The Truth Behind The Millions of Articles

Why I Stopped Writing “How To” Articles

The Truth Behind The Millions of Articles

Look, I’m not going to lie — I’m an SEO responsible for writing hundreds of guides over the last 15 years. I am responsible for educating many others via direct in-person training and articles about how to write and perform SEO, but something that has always bugged me is when people talk about “how to cheat the algorithm,” and that goes for getting to number one on Google, getting a bigger readership here on medium, getting more interactions on social media or anything else.

One of those ‘cheat the algorithms’ recently tripped a red-line with me recently. The idea the “how to” articles were somehow the gold standard method of getting to almost any audience.

The reason this idea exists is pretty simple.

How To as a search term when mixed with almost any other keyword in a search term will have a great search volume.

Lets just look at some of the stats from the top Medium articles which contain How To as the first words in their title. (i’ve removed political posts)

How to think like a programmer — 299 comments — 211K claps

How to wake up at 5AM every day — 307 comments — 70K claps

How to encrypt your life — 339 comments — 71K claps

How to identify a smart person in 3mins — 455 comments — 58K claps

How to know if you’re really in love — 436 comments — 96K claps

What we can see from these are they are likely step-by-step guides, they are tagging on something your life (skills, sleep, identity & love) and they all from this have gained great traction.

All of these remain the top of the “how to” search despite being from 2017 & 2016 … so the question is — is How to really gaining that much traction on this platform, or in any platform — does high search volume mean anything? Or is all that search volume going to posts just like these?

And look i know the stats above aren’t the key metrics on Medium or anywhere else but it’s easy to see they are successful.

Why am I quitting the world of How To articles?

The reality is the world is changing.

The reason I gave the examples above wasn’t just because they used the words HOW TO but because they were mostly guides and not how I would now present a guide, and not how I would suggest using the HOW TO terminology.

Today we live in a world of mobile internet.

How much of the internet is mobile

src: Smart Insights

You may wonder what this means for search and its pretty simple.

It means search has changed.

Instead of searching with one or two keywords or phrases (though that still happens sometimes) people on mobile will often use a full question, in particular when they use voice search.

This is why the HOW TO phrasing around guides doesn’t really work, unless its a recipe for example or something like that.

And even then there are better titles to present than HOW TO MAKE X or HOW TO BUILD X. There are literally thousands of those, they are often defunct and 5, 10, 15 years old offering little in value.

Instead now is the time to dump the HOW TO terminology, and pick up different title formats. Using HOW TO only to answer questions directly or for one-off guide articles rather than all of them.

Some alternative styles could be:

The richest chocolate brownies, my recipe

Chocolate Brown Tray Bake, my recipe shared

Chocolate fudge brownie recipe shared

From an SEO Meta Title view you could use the following formats:

Recipe: Gorgeous Chocolate Brownies in X Minutes

Tray Bake Chocolate Brownie | X Minutes | Recipe

Gorgeous Chocolate Brownies | Easy Tray Bake | Recipe

seo for medium

The Right Place, The Right Time

You’re probably thinking right now, “so he isn’t quitting HOW TO then?”

So let’s be clear on this.

How To for Guides: this is out. Here is why…

This may get you some traction rarely on your blog, here on medium, via some youtube videos — but the world is saturated with these, its almost impossible to get these guides to get real traction here on Medium (to make money from them on MPP) or to get any google rankings these days. Add to this search is changing and it makes zero sense to remain using this terminology.

How To for Questions: this is in. Here is why…

Search has changed, voice search continues to increase with Siri, Google Voice, Alexa etc — both on mobile and in-home. The reality is this is going to drive the need for quick answers (you can deliver through these articles and adding things like Schema to your articles). But more than that actually using great titles which deliver answers in your body, deliver great user experience will bring people back to your website (blog) — and if you are a member of MPP, you will gain more traction (followers, and even convert people to Medium getting bounties).

The Cheat Sheet for Writing Better on Medium

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