Home Blog Content Strategy|Online marketing strategy OMG, can we please make the “how to” posts stop now?!?!

OMG, can we please make the “how to” posts stop now?!?!


If you’re reading this blog, chances are you work in the PR or digital marketing industries. And, if you work in those industries, chances are you are responsible for content development for you company or clients. And if you’re responsible for content development, you’re always looking for best practices, ways you can craft your content different to deliver on results.

Then you see a post like this one from BuzzSumo in your LinkedIn feed. “How to write engaging B2B headlines: Analysis of 10 million articles shared on LinkedIn.”

YES! Best practice research! This will help me crush my job! My content will get clicks. My clients will be happy! I will be successful and make millions of dollars! (OK, let’s not get crazy)

And while this research is somewhat interesting. And it is rooted in research. And, it is exhaustive (not sure how many scrolls I had to make to complete). It’s also research I feel like I’ve seen about 145 times in the last 3-5 years.

And that’s exactly why you should ignore it.

If you read the entire BuzzSumo post, you’ll learn:

  • Posts starting with “How to” vastly outperformed all other posts.
  • “How to” and lists posts dominate B2B headlines.
  • “The future of” was the phrase used most often in B2B headlines

None of those “insights” is even mildly surprising. In fact, these are known facts to virtually anyone who’s cracked a computer open in the last 5-7 years.

And, I see posts using these structures every day in my feeds. To the point where my Feedly is FULL of either “list” posts or “how to” posts. In fact, I’ve almost come to ignore these posts altogether for that exact reason.

I tend to think others may be doing the same thing–or WILL be doing the same thing soon. Because this “how to” and “list” post content is completely dominating the internet.

It’s everywhere. Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. You name the social network (outside of maybe Instagram), and you’ll see these posts. A LOT of them.

This brings me to my point. Sure, these posts are popular. And, according to this data, they “work” (meaning, simply, they get clicks). But, when EVERYONE else is doing the SAME THING doesn’t that worry you? Aren’t you concerned your content will become part of the sea of content that people can’t discern? I am. You should be, too.

One of my central social media marketing themes I’ve tried to follow since the very beginning is this: When everyone else is going one direction, run screaming the other direction.

The other problem I see with this research is that it doesn’t account for the artistic, or creative side, of writing. I mean, writing isn’t a scientific endeavor. That’s not why most of us went into this profession. So, as much as the data geeks want to make writing a scientific process, it’s just not.

This is why I laugh when I see stats and graphs like this from the article above:

Really, the NUMBER FIVE is the top number starting B2B headlines? Give me a break. There’s no way that matters. And there’s no way I’m paying attention to that when I’m writing a headline. Complete overkill.

Or, this stat/graphic from the same article:

No way–“The” is the most popular single word that starts B2B headlines? THAT’S GROUNDBREAKING RESEARCH! This graphic and research is almost useless–I see no way you can use this in your headline crafting.

Why? Because writing good headlines is an art form–not a science.

Yes, better understanding what makes a headline get clicks is valuable information. But, it’s not like you can, or should, piece together a headline based on this info–like a robot. In fact, that’s where this is all going. If you were to follow the guidance in this article, we’re very close to robots writing our headlines.

Again, say it with me, writing is an ART FORM–not science.


photo credit: MANYBITS UNEMPLOYMENT via photopin (license)



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