3 Reasons You Should Use Numbered Lists On Your Web Pages

by Randy Murray on November 3, 2009

One of the most effective writing techniques is the use of numbered lists.

  1. Numbered lists let you be as brief as possible and still be understood, allowing your readers to scan quickly and determine if they want to read more.
  2. Numbered lists are a reminder to your reader to return to the page with your list.
  3. Numbered lists, especially short ones like this, help you convey to your reader that your message is both important AND quick and easy for them to comprehend.

Why condense your message? Because readers today are largely scanning your message. I understand your frustration about this. I’m a long-form writer myself and want to present complete and thoroughly detailed messages. But they’re not always effective. A numbered list is effective because it’s the meat of your message. And readers like and respond to that that. If you can get them to read your list, you’re ahead of the game.

Web sites are made up of links. You’re providing links to more information about your product or service, which is great, but if you want a reader to get your full message, you’ll need to leave them with a reminder that there’s more important information they may have missed. If you tell them there are three reasons why _fill in the blank_ and they click a link in Number 2, they’ll have a mental reminder to return, to come back to see that last point. Shaping a reader’s path thru the site is crucial to getting them to a decision to buy, or even better, to give you information about themselves (we’ll discuss why that’s better in a future post).

In general, keep your numbered lists to 10 items or shorter - more than that and you’ll begin to lose potential readers by the complexity of your argument. Not every presentation can be simple and direct, and suitable for a numbered list. But you’ll likely find that key ideas about your subject can be organized around a short list, directing your reader to more depth and more detailed information. And don’t lose the benefit of the numbered list by getting too wordy inside it!

You’ll find that writing numbered lists builds a kind of discipline. How many points are there really? How will you support your points? The numbering of a short list build a kind of urgency with the reader, a natural flow of logic: if this, then that. That urgency and focused importance is what you’ll need to keep the reader’s attention engaged, to keep them from clicking the back button away from your message and site.

Things to remember when writing your list:

  • Your reader is looking for a reason to LEAVE your site. It’s easier for them to disqualify you and your message than to read more. Numbered lists can get your message to them quickly before they can click “Back.”
  • You have infinite space and pages to deliver more information. Craft your introduction to that level of detail with concise, targeted information your reader really needs.
  • Don’t over do it. Your post should contain no more than one numbered list - bullets are very effective inside your text as well.

On top of the benefits of numbered list, a headline that spotlights a numbered list, like the one for this post, is equally effective and entices your potential reader take a look what you’re presenting - it’s a promise of secrets revealed, solutions presented.

3 Reasons You Should Use Numbered Lists On Your Web Pages by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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