “40 Most Valuable Hungarian Celebrities”  broken down by several parameters, including who people are most curious about, who would people trust as a brand ambassador to influence purchases, who is the most professional, and more. In order to achieve a consensus backed by real data and genuine insights, Forbes partnered with SentiOne to take full advantage of the wide-ranging capacity of SentiOne’s one-of-a-kind metrics, research insights, and the unique capability of SentiCharts. 

Forbes invested in SentiOne’s ability to measure the amount and emotional content of all Hungarian content published publicly on the internet, including blogs, social media, forums, rating sites, and news sites. They were able to create their own unique “Top List” with the discoveries they found through SentiCharts as well.

Let’s let Forbes tell you about the unmatched power of SentiOne and SentiCharts in their own words: 

“Their Brand Health Index indicator calculated the ratio of positive to negative content in the content about the examined actors – i.e. the health and popularity of their self-brand. With their unique algorithm, they examined the reach of all mentions of each celebrity, as well as the ratio of interactions between their Facebook and Instagram followers.”

You can take a sneak peak below at SentiOne’s social listening platform where all the data comes from, called SentiCharts.

Source: SentiOne Listen dashboard


Creating Compelling & Relevant Top Lists

Let’s revisit why lists are popular, with some help from noted list maker Rex Sorgatz and Poynter, and with each item, think of how you can incorporate that tidbit into the content of your own lists:

  • They make us feel smarter — empower your audience
  • They’re memorable — use images and graphics
  • They explain and order experiences — consider a numbered list
  • They’re cocktail chatter — create debate around your choices
  • They express opinions — invite your audience to participate
  • They’re practical — be creative, but also be honest
  • They’re motivational — inspire action with links and CTAs

Potential advantages of incorporating Top Lists in marketing strategies

With well-researched and straightforward top lists on your website and blog, you can even increase your E-E-A-T, Google’s search standard algorithm, which stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, which are the four factors Google uses to assess content in comprising it’s search engine results.

Increasing those factors, which list-making can greatly benefit, will increase your prominence online.

A list can be made into a great, sharable infographic. Make sure to brand it, so if people download or screenshot and share it without linking, you’ll still benefit. 

Making “Top Lists” part of your marketing can create something fun, engaging, and interactive. You can mention the 10 best ways your product or brand has made life on Earth better. You can release a product update, and list new functionalities or improvements. You can make a list of the 10 best pieces of feedback from customers, and how you’ve incorporated it into improving to show the audience you pay attention and care.


Rankings Increase Website Traffic, Engagement, Brand Visibility

Lists lend more authority and expertise to your site and blog. Sharing your branded content increases visibility. The better your lists, the better your E-E-A-T, the more traffic you can attract.

If you create a really well made and sourced list, there’s a chance it could wind up near the top or at the top of Google searches. The list will be condensed, to header format, and might even be truncated, but this will lead readers to click the link to see the rest of your list. You can post a partial list yourself on social media or as part of a marketing campaign, and provide a CTA to implore people to visit your landing page or article to see the full list.

When you create intrigue, and curiosity, it leads to sharing. The better your lists, the more inclined people are to share them, which increases traffic, visibility, and engagement. Plus, great articles get backlinks from other sources, bringing even more attention and engagement to your original lists.

Our Final Top Five

Any marketing campaign these days can get an extra boost by creating and incorporating “Top Lists.”

Our five favorite ways they can help you are as follows:

  1. Top Lists boost engagement and clicks
  2. A list can show off your brand without being too boastful
  3. They allow for cross-collaboration and promotional opportunities
  4. You are activating the audience’s brain in a natural, approachable manner
  5.  It turns a one-sided campaign into an interactive one

Get started on your own “Top List” today, and if you want to incorporate some real data and really useful information, give SentiOne a try and you could create something that truly stands out from the crowd. 

We’ll even help you get going! 

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