There are several different kinds of assignments offered through Presto’s platform (e.g., categories such as: Fact-based, Gallery, Narrative, Project and General News) and while each article category has its own best practices, the tips here apply to every assignment you will complete through Presto Media.
After evaluating thousands of articles to learn what makes good content, we’ve broken down a successful listicle to the basic ingredients (or formula) that will make every assignment interesting, successful and worth reading. Apply this formula to each assignment you claim and you will become a 5-star writer in good standing with Presto’s editorial department in no time!
There are three things that make or break every slide (or Listicle Item) in an assignment. Be sure to apply this formula to every assignment:
- Have I added value to the reader by introducing a new and interesting fact on this slide (i.e., have I given the reader something they didn’t have before)?
- Did I intrigue the reader by teasing something that will happen a few slides later?
- Was a strong emotion (e.g., humor, inspiration, fear) reflected in the content?
The Anatomy Of An Effective Slide
Each listicle assignment focuses on a core theme, whether it’s an article about how to build a project from scratch, a list of celebrities who have gone to rehab, or a new story that is broken up into a narrative across multiple slides.
Your job as a writer is simple: Make the content interesting enough that whoever clicks on your article wants to read the entire thing. Each slide plays a crucial role in maintaining a reader’s interest.
It’s a game. Your challenge: get the reader to the last slide. Every slide is a new level and you’re fighting the reader’s waning interest as they click through. Use the below tips and tricks to keep that reader engaged so you can complete the challenge!
The Three Crucial Tactics That Make or Break Every Slide:
- Pick a contextually relevant, interesting photo that fits the topic and entertains the reader.
- At the top, provide engaging subheads that lead/tease a reader into the copy. At the bottom, include CTAs to keep readers reading.
- In the middle, write interesting, informative, and relevant supporting copy. Use short, easy-to-digest sentences (8 - 13 words each).
**Remember -- EVERY slide is a new opportunity to LOSE your audience.**
There are numerous tips for making sure each element of a listicle works toward this goal that we will share in the following sections.
An Overview Of Article Categories
Be sure to familiarize yourself intimately with the following elements by name, as our editors will use them to provide more specific feedback.
- Facts (or, fact-based): Contains little-known facts and trivia - can contain multiple facts on a single subject (e.g., “Looking Back At The TV Show Seinfeld”) or multiple subjects around a single theme (e.g., “20 Celebrities Who Went To Rehab”). Link to Best Practices for Facts listicles.
- Gallery (or, image-based): Readers click these for the images alone. The copy plays an important supporting role. Link to Best Practices for Gallery listicles.
- Narrative (or, story-based): Tells a single story split up into multiple slides, usually to elicit either sadness or inspiration in the reader. The goal of the narrative listicle is to keep the reader enticed and wanting to learn more about the story by clicking through to the next slide. A narrative article is like a Netflix series, you want the viewer to keep clicking to the next slide/play the next episode. Link to Best Practices for Narrative listicles.
- Project (or, DIY, lifehack-based): A list that uses descriptive copy and images to teach people how to do stuff. It can either be a step-by-step tutorial or a collection of items that share an overall theme. Link to Best Practices for Project listicles.
- General News (or, single-page article): A 300+ word all-purpose article. In Presto terms, “General News” denotes a 300-500 word length, 2-5 photos, and a single-page layout as opposed to a slideshow a reader clicks through. Link to Best Practices for General News.
The goal of a title is to get a reader to click on your article. While best practices are always evolving, a title needs to strike the perfect balance between telling the reader enough about what the article is about while also teasing them to click to learn more.
A good title should be 8-10 words, and use emotional language to provoke curiosity.
Avoid numbers in titles, as well as overused words like “shocking.” Be careful not to be too vague in titles as well.
Feel free to get creative here. Whatever you think will be clever, funny, emotional or interesting that piques a reader’s interest should work!
- (Facts listicle): What The Cast Of Seinfeld Looks Like Now
- (Gallery listicle): Most Epic Weight Loss Transformations From The Biggest Loser
- (Narrative listicle): Meet The 30-Pound Cat That’s Breaking The Internet
- (Project listicle): Upcycle Dirty Cinder Blocks Into This Amazing Patio Bench
- (General News): This Mozzarella Bacon Popper Recipe Is A Game Changer
- (Facts listicle): 12 Updates On What Happened To Seinfeld’s Cast That Will Amaze You
- (Gallery listicle): 10 People Who Lost A Lot Of Weight On Biggest Loser Show That Dropped An Amazing Number Of Pounds
- (Narrative listicle): Literal Fat Cat Takes Funny Pictures. See Them Here And Be Amazed!
- (Project listicle): Easy Steps To The Patio Furniture Of Your Dreams
- (General News): We’ll Show You An Appetizer With Bacon That’ll Make Everyone’s Mouth Water
The “GOOD” titles suggested here tell the reader what to expect from the article, but leave the topic open-ended enough that they need to click it to see what you’re telling them is inside.
The “BAD” titles suggested here are too vague, too long, and too “cheap” in how they try to score a reader’s attention.
Ask yourself: If you were the reader, would you want to read this article?
A good intro (and a good opening sentence) offers a reader more details than the title -- it tells them what they can expect in the coming slides or content up front, but should continue to pique their curiosity about the pictures or facts they are about to see.
Again, the primary temptation to avoid here is being too vague. Also avoid burying the lead -- that is, not really talking about the main point of the article at all, and just filling space to hit your word quota.
The goal of a good intro is to reinforce for a reader that they’re in the right place -- they clicked on the article they meant to click on and are about to see the stuff the title promised them.
What would you do if your partner wanted to sell everything you owned to live in a house the size of a shed? That's the question Dusten Carlson was faced with when his wife, Rebekah, started looking into alternative housing late last year.
She was most interested in the "tiny house" movement, known for small, mobile homes between 120 and 500 square feet popular with the environmentally conscious, the wanderlust prone and anyone who wants to live a bit lighter.
While Dusten was skeptical at first, he soon agreed and the couple's tiny house journey kicked off!
Click through to see how they transformed an old tool shed into the home of their dreams. You have to check out what their bathroom looks like on slide #3 - who could have imagined they’d have that much space?
Tiny houses are all the rage right now. Most people are moving all of their possessions into these cramped little houses so that they can travel the country and live cheaply, as well as decrease their carbon footprint. The Carlsons are one such family that decided to sell their 2,000 sq. foot house in order to live small.
The “GOOD” example immediately engages the reader with a question. It then provides all the necessary details -- who the article is about and the broad strokes of what they decided to do. It ends with a Call To Action (CTA) to keep clicking through to a specific slide further down on the list.
The “BAD” example is too vague. Though I know the article is about tiny houses, I’m lacking on details specifically about what this article is about and what I’m going to see if I click through. It doesn’t promise me anything interesting or exciting, and does not contain a CTA. Though if it did contain a CTA like “Click through to see more. Slide #3 will shock you!” that is so generic, it might as well not be there at all.
Ask yourself: If you were the reader, would you want to read this article?
Think of a subhead as a mini-title for each slide on a listicle. It should follow the same general rules -- It should provoke curiosity, avoid generic language, tell the reader what the slide is about, but also encourage them to read the copy.
Fun fact: Most readers will skip your copy entirely and just read the subheads/look at the images. So if your subheads are boring or vague, they won’t stick with your article.
The goal of a good subhead is to provoke a reaction from the reader (interest, shock, humor) and encourage them to read the copy for the full story.
- (Facts listicle): Julia Louis-Dreyfus: From Feisty Elaine To Leading Woman
- (Gallery listicle): Joe Credits The Biggest Loser With Saving His Life
- (Narrative listicle): Is This Cat Healthy? Depends Who You Ask
- (Project listicle): Make Sure You Get The Right Kind Of Lumber
- (General News): Go Heavy On The Bacon Or Go Home
- (Facts listicle): #1 Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- (Gallery listicle): Joe Davis: 30 Pounds
- (Narrative listicle): Cat Health
- (Project listicle): Get Five Two-By-Fours
- (General News): Mozzarella Bacon Poppers Are Amazing
The “GOOD” examples here provide a mystery that makes me want to read the copy for more information. Feel free to get creative and inject humor and emotional language into these, as long as they are interesting and not generic.
The “BAD” examples are either too light on details or too heavy. They’re boring, and some are too vague/generic (“Julia Louis-Dreyfus” could be used for any slide about her in any context - what can you do to make this subhead more specific to this article?).
Ask yourself: If you were the reader, would your subhead make you want to read the copy?
The majority of your copy in each slide should solve whatever riddle you’ve set up in the subhead, and provide the rest of the information the reader needs for a complete understanding of its subject as it relates to the article’s topic.
Different article categories will require a different approach to copy that’s more contextual:
- (Facts listicle): The stuff that’s most interesting about the subject of the slide in relation to the article topic.
- (Gallery listicle): Can either be similar to “Facts listicle” if information about the photo is available. If not, tone-appropriate commentary is fine.
- (Narrative listicle): Details about this piece of the story that were revealed in the subhead. This copy should make an effort to connect to the previous and next slide for a more cohesive narrative flow.
- (Project listicle): More details/explicit instructions for how to do this step of a project, or how to do this quick lifehack, etc.
- (General News): The copy should deliver on the title -- if it’s a recipe, the instructions along with a few clever subheads and some friendly commentary is great. If it’s a news or human interest story, a narrative that tells a complete story is perfect.
The goal of copy for any assignment is to inform the reader of something they don’t know and to encourage them to keep reading so they can learn more. Even if the subject is something you are familiar with or think everyone knows, the reader might not!
This is the place to get specific, but make sure you do so with a tone-appropriate human voice!
Calls To Action (CTAs)
In each slide (including the intro in most cases), using a Call To Action (or, CTA) is a great tactic for getting a reader to keep clicking through the article.
A CTA, by definition, is a line of copy that tells a reader to do something, whether in an article or an advertisement (i.e., “call now to take advantage of this great offer!”).
We use them in our assignments to tease readers about future developments or create a more cohesive narrative flow. Just like titles and subheads, a CTA should be specific enough to be relevant to the story, but also enough of a tease to get the reader to actually click through to see what you’re promising them is coming.
PLEASE NOTE: Not every client requires CTAs, as some like to shuffle the slides sometimes to keep an article fresh. Make sure you check the Style Guide for each assignment to confirm whether or not to use CTAs (as a general rule, a Narrative List will always use CTAs since those slides can’t move around).
There are different kinds of CTAs that work best for each article category. The main three are:
- Future Tease CTA: This should let readers know they haven’t seen anything yet and sow seeds for future developments the deeper they get into the article.
- Slide Push CTA: This should push readers to the next slide to see something even more surprising compared to this.
- Cliffhanger CTA: CTAs should be used almost every slide (in effect, teasing the next development is half the copy you’re writing in each slide). These should tease future plot twists or developments coming up next, not further down the slideshow, and should elicit emotions of excitement, suspense and curiosity. What is going to make the reader click to see the next episode?
What kinds of CTAs work best for each article category?
- (Facts listicle): Future Tease CTA, every third slide or so
- (Gallery listicle): Slide Push CTA, every slide you can
- (Narrative listicle): Cliffhanger CTA, every slide (it’s part of the narrative)
- (Project listicle): Slide Push CTA, every slide you can
- (General News): No CTA required
- (Facts listicle): “While Elaine has been doing well post-Seinfeld, others haven’t been so lucky. Check out slide #2 to see what happened to Kramer.”
- (Gallery listicle): “Though Joe lost an amazing 30 pounds, he’s not even close to being the ‘biggest loser’ ever. The next contestant on this list dropped twice as much weight!”
- (Narrative listicle): “It’s a good thing Samson the cat is healthy as can be, because he’s going to end up making his pet parents a lot of money in the next couple years as you’ll see next … “
- (Project listicle): “Once you’ve gotten the right wood, the next step you take is absolutely critical … “
- (General News): No CTA required
- (Facts listicle): “Think this was crazy? Slide #2 will shock you!”
- (Gallery listicle): “Think Joe is The Biggest Loser? You haven’t seen anything yet!”
- (Narrative listicle): “The next slide talks about how much Samson makes.”
- (Project listicle): “The next step requires lacquer.”
- (General News): No CTA required
The “GOOD” examples are specific to each slide and the article’s overall topic. You can start to see how a good CTA harmonizes with the subhead on the next slide and so on, creating a nice flow. Like a title or subhead, it promises future developments, either on the next slide or further down, with enough details to pique a reader’s interest without spoiling the show.
The “BAD” examples are either too generic and vague, or are boring and/or tell a reader too specifically exactly what the next slide is about.
Ask yourself: if you were the reader, would your CTA make you keep clicking?
Not every article requires an outro, and at this point in the article, you might be thinking “well, I got them to the end, who cares what I write?”
Still, if you got a reader all the way to the outro of an article, that means the outro is the last thing they will read and if you BLOW IT, they will flame you in the comments, undoing all of the important work you just did!
Make sure you stick the landing. The outro is a place to tie up any loose ends, provide resolution and closure, or to encourage readers to share the article they just read.
Avoid the temptation to provide some sort of summary or “moral of the story.”
Seinfeld continues to endure as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, and while the show’s cast have gone on to greater successes all their own, they’ll always be remembered for the unique humor and personality they brought to the show about nothing.
If you have any Seinfeld super fans in your friends list, be sure to share the love. If you have a favorite episode, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
So there you have it. The cast of Seinfeld then and now. A lot of them look older, don’t they? The slide about Kramer sure was funny, don’t you think? If you didn’t buy the DVDs of Seinfeld, you can probably find it on Netflix or some other streaming channel. Who buys DVDs anymore anyway, right? Oh well, that’s all for us! Thanks for reading!
Hopefully it’s obvious why the “GOOD” is good and the “BAD” is bad here, but believe it or not, we do see examples that look almost exactly like the “BAD” all the time (especially outros starting with “So there you have it.”).
Even if an entire article is good and everything in this guide was adhered to by the letter, editors will still send back articles based on bad outros.
Ask yourself: Am I just padding here so I can submit this assignment, or am I treating the outro with the same diligence I treated the rest of the assignment with?
Writers in new media can no longer afford to treat images as an afterthought. The internet isn’t just an increasingly visual medium. It was look first, read second years ago.
That’s okay! We have a few guides that will help you catch up on images, from fair use to basic editing proficiency and simple tips and tricks to make images amazing. Just ask your editor for help if you need it, it’s what we’re here for.
But for every Presto writer, images are as important as the copy itself. In fact, our analytics and data show that readers across the board will exit an article immediately if they find images that are low-quality, because that suggests the article itself is low quality.
Thus, you could argue that curating, aggregating and modifying the right images is the most important thing a writer does.
We’ll get the scary stuff out of the way up front. Yes, our editors will send back articles for revisions if the photos are anywhere between “dull” and “distorted.” While we’re here to help you, if we have to send back too many articles for revised photos, it kills our deadline turnaround times and our clients’ faith in us, and could lead to punitive measures -- so take photo quality SERIOUSLY.
That said, there are numerous resources for finding and editing good photos that we provide you. While this means there’s an increased expectation for photo quality on our end, think of all the insider content know-how you’re getting for free!
We just ask that you use it!
Tips and tricks for finding good images and making sur they are high quality are located in the Basic Image Editing guide, so for the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll just outline the best practices for photos that we see succeeding most in our industry.
Photos for all Presto assignments should be:
- High quality - We want ‘em large and sharp. If an image has been distorted or blurred as a result of attempting to make it larger, the article will be sent back for revisions. If a source article has poor photos, you’ll have to bust out Google to find higher quality versions (trust us, a higher quality version always exists).
- Relevant - Ask yourself -- does this image work with my subhead and copy to tell a better story? Does it fit the context of the article/slide?
- Visually interesting - These means avoid stock photos as much as you can. Think about how Buzzfeed will use a GIF from a popular TV show even in a list about something else entirely. It makes the content more fun! Think creatively when it comes to image choices.
- Landscape-oriented - If there’s no reason to think otherwise on a given assignment, assume a landscape-oriented photo always performs better than a portrait-oriented photo.
- Watermark-free - Some clients want fair use images. Some don’t. In either case, an image with a Getty Images watermark is not going to be accepted.
Each client will have their own requests for the featured image. Some require a collage (you can make one easily on fotor.com). Some just want the most interesting image from the slideshow. Some want a completely unique image not found on the slide show.
Defer to the client’s Style Guide in each case to make sure. But no matter what, apply the same logic that works for everything else: Make it interesting, make it relevant, and whenever possible, tease what’s inside!
Sourcing Images (credit original source)
Sometimes you’ll see images on an article that are sourced to another publication, when the image actually originated on someone’s social media account, a movie studio, or another primary source.
At Presto Media, our best practice is to cite the original source.
Let’s pretend that you are using this LifeDaily article as a source for this story. LifeDaily credits the Facebook page “Charlie Bravo - The Motorcycle Rescue Dog Story” as the original photo source.
That is the same source you will cite. Do not credit LifeDaily.
Make every effort to attribute the photo’s original source. In this case, you would find and link to the “Charlie Bravo - The Motorcycle Rescue Dog Story” Facebook page as your image source, not LifeDaily.
Style Guide Requirements
Presto uses a House Style Guide (linked there). Commit Presto’s House guide to memory (or keep it close at hand when writing) because it contains guidelines that apply to all articles.
If the House Style Guide isn’t followed, revisions will be requested.
On top of the Presto House Style Guide, each client has a unique style guide that you must review before writing an assignment:
Looking at the client style guide is the first step every writer should take when they claim an assignment.
The client style guide will contain things like:
- Content rating (e.g., G, PG, PG-13, R)
- Fair Use images? (e.g. Y/N)
- How to number list headings: (e.g., #1, 1.), descending or ascending
- Refer to future slides w/ CTA? (e.g., Y/N)
- Featured image requests (e.g., fotor.com collage, best image from slideshow, unique image)
- Misc. (e.g., two spaces after periods, no meat images, landscape photos)
Clients may also have additional needs unique to each article that they will convey in Client Notes:
These can contain special instructions about images, format, style, tone, etc.
ALWAYS follow Client Notes first, EVEN if they contradict the client’s style guide or the Presto House Style Guide.
That’s it! Go rule the earth. Direct any questions you might have to Dusten (firstname.lastname@example.org).