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A Blueprint for Writing How-To Guides for Your Site
Updated: Apr 24, 2017 / Article by: Lori Soard
There are numerous articles on this site about how to increase your website traffic and tips for bringing new visitors to your website. However, one of the things that many new website owners overlook is building a mailing list. A mailing list has the advantage of allowing you to continue to connect with site visitors long after they've moved on from that initial landing page.
One way to get people to join your email newsletter is by offering a free how-to guide for doing so. If you've never written such a guide before, it can be hard to know how long it should be, where to begin the process, what format to offer it in and other little details that are typically learned via trail and error.
Below is a blueprint to help you through the process of writing your first how-to guide. Later, you may want to branch out and write additional guides and offer them for sale on your website or as an ongoing perk for staying on your mailing list.
The goal with these short guides is to give site visitors something of value so they will want to sign up for your newsletter and then keep offering them value so they'll want to stay subscribed.
What Might Your Readers Value Most?
Wired Impact specializes in helping nonprofits build their mailing lists and with their marketing efforts. Much of their advice can be applied to both profit and nonprofit sites, though.
A potential subscriber is more apt to provide you their email address if they see immediate value in doing so.
Before you start your how-to guide, you should brainstorm what type of guide would be most useful to your target audience.
Brainstorm ideas and come up with a list of possible topics.
Research other how-to guides. Has someone else already covered this topic as well or better than you can? Do you have anything new to add or a new take on the topic?
Poll your site visitors about which of the topics they are most interested in reading first.
Try to take yourself back to when you first began in whatever your niche is. What topics did you seek information on? Did you ever say, “Gee, I wish there were a guide on ________”?
Research Your Topic
Once you've come up with the topic you'd like to write about, you'll want to spend some time doing research. Even if you know the topic inside and out, spend a bit of time brushing up on the most recent statistics and changes in the industry.
In addition, go ahead and look a bit more closely at any similar guides on the market. What are they missing that you can cover?
You'll want to at least offer what others are offering plus some. The more you can offer and the more unique information and perspective you have the better.
Do you need to complete any polls or studies for your guide? Now is the time to get those started so you'll have them back in by the time you complete your guide.
You'll also want to send out any requests for quotes. For example, if you want to include a section on an extremely niche topic and there is only one man in the country that knows the answer, you'll need to try to seek out his expertise for a quote or two to add to your guide.
Most people who are experts aren't necessarily writers and may be happy to provide you with a quote in exchange for a link to their educational page or a simple credit for the information.
Samples of How-To Guides
WHSR has several how-to guides on this site so you can see different ways they can be set up. In addition, there are other excellent examples of guides listed below. You can learn a lot by studying what else is available in this genre of writing before starting your own guide.
How to Build a Successful Blog – This guide points to some of the best advice ever collected at WHSR and links out to articles and more niche topic how-tos. It is a deeply detailed comprehensive guide that pulls from the archives of the site as well as presenting new information. A how-to like this can pull visitors to your site. It is offered as a free ebook when you sign up for the mailing list. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page for the form.
Types of Web Hosting – This illustrated guide is a great help to newbies who may not fully comprehend the ins and outs of web hosting. However, it is enhanced with on-point illustrations. Illustrations can add a lot to your guide and make it something readers refer to again and again.
Preparing for Job Interviews – Ask a Manager has prepared free guide that will help you get ready for that big interview. They do use the model of giving you the guide when you provide them with your email address. However, it is well worth signing up for this detailed guide.
Protecting Your Family Online – Covenant Eyes has created a free guide that helps parents protect the entire family from online dangers. Just like the guide above, you will need to provide your email to download the guide, but it is well worth the effort as it shows how a guide can be put together in a way that provides helpful steps to the reader.
The How-To Blueprint
How-to Guides can take on a number of different forms. They can be videos, booklets, full-length books and even slideshows.
However, they all have one thing in common. They tend to follow a pattern of facts that are offered to ensure that the reader knows exactly what steps to take to complete the task covered in the guide.
Table of Contents
A table of contents (TOC) is especially important if you write a guide that is more than a few pages. Since your guide will likely be in electronic format, a TOC will allow the reader to navigate back to the last point she was reading.
It will also allow the reader to see at a glance what is inside the guide and to navigate quickly to the topics that are most important to her.
The introduction should be a personal note from you. Some writers choose to have someone else write the introduction endorsing the guide. This might be another expert in your industry or someone famous.
However, it is perfectly acceptable for you to write the introduction. Simply explain:
Who you are
How you got started in the industry
Why the reader should listen to what you have to say
Any unique experiences you have
It is okay to let your personality shine through in the introduction.
Series of Specific Steps
The main part of your how-to guide will encompass the steps the reader needs to take to complete the task you are writing about. So, if the guide is about starting your own blog, you'd write several detailed sections about topics such as:
Choosing a niche
Setting up your blog
Creating your first post
Creating a schedule of when to post
Getting people to your site
How many steps you include will depend on how focused your topic is. There is no right or wrong length for each section, but make sure you cover the topic thoroughly. As you can see from the samples above, some how-to guides are very lengthy and detailed and some are very short and to the point but take the reader to additional resources.
It is a good idea to think about what topics are one step above your initial how-to guide and to include a section of advanced tips that will take your reader one step farther. This isn't something other guides are likely offering, so will help yours stand out from the crowd.
Alternately, you can provide a troubleshooting section. If you are writing on a technical topic, this can be especially useful.
Close the how-to guide with a closing note to the reader. This can simply point them to the newsletter and that more tips will be provided each week or can be a more personal note that thanks them for reading the guide and works to establish a writer/reader relationship.
No matter what your guide is about, following a basic blueprint will allow you to write it more quickly. You'll also be less likely to miss important information that the reader needs if you follow the same outline for each guide you write.
About Lori Soard
Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.