The How To video has become a classic genre on YouTube, promising viewers a definitive guide on the best way to achieve the desired result. The How To video is a close cousin of the YouTube tutorial, but in general it’s usually not as comprehensive as a full on step-by-step guide through a software or complex technical procedure. Life hack videos are also part of the same family tree, but those tend to offer more random snapshots into different tips and tricks, rather than a structured set of guidelines focused on a particular topic.
The How To video is a great structure, even if you know that your viewers are unlikely to be following all (or even any) of the steps that you outline. Just look at How to Build a Lava Moat by minutephysics, which begins by outlining its premise: “There are lots of reasons for wanting a lava moat around your house, but not that many how-to videos explaining how to build one.”
This tongue-in-cheek guide uses the How To formula to explain the basic physics behind the science and engineering of creating a DIY lava moat. Best of luck to any viewers who decide to try this at home!
When it comes to How To videos that are aimed at imparting some more practical pearls of wisdom, what key elements make them appealing and valuable to viewers? We’ve watched some of the best and have come up with the following tips:
Consider what makes you the best thought leader for the job
When deciding on the topic for your How To, think about your unique area of expertise and the topics for which you can act as a trusted source of guidance for your viewers. It always helps if you have a unique perspective on a topic and a tried-and-tested idea of what works best for you. In order to win credibility with your audience, it’s important that the area you are offering guidance on aligns with what your channel is best known for.
For example, Carrie Rad’s channel is a lifestyle channel that focuses on self-care & self-love. The videos often focus on wellness and tips for self-improvement, and the channel receives an average of 35K views. Last year the video How To Create A Healthy Lifestyle received 167K views, whilst another How To video on How To Plan A Relaxing Vacation received only 11K views. Clearly the audience are more interested in looking to this channel for lifestyle tips than they are for travel planning.
Be a realist, not an idealist
Rather than presenting the perfect way of getting something done, people are more interested in a guide that recognizes their actual challenges and foibles when it comes to completing a certain task.
My mother-in-law once told me about one of her favorite recipes, that began like this:
Step One: Cook the pasta
Step Two: Take the empty packet of pasta out of the garbage to check how long to cook it for
The recipe writer knew that even seasoned cooks like my mother-in-law always made this classic error. Therefore, right from the start of the recipe, they are addressing the readers as fallible home cooks, rather than professional chefs striving for perfection.
You don’t have to assume that your audience are idiots, but it does help to bear in mind what kind of limitations they might be facing. It’s a good idea to ease off on the jargon, and to understand that unless you are addressing an audience of professionals, it is safe to assume that they don’t have an array of professional tools at their disposal. It always helps to acknowledge that you share some of the same struggles as the people you are looking to advise.
Simplicity is key
Keep your video short and sweet. Remember, this is not your PhD thesis: you don’t need to share every element of your expertise - just pick the key points that will be most relevant to your viewer. People turn to How To guides as a way to save themselves time, so If your video is too long, it defeats the purpose.
Break up difficult concepts into bite size chunks with on screen titles and graphics to make sure that it is easy to follow. In Charisma on Command’s video How To Be Confident In Any Situation, Mad Men’s Don Draper is used as the ultimate example of male confidence. The video divides his behaviour into four different “levels”, from “His relaxed body language” to “The belief that he will always be OK”.
The video also includes on-screen comments throughout to highlight key elements of Don’s behaviour, like “Don has selective eye contact” and “He frames himself as an equal partner”. These tips provide a framework of behaviour for the viewer to emulate in order to mimic Don Draper’s confidence.
Focus one key tip
Of course, you want your entire video to be valuable to your viewers, but it always helps to include one killer take home tip. It’s unlikely that your viewer will remember every step of your How To guide, so it’s a good idea to build your video around one key lesson that will really stick with them. That means that every time they go about completing that task, they’ll remember that crucial piece of advice, and associate it back to you.
In Thomas Frank’s guide How to Make Your Phone Less of a Distraction, he keeps one key piece of advice to the end of the video: he suggests removing distracting apps from your iPhone’s search function, to help create some increased friction and make it that much harder for you to be sucked in to that app.
Whilst the other tips in his video were fairly predictable and familiar, that piece of advice stuck out as an effective method that many viewers won’t have tried before but may well find valuable in trying to spend less time glued to their phones.
Think of the best product or service to recommend to your audience
While you are working on your How To, it’s a good idea to think about what kind of product or service would be the best match for that content. Many brands prefer to know exactly what kind of content they will be featured on when deciding what channel to sponsor. Therefore, it’s a good idea to give them the outline of the video itself, rather than just agreeing that they will appear on some undefined content on your channel. Think about how the topic of your How To could be particularly relevant to a certain company and pitch them the concept you have in mind for that video.
For example, the bestdressed YouTube channel created a HOW TO THRIFT LIKE A PRO video for the sponsor ThredUp, which markets itself as “the world's largest online thrift store”. This How To video marked the fourth time ThredUp sponsored a video on the bestdressed channel; each partnership included “thrift” in the video title to signal clear relevance of the video’s content to this brand.
It’s no surprise that ThredUp features heavily in Ashley’s thrifting tips in the video, and she includes a section titled “My guide to online thrifting” where she shares her search tips for using ThredUp most effectively to find great deals. Not only is this great exposure for the brand, it’s also a way to impart valuable advice that viewers can benefit from.
You can also show the brand you’d like to work with the success that you’ve had in the past with How To videos of this nature, and if they’ve previously attracted a lot of attention on your channel. On Matt D'Avella’s YouTube channel, the overall average is 788K views but the last 5 How To videos received an average of 1.2 million views, showing the power of the How To to attract more attention and get more eyeballs for both you and your sponsor.