Posted by amandamilligan
I’m a big fan of the Lore podcast, and in a recent episode, the host discussed a book called the Malleus Maleficarum.
Two words starting with the “mal” prefix doesn’t sound super friendly, right?
Well, the book is essentially a guide on how to identify witches and conduct witch trials. It turned out to have quite the horrible impact on society — as we’ve learned in history classes — but the host notes that it’s also one of the first how-tos ever written.
And it was published in 1486, more than 500 years ago.
How-to content isn’t new, and from what I can tell, it isn’t going anywhere. Look at how many search results come back when you narrow content down to titles including “how to.”
It’s not just that there’s a ton of this type of content, either. People want to read it.
The prominence of “how-to” content
My team at Fractl did a study about how different generations search online. We gave nearly 1,000 people this prompt:
You just got engaged! It’s time to start thinking about the wedding, but you’re not sure where to start. What is the first word or phrase you would search using Google or another search engine?
Thirteen percent of all the respondents’ hypothetical searches had “how to” in them, and the youngest respondents — millennials and Gen Zers — used it the most.
It serves as additional proof for what we already suspected: how-to content remains a staple in the content world.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? How-tos not only lend themselves to the thrill of learning new information online (and the seemingly endless number of things that are available to learn); they also serve as a tool of empowerment. Even if you don’t know how to do something, you can figure it out just by going online and reading/watching/listening to content someone else put together for you.
If people continue to desire this type of content, how can you make sure you’re incorporating it into your content plans accordingly?
Finding how-to opportunities
In some cases, it’s obvious how more how-to content can help your brand. Perhaps you’re a B2B SaaS company with a product designed to help teams collaborate online. You could write how-to articles about improving communication, transitioning to a new chat client, and plenty of other topics.
It’s important to have these articles, because not only do they speak to a direct need of a certain audience, but they’re also directly related to your brand offering. They’re rife with more natural call-to-action opportunities, and they demonstrate your willingness to help solve a problem.
This article by Brembo is a perfect illustration of this.
After the helpful guide, they have a CTA to:
“Just go to the configurator (www.moto.brembo.com) and enter some simple information about your motorcycle such as brand, engine displacement, model and year. The configurator will search through the entire Brembo line and quickly indicate which Brembo products are available for the selected bike, even including the pad compounds.”
And voilà! You have a useful guide that ties directly into your product.
However, the trick is making sure you’re seizing every opportunity and not settling on just the obvious how-tos.
Here are some ways you can find creative new opportunities:
- Ask your audience. Run a poll on social media. Survey your email list. Call your customers. Whatever your preferred method, ask what they want to see! Get to know their challenges better so you can create content that will address them.
- Research what’s being asked online. You can start by going to Answer the Public or using BuzzSumo’s Questions tool. Both allow you to see what people are asking across the web regarding topics. But you can also look at similar content that exists and see what people are saying in the comments. Is there any confusion? Any points that still need to be covered?
- Talk to your sales team. They’re the ones “on the ground” discussing potential worries and concerns from your clients and customers. If you haven’t already, set up a regular check in with the sales department so you can stay updated on what questions are popping up that the marketing team can answer in its content.
Additionally, for brands that might not have clear ideas for how-to content, it’s important to explore top-of-the-funnel opportunities, which you can do using the same tactics above.
Top-of-the-funnel means that, while the how-to guides might not be directly related to your service offering, they’re still good for introducing your brand to people who are interested in your general industry.
For example, like many other food brands, King Arthur’s Flour has recipes involving flour on their site. However, unlike many other food brands, their article, “How to make high-rising biscuits” has more than 94,000 engagements on Facebook, according to BuzzSumo.
Now, this is arguably middle-of-the-funnel because you need flour to make the biscuits and it’s a flour company creating the content. But people looking this up probably already have flour in their homes. The benefit of creating this content is that now they’re familiar with this brand of flour, and if the recipe goes well, they have more trust in this particular brand.
So, the article doesn’t have to be “how to choose the right type of flour.” It can be something your audience wants to know related to what you offer.
Getting creative with how-to content
Sometimes you want to create a guide that technically might already exist, but you want to do a better job in one way or another.
That’s great! But it means going the extra mile, thinking outside the box, and every other cliche you can think of. And that doesn’t always mean doing something costly or extravagant.
For example, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC released a piece about how to wash your hands correctly. Rather than sticking to the diagrams you see in restaurant bathrooms, they created a clean list of steps followed by a video showing exactly how to execute each step.
Just the addition of the videos made the content much more valuable to readers.
I also love this article from Taste of Home. I’ve read a million recipes on how to make chocolate chip cookies (what? I have a sweet tooth!), but this is the first time I’ve seen one that helps you adapt a basic recipe to make the best cookie for you.
The simple addition of this graphic adds an entirely new value to the piece that so many other variations lack by offering visual representations of textures for each recipe option.
So how can you achieve the same result? When you’ve decided on a topic to write about, do the following:
- Sum up in one sentence exactly what you want to teach people. Be as specific as possible. This will keep you focused when you’re creatively brainstorming how to execute.
- Explore what other how-to content already exists and what they’re lacking. Does the type of content work well for the topic? Is it too long, too confusing, too boring? How can you make yours easier to understand and more interesting?
- Constantly bookmark inspiration you come across. All kinds of content out there can provide you with creative ideas on how to execute a how-to guide. Put all of the links or images in a Google doc to create a sort of virtual vision board, or make it a habit to go to sites like https://www.reddit.com/r/InternetIsBeautiful/.
Knowing that how-to content is always going to be desired is a great prompt for examining its role in your strategy. Which of your previous how-to pieces have performed the best, which have performed the worst, and what can you learn from both?
Hopefully the tips I’ve shared in this piece will help you explore new opportunities to serve your audience with step-by-step guides. If you have more examples of how-to guides you love, share them with me in the comments below or on Twitter @millanda!
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