Why software is more useful than books

As bloggers and site owners we often focus on quality content and providing value to our readers. Unfortunately, our ‘quality’ content is NOT providing maximum value to readers.

They might be loving it, and it may make you a blogging rock star, but are they using your advice? And materially benefiting from it?
Really?

Three years ago I was strapped for cash and in a fit of desperation, turned to the Internet for ways to make money. Through Rent A Coder I started picking up writing projects, and soon I met a guy who wanted a writer for his email newsletter. He was selling software through his one-page website, and the newsletter was geared to compliment and support the software.

Over the next year and a half, we tested and tracked the responses of two specific types of articles – a how-to article discussing a specific SEO strategy and a how-to article that used the software to demonstrate an SEO strategy.

The software-oriented articles won every single time, hands down.

The takeaway lesson wasn’t that a piece of software is more attention-grabbing than quality content.

The lesson is that if you give your readers a systematic way to do things and show them how to do it, you will get a much better response.

A reusable system that ‘just works’ every single time is a valuable resource that will keep your readers coming back for more and more.

Why is software more useful than books? Because 99% of the time, the software is a blackbox through which you get your regular tasks done. The book, on the other hand, explains how the blackbox works, which makes for fascinating reading but doesn’t really build a blackbox for your readers.

A simple example – the book Getting Things Done is wildy popular because GTD is a system, and the book showcases that system. If Paul Allen had just listed productivity tips, he wouldn’t have had 1/10th of the success he has now.

For books and blogs and writing to be as effective, they have to be usable, day in and day out. Sell ideas like you would sell software – as a system of doing things and thus making it easy for people to use your ideas.

A few tips for making your blogs and blog posts more usable:

  • Remember that not everything you write will be a ’system’ – sharing ideas and offering advice is part and parcel of the game.
  • When offering advice on how to do something, write it up in a series of actionable steps. The step-by-step, handholding approach is popular precisely because that style of instructions is easy to follow.
  • Keep your ‘tasks’ short and manageable. Don’t cram a crash course in how to do blog SEO in one big article (a report is a different thing) – break it up into segments.
  • Provide a route for feedback so readers can report their experiences and get help if necessary. Forums are great for this, but comment threads do just fine.
  • Add tools / services to your blog – you might be surprised at how much more valuable readers find such things as compared to quality content.
  • Yes, your ‘how-to / system’ posts can be used as resources / tools as well.

Bottom line: if you tell people what to do, chances are that they’ll acclaim you for being wise but not get busy doing anything that you’ve said. On the other hand, if you can show people how to do it, you’ll get a better response.

So what are you aiming for? Building a fan club by impressing people with your knowledge or effectively teaching people how to do what you do?

Update: An excerpt from the first page of Mark Joyner’s book, simple.ology, does a great job of explaining this concept.

Let’s face it: books are old school.

I love to hold a book in my hands. I love the way it looks on my shelf. But if I really want to master something, I need to engage myself in its application.

Reading is one thing. Understanding is another. And proper application is a whole ‘nother thing entirely.

Well said Mr. Joyner.

To apply what you learn, you need a system – whether a how-to, step-by-step guide or a software – that helps you apply what you have read and understood.

This article was originally written on 18 Jul 2007 for Performancing.com.

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