OPINION: What’s wrong with top content marketing (and other) lists?

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

I appreciate when I’m on a list of the top 20 or whatever content marketers. Most recently Onalytica listed me in the top 25 and there have been others over the years.

Often they are based on perceived public knowledge sharing on a topic. But not always – unfortunately.

Despite being listed and seeing business and personal value, here’s what’s wrong with some top lists: They are too self-serving to whomever published them. Not all, of course, but some.

Here’s how I translated that into a tweet:

Terrible published top 10 influencer lists:

1) A client

2) The CEO ?‍?

3) Somebody we want to be a client

4-10) The usual subjects

It’s a bit of a marketing ploy, wouldn’t ya say?

No. 1 is a client. They’ll be happy and maybe even renew. Though declaring them No. 1 doesn’t necessary equal marketing results in all the projects they are actually paying for.

No. 2 is the publisher’s CEO. You know because CEOs are the only ones who can have strong personal brands. ?‍♂️ The casual reader might not even notice that the CEO is the boss man or lady of the list publisher.

It’s still lame even if meant and deserved. And while some might get away with it, savvy consumers will catch up. Ranking people that have say (real or perceived) in the editorial direction shouldn’t be awarded anything like this.

Then No. 3 is a company that the publisher wants to work with. Listing the prospect gives the company a reason to reach out:

“Congrats on being listed on the prestigious list. We would love to sell you something because of your standing as determined by our lead gen team.”


Then the rest of the list is often the usual suspects. Many of them deserve the listings, but how many more lists do they need to be on? And why is that person 4th here and No. 1 on many others? Oh yeah, the client and CEO.

Some of those listed share the lists – but given that many are always on lists they don’t all do. Influencer sharing fatigue?

So why am I writing this? Not because I’m disgruntled for not making a list. But it’s something I noticed in my travels around the web. Sharing is caring!

So how do we actually create a good list?

First – as always – think about the reason you want to create one! Will your readers even care. Is there an actual business purpose?

What’s the ROE (Return on Effort)? I follow, know and respect a lot of thought leaders out there. I couldn’t even imagine ranking them.

I’m seeing committee meetings and lengthy debates in my head here on getting people in the right (best?) order. Is that worth it?

We could also run a statistical analysis like what Onalytica I think did. Or assign it to an intern to pick! ?Joking!

For myself on here, I can’t even think of a reason to do a list. What could I add? Top 10 storytellers? Maybe an idea, but I’m not getting there. How would I even rank them?

“Based on my highly subjective formula, I present to you the first ten storytellers that showed in my Twitter feed last.” They are now known as the top 10. Please share a link to my blog post.

But don’t misread my point here. If there’s a good reason to publish a list, go for it. Just be aware that people might evaluate your evaluations.