Content Marketing: how to rank for an how-to guide in 2019

Updated: Feb 21

In this post, I am going to show you EXACTLY how to rank on Google for your guides and how-to articles.

In fact, in 2 months my Definitive Guide on Career Change published on Future Fit Training got 1,146 unique page views from Google and growing every week.

Definitive Guide Stats - 2 months views
Definitive Guide Stats - 2 months views

So if you want to get more organic traffic to a guide, you will love this...(excuse my repetition) guide.

These are the tools you need to rank your guide on page 1 on Google:

1- SEMRush paid account - you can do with a free account but you have limited functionalities

2- Photoshop account to build the Guide cover for lead generation

3- Unbounce account for building the perfect landing page. If you don't want to pay for Unbounce, you should have a different landing page tool

4- Excel for comparing SERP results

5- Obviously Word for writing the guide

6- PDF for creating the download resource.

7- If you want to create leads form your guide, you need also a form with a welcome email to send the guide.

Step 1: how to find the right topic for your guide

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here is some background on this Definitive Guide on Career Change. I have worked on a new content project for Future Fit Training, the UK leading training provider in fitness and nutrition and I wanted the website to rank for "career change" and "career change ideas".

When the guide was first published, it struggled to get any organic traffic. I tracked 143 views the first week and 48 views the second week from organic traffic.

Fast forward today, my guide is ranking on position 2 / page 1 on Google for the term "career change ideas".

Google SERP

Also, because I have created a PDF of my guide with 87 pages and a landing page to create new leads, I have gained 148 extra leads worth £ tens of thousands in revenue for the business in 2 months ( I cannot reveal the exact amount for privacy reasons).

Now that you know what I am talking about, let's get into the details of how to write a Definitive Guide on a topic.

eBook Cover

I quickly realised that users interested in starting a course with Future Fit were also interested in a career change. So this is how I got my ideas around this definitive guide.

First thing first, I have started keyword research to make sure that career change and career change ideas were popular topics on Google.

...and SEMRush showed me these numbers:

- 12,100 searches a month for "career change" (big volume)

- 590 searches a month for "career change ideas"(small to average volumes)

SEMRush keywords volumes

When you have such a strong domain authority as Future Fit has (DA 45 on Moz) and a great reputation in the industry, you need to seize the opportunity to write something extraordinary that outrank all other competitors and make sure you leverage the DA.

Even if other keywords were having bigger volumes such as "career change at 40" I have excluded them from the Guide because Future Fit's target audience demographic is 20 to 30 years old.

Step 2: optimise for keywords

One of the key activities around writing a guide is to optimise the keywords for SEO because as you can probably imagine there are lots of other competitors ranking already for a long time.

In particular, you want to target low competition keywords. This is even more crucial if your website doesn't have a great domain authority. If you choose high competition keywords, your guide will suffer from bad rankings and will be buried into search results.

How do you check this?

I have used SEMRush and if you have SEMRush too, go to Keyword Analytics report.

keywords competition

The Results in SERP number indicates the number of websites in Google search results about the career change topic.

Another check you can do is on Google directly, very easy.

Type the keyword and check how many results:

career change serp results

For "career change" 1.5 Billion results.

Too many!

For "career change ideas" just 583 Million.

career change ideas serp results

3 times less!

This is the keyword I want to rank for.

Step 3: analyse your competitors on top 10 SERPs

What you need to do next is analyse SERP results to find opportunities for optimisation.

To execute this step, I have analysed the top 10 results on Google around those keywords and built an Excel file to compare and contrast, in an attempt to understand why they are ranking on Page 1.

I have compared the 10 SERP results according to 7 criteria:

1- H1 and H2 titles and characters length

2- Meta description length

3- Image optimisations

4- Number of words

5- Number of backlinks guide/ page

6- Number of comments

7- Videos (Yes or No)

Then I have realised that these pieces of content are missing some of these criteria. This was an excellent opportunity to seize.

It helped me to realise which articles are more competitive and which are less competitive, and become ready to crush them on ranking.

In this situation, you want to target those articles that have a smaller number of criteria. For example, they don't have a video? You add a video.

They are missing backlinks? You add backlinks.

How do you check all this?

All you need to do is check every one of the 10 results and read what they wrote. Let's take the number 1 result for "career change ideas", put the URL into SEMRsuh and get this result:

Backlinks analytics

You can see 120 backlinks to this article only. This number represents the total number of links to this article and 65 Referring Domains represents the number of domains sending traffic to this article.

As you know for sure, backlinks is still a key ranking factor in 2019, so this is also the reason why this article is ranking number 1.

Step 4: Write the engaging guide

Armed with all this knowledge about keywords, competitors and search results, now it's time to write your guide.

One more thing to say and that's very important: if you want to rank high, you need readers to read your stuff.

How do you measure if they are reading and not just opening the page without engaging? I have written a guide on how to measure scroll depth. Why do you need this? because it's directly linked to dwell time.

Dwell-time is the amount of time people spend on a search result, after landing from Google. If you basically hit the "back" button on your browser to go back to search results, Google will read this as a signal that you haven't found what you were looking for and you are going back to Google to find alternative results.

Eventually, you'll lose ranking.

So the question is:

How do you write something that keeps people on your website, for as long as possible?

Here I share with you 3 very simple yet effective techniques.

First of all, start your guide with a summary of what users will read later on. Why is this important? Because it will give them instantly a clue of whether the content matches their intent.

In other words, with the summary, they understand quickly if their query will be answered in your article. If it does, they will keep reading.

Second, do not make long introductions, just go straight to the point. I have tested myself long introductions and they keep readers away from your article. They need to know straight away that what you are writing matches what they were searching on Google.

A third technique, split your guide into article pages, aka pagination. When the content is thousands of words long, it makes more sense to split it into several pages.

I have asked this question to the folks on Moz myself during their Whiteboard Friday and they have replied to me like this:

When articles get very long [...], I might recommend pagination to break it up into more manageable chunks.

Here is the screenshot of my comment to Kameron's Whiteboard Friday:

Moz comment on Whiteboard Friday

The step by step process

When readers read your guide, where do they start? They start almost always from the beginning and follow the guide all the way to the end.

Especially when you write a guide on how to do something, you are explaining a process. This means you need to think about the steps required to complete this process.

This is when logic comes into place. In other words, you must guide readers through the logical completion of a task from point A to point B.

So the next question is:

How do write about each step in your guide?

You need to become a subject matter expert. This means that if you don't know about something you probably won't be able to write a guide. You can still write an excellent piece and advice readers on how to do something if you research the topic beforehand, but this will take so much of your time that it won't be worth the effort.

The reason why I have produced a monster guide of 87 pages and 14,000 words on a career change is simply that I know a lot about this topic. Back in 2009, I had a career shift from being an EU affairs consultant to graduating in Digital Marketing from a UK university with a Master Degree and resetting my career to start from 0 again.

Writing the guide on career change allowed me to remember all those steps I have been through in my life and share my experience with my readers.

This is me back in 2007 in Brussels while working for the European Union:

Luca Tagliaferro TAS Europrojects Brussels 2007

Why is the reputation of the author important?

It's considered a ranking factor.

To quote Google:

content creator reputation Google

In other words:

The owner of the creator of the content of the page is one of the five most important factors for evaluating page quality.

(after all, if you write a guide on how to buy a house and you have never bought a house in your life or, worse, you don't even work in the real estate industry, why should I trust your guide?)

Bonus Step 5: build the landing page

If you are the guide for lead generation, then you need to build a captivating landing page. Since my career change guide is very long with 87 pages and 14,000 words, readers do not have the time to read them all in one go.

So the question is: how to do you make them download the PDF?

You can remind them from time to time during their visit on the page that the guide is also available as PDF and you can send them users to the landing page.

Here is the example of quick references in-article (thanks to Brian Dean for the tip):

guide for lead generation

Here is the example of a landing page:

example of landing page ebook

I have used Unbounce for building this page, simply because the drag and drop functionality of the app is a great replacement of my non-existent skills as a developer. I wouldn't be able to write such a complex piece of code and build visually appealing landing pages.

Quick reminder: remember to connect the form completion goal to Google Analytics.


I hope this guide helped you to rank better on Google for the guide-type of content. There are some differences in writing a guide vs writing a blog post and ranking for those two content formats requires different techniques.