About a month ago, water from my bath started leaking through my kitchen ceiling. It was frustrating to say the very least.
In a desperate attempt to fix the problem, I turned to Google for guidance. I asked how to diagnose and fix a leaking ceiling.
I soon discovered that most of the content returned offered pretty general advice. Each promised to tell me the top tips and tricks for repairing a ceiling, but the problem was that either the content didn’t make sense to me, or didn’t really provide me with truly valuable information.
In the end, I was left feeling none the wiser about what I needed to do. In the end I called a plumber.
The internet contains endless amounts of how-to content, but a lot of it misses the point. If you’re a brand or writer looking to create how-to content to improve the amount of time users spend on site, return visits, and increased traffic through digital (and verbal) referrals, you should think about the following areas.
Understanding the unique things a brand can offer should be the first thing to think about when creating how-to content, If you’re a freelance writer then work closely with your client to get their expertise.
Let’s say you’re looking to educate readers on how they can fix a bathroom leak. Other than the plain obvious, what else can you add? What expertise can your brand offer? What’s your unique approach?
- What are the pitfalls your readers should be aware of?
- What useful shortcuts or tips do you know of that will benefit the reader?
- Do you have any research that proves that your technique is better than the methods others are suggesting?
- Can you get more creative with your format (e.g. video or infographic)?
Once you know the answers to the questions above, you can start to look at similar content – and work out how to make yours better.
How to research your competitors
For every piece of how-to content you’re planning on publishing, it is essential to conduct research. How you do that depends on the aims of the content.
For example, if you’re looking to improve organic traffic, perform a quick search using the relevant keywords – look at the how-to content around your topic that’s ranking highly. Tools such as Google Analytics, Linkdex, SEMrush and Searchmetrics can help with your competitor research, they can tell you which terms you receive traffic for and which pages people are visiting.
If you’re looking to produce content to increase social engagement, tools such as BuzzSumo, Brand Watch and Crimson Hexagon can help determine what the top performers are on social. Look at what pieces are getting the most engagement and how they approach your topic.
“How to move to Canada”
Using the US election as an example, controversial candidate Donald Trump was officially elected to become the next president. As the news broke, articles such as ‘How to move to Canada’ were being published – an article on the topic from Business Insider article received nearly 2 million social shares.
As Google searches for the term “how to move to Canada” increased drastically after Trump’s presidency was announced, it was a highly relevant article, and the slightly humorous, informative tone made it both engaging and shareable.
The reason why this piece was so successful was that people could relate to it in one way or another, it captured the right audience – brands and freelancers should bear this in mind when creating how-to content.
— Mic (@mic) November 9, 2016
How to format your content
The way you format and structure your how-to story can influence whether users interact with your content. If you already have an audience that you’re familiar with, think about what they’d relate to the most. Would they respond better to a step-by-step list, a video, or a graphical breakdown? Or use a combination perhaps?
If you’re not sure, put yourself in your audience’s shoes: you’re standing in your kitchen, with water dripping on your head. What format is going to appeal to you right now?
Once you gain an understanding of your audience – and combine it with everything you’ve thought about above, like what your competitors do – you’ll know the best way to present your information.
The Proper Tasty video series is an example of a brand that produces good how-to content in the right format for their audience. I’m not exaggerating when I say these recipes take up half of my newsfeed on Facebook – each receiving a huge number of likes, shares and comments every day.
Understanding user intent
When a user performs a search, they might have an intent: a specific idea about what they want to achieve using the information they’ll get back. This intent usually falls into one of three categories: to do something, to know something, or to go somewhere (you can find out more about search intent here).
Sometimes, there is more than one intent per query. They want to know something else as well but just haven’t made it part of the query. Or they think of an extra question after they’re searched. Content that wins in search results is often written to satisfy multiple user intents.
Take some time to study the search engine results pages for your brand’s basic keywords, and the kinds of how-to content you’re looking to produce. How-to content usually falls into the ‘do something’ category. Looking at these results will help get you thinking about what people are searching for when they Google the queries you want to answer, which will help you to know all of the intents you need to satisfy.
The goal for creating amazing how-to content is to produce something your readers need. Yes, there is a lot of how-to content out there to compete with – but, that doesn’t mean it’s all good or useful. Think beyond simply answering the question. Consider how you’re doing it and what other intents you need to satisfy.
If you have direct access to information about people who use your site through tools such as Google Analytics, SEMrush and Search Metrics, Buzzsumo, Crimson Hexagon and Brand Watch, all you need to do is conduct the right research to discover what they want to know about your service or product, and use your expertise to fulfil that need. Once you understand this, you can begin to create the how-to content that stands out from the rest.