Building Links & Driving Traffic with How To Posts

When you are looking to build links and drive traffic, one of the time tested methods that continues to work is creating “how to” style posts. In this article, we’ll look at some examples and discuss how to get the most out of the tactic, how to take advantage of seasonal search/traffic volume, and some potential trouble spots to watch out for.

From the earliest days of the internet, people have turned to search engines to find information and to solve problems. When you create “how to” posts, you fill this “information vacuum.” If your posts are good, interesting, funny, informative or otherwise noteworthy, you will be rewarded with links and/or Facebook likes, Twitter mentions or other social signals. While you will have to do a little promotion to “prime the pump” and start the sharing and exposure, people will share it on their own if your piece is good enough.

But enough theory. Let’s look at some “how to” examples.  First up is from the Huffington Post: “How to Tell When Chocolate Goes Bad

How to tell When Chocolate Goes Bad

We’ve all picked up the old Valentine’s, Halloween, or Christmas chocolate and wondered if it was safe to eat. This post answers that questions and lets you know what that white stuff on an old piece of chocolate really is. This post could have been improved with some picture examples, but it’s fine as it stands. This kind of post would work in a food-related website, gift-related website, or mom/family website.

Next up: “How to Tile a Bathroom

How to Tile a Bathroom

Tiling a bathroom is project that requires some skill, but it is within the reach of most DIY weekend warriors with some technical abilities. It’s also something that’s highly bookmark-able and shareable if it’s easy to understand. This type of content would work on DIY sites, home repair websites, building material websites, or tile stores. That article had good picture use. Adding a video or two could help, but it’s something that could be done down the road.

The previous two “how to” articles are examples of evergreen content (ie content that doesn’t need to change or be updated often). Next, I’d like to take a look at “how to” posts that will change over time.  Take a look at “[How to setup a wireless network]”.

If you look at the SERP you’ll see three of the results don’t have a date and one post that does–and it’s an old date, in this case 2003. If I’m looking to solve a computer problem, I probably don’t want information from 2003; I want something from within the last 12-18 months (for more information on how Google determines page dates, see How Google is Reverse Engineering Page Dates). If you are writing a “how to” post and it has a limited shelf life, having a dated post isn’t a bad thing (ie how to format a Windows XP hard drive). However, in most cases, you will want your “how to” posts to rank for longer periods of time, so either don’t show the date on the page or update the information and update the publication date. If you choose to update the post, use a living URL implementation to preserve your existing links and social proof.

Unless you are running a news website, it’s very likely that there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of “how to” posts. If you run an eCommerce website, you should start with your most popular products and create “how to” guides for each of them. If you think you are going to have a large library of “how to” posts, you may want to put them in specific directory. I’d also suggest using a slightly less commercial template: people tend to link and share posts that don’t look overly commercial more often. I’d also avoid numbers in your URLs to avoid the problem of search engines mis-interpreting dates. Doing so also doesn’t box you into an editorial mismatch if you change numbers/steps in the future. I’d also look for ways to maximize seasonal search volume by updating your seasonal content. For example, a “how to” post on carving a turkey will get more traction, links, and traffic if you publish it in the beginning of November instead of the middle of March. Lastly, try to phrase your “how to” posts to match the queries users are actually typing into a search engine. For example “How to Save Some Sheckels When Getting Hitched” is not going to drive the same amount of traffic as “How to Save Money When You Are Planning a Wedding.”

So what are the takeaways from this post:

  • Look to create “how to” posts for your most popular products or search terms
  • Use natural language that matches what consumers will use
  • Be careful of dates on evergreen posts
  • Decide if archiving old information or updating them with living URLs is better for your situation
  • Avoid using numbers and dates in URLs
  • Time your posts/updates to tie in with peak search volume or interest
  • Have a separate template for informational posts to increase linking and sharing

photo credit: Shutterstock/Dmitry Suzdalev

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