When it comes to creating long-form evergreen content that yields rich benefits, the “ultimate guide” post has long been one of the go-to options for content marketers and SEO experts.
However, with so many bloggers, entrepreneurs, content writers, and SEOs publishing content under the label of an “ultimate guide,” we must ask the question:
Do they still work? Are ultimate guides for SEO dead?
Better yet, are ultimate guides dead?
The answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might think.
While they’ve certainly lost some of their novelty, they aren’t exactly ineffective.
The key is to understand where they provide value and how they’re best used today.
The aforementioned benefits are clearly compelling. However, you’re probably reading this post because you have one big question: Do ultimate guides STILL work, even when thousands of other brands are already using them?
The short answer is: It depends.
We’ve just finished outlining some of the biggest reasons why ultimate guides are valuable. But the more people use the term “ultimate guide,” the less impactful these resources become.
The word “ultimate” means last, furthest, maximum, conclusive, or decisive. It’s supposed to be the final, total, greatest, or best of its kind. It’s the most extreme – better than everything else that’s out there.
The problem is that we’ve watered down the word “ultimate” to the point that it doesn’t mean anything. And when everything is the greatest or best of its kind, nothing is.
When there are 217 different “ultimate guide to online marketing” posts, there’s no longer much perceived value. Even if yours truly is the ultimate resource, how would anyone know?
It’s not any individual content creator’s problem, but ultimate guides are kind of like the boy who cried wolf. Readers have seen the phrase so often that they won’t believe it when they actually stumble upon an extremely valuable piece of content.
Here’s the thing. The basic tenets of what make an ultimate guide post valuable still ring true. Ideas like depth, quality, and tactical benefits are all still extremely powerful and beneficial. But the more the word “ultimate” is used, the less people pay attention.
So, do ultimate guide posts still work?
The answer is yes…but you have to find a way to make people pay attention. You can’t just create the 99th “Ultimate Guide to Investing” and expect it to generate value for your brand. You have to be willing to create content that’s fresh and exciting.
Before getting too deep into the weeds, let’s set the table by making sure we all understand exactly what an ultimate guide is.
For starters, let’s get clear on one thing: Your ultimate guide is more than a listicle. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just slap the words “ultimate guide” into the headline and turn any old listicle into an ultimate guide.
The goal with an ultimate guide isn’t just to write more content or have a longer list of tips. The objective is to provide the most possible value to the reader – a one-stop-shop for answers on a particular topic. The reader should be able to stumble upon your article with no knowledge of the topic and walk away with a 101-level grasp of the topic from all angles (perhaps even a 201-level understanding).
A good ultimate guide is almost like a mini-course or book. It typically covers the what, why, and how of the topic. Not only that, but there are also a variety of different examples, screenshots, illustrations, and tactical insights that users can put into action right away.
According to CoSchedule, which has created several high-ranking ultimate guides over the years, these types of posts generally feature a couple of different things:
Ultimate guides aren’t something you create in a day. They’re time-intensive and (potentially) expensive. But when viewed as investments, they often generate a significant ROI. And that’s the reason that so many bloggers, creators, entrepreneurs, and business owners have relied on them as staple pieces of their content strategies over the years.
A well-researched and well-written ultimate guide has the potential to elevate your content strategy and take your digital presence to the next level. Some of the specific benefits include:
Every ultimate guide is unique and provides its own list of benefits and advantages. However, when executed properly, you should experience at least a few of the ones mentioned above (if not all of them).
Now that we’ve gotten clear on exactly what ultimate guides are, the value they provide, and the need to stand out, let’s dig into the specifics. Here are several steps you can take to ensure your ultimate guide actually generates a return on investment for your brand.
Most people dive straight into creating an ultimate guide before researching what already exists. So before you develop your Ultimate Guide on Changing Your Oil, make sure you run a quick Google search to see what already exists. In short, you should be doing a competitive analysis of other, similar ultimate guides.
Create a spreadsheet with columns for the post headline, URL, subheadings, things the post does well, and things the post misses on. At a minimum, you want to record information for every ultimate guide on the first two pages of Google search results.
Armed with a detailed spreadsheet of information, you’re ready to start planning your own post. The goal is to build upon the strengths you see in other posts and to fill in the gaps and missing pieces that exist.
For example, if every ultimate guide post on your topic only has 15 tips and merely recommends different tools to use, you now know that you can surpass these posts by creating an ultimate guide post with 30 tips and a step-by-step tutorial of how to use each of the tools mentioned.
As previously mentioned, it’s not that ultimate guide posts don’t work – it’s that the word ultimate is overused and has lost all meaning and value. So if you’re going to go through the trouble of creating a post of this magnitude, you’ll want to use unique phraseology. Here are some other words and terms that could set your post apart. (We’ll use the previous illustration of “marketing” as an example.)
We just came up with that list in 45 seconds. If you take 15 minutes to brainstorm some different name ideas, you’ll be amazed by how many different ones you can come up with.
In the aim of giving readers everything they could possibly need to know about a topic, most people zoom out with ultimate guides and cover very basic topics. But if you want to fill a void in the market, perhaps you should get more granular?
In other words, don’t write another “ultimate guide to marketing” post. Instead, make the focus more specific – like content marketing, PPC advertising, or video marketing. Better yet, dig in even closer and make it an ultimate guide (using other terminology, of course) to writing headlines, Facebook advertising, or Instagram Live.
As you zoom in on the topic, you’ll also find it easier to conduct valuable long-tail keyword research. This increases your chances of developing content that resonates with your target audience.
The subheadings in your post are basically the “chapters.” While most content creators use very basic subheadings that they think their readers want to see, you can create more value here by writing subheadings they actually want to read.
The best way to do this is by running a Google search for each longtail keyword that you’re focusing on. Once you do this, Google will give you a rich snippet with several other queries and questions “people also ask.” Each one of these questions can be organized into a logical progression of subheadings. Not only does this guarantee you’re creating content your audience wants to read, but you’re also pushing Google’s buttons.
The next step is to diversify your content. If everyone is writing the same thing, covering the same information, and discussing the exact same strategies, you need to take a different approach. The goal isn’t to blend in – it’s to stand out.
Sometimes diversifying looks like taking a contrarian stance or digging into an opposing viewpoint. Other times, it’s creating graphics and videos when everyone else is 100 percent focused on textual content.
Most newbies think that if you create the highest quality post and hit publish, people will start visiting your site. Though this sounds great in theory, it simply isn’t true.
Fifteen years ago, you could spend a few days creating a quality post that was stuffed with the right keywords and you’d instantly catapult to the first page of Google. But in today’s saturated marketplace where millions of words of content are published on a daily basis, this magnetic approach no longer works. (At least not in isolation.) You have to be more proactive.
Once you publish your post, your attention should go to promoting that post. You can obviously do this via your own social media channels and email list, but the real power comes from forming partnerships with other people and brands who have their own audiences. This includes strategies like guest blogging, influencer marketing, and even renting email lists.
Content creation isn’t as easy as it looks. And if you’re going to spend time and money creating an ultimate guide post, you might as well do it right the first time.
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