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Blogosphere Trends + Writing Great ‘How To’ Posts

This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world’s best blog posts). – Darren

Hello and thanks for stopping in again for a list of this week’s ten most blogged-about stories! As always, Regator has provided the list, and we’ll use posts about these hot topics to illustrate this week’s tips. In the past, we’ve discussed some formats you can use to add interest and variety to your blog and, more recently, we looked specifically at list posts. Carrying on with that theme, we’ll focus this week on how-to posts. Because they solve a problem and guarantee a benefit, how-to posts tend to be popular with readers. And they can be used for virtually any niche (if the examples below aren’t enough to prove that point, check out “The Biggest List of ‘How To’ Blog Posts Ever Assembled” from one of the older ProBlogger Group Writing Projects). Let’s take a look at how bloggers used how-to posts to address this week’s hot stories:

  1. Gulf of Mexico – Sometimes, a how-to post is not a tutorial that readers will follow themselves but rather an explanation of how a larger problem can or will be solved. Cosmic Log’s “How to suck up all that oil” is an example of this sort of post.
  2. World Cup – If there is a particular problem or issue that your niche’s readers are concerned about, a how-to post is the ideal way to handle it. World Cup viewers, for example, seem universally irritated by the ubiquitous vuvuzela horns at the games, prompting a large number of sports and tech bloggers to offer solutions in the form of how-to posts. Asylum’s “How to Filter Out Those Annoying Vuvuzelas” is just one of many.
  3. Tony AwardsJaunted’s post on “How To Get Tickets To The Tony Awards” is a classic how-to. It clearly states the benefit of reading the post in its title then delivers on its promise in a succinct and straightforward way. It’s not always necessary to be extremely clever with how-to posts. Giving your readership the information they need is enough.
  4. Bob Etheridge – Representative Bob Etheridge, who lost the plot and had a physical confrontation with a student on film this week, must not have read Marshall Goldsmith’s “How to Keep Your Temper at Work (And Everywhere Else).” This post not only gives solid advice, it also establishes authority on the subject matter in a way that is subtle yet effective (the author discusses processes he has used to deal with negative emotions “for more than 20 years”). There’s a good chance you’ve established this authority and trust simply by blogging on your subject matter, but it’s worth taking a moment, as you write that how-to, to ask yourself how new readers know that your advice is worth heeding. It’s possible, through a short bio or brief comment such as the “20 years” line above, to strengthen your authority without tooting your own horn to an obnoxious degree.
  5. True Blood – Though Gawker.tv’s  “How to Date a Vampire” is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it has characteristics common to many good tutorials: It lists the materials that will be needed, it presents the process in clear numbered steps, and it keeps the readers’ interest through humor and interesting related tips. Consider these factors when writing your own posts.
  6. Helen ThomasDumb Little Man’s “How to Recover From a (Big) Mistake at Work” is an example of a how-to idea that was generated by the blogger’s own personal mistakes. Sharing the lessons you’ve learned from your mistakes is valuable and may prevent your readers from making the same errors or, in the worst case scenario, may help them deal with the aftermath of a similar faux pas.
  7. Nintendo 3DSOpposable Thumbs“What Nintendo must do to make the 3DS a must-have” uses the how-to format (directed at giving advice to Nintendo rather than readers) to provide commentary and opinion then ends with a solid call to action for readers to share their own opinions.
  8. Michael Jackson – When it was announced that the new Michael Jackson video game will teach players how to move like the King of Pop, Gawker.tv gave their readers a head start with “How to Moonwalk,” a video tutorial. There may be tasks, such as moonwalking or knitting, that are better explained via video. Consider whether video, audio, or photos would make your how-to post more effective and easier to understand.
  9. Al Gore – Al Gore’s divorce and subsequent rumors of infidelity may have him wishing for a post such as Divine Caroline’s “How to Rebuild Your Life After a Divorce,” which uses subtitles and short well-written paragraphs to clearly outline the post’s advice. Subheadings such as these can help readers skim for the information they’ll find most beneficial.
  10. Apple“How to Pre-Order an iPhone 4 With Minimal Hassle and Headache” from Switched provides continued usefulness to its readers by updating the post as information changes. If you’ve written a how-to that will change with time, the added effort required to go back and update the post will be appreciated by readers.

Do how-to posts work well on your blog? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

One more thing: I’ve received emails from some of you indicating that you’d like to have your blog reviewed for possible inclusion on Regator, but nominations were closed while we finished our relaunch. I’m happy to announce here that nominations are now open and ProBlogger readers are the first to find out. Feel free to submit your blog.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com and Regator for iPhone as well as an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

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Comments

  1. Great examples you provided there.

    How-to posts are always popular. They always attract people that are interested in it. And if you can relate them to some good examples, like you provided, then that is even greater!

    Nabeel

  2. Thanks, Nabeel. And thanks for joining the conversation again. I look forward to your comments.

  3. Jean Sarauer says:

    I blog for beginning bloggers, so how-to posts are a staple item on the blog. I try to add in some personal information and humor so that the how-to posts carry my voice as much as other articles on the blog.

  4. Thanks Kimberly – These are great examples of using hot trends. You sparked my imagination.

  5. John Soares says:

    I do a lot of how-to posts in large part because educating readers is the main focus of my blog.

    I also share quality resources on other sites.

  6. HowToPlaza says:

    This is an interesting post because this is what I’m doing all the time — analyzing different chunks of information from a “how-to” perspective. For instance, on my blog this post would be linked to as “How to write how to articles” :-)

    ~~ Sarah ~~

  7. Robert says:

    What a surprise to see the world cup up in the top 10, still surprised to see Michael Jackson there guess he will live on forever.

    thanks for this, interesting to see what the blogosphere is blogging about

  8. I write mainly how to posts at my site, and they do seem to be popular. I guess they can bring in the traffic, but I find it harder to monetize these types of posts than some others. Anyone have any thoughts?

  9. Rita says:

    How-to articles are among the post popular on my blog. I get lots of hits from “How Often Should You Change Your Bed Sheets,” “How to Buy Eyeglasses,” and “How to Buy a Dishwasher.”

    Recently I’ve written “How to Peel a Pomegranate” and “How to Peel and Eat an Artichoke.”

    I’m waiting for “How to Buy a Mattress” to get popular ;-)

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  10. Nick says:

    Thanks for sharing Kimberly! What a surprise to see Michael Jackson. These are all nice examples and could attract people that are interested in it.

  11. Misty Khan says:

    Love the How To examples in your post!

    Since one of the main themes of my blog is how to use Microsoft Outlook more effectively, How to posts are a natural fit and have been part of my blog since inception – I actually have a How To category.

    The thing that has probably helped my How to posts the most is having lots of screen prints – no better way to say it than with a picture.

  12. mondex1 says:

    Great examples. Now I understand that I need to use ‘eye-catching’ titles to make my readers eager to read what I’ve wrote. Thanks for great examples. Cheers.

  13. Ashley says:

    My blog is comprised of “how-to’s”! My audience is those living in Japan (or moving to Japan), with lots of content that isn’t easily found elsewhere, so most of what I write about is specifically trying to equip folks for life here. Sometimes I’ll add a little humorous story from my own life (yes, learning from my mistakes). In any case, I think those are what draw people the most, and on top of that, fun to write!

  14. I really think you should know how to write for the web in order to make great how-to posts. You have a lot of good stuff from Jakob Nielsen on this.

  15. Jezza101 says:

    “How to Filter Out Those Annoying Vuvuzelas” – sounds like the most useful post of the year

  16. Ernest Nham says:

    You may have not intended to do so, but I think you have managed to express the state of mind that a lot of people are in. The sense of wanting to help, but not knowing how or where, is something a lot of us are going through.

  17. make money says:

    I write mainly how to posts at my site, and they do seem to be popular. I guess they can bring in the traffic, but I find it harder to monetize these types of posts than some others. Anyone have any thoughts?