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“How To” posts are extremely powerful tools that can drive substantial traffic to your blog. I often find that a well written “How To” post is shared many times over, sometimes with thousands of tweets. In fact, of the posts on our blog the one most shared is 5 ways to save money. In essence it’s a “how to” article on saving money, and only 995 more tweets and we’re at 1k! Furthermore, they can also be a great source of backlinks, as many bloggers will outsource to them when they want to focus on other details in articles but point you to a valuable resource along the way.
Now, you’d think “How To” articles should be very straightforward. Sometimes they are. For example, a post on “How to publish your wordpress blog to your Facebook page” can be very simple, often referencing specific plugins and utilizing step by step directions to convey the point. Given the direct nature and quick turn around (it doesn’t take me months to know whether or not I am automatically posting to Facebook), readers can quickly gauge the value of these posts and give credit where credit is due.
However, often they are more complicated. In fact, having a direct purpose can be both a blessing and a curse. With a “How To” post there is an expectation that needs to be filled so they are held to higher standards than posts purely intended for entertainment value. Consider posts that are less tangible in nature, such as “How to build traffic to your blog”.
Certainly an important topic and one that cannot be achieved in a day, “How to drive traffic to your blog” is something I have searched for many, many times.
Not because I love reading about it.
Not because there are so many different views and opinions on it (though there are).
But because it’s so damn hard to find a valuable, well-written article on it!
Let’s consider this topic and what makes for a great “How-To” post, navigating past the pitfalls that I feel so many “How To” articles fall in.
It blows me away how often the most obvious stuff is covered in the same way it’s been covered for years. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read something to the effect of
“Use Facebook to drive traffic to your page”
Wait a minute – this article was written in 2012?
We know that guys, I need specifics. Tell me something about Facebook that I might not know. It doesn’t have to be “100% unique, never before seen on the web”, but it has to serve a greater purpose beyond the obvious. Make me go “hmm – interesting” (yes, I ACTUALLY say the “hmm” part).
For example, why not tell me when are the best days and/or times to be posting on Facebook?
How about referencing some plugins and/or apps that help me post to Facebook?
Consider this very well written post on how to drive traffic to your website. This post literally ranked #1 when I searched on this topic. It has thousands of tweets and hundreds of comments. Now, like thousands of posts before them, they also tell you to use social media to increase traffic (see tactic #4). What they do that thousands of posts before them DID NOT do is:
All of this makes for a compelling case and one that is definitely worth reading.
In contrast, another article I saw had this to say on social media:
Yawn. You might think this is from my little sister’s blog. Wrong. I don’t have a little sister. Believe it or not, that article showed up on the very coveted page 1 of Google for this search. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to literally call out someone’s work for being poor, nor do I want to provide a backlink, but trust me, it’s there. Now, this would have been a fine start, it covers the basics, but then it just fizzles out – no depth.
As it turns out, this type of stuff is all over the web. Even on other Google Page 1 articles I found phrases like:
with no follow up. What do those even mean – like, really?
The takeaway here should be simple – strive to be specific and you shall be rewarded for it.
I don’t want to deter anyone from writing on the topic of his/her dreams, but sometimes you have to really ask yourself if you’re up to the challenge. For example, I love list posts, but if I see something that says “50 ways to bring traffic to your blog” I’m going to assume you did a mediocre job on all of them. Most people just don’t write manifestos and if they did it should probably be broken up into smaller pieces/articles. In fact, I’m actually surprised how well the “21 ways to bring traffic to your blog” article turned out, but they were up to the challenge and delivered.
If you’re not up to the challenge, address an important issue that is part of the larger question you’re interested in. Consider the question I asked above about when the best time is to post on Facebook. This is essentially a part of the larger question which is how to best utilize Facebook. Again, the top ranking post answers it flat out, no questions asked.
The funny thing is, this article is actually a regurgitation of another article from bit.ly on the same topic, but has achieved even more success. 5k likes – I guess a lot of people really want to know this huh? Or maybe not, maybe there just aren’t that many people writing on it. When you address a smaller issue there is a good possibility that you can make gains on your demand to supply ratio. Sure, in this case I’m sure it helped to be able to leverage the strong following that Mashable has, but I do think addressing a niche issue played a role in the success. Moreover, and I feel OK saying this, since the data all came from one source that’s a pretty easy article to write -yet another benefit of addressing a smaller topic. Certainly it has paid its dividends and all from finding a niche topic and addressing it fully.
People love numbers. People hate math. A paradox? I think not. The fact of the matter is, when something interests you then so do the numbers and statistics around them. While you may not want an article jam packed with numbers, it certainly helps to have a few immutable facts to cling to.
When I wrote my post on 5 ways to save money, I didn’t just say not drinking orange juice will save you a lot of money. I also didn’t just say that orange juice is $5 per bottle. I went all the way and did the math out to show a yearly value of $500. It’s true that from person to person adjustments need to be made, but at least by stating $500 per year (a healthy savings) you’ve proven that it’s WORTH doing those calculations.
Go all the way and do the math out. If I’m interested in building my email subscribers and you recommend a plugin, tell me how many you got from using it for a month. Better yet, tell me how many you got from using it for a month relative to your traffic. Give me a metric I can work with, something I can apply to my own blog.
For example, if
Had simply been written like
and then had been accompanied by a chart that showed traffic spikes on or following a post day (something I could feasibly get from my own Google Analytics), it would have been a lot more compelling – no?
Let’s face it, we all skim articles at one point or another. Even the best ones sometimes pass unnoticed. If you have a catchy image it’s a sure attention grabber. Look again at how to drive traffic to your website. This post is literally filled with eye catching images and charts, like #22 – Be Consistent and Don’t Give Up. Kind of a whatever title right? But how about that Google Analytics Chart! You can bet I’m going to be reading about how that happened.
Now, we might not all have images of our blog traffic increasing 10x in a day handy, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t service some poignant visual aids to guide your readers. At the very least, consider some different styling techniques to call out specific attributes in your post. A few of ours are: