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Field Notes

Field Notes #012: “How To” vs. “How We” Content

"How to" vs "How We" Content

Here we go.

The notion of “how we” vs. “how-to” content was born from a discussion with my business partners about how I believe B2B readers prefer “how we” content (inspired by unique, personal experience) over generic “how-to” content.

But the two are not mutually exclusive. Ultimately, “how we” content makes for the best “how-to” content.

In my opinion, they should overlap: every thought piece should provide actionable takeaways, and every how-to article should feature a real-life anecdote.

(We’re rolling out a requirement here at Omniscient that every piece of content features at least one expert quote or is infused with at least one SME story or experience. I’ll let y’all know how this program shakes out.)

Now, a few folks I’ve shared this concept with have challenged the subjectivity of “how we” content.

That’s the whole point—subjectivity in content is how it wins. Subjectivity is context, and context is what creates trust and authority. Subjectivity infuses personality and authenticity into “how-to” content. Subjectivity builds and converts audiences, not just answers queries.

I started writing this “hybrid” style of content years before thought leadership was a thing. I remember receiving topic assignments at HubSpot (like sales leadership challenges or inclusive sales training) that I didn’t have any personal experience with. Sure, I could’ve read up on these topics, but my first thought was, “Aren’t people doing this very thing at HubSpot right now?” Talking to those practitioners and experts taught me much more than I would’ve learned from combing competitor sites.

Why feature HubSpot experts over external experts? Both are knowledgable and credible, but by leveraging expertise tied to HubSpot, I built some brand affinity and authority in the process…a tactic that ultimately helped with gated asset downloads and demos.

For topics that HubSpot folks didn’t have experience with, I then turned to external experts—which, in this case, would be “how they” content, I guess. My (master)piece on freelancing is my favorite example of this tactic. I was an experienced freelancer myself but knew I’d barely scratched the surface of the profession. A survey of 80+ fellow freelancers helped make this the comprehensive guide it is. (Read more about this experience here.)

The idea here is that all too often, companies and publications give advice that’s not theirs to share (regurgitated SERPs, anyone?) simply because the keywords aligned like stars.

Writing based on first-hand experience (whether yours, a colleague’s, or an external expert’s) yields better content. Full stop. 

I work in SEO; I understand its power. But just because you can rank for a term doesn’t always mean you should pursue it—not without being able to tell a story, share an anecdote, or at least feature an expert.

If you’re surfacing keywords to solve pain points for your audience, it’s better to do so in a way that builds trust, not simply answers a question. Hell, for quick info, readers can use Google’s SERP features.

The best content strategy exists at the intersection of SEO and storytelling. 101 content can and should almost always include POV.

When your content is inspired by company, leadership, and product expertise and then rooted in intent-driven keywords, you meet your audience where they are with information only you can share.

1. Can Thought Leadership and SEO Coexist?: SEO and thought leadership aren’t mutually exclusive—just like “how we” and “how to” content.

2. Thought leadership and SEO: The key elements and strategies: Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media discusses how to craft true thought leadership content on your blog and beyond.

3. Blogging is Losing Power: Introducing Decentralized Content Marketing: Alex discusses a new way to cover more ground with fewer resources and encourage your team to post their own “how we” content, too.

Allie Decker

Allie is co-founder and Head of Client Success at Omniscient Digital. She previously led content initiatives at HubSpot and Shopify.