How to Use a How to Article

If you work on any aspect of SEO, Internet marketing, PPC, or social media, chances are good that you’ve come across a lot of tutorials or how to articles. Some of them are really good, and you want to use them in the future. But unless you have an organized, disciplined way of keeping track of the information and making it actionable, it’s just going to collect dust in your bookmarks. In this post, I’d like to teach you how to take it to the next step: use the information, make it actionable, and implement it as part of your long term workflow.

If you’re very good at saving information and remembering that you have it somewhere, Evernote is probably the best solution. It allows you to actually save the content of the page in case the page ever goes offline in the future. While I do use Evernote, I find Instapaper and a To-Do list work better for me (I use toodledo, for those of you who care). When I come across something on Twitter, Sphinn, Ziteapp, or elsewhere on the web, I send it to Instapaper to read on my iPad at a time that works best for me. If it’s something that is a tutorial/how-to/actionable or something I want to add to my yearly audit or site audit or “master plan,” I use a secret email to send it to my to-do list. Every few weeks, I’ll set aside some time to process the posts I have sent there. Here’s what I do as I look at the post:

Ask myself whether it’s something I need to add to my master plan, site audit, yearly content review, or library of plugin/programming/functions.

Ask myself whether this is something new, or is it updating/modifying/adding to an existing action list/checklist.

Is it breaking down into action items something I need to do, or should the work be outsourced?

Obviously updating or editing an existing bits of information is easier than starting from scratch. However, to be the most helpful and teach you the full concept, I’m going to start from scratch. Let’s assume I want to start a Facebook fan page. What are the current steps and best practices? I’ll be taking a look at three different posts. These were written in 2011 so, if you’re reading this post after that, the actual information may have changed, but what I really want you focus on is the process of extracting the information into bite-sized, do-able chunks. Here are the three posts I’ll be using:

To get started, we’ll go through each page and break it down into step by step directions. For example, here is what I would come up with needing from those three pages:
Information Needed
  • Category/Subcategory:
  • Desired Vanity URL:
  • Name:
  • Founded:
  • Website:
  • About:
  • Overview:
  • Mission Statement:
  • Physical Address:
  • Phone Number:
  • Awards:
  • Product:
  • Email:
  • Avatar Photo:
  • Extra Product Photos (5):
  • Secondary Admins:
  • List of 25 friends to secure vanity URL:
  • Custom Tabs:
Pre-Launch Functions to test
  • Test post
  • Test post from 3rd Party Tools (Hootsuite)
  • Test RSS Integration
  • Test Mobile Posting
  • Enable Insights
  • Third Party Tool Integration (Raven Tools, etc.)
  • Wall Settings – Set default view, fan permissions
  • Photos – allow fan posting and or tagging
Now, depending on who will be using the list, you can add notes, suggestions, and reminders. For example, while most people use a square avatar for their Facebook picture, you can use a tall photo for enhanced visibility (200px X 600px). So that might be something worth adding as a note to your documentation. This post only covers the most basic aspects of setting up a profile and getting it public-ready. It doesn’t discuss how to promote it, advertise with it, or increase engagement with fans. All of that is beyond the scope of the article.
What I really want you to grasp here is that, when you come across a tutorial or “how to,” develop a plan to make the information valuable and useable over time. Don’t worry if it seems like you’re starting in the middle. If you set out to write a tutorial on how to do something from start to finish, it can sometimes be a daunting task. If you just get started and add as you go, it’s a lot less intimidating.
One warning I do want to bring up is to beware of cookie cutter or prescription SEO. Having a checklist is good for making sure you meet all the technical requirements or have all the pieces in places when starting a project. If you follow an identical plan for all your sites and don’t realize that some things don’t apply or aren’t the best solution for every situation, you will run into problems down the road. You need to learn when things don’t apply, aren’t right answer, or are the completely wrong answer. For example, your first girlfriend may have found your karaoke and air guitar tributes to 80’s hair band ballads funny and endearing, but your second girlfriend might not. Learn to adapt to the situation.
So what are the takeaways from this post:
  • Look for articles that teach you how to accomplish a goal.
  • Develop a workflow that allows you to break something down into small, do-able tasks.
  • Develop a library of best practices, work flows, start up procedures, or an audit checklist.
  • Review and update the process as needed.
  • Beware of falling into a cookie cutter process. Understand that sometimes you need ignore, adapt, or change your plans.

photo credit: Photospin

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