Since Google is cracking down on website scraping (even though Google is the biggest website scraper out there giving viewers condensed content scraped from other sites right in a box at the top of SERPs), the ‘how to’ article has become a bit of a taboo. In reality, unless you have an entire site built around ‘how to’ articles (i.e. eHow, Yahoo Answers and Instructibles, etc.), you are fine to go ahead and continue using this click-heavy format:
– Introduce the problem – Present the benefits of your solution – List the steps – Provide detail – Wrap it up and call to action
The Right Way to Write a How To
In fact, since everyone else is scared to write a ‘how to,’ you’ll be one step ahead of the competition. Just make sure you do it correctly, that is to say, in the following order:
1. Introduce the Problem You are Solving. Obviously, you want your reader to know that they are in the right place to solve their problem and that you are the person that has the solution. Make the reader understand that even if they don’t realize they have this problem, they likely do or will, and thus, need to read the solution.
2. Present the Benefits of Your Solution. Why is your solution better than anyone else’s solution? Why should the reader keep reading? Are you going to solve the problem in the blog or are you going to provide half the steps and then a free eBook download at the end with a comprehensive look at the solution? Are there going to be videos? Is this a multi-part blog? Let them know!
3. Give Them the Steps. Your steps should be laid out in a list, a screenshot, a picture, etc. Just give them them the basics and a brief explanation. If you need to, you can get into more detailed paragraphs or chapters on each step in later blogs or an eBook. But laying out the steps in a numbered or bullet list will allow faster-paced readers to skip to the sections they need. Perhaps they have half of the solution and just need the last few steps. Remember, the easier you make it for every single reader that comes to your site, the better it is for you. Cater to the beginner, but also make it easy for the seasoned pro to glean what they need and get on to the next step. Don’t waste anyone’s time and they won’t waste yours.
4. Detail is Key. The detail to your solution is going to be key here. For instance, if you provide a solution without an example, what’s to say that the writer really has life experience solving this problem? They could just be an affiliate for a product spinning content from their associates. Graphics, step-by-step instructions, easy to follow language, all of this falls under detail.
5. Conclusion. Your conclusion is where you wrap up the ‘how to’ and recap the benefits that your reader now possesses. It’s important to never forget your call to action. If you don’t have one specifically and are just writing an informative or authoritative blog, add your contact information and have the reader sign up or contact you for more details. You can also link to other solutions you’ve provided, or have an opt in or email sign up for a newsletter or eBook.
As you can see, there is absolutely no reason to abandon such a highly effective blog format. Google is really just trying to punish ‘how to’ sites at large, not the average internet marketer.
How many times have you read a lame “5 Ways to Improve Your Bottom Line!” title, clicked through, and the been disappointed to find the same old generic, rehashed information on the other side?
If you roll your eyes whenever these titles come up in your Facebook feed or from some marketer’s Twitter account, you’re not alone. Unfortunately for marketers looking to take the easy way out, millions of other people are feeling the same way and are becoming immune to the type of clickbait titles that have dominated marketing communications for way too long now.
In the near future (actually, now), no one is going to be clicking on cheesy, cringe-worthy headlines that mask lackluster, uninspired content. Instead, you should be working to standout with your titles in other ways to help draw people in without misleading them. Of course, step one is to make sure your content is up to par; no great title or thumbnail image can lead to the conversions you’re after if you don’t have great words waiting for readers on the other side. Be valuable, be useful.
Next, consider tossing out additional hyped up adjectives and adverbs for statistics. Many of the most successful contentmarketing triumphs to pop up in 2015 were case study types which could boast a specific change in a variable in their title.
For example, the popular Groove blog wrote an article with a title along the lines of “How we raised our traffic by 12,267% with zero advertising.” It’s just about as enticing as a marketingblog post title could possibly be because it gives you an exact statistic that you can hold the author to.
By the way, that blog post really is excellent and outlines a bunch of free traffic generation methods that the company used to, no kidding, give an insane multiple-thousand percent increase to their traffic numbers in an impressive amount of time.
You should consider also making your titles platform specific. For example, WordPress has plugins which allow you to display different title and description tags for certain social networks. For example, if you know that Facebook shows only the first 70 characters of a link title and LinkedIn shows 110, you can create custom titles that fit those exact lengths and make the most of you allotted characters on each platform.
Titles which are native (made for) a platform will without a doubt perform better in terms of clickthrough and reader interest. Futhermore, platform specific titles can help you create clever synergies between the titles and preview images shown on each network, which can go a long way toward making your homegrown marketing efforts look more professional and thought out – and that’s never a bad thing!
Basically, titles still need to deliver clickthroughs and intrigue readers, but the way in which they accomplish these goals is going to need to be more genuine and helpful going forward. Working together to eliminate crappy content and titling is just one way to make audiences less skeptical of contentmarketing, which makes things easier on the rest of us, doesn’t it?
Often, people begin their online marketing efforts as a part time gig, with the transition of moving as soon as possible to fulltime self-employment. Unfortunately, as time goes on, far too many people find themselves exactly where they started out: Coming home from a necessary day job they don’t particularly enjoy, and working on their online marketing for a few hours for a little “extra income.”
While this is a happy medium for some people, many others will become frustrated. Here are a few ways you can change your approach to your online marketing entrepreneurship efforts in order to finally make the transition into working for yourself full time.
1) ‘A few hours’ won’t cut it: Let’s face it, if you went to work for ‘a few hours’ each day, your boss would have a talk with you before long. Think of how long it would take for a business to reach profitability if every employee cut down their 8 or 9 hours to 2 or 3 each day. Somehow, people expect this approach to work in building their own businesses from home. At best, they underestimate the amount of time it will take to compound the effects of a few hours per day into a fulltime income. The people who will break away from this mode don’t shy away from the hustle, and know that they need to essentially be working fulltime hours on their marketing efforts to quickly get them to a livable scale.
2) Get serious about your customers. Many online marketers like to talk about their ‘clients’ or their ‘projects’ but remember that, at its core, the success of your business is a direct result of how well you interact with your customers. ‘The customer is always right’ should apply, because you’re a small business. People find it too easy to get caught up in ‘working for themselves’ and don’t take the time to be respectful and appreciative of everyone who is kind enough to hand them over money for a service or product. Stay humble, even when you’re kicking butt.
3) Get outside of the norm. In your communication channels, consider working on some new angles that are less crowded and also less expensive to engage with (if you go the route of paid advertising). For example, properly working your content into reddit or Stumbleupon can offer a massive return on your time if done correctly. While most marketers are chasing burnt out and overvalued approaches, you’ll be sitting on the secret sauce.
4) Finally, get disciplined. Have a routine for everything. If you’ve got just your evenings to grow a business with, you need to be efficient. This means making a schedule for your tasks and sticking to it. It means working to ensure that tasks don’t drag into others (checking and responding to emails is a big one!). And, above all else, it means testing and drilling down into the actions that are driving the most results, and focusing your time on those.
Remember, if you want to have a business, don’t work on a side project.
Knowing that this is going to be mostly consumed by online marketers, know that the purpose of this piece is not to insult you. Instead, take it to heart as the advice of someone who cares deeply about your profession and industry.
Marketers ruin everything. The great, loud, always-everywhere Gary Vaynerchuk is a fan of the phrase. By it, he basically means that anywhere the people go, there’s money to be made, so marketers will follow them in droves. If marketers follow them in droves, that means so do their advertisements, spammy private messages, and promotional outreach. Eventually, another place will become cool, the digital hangout to be a part of, and the cycle will repeat itself.
It’s not something that’s going to end any time soon, but it’s good to think about how you can best take advantage of it, and communicate in a way that doesn’t make you the badguy.
The first thing you have to understand is that everyday consumers are becoming aware of the cycle. It’s not something they think about and analyze as much as you do, but they’re far from oblivious. This means that trying to be sneaky or pretend you’re not being promotional when you are isn’t the way to go.
On new social media platforms especially, marketers tend to think that the best way to promote their products or services is by disguising them as learning opportunities, free ebook giveaways into a funnel, etc. The truth is that, if you’ve built a relationship with people and they like the content you put out, they won’t have any problem handing over money all on their own when you ask.
Rather than focusing on sneaky funnels, put your effort into genuinely providing really great, valuable information for your followers. If you’ve already helped someone for free, they’re more likely to be interested in or at least hear you out when it comes time to pitch something.
In a high speed, more transparent world, most of the time you just can’t market like it’s 2007 anymore. What’s more, most people still do this, so you can stand out from the crowd by being the one brand or marketer not assuming they’re smarter than their market.
What are some ways this philosophy can actually be put into use? Here are a few:
– On Instagram, avoid falling into the trap of leaving automatic or, if they are manual, thoughtless comments that don’t serve any purpose. Nobody becomes a huge fan of someone after they auto-comment “NICE!” on a photo tribute to their recently deceased grandfather. Instead, offer real interactions, ask about the context of the pictures people post, etc. Score some people points by acting like an actual person!
– Use a social platform for warming up a prospect, not for the hard sell. Community or social media platforms are meant for reputation and personality building. Instead of going directly for the kill, if you’ve built a rapport with someone and want to pitch them something, use twitter to ask their permission to send an email or schedule a Skype call to discuss your offer.
Most site owners want to rank highly for certain keywords. They will try a lot of methods to achieve this goal. Once they are done, many are unsure how they should test their work. Some will simply type the keywords on a search box and see how their sites rank. In this video, Tommo from London wants to know if there is a better way.
Matt Cutts says that this straightforward test is effective for this purpose. However, he would like webmasters to rethink their SEO strategy. Rather than focusing their efforts on a few trophy keywords, they should look at their server logs and check the phrases that people are already using to arrive at their sites. They should concentrate on optimizing for these established phrases instead.
Matt also wants webmasters to think about metrics other than ranking. The conversion rate, for instance, may be even more vital to the business. They should study this and try to increase the percentage of visitors who actually end up buying their products, subscribing to their newsletter, or whatever it is that they ultimately want to achieve.