15 Tips to Generate Great How-to Content

Everyone loves a good tip! Find out how to create tip-based content that draws a crowd.
15 Tips to Generate Great How-to Content
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The following excerpt is from the Garrett French and Eric Ward’s book Ultimate Guide to Link Building, 2nd Edition. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

The presence — or absence — of tips within a target market’s search engine results pages provide phenomenal opportunities for link strategists and other content marketers. They tell you a great deal about a given vertical—its publishers and audiences and their pains. As you hone your tip-research skills, here are four things to look for:

1. The presence of tips in your vertical demonstrates that there’s task-based information demand. Even if your content isn’t tip-based, the presence of tips indicates that your market needs information on how to execute relevant tasks. Gathering and organizing tips will help you understand the range of information demand, as well as the various tasks that are problematic for your audience.

2. The absence of tips indicates subject matter mastery may require understanding principles rather than following tips. From a content perspective, this will require more effort to create successful content. You may be doing the principle-to-tip distillation based on conjecture or — better still — interviews with subject-matter experts.

3. The absence of tips indicates a content opportunity. Even if subject-matter expertise in a vertical requires the understanding of principles, or even an advanced college degree, years in the field, passing a bar exam, etc., the absence of tips means that a smart content marketer can begin the work of distilling general principles into distinct, task-oriented directives. You may have difficulty sourcing your tips but being first-to-market with tips can create significant value for a company.

4. Markets with tips are likely to still have “tip gaps.” Being able to identify these gaps — especially as they overlap with your content marketing objectives — requires a systematic inventory and categorization of existing tips.

Related: Why Your Best Move Might Be to Promote Other Websites' Content

Digging into a vertical’s tips provides a rich well of direction and source material for your own tip-based content. Here are three tips to help you maximize your research capabilities:

1. Inventory tips by combining your subject matter phrases with tip-discovery stems. Your subject matter phrases are typically non-pay-per-click, big-head keywords that describe your target market, its various practitioners and/or core concerns that can serve as a root for your tip queries in Google. Tip-discovery query stems are words like:

  • “Tips”
  • “Ideas”
  • “Techniques”
  • “Ways to”
  • “How-tos”
  • “Advice”

2. Identify any standard, codified groupings of information in your vertical! For example, verticals typically have unique names for types of “tips.” “Recipes” are common collections of tips in the cooking vertical, “drills” are ideas for exercises that sport coaches can implement at practice and “lesson plans” are a sort of education recipe for teachers to follow in class.

3. Create a “tip-lopedia,” or tip inventory, for your vertical’s body of tip-based knowledge. To make things easier for you in the long run, it makes sense to build a tip-lopedia for cataloging and categorizing all the tips and their sources in your vertical. Then, when it comes time to create content, you can parcel out your tips based on the requirements of the given piece. When you’ve thoroughly collected tips from a vertical, you can more easily discover appropriate categories and groupings for them. These categorizations can become a value-add to a body of knowledge.

Related: How to Remain Competitive in a Saturated Online Retail Market

Simply rewriting tips doesn’t help differentiate your content — or add anything new to your vertical. Here are some ways to use existing tips as a starting point rather than an end goal:

1. Tip clichés in your vertical can be “unpacked” and/or “debunked.” As you build your vertical’s tip-lopedia spreadsheet, track the number of times a tip is mentioned or suggested. The most frequently mentioned tips can potentially be split into even smaller tips, or at least written about with more depth, deliberation and care. It may also be possible or useful to debunk, disprove, or in some way debate the most frequently promoted tips in a vertical.

2. Many subject-matter experts haven’t reduced tips and advice to their smallest form. Your vertical’s most prominent and important subject-matter experts — your niche celebrities — have probably come up with some amazing, if not fully articulated, tips. It’s also probable that they haven’t broken these tips down to their smallest possible form.

3. Tips and tip categories can serve as a basis for group interviews. Knowing the most regularly published tips can be a great place to start an interview with your niche expert celebrities. Ask them to debunk the common tips or to provide their unique spin on them. You can also ask, “What tips besides the most common ones would you recommend?”

4. Tips can serve as a basis for infographics or other “utility enhancers.” Providing new wrappers for old or standard tips can give your content new life in a vertical. Can offering your tips in a printed form improve their utility? Can you turn your tip-lopedia into a simple fact-finding or diagnosis application?

Related: 6 Essential Influencer-Marketing Truths Every E-Commerce Brand Should Know

Tip-based content can earn more links, shares and other citations with promotion. Follow these promotion tips:

1. Cite and notify your tip sources. You might be rewriting, rearticulating and reorganizing tips to the point that they’re no longer recognizable to their originators. However, citing your sources provides an anchor of trust and reliability to your content, and it provides you with a promotion opportunity as well when you write to the esteemed subject matter expert to let them know that you referenced them.

2. Target roundup writers. If your vertical has roundup writers, these are some of the first folks you should target for mention, share, or link requests.

3. Distribute it yourself. Tweet it, share it, put it on your homepage, link to it from guest posts, include the URL in relevant comments, and add it to your monthly email newsletter.

4. Make sure your content targets a conversion. Tip-based content conversions can include things like sign-ups, downloads, installs, follows, friends, shares, links and even sales if you have ebooks or other content for sale.

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