62 Queries for Writing Ultimate Guides that Build Links, Leads and Legacy

There's a content series waiting to happen in your market. This content series builds high-trust links because of its thoroughness, emphasis on utility and the inclusion of "info-swag" such as free tools, checklists and widgets. This content series drives leads because it emphasizes your company's unique expertise and capacity to understand core market concerns. Through careful promotion this content series creates a lasting legacy in your market and becomes a "pillar of wisdom" that experts cite for years. That's right... this content series is YOUR "Ultimate Guide" series. Let's get going...

This article is the first installment of our "Ultimate Guide to Writing Ultimate Guides," which will be a free, members-only PDF (sign up to become an Ontolo member now >>). This article covers the research phase, which is the most important phase to get right the first time. Through your research - and the free, members-only UG2UGs Worksheet - you create a linkable content road map, useful as an editorial calendar, that you can follow for months to come.

Tools for Phase 1 of the UG2UG Process

42 Queries for Discovering the "How To" Content Types of Your Market

This section, on queries, will help you to uncover the existing how-to content in your market, which gives you the clues, direction and guidance your writers will need to build out your Ultimate Guide series. These queries are the gateway to your industry's how-to content. You will need to know your market defining keywords in order to use them effectively. Try a few out now and then skip on ahead to the next section so you can see how to use them.

Informative Content Queries

  1. [MDKW] "how to"
  2. [MDKW] "ways to"
  3. [MDKW] "guide to"
  4. [MDKW] "top * tips"
  5. [MDKW] "Top * Ways"
  6. [MDKW] "things to consider"
  7. [MDKW] considerations
  8. [MDKW] ideas
  9. [MDKW] tricks
  10. [MDKW] hints
  11. [MDKW] tactics
  12. [MDKW] techniques
  13. [MDKW] steps
  14. [MDKW] "top * list"
  15. [MDKW] intitle:list intitle:"ways to"
  16. [MDKW] intitle:list intitle:best
  17. [MDKW] "top * reasons"
  18. [MDKW] "top * best"
  19. [MDKW] "top * ideas"
  20. [MDKW] "help with"
  21. [MDKW] "help for"
  22. [MDKW] "approach to"
  23. [MDKW] checklist OR "check list"
  24. [MDKW] worksheet OR "work sheet"
  25. [MDKW] recommendations
  26. [MDKW] tutorial
  27. [MDKW] process
  28. [MDKW] insights

Pain-First Content Queries

  1. [MDKW] "problems with"
  2. [MDKW] "worst ways"
  3. [MDKW] "worst things"
  4. [MDKW] difficult*
  5. [MDKW] pitfalls
  6. [MDKW] warnings
  7. [MDKW] trouble
  8. [MDKW] problems

"Concealed Information" Queries

  1. [MDKW] secrets
  2. [MDKW] hidden
  3. [MDKW] confessions
  4. [MDKW] "won't tell you"
  5. [MDKW] "don't want you to know"
  6. [MDKW] lost

A quick note for folks whose industries - as represented by their market defining keywords - don't have much or ANY how to content... Congratulations! There's a huge opportunity for you. To get a sense of what to write though, and how to write it, you may have to look for your nearest related industry that DOES have some how-to content. Read 14 Link Prospecting Queries for Discovering Your Company's Related Verticals.

Identify + Record Great How-To Pieces

Once you've poked around a bit with queries, it's time to get to work. This means systematically searching each and every query above - plus any that occur to you as you're researching - and recording the best articles, guides and resources you find. The free worksheet for the Ultimate Guide to Writing Ultimate Guides makes keeping track of everything very, very easy.

In Sheet 2, Column 1 of the worksheet you'll find all the queries above, making it very easy for to find and replace [MDKW] with your actual market defining keyword. Column 2 is where you record the queries that actually lead to content. Not all of them will! Column 3 and 4 are for the article title and URL of content you find. Column 5 is the most important column - that's where you begin your how-to type classification.

Your process will look something like this... Search the keyword phrase, then visit likeliest-looking results from the top 20(ish). If they're decent looking pieces, copy and paste their title and URL into columns 3 and 4. Be sure to keep track of the keyword phrase that found them in column 2 though! Once you've worked through the list of queries you can move on to the work of filling out column 5: Categories of Concern.

ProTip: Ideally you're finding 100 or so pieces of content. More would be better, but also far more time consuming. The result you're trying to produce here is enough input to make a reasonable assessment of your market's categories of concern...

Discover Your Market's Categories of Concern

This vital step is one in which the intuitive organizers, industry veterans and obsessive-compulsive labelers will shine. Once you've gathered up a thorough representation of your industry's top how-to related content you must organize it based on the categories of concern or market pains that each piece speaks to.

It's often possible to do this sort of grouping simply by reading the article title - even if the person doing the groupings didn't do the research. This means you can have someone who's highly intelligent though less familiar with your industry conduct the initial research and then hand it off to someone who's good at discerning categories.

Here's a quick example of a "category of concern" when the Market Defining Keyword is dog. Do a quick search on [dog "how to"], and we'll just look at the top 10. A quick glance at the SERPs shows me suggestions for categories of concern including "training a dog," "choosing the right dog," "things to consider before adopting a dog," "understanding dog body language," to name a few that jump right out. Though it's not advisable to leap to a market's categories of concerns from a single query, we can see that "dog selection," "dog behavior," "dog communication," and "dog stages" could all be categories of concern. Further on you'll see how to dig deeper into each category of concern to develop titles for your guides that ultimately become your linkable content calendar.

ProTip: It's highly likely that the concerns will relate to either decreasing something (save money, save time, save effort) or increasing something (learn to, get more, make more, improve). The SOMETHING that gets reduced or increased is what you have to figure out.

ProTip 2: The individual who excels at discovering a market's categories of concern is also likely to be HIGHLY USEFUL for categorizing tips and tricks, which happens further along in the guide-creation process. At the guide level, they're identifying logical groupings for tips using the same brain muscles they used to discover the categories of concern.

ProTip 3: You can also spend some time with The Link Builder's Guide to Competitive 'How-To' Content Analysis, which discusses the use of queries, the SERPs results themselves and the Ontolo Phrase Occurrence Counter to figure out what's written about the most frequently. The frequently occurring phrases will point you to categories of concern.

Here's some higher level thinking on discovering labels for types of information: The Scholar-Curator as Storyteller. Essentially, the person doing the work described in this section needs to be a "curator" who can discover "narratives of utility" for each guide. We'll dig in more about this later though!

2 Ways to Identify Omitted or Broken "Pillars of Wisdom"

A Pillar of Wisdom is any "Ultimate Guide" (used loosely here - could be tools, videos, or any prized, oft-cited resource) that has received massive numbers of links over time. Some of your industry's pillars of wisdom earned links because they were first to market in the golden age of link building. Some because they are genuinely great. Some pieces are pillars because of the experts who contributed their thoughts, opinions and conjecture. These pillars are frequently cited and remembered by industry experts for years... and years... and years. They are in your industry's canon of literature, and won't get knocked out even when experts attack them and tear them apart in the future. And yes, you should be writing ALL of your ultimate guides to be just this sort of content!

The exciting news is that some pillars of wisdom are missing - either by omission (they have simply not yet been written) or through publisher error (they were moved with improper redirection). Omitted pillars require a keen editorial eye, a deep knowledge of your market and several years of writing for the web. Broken pillars within your industry are a bit easier to find, though they will restrict you a bit when it comes to topic selection (you have to replace previously existing content).

You should find omitted pillars when surveying and cataloging concerns. Further, you'll find that you can engineer new pillars narrow your topic focus. That is, instead of the Ultimate Guide to Washing Dogs, you narrow the focus on the dogs to a specific breed, or you really focus in on one aspect of the washing process. So your new pillars could be "the Ultimate Guide to Washing Dachshunds" or "How to Hose-Wash Dogs That Bark at Hoses."

The broken pillar concept follows from Melanie Nathan's excellent Reciprocity Link Building Method, as well as from a few too-short, highly-engaging conversations I've had with Napoleon Suarez and other brilliant SEM consultants at the SEO company Seer Interactive.

Finding broken pillars can take a bit more of a technology-based approach. First find your industry's curated resource pages. Here are some sample queries for that...

10 Queries for Industry Resource Curation Pages

  1. [MDKW] inurl:links
  2. [MDKW] inurl:links inurl:lib*
  3. [MDKW] inurl:links site:.org
  4. [MDKW] inurl:links site:.gov
  5. [MDKW] inurl:links site:.edu
  6. [MDKW] inurl:resources
  7. [MDKW] inurl:resources inurl:lib*
  8. [MDKW] inurl:resources site:.org
  9. [MDKW] inurl:resources site:.gov
  10. [MDKW] inurl:resources site:.edu

ProTip: Your industry is likely to have different names for curated lists of resources. Know them. Use them. Also be sure to zoom in and out by removing or adding inurl: and intitle: operators. A well-focused query is a thing of beauty indeed.

ProTip 2: The above or similar queries could also serve as link prospects once your ultimate guide is completed and ready for promotion.

Run the resource lists you find through the backlink checker of your choice. Here are a few:

Once you've found a good handful of broken pillars you will need to recreate the broken pages to determine if they fit well with your content goals:

Of the broken pages that are relevant or related (that is, you could imagine similar content on your site and your visitors would not find it odd) you will need to rank them based on the nubmer of inbound links. Use your favorite backlink checker for this.

Now you should have an idea of what topics will net you the highest potential number of new inbound links from established resource lists in your industry. This information will prove invaluable as you plan out your editorial calendar. And yes, all those backlinks to the broken pillars are fantastic link prospects. Aggregate, co-citate and outreach once your replacement pillar is completed (more on this later!).

The existing worksheet is not designed to capture and preserve broken pillars - you could add them to the prospecting sheet (5) for safe keeping, or create a worksheet specifically for discovery and processing for acquisition.

Identify Your Ultimate Guides' Prospective Linking Audiences

Seth Godin describes designing and writing books not for an audience, but for editors. The editors knew the target market very, very well, and were, in his words, "smart, motivated and really nice people who are happy to talk with you about what they want and what they believe." You'll find that great link prospects are the exact same way. You're not JUST writing for your target market of prospective buyers, but for the target audience of prospective linkers. In many cases these linkers are the gate keepers for larger and more established audiences.

We've written in the past about link opportunity inventories:

Identifying linking audiences is a similar process, and it's your insurance that the content you're writing will have a genuine audience of people interested in checking it out and considering it for inclusion in roundups, tweets, updates, resource lists, and as a further resource in their upcoming articles. If you poke around and discover that your target market (as defined by a couple of Market Defining Keywords) has no results for the queries below, then you'll have to look outside at 14 Link Prospecting Queries for Discovering Your Company's Related Verticals.

10 Linking Audience Queries

  1. [MDKW] blogroll
  2. [MDKW] blog list
  3. [MDKW] round up
  4. "[MDKW] resources"
  5. [MDKW] news
  6. [MDKW] forum
  7. [MDKW] twitter list
  8. [MDKW] "on twitter"
  9. [MDKW] "on facebook"
  10. [MDKW] association

Again, this portion of your research is to help steer title creation of your ultimate guides (which happens further on in the process... stay tuned :). You should spend some time looking at what these sites have mentioned or linked to. Look at what your tweeting audience considers significant. Look at which blogs the A-listers include in their blogrolls. These are all hints and clues for you regarding what type and grade of content performs best in your market.

UG2UGs: A Glimpse of What's to Come

Originally we'd intended for the Ultimate Guide to Writing Ultimate Guides to be a single downloadable PDF. And it will be - eventually. This article represents phase 1 of the entire UG2UG process, which consists of roughly 10 phases altogether. We will likely publish a few more sections directly to our blog, but the PDF, when completed, will include information unavailable to non-members... so sign up now to beat the rush ;)

Here's what's coming:

  • Phase 2: Turning Categories of Concern into "Ultimate Guide" Titles
  • Phase 3: Thoroughly Research Your Chosen Topic Area
  • Phase 4: Create Unique, "Narrative of Utility" Guide Structure
  • Phase 5: Get it Written
  • Phase 6: Ultimate Guide Editing Checklist
  • Phase 7: Create High-Utility "Info Swag"
  • Phase 8: Find and Qualify Promotion Prospects
  • Phase 9: Promote. Promote. PROMOOOOOOOOTE!
  • Phase 10: Adjust Piece for Optimal Link Juice Distribution

The structure of the guide is subject to change :)

Special thanks to Glenn Murray of Divine Write Copywriting for editing suggestions!


  1. ...and one more

    Wow this is great.

    I'd add one more query that might be helpful: template

    Similar to the very first query you list ("How To"), articles that provide a "template" for doing something often have valuable content.

  1. ah! excellent!

    Make that 63 queries then ;) Good call Greg!

    [MDKW] template

    Let me know if you think of any others, and if you discover template variations for narrowing results eg:
    [MDKW] "a template for"


  1. personal searches

    That's a fairly cool way to organise information to build content around, I find I see a fair bit of traffic around personal searches... that seem to be fairly engaged visitors, but its very low tail but a fair bit easier to rank highly for compared to "Top 10 list..."

    can I
    how do I
    why does
    how does

  1. brilliant!

    Those are excellent info-sourcing "foot prints" :)

    I hadn't thought of including the "first person" in there...

    I wonder about B2B vs. B2C info searches - are B2C more likely to include first person?

    Cheers David!

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