The Ultimate Guide to Writing Ultimate Guides

Image: Idea for an Ultimate Guide
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The name of this post made you click on it, didn’t it?

“Ultimate guide” has become an Internet buzzword over the past few years as people search for ways to bring in traffic, boost their site’s credibility and add quality content to their web sites. Anytime you see the words “ultimate guide,” you can bet there’s a ton of research behind the story, as well as a writer with very tired typing fingers.

You don’t have to be an expert in your chosen subject area to write an ultimate guide. But you do have to have an expert-level understanding of what makes a great ultimate guide to undertake this type of post. (Click to tweet this idea).

Here’s a primer on all you need to know and what you need to cover when writing your next ultimate guide.

Choose a topic

It can be hard to settle on an idea you like enough to write about. Ideally your topic should be something you are familiar enough with to write comfortably. At the same time, it also needs to be something others want to read about. If you’re an expert on making liverwurst from scratch, you may write a wonderful ultimate guide, but very few people are going to be interested enough to read it.

A great example of a guide that combines expertise with information people want to read is Yoast’s definitive guide for WordPress optimization. This combination of authority and a universally appealing topic should be your goal.

Keep in mind that your topic should be unique. There are hundreds of guides for search engine optimization, but fewer about niche areas of SEO, such as ecommerce sites. Pick something that will make your guide stand out among the many other competing voices.

Cover all of your bases…

Writing something called “the ultimate guide” can be a bit intimidating. How do you make sure you cover all of your bases? Here are some ideas to keep you on track:

  • Do keyword research to see what searches people are doing related to your topic.

  • Search Quora to see what questions people are asking about your topic.

  • Read other ultimate guides that have been written about your subject and note what’s missing.

  • Contact experts in the field to find out what they would like to see covered in an ultimate guide. Perhaps you can incorporate a few industry voices.

  • Find links you want to include, making sure you stick to high-quality sites that will expand more upon areas you don’t cover.

  • Create a detailed outline to ensure that you don’t forget anything.

… but don’t cover too many bases

Does that seem a bit confusing? You should always aim for thoroughness when making an ultimate guide, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. You have to keep your topic focused or else your guide will end up being 20,000 words long, and you’ll ramble off on so many tangents you’ll lose your audience.

For instance, when making a list of resource links in your ultimate guide, stay organized and stick closely to your topic. A good example of this balance between too much and not enough information is the Alternative Medicine Resource List maintained by 12 Keys. While the list includes a number of different subcategories, which is great for anyone researching alternative treatments, it’s not so overwhelming that people will get lost amid all the links.

Keep your content evergreen

As the name “ultimate guide” suggests, this is a post designed to stand the test of time. You want people to find your ultimate guide in search results for years, not just weeks. That means that it needs to be evergreen. Evergreen content, much like its namesake trees, never loses its luster. It is relevant and important months and even years after it’s published.

In order to make your post evergreen, avoid references to current pop culture and news. Also make sure you reference events by their date instead of saying something general like “next month” or “next year” — such comments are confusing to someone reading your guide three years from now. Finally, it is a good idea to intermittently go back and update your guide.

Promote your guide

Once you’ve finished writing your guide, it’s time to move on to promoting it. The first and most obvious step is to take to social media. Ultimate guides are highly shareable, and they get lots of momentum on the major social networks.

You don’t have to spend all your waking hours on Twitter to do this. Try out various ways to automate your presence on the days when you have other more pressing tasks, setting up your feed to promote your guide even when you can’t be doing it live.

Be proactive by packaging the guide in different formats to get it more play across the web. One approach is to to make an infographic out of your guide, and link the graphic back to your post. Infographics are a great way to drive traffic in from other sites. You could also repackage the guide as an ebook and give it out to anyone who subscribes to your newsletter. There are lots of creative ways to get more leverage from your guide.

With the right topic, outline, timeliness and promotion, your guide can become one of your most successful writing projects. Now go find that topic! Just remember, stay away from liverwurst.

Have you written an “ultimate guide?”

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Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer who frequently covers social media and PR. Catch up with her on Twitter or check out her blog.... .

Pongra | @adrienneerin

Adrienne Erin
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Comments

  1. – Have you written an “ultimate guide?” —

    I have written two ultimate guides. One on Limit Holdem Poker and the other on Halo for the Xbox.

    I’d laid them out as a series of articles (5 part series) rather than a single published piece.

    The thoroughness of the research needed for a complete guide can tend to be time consuming though. For example, the Limit Holdem Poker guide included a lot of statistical math.

    • Hey Katherine, thanks for your comment! The depth of research you put into an ultimate guide can be really tough, but I think it all pays off in the end!

      Releasing as a series is great – I think it’s a fantastic way to get new subscribers on your email list. “Don’t miss the rest of the guide… sign up now!”

  2. Haha nice touch thanks posting this ultimate guide!

  3. Great article! I’m working on an putting together an ultimate guide post, and this sparked some ideas.

  4. Great tips, Adrienne!

    Another useful thing I can add is to use Evernote, like, really. Just clip all the articles and bookmark pages for your research and write your piece on Evernote. No more switching tabs and windows! :)

    • That’s a good tip, Glori! I don’t use Evernote (I know I know… I just never really got into it. I do use Trello, though) but I can see how that would make the process a lot easier!

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