Readers want content not only designed to enlighten but educate as well. They want to step away from the content knowing something they didn’t before reading the article. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a how-to article. These articles are easy to follow and directly address an issue the reader faces. However, the article must include several crucial points to prove not only entertaining but also educational and helpful. Here are several ways to create the perfect “how-to” content to increase reader engagement (and to keep bringing them back).
Create an Attention-Grabbing Headline
The headline doesn’t need to turn into a click-bate offer or cliffhanger. In fact, for a how-to post, neither of those would prove beneficial. The entire purpose of a how-to article is to educate, so leaving the reader wondering what they will learn won’t do much good. However, it’s still crucial to creating an attention-grabbing headline.
The headline needs to be direct and to the point. According to HubSpot (2018), 60 percent of readers don’t move past the headline, which indicates just how crucial it is. For a successful how-to article, it needs to be short and to the point.
According to the same HubSpot post, the ideal title is no longer than 60 characters. Additionally, for the best social media optimization, it should have around 12 words (eight to 12-word headlines are most shard on Twitter while 12 to 14 words are most shared on Facebook).
Readers want to learn what a writer has to offer, but only if there’s a reason for them to listen to a writer. In the modern area of writing online, anyone and everyone can create a blog post. Does that mean a reader should listen to everything on the Internet?
People are becoming pickier and pickier with regards to what writers they turn to for advice online. Due to this, it is important for a writer to point out why they’re worth listening to. Perhaps they hold a degree in the topic or have worked in the field for decades. Maybe they own a business focused specifically on the topic at hand.
In other words, it’s important for the blog to prove why it is an authority. Without any reasoning behind it, the how-to article loses some of its luster and becomes less of a target of both readers and those looking to interact with the creator. When a post comes from an authority in the field, visitors become more likely to share the content on their social media platforms.
According to NiceHacks (2017), 81 percent of consumers trust information and advice posted by an influential authority. However, nearly just as important is 90 percent of consumers rely on recommendations from their friends. So when a blog visitor shares the content, it increases the chance of third parties visiting the website to purchase the products and services.
Ask the Reader to Engage
One of the biggest reasons why a reader doesn’t engage is because they are not asked to engage. After reading a how-to article, what should a reader do? This is something the writer of the blog needs to address.
A call to action at the conclusion of the article will help push the reader to engagement. Perhaps the blogger or website owner wants to increase comments on an article. The best way to do this is to actually ask the reader to comment. Whether it’s to share stories of using the how-to article to suggestions from the reader, there are a number of questions the writer can pose. Likewise, the call to action might focus on sharing on social media. The website creator needs to determine what kind of engagement they wand and then incorporate it into the call to action.
The phrasings of a certain call to action questions work better than others. According to Buffer (2016), “Should” and “Would” increase the number of comments over the average social post (both receive twice the number of responses than the average Facebook post). Other valuable types of questions to pose a reader include “Which” and “Who.”
Does it Offer the Reader Help
For any business to succeed, it needs to understand it’s demographic. This is true not only for the products or services it sells but for the content it publishes on its site. No matter how great a how-to article is, it doesn’t mean all that much if it doesn’t connect with the standard audience. If a website focuses around selling guitars and equipment to heavy metal musicians, posting a how-to gardening post won’t do much good.
It’s impossible to create content for a demographic without actually knowing the demographic. There are many points of concern to keep in mind when it comes to identifying the target market. As Hip Business 2 Business (2016) indicates, there are several important factors to keep in mind when creating a blog post. These factors include the age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, income, education, location, and occupation. The more information is known about the target audience the better, but these points offer enough to go off of when producing a how-to blog post.
The content needs to connect with the target audience of the website. So it’s important for a writer to look at their blog and, before writing a single word, determine if the topic is of any interest to the target audience. If it is, continue. If it isn’t, save it for a different blog. As the editor for “The Penny Hoarder” indicates, “We’re content creators, but we only want to publish a story if we think it’s truly helpful or interesting for our readers” (Dreamhost, 2018).
Over 80 percent of Internet users own a smartphone and over 50 percent of all Internet searches now occur on a smartphone. This means there’s a good chance people will want to read the blog post on their mobile device. Due to this, it’s important to create a mobile-optimized blog post.
A failure to create mobile-friendly blog posts will limit potential readership. It also reduces visibility on mobile search engines. Google ranks mobile-friendly website higher than non-mobile optimized sites for Internet searches performed on smartphones and tablets. An individual isn’t able to interact, share and comment on a post if they can’t read it.
According to HootSuite (and reported by CloudRack, 2017), mobile Internet traffic makes up 50.3 percent of all Internet movement. In 2013, mobile devices made up just 16.2 percent of Internet traffic, and this number continues to increase annually. If a blog is not formatted for mobile traffic, over half of the potential readers will not view the content.
Easy to Read
How-to articles are designed, by nature, to help and educate. It’s a step-by-step process on how to create or accomplish something. Essentially, it’s a recipe. In a way, it’s best to write the article like a recipe as well.
Recipes, whether in cookbooks or printed online, consisting of short, to the point sentences and include a good amount of blank, white space. The same should hold true with a how-to article. This way, the points are easy and precise, making it easier for a reader to follow along. It’s even more important if the reader is performing the actions while reading.
White space prevents the reader from becoming distracted. The background shouldn’t have any distracting visuals. Including pictures to accompany the how-to article can prove helpful, but outside of media based content directly connected to the article, it’s important to make the page as clean and easy to read as possible.
There’s a reason why websites including Google, Nordstrom, Tiffany’s and Apple use predominately white space with simple text and visuals. It directs focus onto the desired information.
Image…But Format Properly
The utilization of pictures within a how-to post help illustrates how to perform different steps without the instructions. Some how-to articles may rely more heavily on visual aids than others, but regardless of topic, pictures do help not only educate the reader but break up the text.
However, it is important for the images to be properly formatted. An image-heavy post, when not properly formatted, will take a considerable amount of time to load. As load time drops, so too does the number of visitors who stick around for the content to finish downloading. Due to this, it’s important for all visuals on the how-to page to receive proper formatting.
Whether creating a visual by taking a picture and uploading it onto a computer or by creating a generated graphic, it needs to shrink down in size. If a half-dozen pictures of a few megabytes each are used. This forces a Web browser to not only download the coding information of the page, for dozens of megabytes worth of picture data as well. Instead, by using a photo editing software, it’s possible to save the image at a reduced size. This way, the website loads faster and avoids the possible drop off of interested readers not waiting for the page to display correctly.
Beyond the correct formatting for images, the visuals need an appropriately saved name as well. Instead of the long stream of letters and numbers typically created by a digital camera, the author needs to save the images using keywords connected to the how-to blog post. This way, someone searching for the topic in a visual capacity can find the post through this means, as well as a standard word search.
According to Hobo Web (2018), the ideal load time for a website is between one and two seconds. For every second of load time thereafter, the attempted visitor becomes more likely to abandon the site. By the time load time hits 10 seconds, nearly 40 percent of potential visitors will have abandoned the site.
Social Share Option
The easier it is for a reader to share a blog post the more likely they are to do so. With such a large percentage of readers now coming via a mobile device, copying and pasting a website URL to their social media account offers a less than desirable sharing method. This is why the social share option is so beneficial.
A number of different social share buttons send traffic to a visitor’s social pages. These buttons should include more than just Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn though. Stumbled Upon and Reddit is two other blog sharing services perfectly designed for increasing visitor engagement.
If images are used, offering Pinterest share button can help increase engagement (many website platforms allow a “Pin It” button for each image as well, which further improves engagement opportunity).
According to CoSchedule, the most often-used social share buttons are by far Facebook and Twitter. Google+ comes in third and is a helpful button to include with every how-to post as not only does it share the content to a user’s Google+ page, but it may also help boost search engine optimization (as Google likes it when users take advantage of other services offered by the company). The fourth most common and often used social media share button is LinkedIn. Other share buttons, although helpful to include a blog post, are not as commonly used. These social buttons include Pinterest, Buffer, StumbleUpon, and Reddit.
Sharing content across multiple platforms and blogging locations also help not only boost readership but engagement as well. Medium is one such blogging option. Medium provides a social follow button capable of integration onto other websites. This way, a reader of a blog post can click it and instantly see all other blog posts shared by the creator onto the Medium.com platform.
By including these different points of interest, it’s possible for any website blog, regardless of content, to continually bring in readers, educate them and promote engagement, all at the same time. How-to content by nature improve a reader’s understanding of a topic while providing them with answers they may not have had before reading the article. The inclusions of these different points will boost all visitor analytical statistics, but most importantly, will help the reader and keep them returning for future posts and material.