October 19, 2017
Today’s blogging landscape is littered with how-to posts.
Any blog you can think of will feature a how-to post, at some point in its existence.
But — and this is a big but — there are two types of how-to posts out there, and there’s a yawning chasm of difference between them.
The first type is a post that answers a question that’s already been answered a million times. The other is a post that is genuinely helpful and answers a question in a way no one else has.
The latter category is what wins big with readers and customers. As BuzzSumo demonstrated in a survey, great how-to posts get shared at astounding rates. The top 10,000 of these posts averaged 90,000 shares each.
Even if you’re not performing at that rate, a stellar how-to post can often do better than other content types. Hubspot reported in 2012 that its how-to posts got about 55 percent more views than any other post type on its blog.
Yes, how-to posts are a goldmine – not only for mass appeal, but also for boosting your authority.
…But, only if you know how to write an engaging one.
Do you want to learn how to write how-to posts like that? I bet you do.
How to Write a How-To Post That Does the Job (Engages and Teaches Effectively!)
A worthy how-to post must accomplish four goals:
- It must answer a question.
- It must teach the audience.
- It must provide the best answer possible.
- It must demonstrate your know-how.
When your post hits each of these marks, it has done its job. It will teach effectively and underline your authority.
To aim for these targets and hit their respective bullseyes, here is what you need to do.
1. Answer the Questions People Are Asking (Ones You Can Answer Definitively)
You wouldn’t waste time answering a question no one is asking. Who would want to read that post?
Instead, answer a question that has urgency behind it. In other words, lots of people should be keen to know the answer. They probably shouldn’t be able to find a good solution in other places they’ve looked, to boot.
To get a handle on popular questions related to your industry and your expertise, look to the customers. What’s a query from them you continually hear? What’s constantly on their minds in the comments of your blog? What do you regularly get e-mails about?
Chances are you, can settle on a question pretty easily. The next step is making sure you can answer it the best way possible – definitively.
Your readers should walk away from your post and not need any other sources, because you effectively taught them.
*cue mic drop*
2. Choose a How-To Topic You Can Add Value To
If the how-to topic you want to write about has already been covered more than once (or, in some cases, more than 100 times), make sure you can add value to what’s already out there with your post.
Don’t rehash steps others have already explained in great detail, with great skill. You’ll only be adding to the content wasteland.
Instead, what can you add that is helpful, novel, useful, or practical? Will putting your knowledge on the table add breadth and depth to the topic? Or will it just make it more bloated and redundant?
If you can’t add extra value to the subject and teach your readers something new, you probably shouldn’t write a how-to post about it.
3. Know All the Steps Before You Begin
You know the answer and the steps to the how-to topic you’re going to cover from back to front, which is exactly why you should write about it.
The thing is, what’s clear to you may be harder to grasp for non-experts. With that in mind, make sure you outline all the steps you need to hit before you dig in. This ensures your how-to post is comprehensive and flows logically from point A, to point B, all the way to Z.
If you can, have someone who’s unfamiliar with the topic read your steps. If they have questions about the connection between point C and point D, for example, that’s a sign you missed a step and need to tweak your outline.
4. Organize the Post for Clarity, Readability, and Great Instruction
There are effective ways to organize information that all kinds of writers, teachers, and educators have been using since practically the dawn of time.
They employ these techniques because they make information easier to understand and absorb. They’re time-proven, so you should use them, too.
Here are some examples of good, basic techniques for organizing a how-to post.
- The introduction eases the reader into the topic and announces the central question, “How do I ____?”
Great example: In their post on How to Use Hashtags on Twitter, Hubspot introduces the topic and gives context for what they will explain:
- The text is broken up into readable chunks, with one clear idea per paragraph.
- Steps are numbered, with only one action or learnable piece of information attached to each.
- There are lots of examples, both hypothetical and from the real world (i.e. case studies or statistics).
- It includes an outline of tools the reader can use.
- There are tips sprinkled throughout to make the steps easier.
- Suggestions or resources for further reading (lots of links!) are included.
- It has lots of images, videos, or some other illustrative element, especially if you’re explaining how to do something involved or complicated.
Example: In its article, How to Do Quick and Easy Curves Adjustments in Photoshop, Digital Photography School has included lots of visuals to help it illustrate more complicated points:
The Main Commandment for Writing How-To Posts? Be Helpful.
If your post isn’t helpful, if it simply repeats what other people have already said, if it’s not organized well, if it’s sloppy or slap-dash, it’s not going to make any difference for your authority, your reach, or your business. Most importantly, it won’t make any difference for your customers.
If it doesn’t do that, you’ve truly failed. Yes, failed.
There’s enough bad content out there. There’s plenty of fluff, filler, hot air, and recycled ideas. None of these, not one, is helpful for the reader, visitor, or customer.
If it’s not helpful for them, it’s not helpful for you.
Bottom line? Create a how-to post you can stand behind, one that teaches and enlightens. Be helpful. Add value to the discussion. Period.
Julia McCoy is a top 30 content marketer and has been named an industry thought leader by several publications. She enjoys making the gray areas of content marketing clear with practical training, teaching, and systems. Her career in content marketing was completely self-taught. In 2011, she dropped out of college to follow her passion in writing, and since then grew her content agency, Express Writers, to thousands of worldwide clients from scratch. Julia is the author of two bestselling books on content marketing and copywriting, and is the host of The Write Podcast. Julia writes as a columnist on leading publications and certifies content strategists in her training course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and one fur baby.