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As a marketer, you’ve probably heard about ultimate guides.
You’ve probably read a few (at least), too.
Maybe you’ve even created some yourself.
Whether you call them “ultimate guides” or something else (like one of Business Casual Copywriting’s ten better suggestions), the idea remains the same: build a multi-chapter guide covering an entire topic in deep detail.
Sure, they take time and effort to get right. But, when done well, they can rank for tons of keywords, establish you as a topical authority, and drive enormous amounts of traffic.
In this post, we’ll explain exactly how to create an awesome topical guide, supported by a strategic keyword strategy that will 10X your results. Some things we’ll cover include:
This is the exact process we walked through to build our own comprehensive guide to marketing strategy we recently launched. That’s something we’ve gotten a lot of questions around, and we’re glad to share what we learned with you here on the CoSchedule Blog.
Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to business.
There are a lot of steps in the process we’ll outline in this post. To make things easier, we recommend downloading your free template bundle below. It includes:
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.
With that aside, an ultimate guide typically features a couple things:
The idea behind this is to rank each page for several different keywords. This makes topical guides a high-effort, high-risk, and high-reward proposition for marketers to tackle.
Sometimes, you’ll see blog posts with “ultimate guide” in the title. We’ve even published posts like this ourselves. However, for our purposes here, we’re talking about in-depth, multi-page guides, or single-page guides that use deep links for each chapter.
If you’re going to put in the work, there needs to be a payoff. Here are some of the primary reasons to create guides.
Before we show you how to build a guide of your own, it might help to show you some examples first. Here are some quality examples you can follow for inspiration.
Ranking first for the term “SEO” is … insane. That’s exactly what this guide does, and has done, for years though. It’s the end-all, be-all guide that practically everyone in the business reads when they’re starting out (or looking for a reference).
While this is similar to the Moz example above, what we like about Jeff Goins’ guide is its simplicity. If you don’t have ample resources for design and development, something like that Moz guide might be out of your reach. However, this one is a bit more simple in terms of aesthetic and structure, without sacrificing content quality or usefulness.
This one is a little different. Instead of unique pages for each chapter, it uses deep links (which add a # and a slug) for each chapter.
This guide uses unique URLs for each chapter, and then uses deep links for each section within each chapter. It also keeps the design clean, relying on copy over images.
This is our own guide, written, designed, and developed from to finish by only three people. We set out with the aim to create the web’s best guide to marketing strategy (and we’ll let you decide if we achieved that goal).
When we started our own guide project, we managed our workflows and team communication with CoSchedule. Considering the project’s complexity, we can’t imagine how it would be possible without using some sort of marketing management platform.
First, consider how many people will be working on your guide. This might include:
Then, figure out how much time it will take for each team member to complete their pieces. For this type of project, you’re looking at:
To figure out how much time this will all take, start with some rough estimates. For example, one page may require the following:
Ultimately, only you know how long it takes your team to complete work. Determine reasonable deadlines, and then plot them out on your marketing calendar.
If you’re using CoSchedule, start by using Marketing Campaigns. This is a feature that makes it easy to organize all the different pieces of a campaign or project.
To get started, open up your calendar and select Marketing Campaign:
Give your project a name and an owner. Then, set the start and end dates for your project:
Click Create Campaign. Next, you’ll see a color bar spanning the dates for your project on the calendar:
Then, using Custom Content Types, start adding all your required meetings and content projects onto the calendar (one for each page you’ll need to create):
In the lower left on each piece of content on the calendar, you’ll see each one now belongs in this project:
Keep adding pieces until every piece of the project is placed on the calendar. Then, once you actually start executing each piece, use Discussions to communicate between team members:
And to make sure each piece gets completed the right way the first time, use Task Templates (these are simple reusable checklists):
Now, you’ll be all set up to execute your guide smoothly from start to finish.
Start by asking yourself this question:
“What does our company most want to be known for?”
Your answer is your starting point for selecting a topic. If you’re struggling, try following this exercise:
From there, your topic should also be broad and complex enough that it would require a substantial piece of content to cover in full. The idea is to create a guide around one primary topic with several sub-topics beneath it.
Once you have a topic selected, it’s time to start your keyword research.
This entails finding one primary keyword and tons of relevant secondary (or Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords.
You’ll then map those keywords around your topic, forming what’s called a topic cluster. Here’s a simple illustration diagramming what a topic cluster looks like:
Essentially, your primary topic is your main pillar content, which links down to multiple pieces of related content. Your pillar content should target your most broad and (most likely) highest-volume keyword, while your related content should target more narrowly focused terms.
To begin, fire up your keyword research tools. Here are some of our favorite options:
While these are tools we either use, or have used, there are tons of other options out there. Those include paid tools like SEM Rush, SECockpit, and LongTailPro, and free alternatives like WordStream’s free tool, SEO Book’s classic options, and KeywordTool.io’s free tool.
Once you’ve picked a tool, look up terms related to your primary topic. We’ll start with a hypothetical search using Ahrefs (since it’s the World Series at the time of this writing, we’ll go with “baseball”):
Now, there are a few things to look for here (which are included in most other tools as well):
When choosing keywords for a guide, don’t be afraid to target more high difficulty terms than you normally might. You’re going to put a lot of work into this, so aim high.
Continue with your keyword research process until you’ve built a strong base of search terms.
The next step is to sort your keywords.
Assign one primary keyword per page you’ll create. Then, select secondary keywords to help round out each page in your guide.
To do this, use the simple keyword research template included in this post (if you haven’t yet, be sure to grab that bundle). Here’s what it looks like:
To use this template, add the following:
Include your primary keyword for each page in your URL slug.
Let’s say we narrowed down our topic earlier to “how to play baseball.” Here’s what our keyword research and guide structure might start to look like:
There are several things to note here:
Keep going until you’ve planned every page that’ll comprise your guide.
Once you know what you’ll write about, it’s time to dive into research.
After all, if you’re going to position yourself as a topical expert, you need to actually be an expert (or do an extremely convincing job of sounding like one).
If you need help getting started, we’d recommend beginning with our list of 30 content research tips. You’ll be sure to grab at least a few new ideas to help you nail your research.
Now, it’s time to start writing all your content.
For each page, you’ll need to write:
Now, let’s make each of these things the best they can be. Since you’re likely targeting some competitive terms with your guide, it’s essential that you stress every detail.
Every title tag on each page should:
To test title tags (and meta descriptions) before you publish your pages, use Portent’s free SERP Preview Tool. Just type in your title tag and description, and it’ll show you how they’ll appear in search results:
Like we said earlier, meta descriptions should be no longer than 156 characters (don’t make them too short though). While they don’t impact rankings, they do influence users to click. Think of them as small blocks of ad copy that sell readers on the idea of reading your content.
A good meta description should:
Here’s the meta description we wrote for our guide:
It includes each of the elements listed above (primary keyword, summary and benefit, and a callout to free templates to further entice clicks).
Use the SERP Preview Tool mentioned above to test your meta descriptions for each page.
Catchy headlines are key for selling readers on your guide. The easiest way to optimize your headlines is with our free Headline Analyzer.
Visit the tool and enter a headline:
Then, see your score:
We recommend writing 20 to 25 headline options per page. Then, settle on your best work. Make sure each headline includes your primary keyword phrase on each page.
Each page in your guide should deliver the following:
This will likely require a hefty amount of text (like we said earlier, probably 1,000 words or more). Don’t stress content length for its own sake, though. Make every word count and only include
information that’s actually useful to your reader.
Here’s an example of what well-formatted body content looks like:
Here, you can see a few things:
To make writing your content easier, we’ve included a web page content writing template in this post. It’s included in the downloadable bundle you can find near the top or using the left-hand widget on this post. It’s made to make writing all your content easy while making everything presentable for your designers and developers to interpret.
Here’s what it looks like (feel free to copy, paste, add, or remove any fields as needed):
You’re probably doing all this work because you want more leads and customers. So, include a relevant call-to-action on each page. This generally entails writing:
Here are some examples:
For extra credit, consider A/B testing different options.
After all your content has been written, it’s up to your designers and developers turn your content docs into actual web pages and get everything launched.
Don’t cut corners here! To understand the importance of strong visual design, refer to this infographic from Neil Patel:
If you’re a content writer or marketer involved in content planning and creation, there are some things you can do to make this easier. Here are some tips.
If you have ideas for images you need designed, give your designers clear directives on what you’re thinking. Include the following two things:
You can denote this in a number of ways. One is to add some brackets within your text:
Or you can make it a different color (one that will stand out) within the text in your content doc.
This can make it a lot easier for designers to know what your expectations are when it comes to their work.
This means giving your development team the exact content and meta data you want included on every page. If you use the web content writing template included in this post, this should be simple. Text that you’d like placed within H2 and H3 subheadings should also be called out in your content docs.
Having this information up front is necessary for your developers to work efficiently and ensure that everything is formatted correctly for readability and on-page SEO.
If your designers or developers suggest making changes, or let you know that something will need to be adjusted or won’t work, keep an open mind. You’re working together as a team to make your guide great, and that might mean making changes from your initial vision.
Once your guide goes live, you’ll need to promote it like crazy. The more you can have planned up front, the easier it’ll be to execute your promotion strategy.
Create a comprehensive social media campaign to promote your guide. Follow these steps:
Need help determining your ideal posting frequency? Here’s a good starting point to consider:
For more assistance with social scheduling (that’s something we know a thing or two about), check out these posts:
Send your guide to industry friends and people you know. Use a simple template like this:
We’ve created an in-depth guide to [INSERT TOPIC]. It’s titled [INSERT HEADLINE], and it’s something we’re really proud of.
Would you mind taking a look and letting us know what you think? If you’d like, feel free to share it with your social followers.
Thanks for your time!
Take some time to personalize this template and add more context around why your specific guide is valuable to their specific audience. Most of the time, people that you know will be glad to help. Just be sure to reach out to people you have an actual working relationship with.
Here’s the moment of truth.
Your guide is out in the wild. It should be ranking for tons of keywords and driving incredible traffic, right?
If you’re using Moz or Ahrefs (two SEO platforms we mentioned earlier), add all the primary keywords you’re trying to rank for on into your campaign.
If you’re looking for a free option, SERPs Rank Checker tool is decently reliable. They also offer a complete premium SEO platform like Moz and Ahrefs you can consider, too.
Beyond just looking at rankings though, here are some specific things to keep an eye on.
You now have the game plan you need to build your guide and start ranking on those competitive keywords you always thought were out of reach. All you need now is time and the commitment to succeed.
Plan content and automate publishing to save tons of time now.
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