Where ultimate guides go wrong, the key to writing valuable content that doesn’t sound like every thing else

when ultimate guides go wrong

We often call long-form content an ultimate guide. After all, who doesn’t want to read “The Ultimate Guide” to anything? The only problem is that these days we have a lot of those ultimate guides and often they are anything but.

I’ll admit, every time I see a new “Ultimate Guide” of anything I roll my eyes. Why? Most of the time they aren’t worth the title Ultimate.

If someone uses the word “ultimate,” I am expecting them to put everything in the article.

When it comes to using ultimate, I kind of think like Ben Sailer of CoSchedule,

“So, as you may have guessed, we’re not big fans of the term “ultimate” guide. That’s mainly because it’s an overused term. However, it’s also the most popular and widely-used phrase for what we’re describing, so we’ll concede defeat and use the terminology folks know.”

I agree with Ben. I think it is overused as well.

What is an ultimate guide then? It is a piece of content that has the final word on a topic. That being said, I believe that someone will come along and write a better piece of content. So, in these terms, it really doesn’t become the final word, but maybe “final word for now.”

Sailer has two characteristics of an Ultimate Guide:

“It covers a broad topic in detail. If you have a competitive keyword for a broad topic, it’s a good candidate for this type of guide.

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“It features one main page and several smaller chapter pages. Generally, this means building out a main page with a well-designed table of contents linking to each chapter page. They may also use deep links embedded on a single page to break out chapters.”

In this case, an ultimate guide is a bigger piece of content flanked by supporting pieces of content or chapters. It’s sort of like writing a book and posting it online with its own chapters.

Ultimate Guides are also written as a blog post. Because they are so in-depth and full of tons of useful info, they are long. And, because they are so long, they often include a table of contents linking to various sections.

Using a table of contents is a good idea for the reader as well as accessibility.

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We are in dangerous territory here. Once you see this, it can’t be unseen. You may find yourselves rolling your eyes the next time you see an “Ultimate Guide” that clocks in at a paltry 800 words.

When should you use an Ultimate Guide?

Photo of Woman Using Her Laptop
Photo of Woman Using Her Laptop | Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

First, for the purpose of this article, I am referring to an Ultimate Guide as an article on your website as opposed to a guide with supporting chapters. That being said, these articles can often be displayed as a topic guide.

When doing a little bit of research, I came across a Tuesday Tutorial from Joanna Wiebe at Copyhackers. In the tutorial, she goes over a template for writing one of these guides. That template is the longest template I’ve ever seen with 12 sections.

According to Wiebe, if you are targeting business making $10M+ per year, you need an ultimate guide. That’s something to keep in mind. If it is good enough for businesses making that much money, I’m sure it is good enough for businesses making less than this amount.

An ultimate guide is the ultimate piece of evergreen content. It can also serve as a strong piece of pillar or cornerstone content.

If you are creating this kind of content, it will surely be very long. This is a great opportunity to employ a content upgrade. Turn the content into a downloadable PDF and offer it for an email address. Instant lead.

For this article, an ultimate guide may be the kinds of guides we have already mentioned where you put everything about the topic into the article or it may be another type of valuable, authoritative content.

Ultimate Guide may have different names

Person using laptop
An Ultimate Guide with a different name

We use different terms for authoritative, high ranking articles or ultimate guides. First, there is the obvious, the Ultimate Guide. Some will even get descriptive and call it Epic Content. Big Deal Neil even has an article on an Ultimate Guide to Epic Content that will go Viral. Cool title.

Epic content isn’t always about length as Joe Pulizzi reminds us in this article at The Content Marketing Institute.

Brian Dean of Backlinko launched the term Skyscraper Content.

The overuse of the technique leaves it wanting as Mark Walker says,

“Much like infographics, listicles, and other hot content marketing trends before it, the original concept was brilliant. Its overuse and misuse are making it a menace.”

The premise, as you see in Dean’s post is to take some really good content and make it even better, meaning adding more valuable content into your new article. You should also execute good promotion.

The problem, as Walker says, is,

“The crux of my issue with so many blogs and businesses trying to outdo each other is that they seem to think skyscraper content is synonymous with length, not value.”

He wrote that article in 2016 and people are still misusing the skyscraper technique. There is some correlation to length and value, but it is not causation. Have you ever read an article full of fluff to make the word count higher?

Next, we have 10X Content. This comes from the Wizard of Moz himself, Rand Fishkin. Good thing for us that the Wizard broke it all down in a Whiteboard Friday.

The final two terms are terms I like to use, Cornerstone Content and Pillar Content. I wrote an article on Cornerstone content a few years ago at Kikolani.

But you can learn more about what cornerstone content is from Copyblogger, and Yoast’s version — which I like.

While I think cornerstone content and pillar content are the same, I’m sure someone would debate with me on that point. You can see how Kapost talks about it here,   but  I like how Sophia Bernazzani describes a pillar page for Hubspot. I think that Bernazzani does an excellent job of defining the strategy talking about topics and topic clusters.

You see, your ultimate guide doesn’t have to be called an ultimate guide. Calling it an ultimate guide doesn’t make it so. Using the word “ultimate” comes back to trying to make it more clickable.

Copywriter Joel Klettke has some thoughts about this and even gives us ten other titles we can use.

. . . I understand the motivation behind calling your piece the “Ultimate Guide”. It sounds badass. Definitively definitive. There are lots of guides out there, some good, some better – but yours dropkicks all those guides like an unexpected Hulk Hogan off the turnbuckle.

But I’d like to make one, simple request: Please, no more “Ultimate” Guides. To anything.


When a term, any term, is overused, it loses its power. It’s kind of like that hit song they play all the time on the radio. After the 1000th time, you are tired of hearing it, no matter how good it is.

Klettke says,

When everything is special, nothing is. Millenials, let your brain run rampant on that one for a little bit..

He’s right, you know.

Wrapping it up

What does all this mean for us? Well, for starters, write good content. It doesn’t have to be 5700 words long. The best content is the content that is relevant.

The best content meets the needs of your customer. There is a need, however, for long-form content and there is a need for authoritative content. For most of us, that means writing a long article with lots of expert quotes and examples.

However, for someone like Seth Godin, it may mean a 250 word thought of the century.

One thing I ask is not to create content that is lacking and call it “ultimate.” I echo the request from Klettke,

“But I’d like to make one, simple request: Please, no more ‘Ultimate’ Guides. To anything.” Consider calling it something else.

There are many techniques for creating long-form content as we looked at above. The most important thing to create is content that is relevant. Start there.

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