Writing how-to content that helps your readers, and you

Part of your content marketing strategy should be to provide content that is particularly useful. Some of the most useful content is about how to do something -- which is called, perhaps not surprisingly, a "how-to" article -- about anything from getting the rust off bolts, to beta-testing software. Here's "how to" write a winning how-to.

How-to content is, quite simply, how to do something. Some of the most popular YouTube videos, right next to the cute-cat and celebrity-wardrobe-malfunction videos, are the how-to … do anything. So, how-to’s are useful. This makes them a powerful and useful way to show thought leadership. But too many of them fail, and here are three points on where they go wrong.

1. They aren’t about what the reader wants to do. You need to be sure that the reader wants to get the results of the how-to. For example, an article on how to manage a construction site wouldn’t be much good to anyone who outsources that aspect of their operation. Rather, it might be better to generate content about what to look for in an EPC (Engineering-Procurement-Construction) provider. So, be sure that you pick topics your readers actually want to learn about.

2. They aren’t about something that’s achievable. You could write a how-to for me about how to build a really cool app, but it won’t do me much good. I’m not about to learn that sort of thing — I’d rather outsource it to people who know. So, ask yourself: is this something that people in my target market can actually do, if they set their minds to it?

3. They’re about what you do! Why do business professionals do this? You don’t want to generate content around what you do for a living; it’ll be of interest to just your competitors. Your client base doesn’t want to know how you do what you do, that’s why they outsource it. And, you don’t want to compete with yourself.

The best how-to content is relevant, achievable, and about something other than what you specifically do for a living.  Rather, it needs to be a tangent. It needs to be about something you can discuss credibly, that supports your position as a thought leader, but isn’t directly related to your work.

For example, I work with a lot of business professionals who do energy audits. They examine industrial processes and look for ways to cut energy consumption. They could write about how companies can make changes about anything from new light bulbs and window caulking, right through to determining that a new combined-cycle boiler will be a huge savings.

So, they’re best to not write about how to conduct an energy audit. That would fail all three tests we’ve covered — it’s not something companies want to do, and it’s outside their abilities, and it’s the kind of work our energy auditor wants to do.

Rather, they would be better off writing about other topics:

·       How to use an energy audit to demonstrate to senior management the need for a new boiler

·       How the energy audit can help develop new procedures to reduce energy consumption

·       How to use the energy audit to guide equipment purchase planning.

What topic can you write about that passes the three tests above — relevant, achievable, and not competing with yourself?