I am naturally a teacher.
I like to share what I know. I like to help people. It’s in my nature.
So it’s no surprise that I’ve written a LOT of how-to posts on this blog and on my other blogs in my life. A. Lot.
For a while, that was the prevailing wisdom in blogging-land: Share your knowledge, be the expert, be useful, and people will want to come to your site, will want to read what you have to say.
That’s still true. To some extent.
What that advice didn’t take into account, however, is who you were trying to attract. Because the audience for a how-to post is inherently different than the audience attracted to other kinds of posts. And they may or may not be the kind of audience you want to attract — it all depends on your goals.
Not all content types are created equal
When I decided to make the shift from focusing on selling my products to selling my services, I polled my audience to find out what percentage of the people on my list were interested in products versus services.
The results were surprising — but they shouldn’t have been.
The vast majority of my subscribers were interested in do-it-yourself templates, worksheets, etc. — in other words, products.
But the majority of what I’ve been selling — what I’ve always sold — is strategy. Even my course is about figuring out your strategy (even if it’s a DIY format to do so).
So how did I attract an audience and email list the majority of whom are not interested in what I’m selling?
Well, pure talent, my friend. 😉
No, in actuality, I’ve realized this is a SUPER COMMON mistake — because we’re following the “gurus'” advice without questioning it, and without personalizing it to our goals.
So I was doing what came naturally to me — and what all the blogging and marketing gurus out there told me to do: I was producing a lot of how-to content with free worksheets and downloads.
And it worked! I grew my list. Those posts did exactly what they were meant to do. But I hadn’t considered if they actually were going to help me meet my goals.
Should you be writing how-to?
The question then becomes: Who should be writing how-to posts — and who shouldn’t?
Again, it all comes back to understanding your goals.
How-to content absolutely has a place in the content world. For example, a brand might want to be known as the go-to resource for answers to questions about *whatever* so that when people think of those questions, they think of the brand as the answer. An example might be a Facebook ads company that wants to dominate the content realm for answering Facebook ads questions — so that when people want to run Facebook ads and need to know how, they come directly to that brand. The product, then, would probably be a course or similar that walks people through how to set up their Facebook ads.
This mostly works for really BIG brands — unless you’re in a very niche market.
But what if your customer doesn’t want to know how to do something?
Let’s say you’re a high-end virtual assistant selling your services. And so you start writing blog posts about how to do all the things you do to demonstrate your expertise. But here’s the thing: The people who want to hire an assistant to do their social media, handle their calendar, set up their email blasts, etc. don’t care about how to do those things. So they’re not going to be searching for content on how to do those things.
I’m selling high-end strategy and consulting. The people who are going to buy from me don’t want to know how. They actually don’t care about all the many (valuable!) free downloads I’ve created. They want to know why — why they should outsource their strategy or content creation, why they should trust me, why I’m the expert.
All that how-to content I was writing over the years was attracting the wrong audience for me — and it may be doing the same for you.
Is there a place for how-to content?
This isn’t to say you’re never going to write another how-to article in your life — because that’s just not the case. Rather, I want you to just think about how that content will help you reach your goals.
For example, I might write an article about How to Know When You Need to Call a Professional for your content strategy — that’s a how-to post, but it speaks to my ideal customer.
And there are plenty of other types of content you can create. Think about:
- The “why-to” — post that talks about the why rather than the how
- Evergreen stories — these are often desire posts in my parlance, sharing customer results, etc.
- Attention content that is designed to go viral
It all just depends on your goals. For example:
- If your goal is to drive organic search traffic, you probably want to focus on how-to posts that are SEO optimized
- If your goal is to serve and educate existing customers, how-to content is perfect
On the other hand:
- If your goal is thought leadership or authority in your niche, how-to content isn’t likely to do it (there are exceptions if you can produce the actual and truly “ultimate guide” to something)
- If your goal is to launch something new or get awareness of your brand, how-to content is also not your best bet — a new player on the market isn’t likely to rank on Google for how-to terms unless you’re in a VERY niche market.
Rather than just following the crowd or writing what comes most easily to you (totally guilty as charged), you must start with your goals to create a content marketing strategy that actually works.
Do you write how-to content for your business? Does it attract the right audience or the wrong audience for you? I’d love to get some more examples of both in the comments below.