A how-to guide follows a series of steps needed to reach a desired outcome. If you’re teaching something to someone, and the steps must be followed chronologically, a how-to guide makes sense. So follow along as this post provides a simple template you can use to speed up your writing process.
What Should a “How to Guide” Include?
Most how-to guides follow a simple framework like the one below, no matter your niche or target audience.
At its core, a how-to guide teaches someone to do something. You can create one on virtually any topic: How to become a social media maven, how to change a tire, how to dress fashionably in winter, and on and on.
Whatever your topic, the easier it is to follow your step-by-step guide, the more likely they’ll return to your website.
How-to guides, when done well:
- Help people achieve a goal
- Build trust
Tip: Once you’ve finished writing it, walk through each step as if you’re the “student.” It’s the perfect place to close any informational gaps your visitors might experience.
Chances are, if you have trouble understanding how to do it, your readers will too.
A Short, Punchy Intro
Get your reader’s head nodding in agreement immediately by:
- Showing you understand the problem
- What your guide will teach them
You can do it in one paragraph with the PSP Formula. The PSP formula is an acronym for Problem Solution Preview.
Here’s an example to give you context:
Trying to increase your website’s engagement with readers? (Problem)
Using trigger words that pique curiosity should fix that. (Solution)
This post explains what trigger words are, why they’re important, and 11 helpful examples you can start using immediately. (Preview)
Another helpful tactic is to:
- Mention the problem
- Provide a solution
- Show proof
- Preview what they’ll learn
Adding proof builds credibility as to why your readers should trust you. Here’s what that might look like in action:
Tip: Adding screenshots, visuals, photos, infographics, or other helpful media builds trust.
List Your Items Numerically
Walk them through your process step-by-step, using H2s as your subheadings. Then, get more detailed with H3s and H4s to further explain your ideas.
A numbered list of steps is:
- Easy to follow
- Skimmable (anyone considering reading your how-to guide will skim first to see whether it’s right for them)
- Provides a clear hierarchical structure
Using header elements also makes it easier for search engines to understand what your post is about (from an HTML perspective, that’s a good thing).
Properly formatted H2s and H3s also have the added benefit of ranking for featured snippets.
This is when Google pulls your post’s data into a bulleted or numbered list of its own and displays it at the top of the search results.
Example of a “How-to” post earning a featured snippet that appears at the top of the SERP as a series of bullet points.
This study from Semrush found that “question keywords” (specifically, questions starting with the word “how”) triggered featured snippets 65% of the time.
Tip: Optimize your How-to guide to rank for featured snippets by making it well-organized and easy to follow for both search engines and people. Paragraphs, lists, tables, and videos are the featured snippet types you can rank for.
Positive UX Signals
Formatting your guide as a numbered list of steps makes it easy to follow. When more people stick around to read it, that’s a positive UX signal indicating your content is popular.
One tip to keep eyeballs on your page is to have your subheadings:
- Show benefits
- Include a timeframe
It might not make sense on every H2, but using these tactics should encourage people to stick around.
Examples of this in action:
- (Good) Step #1: Go to the app store and download the table for free – > (for free) = benefit
- (Bad) Step #1: Go to the app store and download the table
- (Good) Step #4: Run your car’s engine for five minutes – > (for five minutes) = timeframe
- (Bad) Step #4: Run your car’s engine
The fact is, people are:
The quicker you answer your reader’s What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) or show them how fast they can do something, the better.
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Verbs encourage action, make clear what you want them to do, and kills decision fatigue. Step-by-step instructions will be the meat of your post. Subheadings that start this way (with verbs) accomplish this.
Include “Nice-to-Know” Information
Creating a guide that hits the main reason they’re on your post is the first step, but your blogging efforts don’t need to stop there.
If you want to cast a wider net, try including additional information in your post that’s related to what you’re teaching. These are usually FAQs found in the SERPs (e.g., People Also Ask).
Sidenote: You may capture a larger pool of searchers landing on your post for a relevant term. This information isn’t vital to your article but would be “nice to know.”
Here are a few ways you can do it.
Google’s People Also Ask and Related Searches
Google is telling you what people want to know. So, there’s already demand. This is the first place you can go to find additional relevant subheadings.
For example, let’s say you were writing a post titled “How to get clients.”
Depending on your article’s angle, you could try answering:
- How can I get clients easily?
- How do I find new clients?
- How do I find high-paying clients?
Or in the Related Searches field at the bottom of the SERP:
Related searches have modifiers like:
- How to get clients fast “for” Yahoo
- Get clients “on” Facebook
- Get clients “as a” freelancer
Using modifiers is a great way to tailor your search to a specific sector.
At their core, modifiers are prepositions. So, you could include one of these with your search. For example:
Or copy and paste a list of prepositions into a keyword research tool like Ahrefs using the “Include” filter along with your keyword phrase:
Include an asterisk* after the words “as a*” to act as a wild card and see what other words it generates.
Tip: Select the “Any Word” filter to pull up searches with those terms appearing in any combination.
Ahrefs Content Gap Analysis
You can find additional subtopics to include using the Content Gap report on Ahrefs.
- Enter 2-3 top-ranking posts covering your keyword.
- See their ranking keywords for more ideas.
For example, if you were targeting the keyword “paleo flour substitute,” pull three of the top-ranking posts from the SERPs and plug them into Ahrefs.
Tick the “At least one of the targets should rank in the top 10.”
Hit “Show Keywords”
The report will show you all of the keywords those URLs rank for, with at least one post ranking in the top 10.
For a broader keyword list, untick the “At least one of the targets should rank in the top 10” toggle.
Experiment with the filters to mine for long-tail keywords and questions people ask (similar to Google’s People Also Ask but with more useable data).
UseTopic scrapes the People Also Ask data and displays it for you in one place. This saves you time from going down rabbit holes.
Here’s what I get typing in the keyword “blogging”:
Tip: It’s best to keep your keyword broad. It’ll find more ideas this way.
Answer the Public
Answer the Public is similar and pulls all related queries based on a seed keyword. For this example, I typed in the word “snowboard,” and it produced this list:
Pay attention to the top navbar. It lists search terms by:
Tie your article together with a summary of your main points. It can be a paragraph or two. Offer a word of encouragement and let your reader know “they’ve got this.”
Reassure them by telling them all they need to do is follow your steps, and they’ll be fine.
How to Guide Writing Mistakes
Here are a few things to watch out for.
1. Not Monetizing Your How-to Guide
Just because you’re not writing a product review or best list blog post doesn’t mean you can’t monetize it.
You absolutely should!
If you have affiliate relationships with any of the brands you recommend, display them in your how-to guide. If you’re using a tool like Lasso, you can showcase your affiliate links in custom displays, grids, lists, or galleries.
For example, if you were writing a guide about how to use Grammarly, you could use a Lasso display to showcase your affiliate link like this: 👇
Grammarly is an AI-powered writing tool that finds your grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. But it also provides stylistic suggestions such as your text's clarity, delivery, and tone. You can use it on your desktop app, as a browser extension, and on mobile keyboards.
- Easily improves readability
- Awesome browser plugins
- Helps search rankings
- No translations
You can add displays to your posts from inside your
1. Click the Cactus icon.
2. Choose your display type.
(Lasso automatically adds a piece of shortcode to your post).
Or, if you need to, copy the shortcode to your clipboard from inside your Grammarly Link Details page:
(The above is an example of how your affiliate Links Details pages will look).
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2. Not Writing for Your Target Audience
Your reader came to you for help solving a problem. A good content marketing strategy positions your brand as THE solution. That’s why people visit your website.
Be sure there’s search demand, and people need help before creating your guide.
Sidenote: Creating content (e.g., a how-to guide) that nobody is searching for is wasted time and effort. That’s why a good keyword research strategy will help you go further and reach more people.
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3. You Don’t Know How to Do the Thing You’re Supposed to Know How to Do
It sounds like a no-brainer, but worth saying here. If you’re unclear on what you’re trying to explain, it will show. Some affiliate marketers make the mistake of creating content for a quick cash grab.
Don’t be that person. Your audience will know, and your content won’t be high-quality.
4. Relying on Paid Ads to Rank
Paid ads are fleeting. Eventually, you’ll run out of money. When that happens, your number one spot on the SERP disappears.
Getting organic traffic via SEO compounds over time with little effort on your part once you’ve created an evergreen piece of content.
Here’s the thing:
When you compare organic traffic to what you’d have to pay monthly for, it’s mind-blowing. Here’s what we’d need to spend on paid ads if we wanted to get the same amount of monthly traffic:
It would cost us over $15,000 per month to match our organic traffic. That’s bananas.
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5. Not Enough Visuals
Staring down a giant wall of text makes for a boring read. Instead, break up your post with screenshots, tables, infographics, photos, videos, bullet points, or other valuable visuals to support your tutorial while giving your reader a positive user experience.
Using a template should simplify things and speed up your writing process, even if it’s your first time creating a how-to guide—no need to feel overwhelmed starting from scratch. Just put the above model in place, and you’ll do fine.
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