How do you write a killer tutorial that stands out and brings traffic to your website?
- You must be highly skilled in your niche.
- You must have a desire to help others.
- You must write a tutorial that is way much better then the ones which appear on the first page of search results in Google.
Here is how you can do it:
1. Know your audience
Who are you writing for?
Chances are that you already know a part of your intended audience. But, do your due diligence. Make sure to know what ails them and what they want to achieve. Search Google for tutorials that are similar to the one you want to write, like this:
[tutorial/how-to name] +tutorial
[tutorial/how-to name] +”how to”
The plus sign (+) tells Google that search results must include the keyword tutorial.
The quotation marks (“”) tells it that those exact words, in that order, must be included.
For example, if you search for:
homemade pizza dough +tutorial
The first organic result is this one:
That’s a nice looking tutorial with lots of photos. If you scroll down to the comments section, you’ll see that the visitors asked questions. Most ask about the things that weren’t explained in the tutorial. This is a goldmine of information. It’s here that you can see what you can do better!
The other factor that you must definitely consider when researching your audience is their knowledge level of the subject:
Are you writing for newbies or experts?
- Newbies are legion (more traffic).
- Experts are few (less traffic but higher engagement).
You can apply the Pareto principle here: 80% of the audience in any niche are going to have basic or at most, intermediate-level knowledge of your subject. 20% are experts.
When I launched FlashExplained, a website for people who wanted to learn Flash, I wrote mostly for beginners. I explained how to create basic animations, designs, etc. Then, I decided to write an in-depth tutorial on programming in Flash. Printed, it would be 70 pages long.
It attracted the least amount of visits!
Every single tutorial for beginners performed 10-20 times better.
So be careful who you’re writing for. And what you want to write about. Speaking of which…
2. Pick a specific problem to solve
1. Select a subject that you are highly proficient in.
You must be able to write a tutorial which covers everything that a beginner should be aware of and then some. If any questions pop-up in comments, you should be able to answer them straight away. Also, you must be aware of any pitfalls that you should share with your audience. What to look out for, what mistakes to avoid, etc.
2. Research the existing ones.
See how many guides are already written on this subject (Google it). Too many? Pick another subject.
Are most of the existing tutorials poorly written? Then write a better one that will outperform them all.
3. Keep a narrow focus.
Don’t be too broad. If you see the potential for a humongous tutorial, split it into several smaller ones.
3. Write for the clueless
When writing your tutorial, have in mind the person you’re doing it for – someone clueless. Write as if they are reading about it for the first time.
Be as clear as possible. Make your explanations as detailed as possible, but not more detailed than that. An easy way to do this is through the use of images.
Show this inside the image too, if you can. Here is an example:
This is how I did all my tutorials and that has made a world of difference. This is why I got huge traffic and tons of links pointing to my website.
I have seen other websites in my niche and many of them explained what to do like this: “now create a linear gradient”. I can imagine the reader asking “How do I do that? Where is that option? Where to click?”.
You can create a killer tutorial too. But you have to be willing to put in the time and effort required to do it.
However, detailed explanations are not enough, because you also have to:
4. Format your tutorial properly
Good tutorials and how-tos have these elements in common:
- Title that’s self-explanatory
- Summary or Table of contents
- Numbered steps
- Tips and warnings
- Downloadable examples (if applicable)
Title that’s self-explanatory
The title should say what you teach in one sentence. It should be clear and concise. Don’t try to be clever – remember that you’re teaching people how to do something.
Also, make it irresistible. These examples are all proven to attract clicks:
“How to plant an urban garden: A step-by-step tutorial”
“How to build a website in 2020 – the complete beginner’s guide”
“A graduate guide to job hunting in 7 easy steps”
Summary or Table of contents
Right after the title, shortly explain what you’re going to teach.
If your tutorial is long, add a table of contents. Make sure that every entry is a clickable link that points to its corresponding section.
You should have subheadings for each section. Those should have their own subheadings if they have a lot of content. Number them if it’s a huge tutorial.
Each tutorial explains a process. So, you should add numbered steps to make it easier to follow. This is a must. Imagine a reader coming back to your tutorial later and trying to find where she left.
Make the numbers stand out:
Otherwise, they will blend in with the text.
As I mentioned in the previous section, images are a must.
Make sure to insert a meaningful alt attribute inside each image, to further improve your chances of getting your tutorial on top of Google search results.
You may also add visible text below the images, because that’s where the user’s eyes naturally go to.
Tips and warnings
Make important things like tips and warnings stand out.
These make the format of your guide more interesting and diverse. Use a different background colour and font or an icon. I took inspiration from IT books:
Insert lists to make reading easier. Repeating blocks of plain text are boring for the today’s web user.
If you are enumerating something in a sentence, make it into a list.
Downloadable examples (if applicable)
If you’re writing a tech tutorial, offer your readers an example for download (DOC, PSD, etc).
5. Use a real-life example
Show and tell – a real-life example is what everyone wants to see.
Take a look at the image below. These two tutorials are explaining basically the same thing. At a glance, which one looks more interesting and easier to read?
On the left is an awesome guide filled with screenshots, focused on a specific issue, while the one on the right reads like a technical manual, whose title isn’t clear at all. Who has the patience to go through that? You need to show an easy to understand solution, not a scientific paper.
But even technical manuals can use examples and be super easy to understand:
If you can, display the outcome right away: For example, if it’s a makeup tutorial, put the image with the final result at the beginning. Show your readers what they are working towards. I did this with all of my Flash tutorials: The resulting file is always in the introduction section.
6. Be authentic, original and awesome
Authentic, original and awesome. Sounds pretentious? It’s easier done than you may think!
Be yourself. Never ever try to imitate someone else, because you cannot be someone else. When you’re being yourself, you will write and teach from your heart. People feel and recognize this.
To achieve this, write naturally. For example, humour is great, but if it doesn’t come to you spontaneously, don’t force it. If your writing style tends to be more serious, by all means do it! Because fake attracts fake. By using your own style, you will attract the right kind of audience.
How to write original tutorials? The first two approaches were explained earlier:
1. Go into extreme detail
This one alone will put you above the majority. Why? Because writing a detailed tutorial requires a real investment of time and effort. Most people aren’t willing to take the extra step. This is your main advantage.
Even if you’re writing about a familiar topic, this will make you stand out in a sea of blandness.
2. Use real-life examples
Remember that your website visitors are looking for practical solutions, not theory. Since you’re an expert in your niche, it is expected from you that you learned your craft by getting your hands dirty.
3. Write about potential pitfalls and dangers
Don’t explain only what to do, show also what not to do. This will show even more of your expertise and that you care about your audience. You learned by making mistakes so they don’t have to.
4. Take a different angle on a familiar subject
During Flash heyday, I created a bottle-filling preloader. It was completely different than the usual ones which showed a linear progression or percentage. It brought in a lot of backlinks.
…but I also published the tutorials with linear and percentage tutorials. Just way more detailed than the rest 🙂
5. Stick to your guns
If you have a strong opinion why your method works and all the others don’t, that’s perfectly fine. Express your opinion. Does it sound biased? Even better. People tend to like one way of doing things and dislike the rest. You will attract strong support for your approach.
6. Fill in the blanks
Research other tutorials in your niche to see what they haven’t covered:
- Is there something that is missing altogether?
- Are there things that could be explained much better?
- Did they warn their audience about potential mistakes?
By now, you understand how to be awesome:
- Go into extreme detail/write for the clueless.
- Format your tutorial so that it’s easy to read, compelling and attractive.
- Use lots of images.
- Use a real-life example.
Here are additional tips:
Re-check everything. I have followed each step from my own tutorials to see if the outcome will be the same. This is like proof reading, albeit it takes more time.
If you’re writing tech tutorials, provide working materials. For more complex tutorials, I have placed a starting file at the beginning. The file with the final result was at the end, so that my website visitors could compare the two.
Own your mistakes. If on your blog you receive a comment that points out to a mistake in your tutorial, don’t delete it. Correct the mistake, publish the comment and thank the person who found it. We are all human. Experts make mistakes too.
You have published your amazing tutorial. There is one last thing that you must make:
7. Bring in the traffic
There is a saying that goes “build it and they will come”. No they won’t. Because:
You can be the best in the world at what you do, but it’s all in vain if no one has heard about you.
It’s time to market your tutorial. This mostly boils down to building backlinks. These are the links on other websites that point to your tutorial. This is a major factor that affects your tutorials’ ranking in search results.
Here is how you can do it:
Seek out websites that are aggregators for tutorials and guides in your niche. The owners of these websites want traffic and they will be more than happy to list your tutorial. In fact, you will usually find a form to submit your tutorial there:
Use Google to find the ones in your niche:
[your niche keywords] “submit tutorial”
[your niche keywords] “submit your tutorial”
Before you go on a submitting spree, wait! Use one website a day (this sounds like a prescription for a medicine). Because your backlinks have to appear organically. Google may consider this spamming if many backlinks appear in a short period of time (and thus penalise your website and push it down in search results). The folks running these websites are very prompt and they will review and publish your tutorial quickly. So, take it slowly. Increasing traffic takes time.
Ultimate lists and resource pages
You have surely stumbled upon pages that have titles like:
“111 resources for learning Photoshop”
“The ultimate resource list creative food people”
Google them too, with your niche keywords. Your tutorial would be a valuable addition to these lists. They will either encourage you to add your resource, like in this example:
…or you can do the following:
Search around their website to find an email address. It will usually be in the contact section. Write them a nice email and propose your tutorial as an addition to their list.
But, before you do that, click on all the other links on their list. See if there are links pointing to outdated resources – the ones that return a 404 – page not found result. Include this in your message – warn them about the broken link. In this way, you are not only offering them an update for their list, but also notifying them about an outdated resource. That’s a double benefit and most people will gladly accept your tutorial because of this.
Post the link to your tutorial on social media. Then kindly ask your friends to share or like it.
Pay attention to your audience and connections. If, for example, your niche is a hobby, Facebook would be more suitable than Linkedin.
What to expect?
First, be patient. Increasing website traffic takes time.
Second, tutorial quality is way more important than quantity. It’s better to have 3-4 top-quality tutorials than to publish for the sake of posting frequency.
For my Flash website, it took me more than 6 months to gain some serious traction. But in a little more than a year, I had 150.000 unique visitors per month. I got backlinks from more than 440 domains.
Bear in mind that those numbers are relevant if it’s targeted traffic. It’s better to have less visitors who will engage more with your content, than a tsunami of traffic where the average time spent on your page is less than a few seconds.
Put in the time and effort and you’ll succeed!
As a last thing, if you found this tutorial useful, please share it. Thank you. All it takes is a click: