Publishing Listicles: The Secret To Viral Engagement

HomeNiche Business IdeasPublishing Listicles: The Secret To Viral Engagement

Please note that affiliate links may be included in some posts.

This next idea isn't so much a niche, more a style of site that I've long been a fan of.

It is: list/ranking sites.

These sites specialize in publishing long listicles. Some sites like publish lists on everything under the sun.

Others like Startups-List are more niche.

They list startups and categorize them by location and the type of service they provide.

Some of my favorite listicle sites:

While Ranker and Buzzfeed rank everything, my idea for the site is picking a niche and creating a rank-style site for it.

Watch My Walkthrough

Below I recorded a video discussing this viral-listicle site strategy.

I also examine some of the different listicle-style sites that I like and run them through Ahrefs to go under the hood on their keyword rankings.  

Why List Sites Work

  • Readers love them. A list is easy for people to skim and digest- they know if they click on the link to visit your site that they won't be hit with a wall of text. They'll get a quick and concise tabulation of the information they need. No sweat.
  • Lists are easy to create content for. Producing short, snappy blurbs is a cinch. You can, of course, produce long blurbs- but oftentimes the most popular style of list has 3-5 sentences or even less describing a representative image with a headline.
  • Outsourced content: Since the content isn't super complex, you can hire writers at discount prices to begin churning out this content.
  • Monetizing lists is easy. You can cleverly insert affiliate links and display ads throughout your list content as well as charging monthly fees to add a company or its product to a list.
  • Lists are longform. Because a list can have many items, it often swells to over 2,000 words, which helps it rank in the search engines. Since your list will be around a certain topic, that focus and the length will help boost its ranking potential for that keyword, getting you traffic, and passive income.
  • They can go viral. A fun list can get a lot of social shares, potentially raking in heaps of traffic. These social signals can also help you rank in Google.
  • They lend themselves to images- though you'll have to get savvy figuring out where and how to source images (you can ask permission; use free sources like UnSplash and Flickr; create your own in Canva; experiment with embedding from Twitter, Pinterest, etc.; or even paying for premium access on a site like iStock).

Example List Posts

The Smartest Professional Athletes

The smartest professional athletes include Rhodes Scholars, 1580 SAT scorers and Ivy League standouts whose book smarts and pure intelligence is equally as impressive as their athletic ability. Smart athletes come from all sports with members of the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB among those who could easil...

What Niche Should You Choose?

One of my favorite outside-the-box thinkers, James Altucher, references something called "idea sex".

Essentially, to come up with an original, potentially lucrative, idea you should try combining 2 different ideas.

So, try to combine the Ranker concept with a niche you could help disambiguate, a niche that you could publish lots of lists in.

3 Examples​

Try combining a listicle format with common passions, hobbies and lifestyles and see what you can come up with. Below I came up with 3 different ideas to get the ball rolling.

First Idea​


One interesting concept would be Ranker + Career.

Imagine a list based site that produced content like the 20 worst jobs for 20 year olds; the 30 weirdest professions; the 50 best career books for millenials; the 100 worst jobs for 2017.

And on and on.

This content has the potential to go viral and you can easily insert some affiliate links as well display ads within this ultra-long content.

Buzzfeed is famous for these lists- but if you niche down a bit, you won't be competing head to head with them. You'd have your own core audience that jibes with your career content.

Second Idea​

A second idea would be Ranker + Geography. I live in Brooklyn, for instance, so I could create a site like

I would rank the 50 best pizzerias, the 30 best chinese restaurants, the 50 best mechanics, the 75 best plastic surgeons- literally any service. 


You could determine ratings by aggregating Yelp and Google reviews. This review content can be harvested to generate 'composite' reviews of the service providers that contain lots of juicy keywords. ​

Brooklyn is actually fairly competitive- there's so much written about it. I'd instead choose a populated area that isn't as celebrated. Once you begin to get traction, you can charge service providers to be listed- and monetize with pay per call affiliate offers.

Another reason I like this particular approach is because there's little competition, in general, for these local-area queries and it's easy to quickly produce lots of content for these lists. It's one of my favorite recipes: low competition + cheap, scaleable content.

It is true that big players like Yelp and Angie's List do rank for these local terms- but there's enough traffic to go around, especially when you begin packaging your content in creative ways.

Third Idea​


A third idea: You could choose a specific industry, as well- Ranker + {Industry}.

For example, ranking the best lawyers by type in a given geography. There are lucrative payouts available if you can somehow get quality leads for law firms- i.e. sending traffic to their practice's pages. 

​Again, I'd try to be somewhat scientific about the ratings- you don't want to arbitrarily rank one lawyer above another without some justification. It's likely that you can use Yelp and other review resources to try to be somewhat objective about your list. 

List Keyword Research

Check out the table below- I compiled a list of phrases that begin with "list of", effectively capturing what sort of lists people are looking for.

This is merely for inspiration. If you produce a list of the 50 best business books for millenials, you'll (potentially) get organic traffic for the book titles themselves, and all sorts of queries related to millenial career and business concerns.

Not just trraffic from a Google query "list of books for millenials". Plus, these lists are really suited for social shares and hopefully going viral.

Hobby Keyword Research

I've also assembled a mega-list of hobbies. Use it as inspiration. Skimming the list- ice skating could be an interesting list site. You could profile the 50 best NHL skaters of all time, the 30 biggest Olympic ice skating fails in history, the 40 coolest ice skates ever. Lots of possibility and potential.

The Keyword Competitiveness score is beneath the table- it gives you a rough idea of how competitive it would be to rank for the primary keyword in the hobby list below. 

Keyword Competitiveness Scores

  • 0-10 (No Competition),
  • 10-20 (Extremely Low Competition),
  • 20-30 (Low Competition),
  • 30-40 (Moderate Competition),
  • 40-50 (Somewhat High Competition),
  • 60-70 (Very High Competition),
  • 70-100 (Don't Even Think About It).

*Read more about their scoring.

Niche Market Research

The Opportunity

The idea here is to create a list-based site in a niche that helps organize scattered information. Startups List organizes startups by location and by their type of business.

The Worlds 50 Best specializes in restaurants. Wine Spectator has a subdomain just for its lists.

Lists are powerful for a variety of reasons, as I outlined above- but primarily they work because people like easily digestible content, they are relatively easy and cheap to create, utilize fun images, and have large social and SEO potential.

Before you dive in, make sure you think through how you'll monetize.

For example, a site that lists the best beaches- it would monetize with air travel offers. A site that lists out the best businesses in a local area will monetize by charging recurring fees for placement in the list and even pay per call opportunities through a platform like RingPartner.

Other niches might have more physical products to promote- for instance a sports-themed Ranker site could list the 25 best outdoor basketballs, the 30 most expensive tennis sneakers of all time, etc.

The niche you choose will influence how you monetize, how fast your site can monetize, and the sort of traffic you should focus on. For example, a site that lists the best legal practices in Iowa will have less social media potential than a site that ranks the most attractive women on Instagram

Niche Marketing Traffic

​​How to get traffic

Longform list content will get you rankings and search traffic in time if the keyword research is on point and the quality is good. Social media traffic can come with consistent promotion. 

Indeed, you'll want to figure out a content promotion process. Each piece of content you create should be subjected to a content promotion process.

Check out the content harvesting graphic below- this gives you a general idea of how you can convert your blog post into different formats and gradually build up a following across different social media channels.

Harvest Your Content

Content Harvesting NicheFacts Example

I won't lie, getting traffic can be a grind. The way I'd approach it is to focus on producing 20 3,000+ word posts targeting keywords I want to rank for and nailing down a content syndication process that I can at least partially outsource.

For example, if one of my posts is "The 30 Best Chinese Restaurants in Ohio", I'd have templates prepared in Canva to convert that post into a long infographic.

I'd have an Animoto template for converting it into a slideshow video. I'd have a template for converting it into a quiz.

This media collateral would then be published across different platforms. The hustle will be in getting noticed initially and cultivating incremental traffic over time.

Outreach and backlinks will be essential in this instance- high rankings for this search term will be the primary way you can justify charging business owners for listing placement and exposure. And backlinks are crucial to fortifying a strong organic search position.

How To Make Money With Your Niche

How to make money

Monetizing will depend on the niche you select. Broadly, you'll monetize with display ads, affiliate marketing, and potentially your own products. I can't emphasize enough- when you think about your niche, make sure you do a preliminary deep dive into the affiliate product promotion part of it​.

So, check Amazon for products in the niche that you can promote. You will be sorely disappointed if you think you'll gin up enough organic traffic in the first year to make a living from display ads.

Mintsense ran some math and determined that:

“In a nutshell, you need 100,000 visitors a day to make $100,000 a year from Google AdSense alone (with a CTR of 1% and CPC of $0.25).”​

That's a crazy amount of traffic. My own affiliate money site makes over 3x that much in a year with 3% of that traffic. ​

The commissions you're able to earn early on will help you persist through the grind of scaling your site into a true authority and discovering alternative monetization options as you and your site mature.

More advanced forms of monetization will be pay per call where you get paid when someone calls a number of a business; other types of lead generation- like people booking flights or submitting their email address to a business through your affiliate links; charging businesses to be listed or promoted on your ranking site.

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How To Get Started

  1. Figure out the 'list angle' you want to take
  2. Choose a memorable domain name
  3. Do keyword research- I recommend using LongTailPro- figure out what people in the niche want to read about. But also be creative and publish fun content that you think will get traction on social
  4. Begin publishing and harvesting it for cross-platform promotion
  5. Once you've got 10-15 posts, figure out how you'll monetize: apply to Amazon Associates, use the Ad Inserter WordPress plugin to sprinkle AdSense throughout your content, for example.
  6. Capture emails
  7. Once you've got a working content creation process, consider hiring writers or virtual assistants to help you automate and scale
  8. Explore alternative affiliate programs and different monetization strategies


  • Fun, structured way to organize a site
  • Lends itself to structured, long-form content that search engines love
  • Can play well on social
  • Naturally incorporates images into lists


  • You'll have to figure out how to source images if your posts rely on them
  • Some niches will be easier to monetize than others- if there aren't a lot of products to promote, monetizing will require more patience and creativity

Last Updated on March 13, 2021 by Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson
Ryan Nelson
​Ryan Nelson is a NYC-based Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and a full-stack online marketer. He created to help people discover and build profitable, content-focused online businesses.



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