The internet is a great place to find a ton of resources. From online guides and tutorials to video walk-throughs and online forums, there are so many different channels where you can build your knowledge.
With so many places to go, things can get confusing and overwhelming. What if we told you there was a single place you could go that would tell you everything you needed to know about a particular topic? Would you waste time looking elsewhere or would you go right to this unnamed resource?
The answer is, most likely, obvious. You’d go straight to the source that had everything in one convenient location. It cuts down on the amount of time you have to invest and it makes the entire process that much easier.
The same is true of your customers and audience, which is exactly why online guides are more than good reading materials. They are a direct source of interaction and engagement, too. Through them, you can share insights with your audience, educate them on a particular topic or subject, and give something back. You are providing them with free, or at least affordable, knowledge they can then put into action.
But surely there’s more to it than that. What else are online guides good for? Let’s take a closer look and find out!
Most of the time, guides are a type of long-form content more than 3,000 words long. The length might throw you, but it’s a good thing. It’s difficult to explain most complicated processes in a concise manner, after all. Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a short guide.
A guide is complete once you’ve touched on every facet of a particular topic or subject. For example, let’s say you’re writing a guide on creating a paver patio in your backyard. The guide should walk readers through acquiring the supplies and tools, explain what they need, how to use them and then explore step-by-step how to build the patio. It would wrap up once that particular project is complete.
That’s just a simple example — guides can explain how to do, build or achieve just about anything. You could write a lengthy guide on tying your shoes, for instance, but you could just as easily create a video or image gallery that serves the purpose. Local and event guides for tourists also count.
Seems like a solid concept, but what is it that makes a guide so valuable?
Your customers and audience are doing something for you. They’re either subscribing to a newsletter, delivering ad income through regular visits, engaging with your content and discussion system or buying products and services.
What are you giving them in return? How are you showing your appreciation and respect for them? The answer is by maintaining a library of guides and other useful content. Guides work to outline the benefits and knowledge your brand can offer.
Guides are, in essence, a favor reciprocated. It’s you giving something back to those who invest time poring through them. Ever finish a guide yourself? You probably felt rewarded in some small way for reaching the end. It likely imparted practical knowledge or new skills.
Hongkiat’s Guide to Online Collaboration provides a huge selection of tips, tools and platforms that readers can use to become more productive with their team members and colleagues. In this way, it does more than just highlight and inform — it gives back to readers by providing ample support for anyone looking to become a better collaborator.
When you look at the total cost of composing a guide — whether you do it yourself or hire the work out to a third party — it’s a relatively inexpensive way to provide resources for your customers. Most likely, the guide or content is in a digital form, text-based, video, or even image centric. In a sense, you’re not wasting any resources putting it together or hosting it on your site.
Sure, it took resources, skills and time to create the guide, but once that’s done, the benefits are vast and the costs are low if they exist at all. You’re paying to host and run your website anyway.
Furthermore, most marketing strategies and campaigns require spending exorbitant amounts of money if you want to see a return. Handing out pamphlets or flyers at an event? Guess what — you have to pay for all that stationery and you have to pay to print the message and content. A guide, on the other hand, can exist forever and be passed around forever — or close to forever, anyway. And each time a customer accesses it, you don’t lose money. In fact, if you play your cards right, you could even make money off an exceptionally written guide.
A guide published by Refinery29, for instance, explained the 2017 solar eclipse and how to get involved. It’s short and to the point, so it definitely didn’t cost much to produce, but it’s also thorough enough to be a useful resource for most visitors.
Every time a potential customer or viewer opens your guide, that’s free advertising for your brand, products and services.
Whether the guide is hosted natively on your website or you give it out to others as a free PDF download, you’re going to have your brand name attached somewhere. Readers will see that and it will provide a sort of modern word-of-mouth advertising campaign.
Sell cooking gadgets or utensils? Create some guides that teach people how to cook a particular recipe or food type. Then, tastefully include some tips into the guide on using your own products during preparation. It’s a simple concept — but more importantly, it’s one that works.
Take a look at Clopay’s Garage Door Buying Guide, which walks potential customers through the door selection process. Not only does it inform customers about the process and explain how to choose a door, but it also subtly advertises the different door and material styles the company is known for.
Think of all the times you used a guide, instruction manual or similar resource to get a project or idea completed. Chances are good you didn’t just view that resource once and forget about it forever. You most likely returned until the project was complete. Even after the initial project is over, there’s still maintenance and repair to think about.
The same is true of your own guides. They encourage repeat visits from your audience even if the guide is being downloaded locally onto their computer or mobile device. At some point, they’re going to return to your site — and that’s exactly what you want from your customers in the first place, other than a direct sale.
MakeUseOf’s Unofficial Facebook Privacy Guide is a great example of a relevant and evergreen resource. Everyone who uses Facebook is rightly concerned about their privacy and security, but since the social network is always changing, this guide will forever be a bookmarked resource by most. Every time something changes on Facebook, the guide gets updated to reflect the new privacy options. That translates into repeat traffic from concerned and well-informed readers.
When you put together a guide from start to finish, you get to speak a vastly larger audience than if you just explained how to do one or two steps. Why? It’s pretty straightforward, really.
Your audience will consist of a variety of experienced individuals — ranging from beginner to expert — on a particular topic. If a customer already knows a particular step or tip, they can move on to more complex stuff in the guide. If the customer has never even heard of a particular project before, they can start at the very beginning and work their way forward.
As an example, BBC offers a style guide for their content that shows creators, writers and artists the standards behind material delivered on the platform. No matter your background or skill level, you’ll find the guidance you need.
That’s a big part of what makes a guide so special. It can be developed and written in a way that speaks to anyone and everyone, all at the same time.
Lexie Lu is a designer and writer. She loves researching trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.