Please, No More “Ultimate Guides”: 10 Headlines that Don’t Blow Chunks
by Joel K

Headline writing is tricky. Tricky, but absurdly important. Write the wrong headline and your incredible piece could be destined for mediocrity, gathering dust on the far corners of the internet (it is a well documented and accepted fact that the internet is not round and thus has corners. Just ask Al Gore.)

My main man David Ogilvy said it best:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” -David Ogilvy

And I get that. 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.

No ultimate guide to content marketing. No ultimate guide to social media. No ultimate guide to cleaning your keyboard, drug therapy or “having a baby for men” (yours for just 399 rupees, complete with ominous tagline: “New Dads, You Better Be Ready”).

What Does “Ultimate” Really Mean?

Ultimate: Last; furthest or farthest; ending a process or series. Maximum, decisive, conclusive. Final, total. The best, greatest or most extreme of its kind.

Pretty good word, right? But at this point in guide-making history, “Ultimate” has suffered the same fate as “Special”.

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

Let Me Help You Out.

The nice thing about the English language is that there are so many different ways to say the same thing. You can say “ultimate” without being the 5,000th ultimate guide on the web. Together, we’re about the callously wield the power of the thesaurus to create some far more compelling headlines for your “ultimate” guide:

  1. “Supreme” Guide. Who WOULDN’T be compelled to read “The Supreme Guide to Knitting: A Yarn Warrior’s Battle Guide?”
  2. “Essential” Guide. Don’t leave home without the “Essential Guide to Pitching a Tent”, or somehow, you’re going to wind up on fire. “Essential” creates urgency in and of itself; it begs the question, “How will I survive without the essentials?”
  3. “Really Quite Good” Guide. Okay, so it’ s bit tongue-in-cheek. But just try to tell me you wouldn’t be enticed to click on “A Really Quite Good Guide to Firing Bad Employees?” If you’ve got a brand with a humorous persona, you can definitely make this work.
  4. “Unrivaled Guide”. Damn, that’s a bold claim – even more than ultimate. Not only is your guide to sweeping your chimney good, it’s so good that the competition doesn’t even have a chance. You can also substitute in “Peerless”, “Matchless” or “Unsurpassed” if you’re feeling a bit wild.
  5. “A Champion’s Guide”. You don’t even need to use champion, but why not stroke the reader’s ego by making them feel like a winner just for reading your guide? Nobody wants to be a loser, or read the “Loser’s Guide to Steam Cleaning the Wine Out of Your Dress Pants”. Choose a word with an ego-stroking connotation.
  6. “The Healthy Man’s Guide”. Why not choose a word that immediately describes the benefit of the guide someone is about to read? For example, “The Productive Woman’s Guide to Saving Yahoo!” or “The Handsome Man’s Guide to Matching Socks and Ties”?
  7. “No-Bulls&#! Guide”. Got an audience that’s suffering from “fluff” fatigue? In an industry where a bunch of razor-thin pieces are big on bravado and tiny on usefulness? How about letting your audience know you’re not about to waste their time with a headline that screams “Everyone else is lying to you!” If this one sounds familiar, it’s because I just used it a few days ago.
  8. “Complete Guide.” Sure, it’s not as flashy as “Ultimate”, but readers still know they’re about to get everything they need in the same place. For example, “The Complete Guide to Hiding a Body” leaves nothing to question. And hey, I used this one, too!
  9. “Uncensored Guide.” Borrowing a page from the movie industry, why not subtly introduce sexual connotations into the mix? Sure, we all know there’s no nudity in “Gigli”, but I’m willing to bet that an “Uncensored” version would sell like hot cakes. “Uncensored” hints that there is something worth being censored. Where other guides are prudes, yours is going to let it all hang out. Rock on, man.
  10. “Last Guide to ______ You’ll Ever Need.” Sure, it’s a bit wordy (and eliminates all hope of doing a follow-up piece), but this right here is the King Banana when it comes to putting readers at ease. You could waste time reading several different pieces, but not when the “Last Guide to Ballpoint Pens You’ll Ever Need” is out there. Those other guides are for suckers.

There you have it. In less than 10 minutes, I came up with 10 mind-blowing, pants-fillingly-good headlines that will definitely (probably) get clicked on.

Take some time to be creative. After all, your audience is watching.

(If you need a little help creating better content, you can always drop me a line, too.)

 

 

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29 Comments
  1. Secret says:

    What about “secret” – can we kill that one?

  2. This doesn’t bode well for my series of ‘ultimate guides’ that I’ve been planning for the next couple of months (genuinely haha!)… hmmm maybe a slight rethink is needed!

  3. “the definitely definitive (we mean it this time) guide to straws for dudes”

    “the end-all-be-all guide to looking cool when a parent picks you up outside the movie theatre (the 2013 edition)”

  4. Haha! I’ve been prone to use “Essential Guide” as of late. I agree about the Ultimate Guide over usage– though I’m more than guilty of using it in the past.

  5. Meloney Hall says:

    The only good news about using the words ultimate and supreme implies that there will be no sequels! They better keep that promise, right? This article had a great balance of humor blended with a light smack of truth to it. Good recipe!

  6. Patrick says:

    I’m planning a new “sub par guide that will surely confuse…” over the next few weeks.

  7. It is always a good laugh to see the words “Ultimate Guide” used on Search Engine Journal or “Exclusive” is another one they like the throw around. In reality the article is just 700 words of generic ideas LOL.

  8. Yes Dustin! I’m glad someone has brought it up.

  9. Mark Young says:

    This is brilliant. I’m guilty of neglecting putting proper thought into headlines, and articles can come across a little staid. I’ll definitely be referring back to these.

  10. Joel, great list of alternatives.
    In fact, I think you’ve just blessed us all with THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NON-ULTIMATE HEADLINES.
    Awesome!
    Honestly, such a practical, helpful list.
    Keep it up,
    -Ron.

  11. Clay says:

    I’m on board with this. While we’re at it, let’s kill the “SEO is Dead/isn’t Dead” headlines.

  12. Gaz Copeland says:

    Used this one myself a few times Joel, I hope you can forgive me?

    As I was reading through I kept seeing those terrible music compilation ads in my head:

    “The BEST rock anthems in the world……EVER!!! Volume 5″

  13. Jason Diller says:

    This is really awesome. I def. cracked out laughing on this…

    I’m working on an ebook now:

    The Ultimate Guide to Never Writing an Ebook that is titled: The Ultimate Guide to Ultimate Guides”…

    #ultimate

  14. Dannie says:

    Great writing – and a great list.
    Im usually working in non-english countries. But your list really helped me make up some awesome danish titles – thanks alot.

    Dannie

  15. Chris says:

    I think you should have called this post “The Ultimate Guide to Ultimate Headlines”

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  19. Hannah McKenzie says:

    I like a lot of your suggested titles, particularly #10 (Last Guide to ______ You’ll Ever Need). That’s catchy. My personal preference though is to stay away from Titles that are primarily lists “Your Top 10 Guide To _____”. Lists used to be good and entertaining, but unless you’re somebody like Cracked or maybe Buzzfeed, the sheer quantity of poorly written lists that are generated out there is just annoying. There are a large number of companies out there that just pump out a lot of subpar content and get nowhere with it. That’s when they try and use the types of companies listed at places like “buyfacebookfansreviews.com” to try and go viral. Good titles are important, but it’s obviously the overall quality of the content that matters the most.

    PS: This specific article title works and is catchy despite being somewhat of a list. It’s bold and confident.

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