How-to articles today may have a tougher time winning over readers than they did in the past. On WordPress alone, users now publish about 41.7 million new posts every month. That’s a lot of blog posts vying for attention — and how-to headlines are a popular format. You’ve got stiff competition.
If your how-to articles are falling flat with only a few shares and low traffic, it may be time to give them a lift. Though writers can safely rely on the how-to article best practices outlined below, the most important move you can make is to ensure you’re answering the questions your readers are really asking.
Start with Strong How-To Article Ideas
Coming up with topics to blog about that are likely to strike a cord with readers is one of the biggest challenges content marketers face. The best how-to article ideas are those that your audience genuinely wants to read about. Unearth the questions that your audience really wants answered to identify strong how-to topic ideas.The best how-to article ideas are those that your audience genuinely wants to read about. Click To Tweet
Try these two ways to do so:
1. Review common questions from customers
For marketers, staying on top of the issues your customers face is always a good idea. And it’s a great way to see what your customers want to learn how to do.
- Talk to people in customer-facing roles to find out what customers ask for help with.
- Look at support requests from your customers.
- See which articles in your knowledge base get the most visits.
- Check your site search queries in Google Analytics.
Exploring existing customers’ questions can be especially useful for creating middle and bottom of funnel content that shows how to use your product to accomplish a task, for example.
2. Research how-to keywords used in your industry
Uncover the phrases people enter online when they search for information. Alexa’s keyword research tools let you find search terms and then use filters to discover new how-to article ideas. Another benefit of finding topics this way is that your keyword research will start you on a solid path toward optimizing your article for search engines.
Step 1: Go to the Audience Overlap tool in your Alexa account and type in your website address. You will see a cluster of sites that share similar content topics.
Step 2: Click to add up to 10 sites with the highest Audience Overlap Scores to a list.
Step 3: Then click to compare those sites in the Competitor Keyword Matrix.
Step 4: Use the filters in the Competitor Keyword Matrix tool. To see the how-to keywords that your competitors are getting traffic for but you are not, filter by the term “how to” and enter your site in the box where it says ‘Show “Keyword Gaps” (Organic).’
These gaps can give you ideas for future how-to article topics.
There are other ways to search for keywords to target. For example, consider the marketing channels you’re currently using. If you run Google Ads, look at the Search Terms report in your Google AdWords account to see the keywords that people entered when they viewed your search ads. You can also filter the report to include terms that contain “how to.” Find more ideas here: How to Search for Keywords with 6 Free Tools.
Once you have your topic and keyword ideas, start thinking about the best way to present the information.
Decide Which Type of How-To Article Will Best Help the Reader Solve Their Problem
The purpose of a how-to article is to help your reader solve a problem. We can break how-to articles down into two basic types, characterized by the type of help offered.
Collections of tips are often presented as how-to articles. These how-to articles do not include everything the reader needs to do in a linear fashion. Rather, they provide perspective or details that help round out the reader’s knowledge, so they can improve how they do something. Below are a couple of how-to blog post examples featuring tips:
- How to Find Influencers in Your Niche: 19 Tips, Tools, and Providers
- How to Rank on Google: 3 Ingredients for Reaching #1 in Search
Step-by-step instructions walk the reader through the completion of a task. Classic examples include recipes, DIY projects, how to fix a problem, and how to do something you’ve never done before. Below are how-to article examples from our blog that feature step-by-step instructions:
If you’re writing a tutorial-type article, make sure you provide all of the information that your readers need.
Make the Process Clear with Your Structure
Because how-to articles often provide advice that must be followed sequentially, it’s important to structure your article so that your readers can follow along easily.
Make each step a separate subheading
Readers skim how-to articles to get a sense of what’s required before they dig into each step. By making each step a subheading, skimming is a breeze. Plus, looking at your article from this perspective helps you confirm that you’ve broken each major step out into its own section. If you use a similar structure for each subheading and start each with an action verb, it will be easier for your readers to follow along.
It can be really hard to understand how to complete a detailed process without images or examples. Use both whenever possible. Take screenshots or make a video to help the reader understand what must be done. If you’re restricted to text, include examples so that the reader can imagine how a process might unfold.
How-To Article Template
A hallmark of the best how-to articles is that they thoroughly answer readers’ questions. If you’re writing a how-to article with a series of steps to help the reader accomplish a task, this template will come in handy to ensure you include everything the reader needs to know.
As you prepare your article, make sure you can answer the following questions with a resounding,“ Yes!”
- Is your headline more appealing than those it will be competing against in search results?
- Does your article deliver on what you promise?
- Does it answer all the questions a reader might have?
- Do you answer those questions better than other articles?
- Does the article match the intended reader’s level of expertise?
- Are you answering the searcher’s intent with the keyword you chose?
- Is it optimized for on-page SEO elements?
- Can you promote it on social media, Quora, or other platforms?
Doing so ensures that you deliver a how-to article that helps your reader solve their problem better than any other — and that you can also get it in front of more people.
Leave Your Readers Satisfied
Too many how-to articles out there leave readers unsatisfied when they click through. To help improve your how-to article writing, make sure you are starting with an idea that readers are truly interested in learning more about. Then make sure you deliver on your promise in your headline, even if it means you have to spend a little more time on your article.
Help your readers solve their problems better by offering just the information they need in a format that’s easier to follow than competing how-to articles. As a bonus, you’ll build brand equity with readers who will know they can expect your articles to answer their questions the best the next time they are looking for help.
Want to try out Alexa’s tools to find new topics with keyword research? Sign up for a free 14-day trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan today!