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Why Most “How to” Posts Suck (and How to Write Great Ones)

Once upon a time, “how to” posts were a blogger’s bread-and-butter.

The idea was simple. People want to know how to do stuff, and if you teach them how, you’ll get lots of traffic.

And it was true… for a while.

This post from 2007 is a great example:

How to Cook Brown Rice

For years, it was the most popular post on Steve’s mega-popular blog. It continues to rank well in the search engines today.

But here’s an interesting question…

If Steve published that post in 2016, would it still be as popular and get as much traffic?

The answer is no. Absolutely not.

Here’s why:

The Internet Has Changed

A decade ago, it was hard to learn how to do stuff. You might have to call an expert, take a class, or horror of horrors, go to the library.

The idea of finding out how to do things online was still relatively new. People were shocked and surprised by the simple, practical advice they could find on the web.

But not anymore. You can Google damn near anything and find a dozen articles and videos giving you step-by-step advice.

What’s more, you expect it.

If you Google “how to cook brown rice,” and you find an article to teach you how to do it, you’re not overjoyed. It’s not a memorable experience. You probably forget about the article and the website as soon as you finish cooking the rice.

The result:

Not only are “how to” posts getting less traffic, but the traffic they do get is less engaged. Even if you do happen to rank in the search engines, 99% of the people stay just long enough to solve their problem, and then they forget about you forever.

The good news?

There’s a simple fix. It works for every topic in every niche for every blogger.

A Simple Hack for Writing Great “How to” Posts

Instead of teaching people what to do, teach them what to do differently.

Assume every person coming to read your “how to” posts has already read a dozen other posts on the topic. To get their attention, you have to show them an entirely different method that works better.

Here’s a great example from Tim Ferriss:

Tim doesn’t just teach you how to peel a hard-boiled egg. He teaches you how to do it differently and save yourself time and frustration.

The result? 7 million views and counting.

The bottom line…

The strategy of giving people practical, undifferentiated, step-by-step guidance is dead. If you want to write “how to” posts that get traffic, force yourself to find a methodology that’s clearly superior to everything else and then, teach it to people.

Of course, this raises an important question…

What if you have nothing new and interesting to teach?

Well, you have two options.

First, you can become a curator. Find the smartest advice from other people, and piece it together into a collection of resources for your readers.

It’s easy. It’s fast. People appreciate the time it saves them.

The other option?

Say nothing. Avoid the topic entirely until you have something new and interesting to say.

In fact, take the time you would’ve spent writing the post and dedicate it to conducting weird experiments. Most of them won’t work, but occasionally you’ll stumble across a new insight or methodology that changes the way people do things forever.

This is how you become influential, by the way.

It’s not by repeating old wisdom. It’s by creating new wisdom that makes the old wisdom look stupid.

Can’t do that?

Then for God sakes, be quiet.

The world doesn’t need another blogger telling us stuff we already know. What the world needs is thinkers, tinkerers, and rebels, brave souls who look beyond the way things are done and see the way they could be done.

Which one are you?

About the Author: Jon Morrow has repeatedly asked to be called His Royal Awesomeness, but nobody listens to him, so he settles for CEO of Smart Blogger. Poor man. 😉

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