Drive Sales With Tutorials Position yourself as an authority and gain market share with instructional content.

By Lydia Dishman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ken Zwerdling hasn't met too many of his clients face-to-face. As CEO of Foreign Translations, Inc., a translating, interpreting and website localization firm, it's difficult to meet and greet the executive clients scattered across the globe. But Zwerdling says his company's website acts as both a welcome mat and a virtual watering hole for current and potential clients to become acquainted.

One look around and you can see what he means. In addition to information about the company, the site offers plenty of white papers (in-depth, authoritative reports) and informative articles about translation services, such as how to choose a provider. It also serves up cultural tidbits and travel etiquette tips which set them up as experts in global culture.

It's the engaging stuff that Zwerdling says coaxes visitors into spending extra time to browse. "Not every visitor to a website is an immediate buyer. By offering valuable and free content, there is a greater likelihood your site will be bookmarked."

Zwerdling believes that by offering instructional content you significantly increase the likelihood of visitors "returning another time to learn something more, and ultimately make a purchase." He continues, "Some visitors just want to learn more about the service and the industry before they make the decision to [make a purchase]."

The SEO Factor
Beyond engaging visitors, Stephanie Chandler, author of From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur, says that by adding informational content to your company's website you have greater power to attract traffic from search engines. Chandler has built her business around the power of marketing with web content. She advocates generating everything from how-to articles, to videos, white papers, e-books, photos and reports to lure customers.

"Instructional content is an influencer that helps people make decisions and/or raises awareness," agrees Bobby Rettew, partner at View Digital Media, LLC. Rettew specializes in video production, and has found that, "rich media and videos provide depth and can supplement the basic information about a company on its website." DIY content gives you an edge, especially as you battle for audiences in this era of short attention spans.

Zwerdling studies web traffic daily with an eye to improving future Foreign Translations content. He says the greatest return he's seen is the increase in the number of visitors and the time they spend on the site.

Whether you use 'how-to' articles or video, Chandler says it's important to keep it fresh and make it regular. In so doing, "you give [search engines] more content to locate, show that your site is relevant and naturally build up a concentration of key phrases for your industry," resulting in "better placement when someone searches for keywords related to your business" which all translates to sales.

Reaping ROI Rewards
That's exactly what happened for Proper Cloth, a year-old purveyor of custom-made dress shirts. After fielding numerous questions about fabrics and fit, owner Seph Skerritt started a blog with posts that answered the most common sartorial dilemmas. Eventually the blogs included videos as well.

According to Skerritt's observations, 50 percent of Proper Cloth's traffic comes from search engines, a percentage of which converts to sales, so he's careful to watch which key words visitors are using to find him. The results were amazing.

"We found most people don't know the difference between broadcloth and pinpoint fabric or the style implications of French cuffs versus barrel cuffs. By putting informational articles on the site we helped customers find what they were looking for and make purchases with higher confidence. We also decreased the amount of time we were spending answering emails and phone calls."

Eventually, Skerritt and his partners re-vamped their website, dedicating a full page to that sort of information. What began as a one-off blog now includes detailed information on different fabrics, a glossary of tailoring terms and step-by-step instructions on how to measure for size.

Other suggested 'how-to' content includes writing articles or producing demonstration videos about each of your company's offerings. Also, consumers want to compare product features, so a piece with a detailed checklist is helpful. Information about proper installation, assembly and use of a product also stand a good chance of becoming go-to resources.

While he recommends using a personal tone to connect with target customers, Skerritt advises not to push too hard--unbiased stories stand a better chance of being located through searches than pitches. "If you seem only intent on selling your product, it will hurt your credibility and people will be less likely to link to the article, or trust what you say," Skerritt cautions.

The Producers
Zwerdling notes that producing instructional content can be time consuming and costly if not done effectively. He began by using a professional freelance writer but eventually shifted the work to college interns. Foreign Translations does not pay them, but gives interns a by-line when posting in content directories throughout the web.

Chandler says that viewers appreciate a "home-grown" look if a video is posted to YouTube. Although Rettew recommends hiring a professional if the video is going to live on your company's website, not just for the production value, but for the time and resources saved by the business owner.

In general, Chandler recommends businesses put 10 to 20 percent of revenue towards marketing. She believes the bulk of this should be directed at online efforts. "The Internet is the most powerful marketing tool available. When done right, the ROI can be tremendous," she says.

Bottom Line
Above all, Zwerdling reminds business owners that creating and adding instructional content is an ongoing process. "There is no rule demanding it be produced all at once." Adding new 'how-to' content on a regular basis keeps "your website fresh--which the search engines love--and visitors will always come back for more."

Chandler adds, "Beyond all the SEO benefits, you also have the opportunity to position your company as a leader in your field."

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