How to Write an Ultimate Guide (and Why You Should Call It Something Else)
Table of contents
In the online world of content marketing, ultimate guides are everywhere.
These are just a few of the guides that pop up when searching — there are thousands, if not millions more.
If you’re getting ready to write your first (or hundredth) ultimate guide, you’ll want to make sure yours stands out from the crowd. It should offer something the others don’t, and leave an impression on your audience that makes them hit “download” or save the link.
How do you accomplish that? We’re so glad you asked. In this blog, we’ll show you how to make your guide truly ultimate — whether you end up calling it an “ultimate guide” or not.
Let’s start by defining our key term.
What Is an Ultimate Guide?
An ultimate guide is a piece of written content that goes deep and wide on a topic. It answers basic, foundational questions about the topic (for any beginners in the room), but also goes a step further to provide more depth and insight. An ultimate guide won’t make a novice an expert, but it should move a beginner to intermediate or advanced on the topic in question.
That said, an ultimate guide is still limited in scope. It’s typically not a book-length work — at least not in the marketing context. It may be somewhere between 3,000 and 20,000 words long, but it’s structured in a way that breaks things up into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Instead of staring at an overwhelming wall of text, the reader will encounter headings, subheadings, helpful graphics, pull quotes, and maybe even chapter divisions that make the guide easier to digest.Ultimate guides are often published on one, long-scrolling page, with a clickable table of contents for easy navigation.
Benefits of Ultimate Guides
Ultimate guides have become a well-worn tool in content marketers’ workshops because they offer a variety of benefits to both businesses and readers.
- For Businesses/Websites: Ultimate guides take on a similar function to topic clusters on a blog — they cover a topic from a variety of angles in a way that builds the business or website’s reputation while also winning points for SEO. They can become sources of traffic that foster new leads and/or advance existing leads through the marketing funnel.
- For Readers: Ultimate guides are great resources for readers who don’t want to spend hours learning about a topic from 10 different sources. The ultimate guide gives them a quick, meaningful understanding of the topic, and serves as an easy reference. It may also include practical tips or takeaways that the reader can put into action.
An Ultimate Guide Is Not…
1. Unnecessarily Long.
We should never write long just to be long. An ultimate guide’s first priority should be to deliver on its promise and be ultimate. This doesn’t mean being long-winded or unnecessarily verbose. Stick to providing information that you know will be useful to your readers.
2. A Comprehensive Encyclopedia on the Topic.
The focus on useful information means an ultimate guide will not include everything — so resist the urge to write a compendium of facts and figures. Remember: your audience is reading your guide because they don’t have time to find and sort through all of the information themselves. Do them a favor and include only what will be helpful and enlightening. Nix the rest.
3. An Easy Solution for Low Web Traffic.
Any qualified content marketer knows that there’s no such thing as an easy solution for low web traffic, but just in case — ultimate guides aren’t the silver bullet either.
Yes, over time they can build your site’s reputation and reap SEO benefits. But they will not do this overnight. And in order to fully pay off, they need to be part of a long-term content marketing plan that includes all of the other content marketing tools (blogging, keyword research, longtail keyword optimization, crosslinking, social promotion, etc.).
4. Just Another Blog.
An ultimate guide might be published on your blog. It might show up on your blogroll next to your shorter blog articles. But it’s not just another blog. It’s an in-depth sales and marketing tool that should have a relatively long shelf life and be harnessed by your sales team as well as by your marketing team to advance leads to the next stage.
Because of this, your ultimate guide should be written in a way that draws attention to the benefits of your company’s solutions, while still providing useful information for folks who haven’t yet made a purchase.
How to Make Your Guide Ultimate
Ultimate guides, when done well, take a lot of work. They shouldn’t be thrown together without careful thought as to why they’re needed and what they’re for. A truly ultimate guide should be preceded by intentional research and strategy to make sure it serves a purpose beyond attracting web traffic.
But how exactly do you make a guide ultimate?
1. Be intentional in choosing your topic.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: not everything needs an “ultimate guide.” Some things don’t even need a not-so-ultimate guide. Ticonderoga, the maker of the world’s best pencil, doesn’t need to publish an ultimate guide to pencil sharpening (though apparently that exists).
Before you sit down to write 7,000 words on a random topic, take some time to consider your audience and what they actually want to know.
If you’ve been tasked with writing an ultimate guide for a company, chances are your company is trying to bump up sales of one of its products or services. Or maybe they’re trying to develop leads from a new-to-them target audience. Learn about those goals — and then brainstorm ways to support those goals with your guide.
As you consider your company’s product or service:
- Identify the most unique features or offerings that set your company’s solution apart from competitors.
- Find the common thread(s) between those offerings. Do a few of them address the same pain point that your target audience is experiencing? How about a common benefit or outcome?
- What’s the most compelling thread that you found? This could be your ultimate guide topic.
For example, if your company sells high-quality bedsheets to five-star hotels, you might walk through the exercise like this:
- High thread count
- Durable and soft
- Damage prevention (stains, shrinking, pilling, durable)
- Meets wealthy guests’ high standards (thread count, pill-free, soft)
Damage prevention → The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Hotel Sheets for the Stays of Countless Guests
That last bit — the working ultimate guide title — sets you up to write a piece that provides helpful information to readers on how to take care of the sheets they already have with intentional laundering practices, while also informing them on how materials and thread count make a difference for the lifespan of a set of sheets.
This is where the guide’s sales function comes in: After giving your reader ample information on sheet care, you can include information about your company’s sheets that shows how they’re designed for a long-lasting, luxurious experience on hotel beds.
Your turn: Walk through the exercise above with your own company and audience in mind. What are the benefits and pain points that could form the premise of your ultimate guide?
2. Write to the beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
An ultimate guide should be approachable for beginners, but also give the intermediate and advanced person something new to put into action.
Your guide’s structure could break down to something like this:
- Basic, beginner-level intro
- Intermediate information and understanding
- Advanced insights and applications
Start by getting everyone on the same page: cover the basic information on the topic that everyone needs to know. Then, build on that with more complicated information that will be helpful to readers. After that, move on to insights and applications that are less obvious but still useful to your audience.
For our bedsheets example:
- Beginners may not know that a wash cycle’s settings and the type of detergent used can influence how long sheets hold up.
- Intermediates may not understand how thread count and type of material impact pilling.
- Advanced folks may not know that some sheets are engineered to prevent pilling and stains.
Your guide can cover all of that, providing practical insights for your audience at all levels.
3. Make your guide deep and wide — but keep it focused.
Remember: Your guide is not an encyclopedia. It should be broad enough to require several thousand words, but not so broad that it’s unclear what readers will get out of it.
Picking your topic is half the battle here — so refer back to #1. But once you have your topic, you need to be able to judge what subtopics should be included, and which are a distraction.
For example: Bedsheet care involves laundry facilities, but that doesn’t mean your guide needs a deep dive on types of washing machines with the best cycle options. (Though that might be a standalone piece of content.)
As you decide what subtopics to cover, map out potential audience questions and concerns. What questions and concerns are most closely related to your main topic? Which are a few (or several) degrees removed?
Your guide should only include what’s most relevant and useful. Anything else could be secondary content that goes on your blog and is perhaps hyperlinked from your guide — if it’s worth writing at all.
4. Cover what your competitors missed.
With so many ultimate guides already running loose on the internet, why would you want to write more? Does anyone really need another ultimate guide?
These are questions worth addressing. There’s a lot of unnecessary content on the internet. You want to write something that people actually need.
To do this, you’ll need to avoid just repeating what everyone else has already said. Before you sit down to write your own guide, take a look at what else exists on the same topic. Make note of what others have covered (and maybe covered too much) and pay special attention to what they’ve neglected. Those blank spots are opportunities for your guide to stand out and give your audience necessary information.
However, because your guide needs to cover the basics, there will still be some overlap between what you write and what your competitors have published.
5. Support your claims with stats.
Research will help you not only write what your audience wants to know about, but also provide legitimate information that they can trust. If your topic is something that the government or researchers collect data on, dig around for some relevant statistics.
Not every guide will need statistics, but if you’re writing a guide for, say, private landlords or public speakers, you may want to include information on average rental maintenance costs or audience attention spans.
Legitimate, well-placed statistics will support your guide (and company) as an authoritative source for your audience.
6. Structure your guide in a logical way.
A good structure helps you bring your readers on a learning journey.
You’ll want to start simple and cover more complex ideas as you get deeper into the guide — but you’ll also want to make sure that the different sections or subtopics naturally follow one another. While folding and storing bedsheets may be a simpler topic than laundering, it would make more sense to write about it after explaining the best ways to wash sheets, because that’s the order that someone would actually do those tasks.
7. Make it memorable.
Plenty of ultimate guides use dull language to make their points. Don’t let yours fall into the same rut. Instead, write in a way that will grab your readers’ attention and leave an impression.
A few techniques you can try:
- Specificity: Content online is drowning in generalities. Make your guide unique by using specific words that are appropriate and approachable, but not bland or boring. This is especially helpful in headings and subheadings — or quick one-liners that sum up concepts. Wordtune Editor comes in handy for this. Just highlight your ho-hum content and scroll through our writing assistant’s fresh options.
- Vivid examples: Examples, analogies, and case studies help bring an ultimate guide to life — but they’re even better when written in a vivid, attention-grabbing way. Try infusing a bit of drama and entertainment value into your guide to make it both fun to read and easy to remember later on.
- Alliteration or acronyms: Does your guide cover a few different concepts that you want your readers to remember? Try writing them with alliteration — all starting with the same letter — or making them into a goofy acronym. This approach, typical of public speakers, can help your writing stick in your audience’s minds.
8. Add visuals.
In today’s image-saturated world, people want more and more visuals. It helps break up the text and ease the stress on our shortened attention spans — and can also be a way to further illustrate and cement ideas.
The best ultimate guides have visuals — whether photos, infographics, or illustrations — that bring the content to life or interpret it in a fun way. Maybe your team can work with a comic illustrator to come up with visuals that explore the concepts through humor. Maybe the stat-heavy section would be well-served by an infographic that turns numbers into pictures, instead of just blowing them up to a bigger size.
Visuals can both support your content and make it more enjoyable and memorable for readers.
9. Top it all off with a mini guide to your guide.
Because your audience is made up of people with all levels of knowledge, you’ll want to make it easy for your more advanced readers to skip the stuff they already know. If you’re publishing your guide on a single page, you can accomplish this with a clickable table of contents near the top of the page. This guide-to-your-guide also makes your content more navigable for people who are scanning for quick answers to their questions.
Need help breaking your guide up into sections? Paste the text into the Wordtune Summarizer tool and use the summarized notes to identify potential section headings.
10. Come up with an original name.
At this point in internet history, there are so many ultimate guides, that “ultimate” has all but lost meaning. To avoid blending in with all the other (not so) ultimate guides, come up with a more original, attention-grabbing name.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
- The Actually Ultimate Guide to XYZ — No, Seriously
- The Guide to XYZ You Didn’t Know You Needed
- The Totally Awesome, Definitely Not Comprehensive Guide to XYZ
- The Guide to XYZ for Busy People Tired of Reading Not-So-Ultimate Guides
- The Wannabe Expert’s Guide to XYZ
For more ideas, use the “rewrite” feature in the Wordtune Editor to reimagine highlighted content.
Take Your Guide Further
An ultimate guide takes a lot of time to research, write, design, and publish. Once you’ve published your guide, you’ll want to get as much use out of it as possible.
Along with the typical social and email promotions to get the word out, these approaches will help you get more mileage out of what you’ve written:
- Repurpose content: The content in your guide can be repurposed as standalone, informative posts on LinkedIn, Instagram, or wherever online you interact with prospects. You can also publish individual chapters or sections as standalone blog posts (if your guide is published in a different place on your site) or use the guide as inspiration for a podcast series.
- Package it as a downloadable e-book: Turn your guide into a downloadable PDF that folks can only access after submitting their information on a landing page, and you’ll likely gather some new contacts for your sales team.
- Print it for your sales team to take to conferences: We don’t mean taking over the company printers and using up a bunch of staples. Work with a self-publisher or local book printer to publish softcover editions of your guide. This is especially useful if your guide has a long, um, shelf life and won’t be out-of-date in a year. Your sales team can keep a stack available as freebies when they go to conferences and meet new prospects.
Ultimate guides can be fun and useful tools for your company — and interesting, informative reads for your audience. But to get there and make it worthwhile requires intentional effort that focuses on your audience’s needs and interests and goes above and beyond plain, old words.
As you write your own, don’t be afraid to experiment with new approaches to this tried-and-true piece of content.