How to write a really useful how-to guide
Already investing in content marketing? A really useful how-to guide can help you create brand awareness, generate leads and demonstrate the depth of your expertise.
You don’t have to look far for examples of successful how-to guides: for example, Hubspot’s “How to use Twitter for Business” guide helped generate a 150% increase in sales while also lowering their cost per lead by 46%. This blog will show you how to write, design and promote your guide for best results.
What topic to write about
Choosing the right topic is crucial for ensuring your how-to guide is a success. The best topic for your guide will likely be determined by your:
- Primary goal for the guide
- Area of expertise
- Target audience
Ideally, choose a topic which helps achieve your content marketing goals, is of interest to your target audience and is your main area of expertise. Try not to deviate too far from the areas your business has expertise in, as this will weaken the credibility of the guide.
For example, if you were an accountant specialising in startups, hoping to reach more new businesses, you might write a guide such as “How to manage cash flow for your start up” or “How to raise capital for your start up”.
When you have developed some subject ideas, check to see if they have been covered before. While it’s ok to do a guide on the same or similar subject as your competitors, try to offer something new, whether this is a new angle or a more in-depth look at part of the topic.
Refine your topic by tapping into current trends. Use a tool like Google Trends to find out what terms people are currently searching for and adjust your language and title accordingly.
How to write your how-to guide
Once you’ve decided on your topic, it’s time to start planning, researching and eventually, writing.
Before you start writing
- Plan what information you want to include in your guide. The more you plan out your content and structure, the faster progress you will make when you actually start writing your guide.
- Prepare your research — in order to write a convincing guide you will want to back up your points with cited statistics, expert opinion and case studies.
- Decide on your structure. Try to structure your guide so that it flows well and put the information in a logical order.
- Make a rough plan for how long your guide will be including word counts. Between 2,000 and 4,000 words will give you a guide that contains enough detail to be useful but can still be easily read in one sitting.
How to write your guide
Now you’ve done your research and planning, it’s time to start writing your guide. Keep in mind when writing:
- Use language of your readers. Try not to use jargon if possible. Instead use plain English so that your guide will be easily understood – no one wants to wade through technical language.
- Break up the content as much as possible. Use headings, sub-headings and box-outs to chunk up your guide into easy-to-digest snippets. It’s helpful to include a contents list so that people can skip to the section they’re interested in if needed.
- Remember that your guide will most likely be read on a computer screen, so write using web copywriting best practice. But also check that your guide prints correctly for those who may want to read a paper copy.
After you have written your guide
- Proof read carefully. You are demonstrating the expertise of your company so it’s important to carefully check your advice and ensure there’s no spelling or grammar mistakes.
- Illustrate your points. Add interest throughout your guide with pictures and diagrams.
- If you don’t have writing or design resource within your business consider working with a content marketing agency who can write, edit and illustrate the guide for you.
- Create a plan for promoting your guide to your target audience – think about how to write teaser copy or provide links across multiple channels.
Accessing your guide
When your guide is ready to be published, you need to make a decision about access. You may want to “gate” access to your guide — in return for an email address, contact details or social media promotion.
Your goals for the content will help you decide the best way to provide access to your guide. For example if you are hoping to grow your email marketing list, then you should grant access to your guide in return for an email address.
If you decide to gate your content, then don’t add additional barriers that will stop people downloading your guide. Only ask for the information you need and nothing more. For example, don’t ask for a phone number if you just want to grow your email list.
5 common mistakes to avoid
Ready to get started? Make sure you don’t make any of these common mistakes.
- Too much text – break up and illustrate your content to make it more enjoyable to read.
- No value – reward those who take the effort to download and read your guide with detailed, quality content. Creating a guide that doesn’t contain any unique information will not win you any new customers.
- Too short — a guide needs to go into more depth than, for example, a blog post.
- Too salesy — don’t use a guide as a thinly disguised sales document. In order for it to be successful, it needs to provide genuine value to the customer, not just to your business.
- No promotion — there’s no point investing in creating a guide if you don’t promote it afterwards. And keep promoting it: think about adding a link for it within relevant future emails, etc.
Conclusion: Solve their problems
The most successful how-to guides solve a specific problem unique to your target audience. Instead of creating a guide focused on growing your business, focus on providing really useful information and you will become a valued source of expertise for your target audience.