Why You Should Think Twice about Writing How-To Posts

Why You Should Think Twice about Writing How-To Posts

Reader Comments (10)

  1. This is soooo true, Lacy. How-to’s are everywhere, so much so that they’re not that useful anymore.

    I think the next big thing will be story-driven how-to’s, like Sumo’s Growth Studies. Such articles are both interesting, as they engage you in the company’s story, and useful, as they teach you what you can do *based on what the company does*.

    At Foundr, where I work, I recently mix Nike’s story and what they did to become what they’re today with highly detailed how-to’s for ecommerce entrepreneurs (Shameless plug: https://foundr.com/nike-marketing-strategy/).

    The more personable, relatable, and realistic the how-to becomes, the better it is. As it always happens, however, it’s that they’re harder to create. I guess that’s where we’ll see who’s a real professional content writer and who’s a mediocre one.

  2. I love your perspective, Lacy!

    Fine-tuning your marketing is all about finding the type of content that will attract and hook the right type of prospects to your business.

    I also still love How-Tos! 😉

    I think it’s because the most effective type of How-Tos I’ve seen — that are helpful even for smaller brands — have always been more of a how-to-why hybrid (similar to the type of How-To Ivan mentioned in the comment above.)

    You touched on this in the post when you mentioned the case where your ideal customer doesn’t want to know how to do something.

    It’s super important to note that potential mismatch …

    But how-to-why hybrids here might be the perfect type of content to demonstrate that what you offer is the best choice for that person.

    Sort of a one-two punch showing that you know your stuff (how to) and that your approach elevates you above competitors (why).

  3. Thank you for sharing your insights, Lacy. We are a boutique brand strategy consulting firm and have struggled with this for quite some time. A light bulb went off when I read”…we have a mismatch between the content type, the audience it attracts, and the ideal customer for the business.”

  4. Lacy, I am not convinced.

    I sell a lot of how-to courses, some of them relatively expensive. Many times I’ve landed great clients from these courses because halfway through the course, they realize that what they’re learning how to do would take too much time or the wrong kind of energy for them to do it themselves.

    They would not have known that without taking the course, however. They have told me as much.

    I suspect the same kind of dynamic goes on with free how-to content.

    People do not divide neatly into those who would hire help and those who would not. For example, I do a lot of maintenance things around the house by myself, but I also often hire people to fix or maintain things, and I don’t always know which category a task goes into until I learn more about it. Ditto for web-related tasks.

    And if I did definitely want to hire someone to do something, I am not sure why I would be persuaded by their opinions, their process or their philosophy, or even want to read such content.

    • One reason I liked this post so much is that Lacy doesn’t say “never write how-to,” but argues that we need to think carefully about it and structure it mindfully.

      While we write plenty of How-To at Copyblogger (and then sell relevant courses that take that into more depth, as well as offering done-for-you services with our services division), I think it’s something every content creator should think about: Is this piece of content strategically leading a prospect in a direction, or is it just something I’m publishing today because I need content and How-To seems popular.

      I’m also not sure you can necessarily perfectly compare customers for a course, who have “skin in the game,” with readers of free material on a blog, who don’t. I suspect the investment in the course could even make them even more inclined to hire someone to get the result they were originally looking for.

      You have so much background, Marcia, that I suspect you direct your content strategically by instinct at this point. But it’s a common point of failure for a lot of writing content that I see that’s intended to build freelance businesses.

      • Sonia, You make some good points. I agree that thoughtlessly creating how-to content is unlikely to be effective.

        My main point, however, was that people don’t divide neatly into “want to hire someone” and “want to do it myself.” Many people educate themselves about a task before deciding whether to hire someone or do it themselves. Your how-to article can bring them to you and help them make that decision. It can also attract some “want to do it myself” people who have a light bulb go off from your how-to article, so that they realize it would be dangerous, wasteful or counterproductive for them to do it themselves. You’re right in front of them at that point.

        In addition, I agree with Ivan Kreimer’s point above that “The more personable, relatable, and realistic the how-to becomes, the better it is.” It’s actually quite difficult to write high-quality how-to material that has a distinctive voice, the right level of detail and an air of well-earned authority. But those who can do that will experience a payoff from it, regardless of the extent of the apparent competition.

        • I 1000% agree with this:

          It’s actually quite difficult to write high-quality how-to material that has a distinctive voice, the right level of detail and an air of well-earned authority. But those who can do that will experience a payoff from it, regardless of the extent of the apparent competition.

  5. I started catching on to this same concept on Twitter. As I began connecting more with fellow financial bloggers, website engagement started to drop. The problem I was trying to sell the same thing my Twitter audience was trying to sell.
    I had to step back and refigure my content and my audience. It’s an ongoing process, but awareness of the problem is the first hurdle. The best thing I ever did is to stop listening to the mass of advise and only listen to people who advise makes sense.
    Great article.

  6. Great article, Lacy! In my industry (I am a freelance translator) this is one of the most common mistakes we tend to make. We literally provide thousands of How-To posts over the internet and then we end up wondering what went wrong and we have lots of likes and shares from colleagues but not even one lead. Your ideas are truly valuable and this content gives us a lot to think about in order to make our business grow. Thanks!

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