Here’s our complete step-by-step guide to producing the perfect content outline. By the end of this post, you’ll understand exactly what to include in a content outline, why they’re so important, and how to make one of your own!
What is a Content Outline?
A content outline is a document that helps you create content in a structured, repeatable way.
Content outlines can be created in various ways, depending on the complexity of your content project. At a basic level, content outlines should include topics, subtopics, and content elements. Additionally, content outlines can be supplemented with further information such as keywords, sources of content ideas, and research resources.
This article will focus on the benefits of using a content outline for producing a successful blog post, but the core principles can be adapted to fit any form of online content.
Why use a Content Outline?
The benefit of using a content outline is that it helps content creators plan out the content they intend to produce in advance. This provides structure and organization to the content creation process and can help content creators save time in the long run by avoiding unnecessary research and content production.
There are several reasons why you should always have a content outline when creating your next blog post:
Improve Search Engine Rankings
Content outlining helps provide a clear goal for your content and dramatically improves the chances of your content ranking on search engines. The higher your content appears in the search engine results, the more traffic your website will get and the more business it will generate.
Avoid Writers Block
There’s nothing worse than a writer sitting and looking at a blank page. A solid content outline reduces the risk of writer’s block and makes the writing process easier! Planning out next month’s blog articles becomes so much easier once you have a content outline process to follow.
By outlining the main topics and subtopics, you can ensure that your content is presented in a logical and coherent way, making it easier for your audience to follow and understand.
It should go without saying, but by having a clear plan and structure, you can focus on writing and not waste time trying to figure out what to write next. This will not only improve the quality of your writing, but it will also dramatically speed up the entire process too.
Scale Your Content
Scaling content will require more writers. Hiring a freelance writer is relatively easy but ensuring they produce quality content repeatedly requires a process. That’s where a sold content brief becomes critical. You can remove the guesswork from the entire process by providing your writer with a clear blog post outline (which we’ll get into in a moment).
Creating content that uses a clear content outline template will always deliver better results. What does that really mean in practice? Well, simply put, better search engine rankings will lead to more website traffic and sales for your website.
How to Create a Content Outline
So now we know what a content outline looks like and why you should use one. Next, lets look in detail at what you need to make a content outline of your own.
Setting a Content Goal
All content writing needs a goal. Most bloggers and website owners simply start writing and hope for the best. That’s a content strategy destined to fail. Pretty much all goals will share one common element. Visitors. Whether you’re sharing your opinions or selling a training course, you won’t be reaching your goal without visitors. If you want more website visitors, you need to start thinking about search engines and how to rank at the top of them. This means you need to start writing SEO content. SEO content all starts with keywords.
Every blog post you publish should have a single target keyword it’s looking to rank for on page one of google. Far too many bloggers write on topics they are interested in without thinking about what the reader wants. Using keyword research with an SEO tool like Ahrefs, SEMrush or Ubersuggest can take the guesswork out of this process. These tools will provide you with an estimate of the monthly searches for a specific keyword and help you discover similar keywords that your target audience uses for research in your chosen niche. – Find: SEO Tools
So you know the goal of the content, and you know the keyword you want to rank for on google. But you still don’t know the best content angle for your new post. That’s where search intent comes in. Google does its best to match the searcher’s intent with the best content. As a writer, you should be looking to do the same! Make sure you do a search for your target keyword and read a few of your competitor articles. This will help you spot content gaps that your post can improve on and steer you in the right direction in terms of the structure of the content itself. e.g if everyone is writing listicles, then there’s a good chance you should be doing the same.
Number of Words
It’s time to do some basic competitor research. As part of the previous step we covered, you should have read some of the content already ranking on page one of Google for your target keyword. Copying and pasting each piece of content into google docs or similar will let you do a keyword count for their content. Use the average for the top few pieces of content as a guideline for how many words you need to write. It’s highly unlikely if google is ranking content with 2,000 to 3,000 words on page one, you will get ranked for anything below this level. A byproduct of SEO optimization is that writers in competitive niches continually add to their content to outrank their competitors. This, in turn, is creating long and longer form content wars at the top of some search results.
Note: it’s worth noting the average number of images used in each post as well, we will need that later too….
Choosing the Right Headline for Your Content
Remember always to include your target keyword in the headling (also known as the title) of your page. Ideally, towards the front of the title, if possible. The title not only gives Google a clear indication of the focus of your post, it also forms the title for the text that appears in the search results on google.
The meta description is the text that appears in the search results under your content title. Depending on your blogging platform, this might be your first paragraph on the page or be a standalone section you can edit specifically for this purpose. When writing this description, make sure to include your target keyword within the paragraph to help searchers understand the relevance of your content to their search.
Headings & Subheadings
Your headings and subheadings form the framework of your content. Heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc) not only help the reader skim the content of your page more easily, they also help google understand your content too! It’s amazing how fast your final draft comes together once you see the headings and subheadings on the page.
Choosing a URL for your post
Although not specifically part of a content outline, it’s worth including this in the content outline as part of “good housekeeping”. When writing for search engines, it’s really important to have a page URL that includes the target keyword we discussed earlier. Including it, the brief acts as a good reminder to yourself or the person responsible for creating the new webpage.
Remember when we did the competitor analysis earlier, and I asked you to note the number of images in each post? Well, this is where that comes in. Make sure to include at least the same number of images you got from your earlier research. As part of Google’s SEO process, it not only reads the content on your page, it also looks at the images. Well, more accurately, it looks at what’s known as “alt descriptions.” (not to be confused with the title or the file name of your images). These are snippets of text you see when you hover your mouse over an image on a page. If your images are missing these descriptions, it can make googles job very hard to determine their relevance to your target keyword.
Again not strictly part of a content brief; internal links are the links you want to your new blog post to link to within your own blog. These are other relevant pieces of content that relate to this new post. It’s also important to consider which existing posts you want to link from to your new post so that google can find the new content more easily. As part of your content brief make a habit of including a list of these links within the document so everyone can work from the same notes.
These are the links you want to link to that aren’t on your own website. Google likes to see third-party sources references in blog posts to help show authority on a topic by way of research. Basically, by referencing other sources, you can show google you have researched this subject and aren’t just making things up. As part of your content outline, you could include instructions for your writers, which include reputable sources of content that you would like to include in their blog post. e.g wikipedia. You could also have an excluded list of links, which could contain competitors or websites you don’t want to have your content associated with.
Content Optimization Tool
If you have the budget, it’s well worth investing in a content optimization tool to help you save even more time and help in creating a content outline. A tool like SurferSEO can help by doing a lot of the leg work for you. You provide the software with your target keyword, and SurferSEO will produce a detailed writer outline for you to work from. Including recommended word count, image quantity and even suggested headings and topics cover! – Find: SEO Tools
The goal of your content outline isn’t to strip creativity from the writing process. The goal is to provide a framework within which creativity can be let loose! Content marketing goals allow you to discover your target keywords. Those keywords allow you to find competitors and discover gaps in their content which you can exploit. The final result is a piece of content with a solid structure, and more importantly, provides even greater value to the reader than anything written before. That combination will enable your content to rise to the top of the search rankings and drive more visitors and sales to your business!
Bonus: Software Tools
Find hundreds of software tools to help you improve your Content and SEO in our software marketplace.