Over the years I’ve made a lot of how-to guides for my bosses, myself and clients.
What’s a guide? It’s really not a new concept. Individuals and companies have made handbooks and instruction manuals for years.
In the marketing world, particularly online marketing, how-to guides should be short and insightful forms of content marketing and SEO.
I guess you could crank them out just to be charitable and kind. I would never make one unless I thought it would enhance my company’s reputation or my personal brand. Mostly, I create them to generate leads, add content to my website and get links from other websites (links influence keyword rankings and support SEO).
It’s easy to confuse a guide with a white paper or an ebook. I guess an ebook could be a guide too. But I like to think of ebooks as longer resources. White papers also fit into that category – typically many pages. Guides are easier to produce – and don’t have to be all that long (just a few pages can be invaluable to someone looking for ideas, tips, reminders and a bit of wisdom).
Write About What You Know
You’re an expert. Surely you have some insights about how people could save time and money – or make money – with your suggestions. Why give away that knowledge? Again, it’s good for business and for leads if you market what you package.
I’ve written about keyword research. I don’t get all of my ideas by sitting around with my eyes closed and all of the thoughts just come to mind. I read what others write. I document steps I’ve taken with clients. I share my thoughts about good paths to follow with keyword development.
For keyword research, I’ve suggested reading the index at the back of a book for some inspiration. Did someone else have that idea first? Maybe. I don’t really know or care. I included it on a list of possible ways to find keywords. It’s a good exercise. Just scanning the many words in an index could trigger some additional ideas about related keywords.
I also tackled how SEO can be a waste of money. At one point, I only sent the guide to someone provided their name and e-mail address. I decided after a few years to make it available without being “gated.” Check it out:
For clients, I’ve developed guides on everything from hydraulic machine oil to commercial laundry chute installation.
But enough about what I’ve done.
What are you good at? What wisdom have you developed over time just by being active in your craft?
You should be able to come up with your own topic.
Format for Guides
You need a good cover – not necessarily a great one. Get something that stands out and catches the attention of someone who sees it on your website (your page where you ask the visitor to cough up an e-mail address and a phone number). Include a headline that explains the content and makes it interesting (use some wordplay if that works for you).
2. Use bulleted text.
Make it easy on the eye; break up the copy with bullets.
3. Add some graphics.
Graphics should reinforce a key point (they also make the guide more enjoyable to read or scan)
4. Include callouts.
Like graphics, callouts note a key fact or stat or quote – and help with the page design.
5. Contact info.
Each page should include a copyright notice and your website to make it easy for readers to learn more. With the right font and placement, your phone number can even be in the footer. You have options.
6. About your company.
Close out the guide with a couple paragraphs about your business – or the author if you decide to mention your name or one of your company’s other experts.
7. Save it as a PDF.
You get some control over how it appears – with proper page breaks and design elements with text and images.
Yes, a guide will look terrific if you have a budget and can get a designer involved (to help with those callouts, white space, font types and margins). But simple guides with some subheads and bulleted text can work as well. If you reward a reader with good information, he will be more likely to share the guide with others.
I’m sure there will be times where you make a guide and don’t require someone to provide an e-mail address to get it. Some companies do make them available. I would discourage being that generous. At least get a name and an e-mail address. But usually you should get their phone number as well. Most people provide real ones.
Forms can be a real turn-off to people who resist them. That’s why your guide cover art and your teaser copy need to convince them to share their name, e-mail and phone number. If you include more fields in the form, more people will ignore your offer. I have filled out many forms myself that get into my title, industry, number of employees (but never signing over my wife, kids or house). I will quickly provide whatever they want – if that guide looks like something I can use.
For most businesses, keep it simple. You can always get their title later and their physical address.
Some sales and marketing executives want to ask a lot of questions so they can sift out the prospects. If someone has a “wrong” title, the sales rep may not follow up. Here’s the kicker: If you ask for the title, it makes the form that much longer and you could miss out on a valid prospect.
At the end of the day, these are leads. Some may not be useful as many people are just in research mode. But follow up with the person anyway – either by e-mail or phone (I prefer phone). Do the best you can to move the person through the buying cycle or try to get connected to someone else in their business.
You can market your guide many ways, including:
- News release
- Social media
- E-mail marketing
- Sharing it with other experts in the industry (i.e. bloggers)
- Contacting news media (try to find the right editor or reporter – not just anyone at a publication)
It’s time to write your guide. Show off your expertise, give your SEO efforts a boost and get some leads – and sales – along the way.