A complete content brief should include everything from the goal of the piece and its unique angle to the target keywords, internal links, and CTAs.
Content Marketing | Jan 26
Masooma Memon on December 22, 2020 (last modified on January 14, 2021) • 27 minute read
If you’ve been streamlining blog production and are stuck at how to write a blog post outline, know that you’re at the right place. Because, today, we’ll share not just ways to write an outline, but also sprinkle in tips to creating one.
But first, why create a blog post outline? Kasia Kowalska from Contentki answers this for you: “Outlines layout the main takeaways and the structure of the intended piece nicely, which allows choosing the best-fitting SEO keywords.
Secondly, if you’re working on an article with another person or team, outlines let you collect their feedback and internal insights before you write the first draft. This reduces the number of comments or change requests in the written piece to the absolute minimum.”
Nodding your head in favor of outlining? Great! Let’s give you a list of 21 ways that answer how to write a blog post outline, followed by an in-depth explanation of each:
Several of our contributors rely on keyword research and recommend the same when asked how to write a blog post outline. For instance, Derin Oyekan from Reel Paper shares, “We like to dive into keyword research and find user intent to create content around or blog posts.”
The team at DebtHammer follows suit. Jake Founder tells us, “We’ll usually base plot posts around a set of keywords that are given in the brief. We don’t want them shoehorned in, though, so we’ll provide relevant information to flesh things out.”
KB from Spreadsheets for Business has a similar approach to outlining blog posts: “Once I know my keywords/query I look at the top results on Google. I try to build the best outline from the top 3 or so results. Beyond that, I always try to include something extra that the top 3 results didn’t have. A spreadsheet, table, illustration, examples, or, simply, more in-depth information.”
BKA Content’s Matt Secrist shares their experience as well: “Our approach to initially outlining blog posts is very keyword-focused. That being said, if the meat of the content doesn’t provide real value then this strategy is all for naught.
First, the outlining process starts with the primary keyword being. Pick a single primary keyword phrase per blog you’re creating. From there, pick 2-3 secondary keywords that naturally fit with that primary keyword to give you some leeway in what will actually start ranking for that post.
If the primary keyword you’re targeting is broad, ALWAYS go for 2000+ words for the blog, otherwise, 1000-1500 words is a good starting point for a long-tail keyword phrase.
Next, come up with 3-4 main sections that should be covered in the blog. You can google your primary keyword to see what information the current top-ranking blogs are covering for inspiration.
Typically, these main sections (or H2s) should coincide with the other 2-3 secondary keywords you selected in the keyword research process. Within each section, give 3-4 bullet points of info that should be covered there to round out different aspects of the keyword phrase being targeted in that section.
Try to include an image every 300-400 words or so, with alt-text reflecting the keywords you’re targeting. Always get the primary keyword in at the beginning of the post and at the end, and cap off the blog with a conclusion that includes the primary keyword in the H2 as well as in the content block.
Identify 2 related pages on your site for internal links (never link using any version of the keywords you’re targeting on that blog!), and try to include 2 external links to other, non-competing sites that you can then tag on social media when it comes time to promote. Finish the blog with a single Call to Action.
Lastly, play the waiting game for a couple of months to see how it’s ranking organically, and re-optimize keywords/add some new content for whatever keyword phrases have gained traction. We’ve nearly quadrupled our site traffic over the last year using this blog outlining method.”
Summing up, Peter Thaleikis from RankLetter writes, “Outlining your article should always follow what Google wants. How to know what it wants?
Easy, Google your primary keyword, and check the top 5 results.
Look at what their headings are, look at their usage of graphics, listings, etc. – it’s all there. These pages rank in the top positions because Google likes what it sees. Take it as a free source of information to start your article off as it should be.”
Editor’s note: Optimizing your blog post for SEO and unsure how many places to look at to see how well your blog is doing? Grab all the essential metrics including position by queries, position by pages, CTR by pages, and more on this free Blog Post Performance After SEO Update Dashboard.
“Use bulleted lists,” advises Blake Bobit from Solution Scout. “Sections use the highest level, main points get the next, then details use the lowest level. Add quotes, research, image placeholders, and links as needed.
The more detailed the outline, the easier it is to create the content. It is a huge timesaver to make edits on an outline vs. a rough draft. Here’s an example outline you can use.”
TJ Kelly shares another way to use bullet points: “Start with a topic idea. This will become your title/H1. Jot down 3-5 bullets of sub-topics or components within that idea. These are your H2s.
Go back and add 3-5 bullets below each H2. These are now your H3s. Each H3 bullet needs 2-4 paragraphs of text added to describe and explain it.
By now, you should. have ~10-25 headings and 20-100 paragraphs. Add graphics, videos, tables, lists, and other media to enhance your content. Add internal and external links, and you’ve got a winning SEO content strategy ready to deploy.
For instance, WikiLawn’s Dan Bailey shares “we use a bullet point format that keeps things pretty open for our writers. Articles have a template, and we include bullet points beneath each sub-heading about what needs to be discussed. Key facts, interesting information, etc. We also include the necessary keywords in each section.”
“Start with the main header in H2, not to be confused with your title, H1,” suggests Linkody’s Francois Mommens “Use an exact match keyword there. Then, you’ll want to fill in the subheadings. Think of what points you’d like to cover in your article.
Make sure that they correspond well with each other. Next, you want to write an intro to your post. It’s good practice to wait with the intro until you have the subheadings. Then you write the conclusion. Contrary to popular belief, you write your title last.”
“It is much like approaching a research paper,” observes Martin Boonzaayer from The Trusted Home Buyer. “Our approach to outlining blog posts is methodical. We build a ‘wireframe’ that consists of heading and sub-headings.
Plan where the call to action should be and where the media should be placed as well. This approach has been the best since it gives freedom over the placement of the call to action and media.”
The team at Music Minds also starts with headlining. Adam Chase lays out the details: “We start with headlines and subheadings, then decide the keywords and anchor text that need to go in each section. A brief synopsis of the section is then given–just a few sentences.”
But these folks aren’t the only ones that give such credit to headers and subheadings as essential aspects of an outline. The majority of our respondents – about 22% – consider headers and subheaders are the most important aspects of an outline.
“Our Editorial Briefs start with solidifying our working title,” shares Margaux Agency’s Tara Miremadi. “This gives us a clear understanding of our messaging and gives us the opportunity to expand on ideas within the blog.
Next, we write down a list of takeaways we want the viewer to walk away with after reading the piece. We then move along with content development, research, and writing the piece. Finally, we organize SEO details such as the target keywords.”
The team at Milkwhale starts their blog outlines the same way. Andre Oentoro comments, “We always come up with a topic first then use a mind map to find out how we can extrapolate content. The main thing is to think about the reader and what they want to read.”
Similarly, Ashley Sterling of The Loop Marketing highlights, “We primarily find our topic by researching queries or missed opportunities within our website. Our outline typically starts with a topic idea, then a keyword-focused Title is chosen, followed by copy, graphics, and the SEO-focused meta description.”
“Before starting any blog outline, it’s critical to know who you are writing for and for what purpose,” recommends Nicole Wolfe of TopSpot Internet Marketing. “This defines the structure, the ideas, the specifics needed to create an effective blog post.”
Ali Schroeder from Vye uses the same approach. “At Vye, we write for the persona. Content creation, including blogs, are an integral part of the overall strategy and campaign creation. We’ll align our blog topics with our goals—what are we trying to accomplish on behalf of the client? What is their target audience looking for?
Once we’ve established a content strategy including blog titles, we’ll fill in the necessary details. What KTR (key term research) is included, who will be the represented byline (author), what type of content style (is it a thought leadership piece? Listicle? How-to? Comparison?), accompanying design needs, and then each blog topic is given an outline.
Outlines typically include an intro, challenge, solution, outcome, plus a linking strategy to support its context, and the opportunity for conversion through a CTA strategy.”
Editor’s note: Keep an eye out for your target audience by using this Google Analytics Audience Overview Dashboard. It gives you essential metrics like new vs returning users all on one screen.
OnePitch’s Kendall Aldridge writes about this: “For heavier lift blogs, we follow more of a structured outline. For smaller blogs, we give an example of what we are looking for and let the writer take the lead.
With outlines, I try to make sure that I have sections broken up clearly, the formatting following our current blogs (headers, subheaders, body, etc.), and clear expectations of what needs to be included in each section (length, images, links, etc.).
There’s a fine line between giving writers creative freedom and over-managing, so I try to give ‘questions to consider’ for each blog section so that I can still give them that freedom to figure out flow, additional data that could accompany this, and what will work best.”
Karina Bulate from Live Buz Media echoes the same: “So important to ensure the writer knows what the message should be, which keywords to use and the structure of the piece.
We are a small team, so usually the account manager researches the general outline and then the writer is to structure the piece and provide the detailed outline.”
This brings us to an important question though: who creates outlines? According to our survey of 50 marketing experts, writers take on this responsibility in 38% of the company blogs. This is followed by managers and editors doing the outlining job, respectively.
Not to be biased, but this is easily my favorite answer to how to write a blog post outline since I do the same.
Regarding it, Easy Mode Media’s Ben McLaughlan writes, “If possible, highly relevant keywords and questions asked by people performing searches outline a large chunk of blogs.
By typing my search term into Google (in an incognito window) and taking note of related questions and auto-complete suggestions, it’s possible to answer the next questions readers will have before they even know they have them.
Answering multiple questions from a search query helps to define your blog as the authority in your industry.
Google has also mentioned the ability to index chunks of a webpage and index them independently to answer these related questions easier.”
Next up is another great tip on outlining blog posts. This one comes from Jarie Bolander of JSY PR & Marketing who says, “We use AIDA with the 6 commandments of copy, which are outlined below:
On top of both of these frameworks, we write a theme, keywords, and links to include in the post. This allows us to focus on writing an engaging and compelling piece all while thinking about how to make folks take action.
We always think that each blog post is also an offer to a potential customer to tell them more about what we do. We don’t try to be over salesy but always add value and make the next natural follow-up step to contact us.”
When it comes to outlining blog pieces, you can also take a page from Sabina Hahn’s book. At Beacons Point, Hahn says, “We create all of our content and our clients’ content by interviewing the subject matter expert (SME) on the appropriate team and turning the transcript into a fully fleshed-out piece.
Each piece of content we produce belongs to a bigger content marketing strategy with a target persona and keywords in mind. We break our outlines up into four different boxes: concept, challenge, cure, and conclusion.
The concept is where we provide context and highlight a couple of big points that we want to address for our team and the people who will provide the expertise for the article. In the challenge box, we highlight a couple of pain points the target audience is experiencing that the piece aims to solve.
In the cure section, we provide solutions to those pain points and challenges. This section includes all of the questions we ask the SMEs to inform the majority of the piece’s content. The questions should answer the ‘who, what, where, when, why, and how’ and have a logical flow the final piece should follow. Once we conduct the interview, we paste the answers (accompanying data) from the transcript under each question for the writer to use along with any relevant internal links.
We also include a section for the conclusion where we include one last question that ties back to the big idea and gives the reader an actionable jumping off point or call-to-action.
The link in the ‘website URL’ section goes to our blog with a demo of the outline template we use for all of our content. You can download the template from that page as well.”
Charles Wenger of Level Up Chess outlines, “the way to do it is to look at it from a few different levels of resolution. Start with the highest level and ask yourself what the gist of the blog post is. You should be able to answer this with a sentence or two.
Next, plan out all the steps that need to be taken in order for that gist to be communicated well to a reader. Each step needs to be presented in the right order so that the reader is lead down the garden path in a manner that makes sense.
Finally, consider how to communicate each step of the process. Once you’ve done this then you’re basically done. All that’s left to do is focus on the words and sentences, which, if the outline is done properly will be very easy to do.”
“Writing a blog post should never involve uncertainty,” notes Michael Bonebright of DealNews. “For every article I assign, I create a detailed prompt that includes the working header, SEO research for the topic, the key points we want to hit for that piece, and suggestions for included interviews and/or data.
Not only does this take the guesswork out of creating the article, but it makes editing a breeze. Our team is small, so creating detailed prompts with clear outlines has improved our productivity immensely.”
And here’s an interesting bit: Bonebright’s not alone in this. 72% of respondents share they work with outlines before fleshing out drafts, thus, eliminating uncertainty from blog posts.
Greenice’s Kateryna Reshetilo shares their blog outlining process as well: “We start each article outline by answering these questions:
Then the general approach to crafting an outline is to start with the problem, introduce the solution, and end with benefits.”
According to Jakub Rudnik of Shortlister, the answer to how to write a blog post outline boils down to a focus keyword.
Rudnik explains, “For a new evergreen blog post, we select a focus keyword. A writer then writes down surrounding questions and topics for that keyword without looking at similar articles. By not looking at other articles yet, it eliminates a bit of path dependency and keeps their brain in the creative mode.
Next, the writer does look at all the pages that come up in top search results and looks through their headers. What were we missing? What similar headings come up across the board? What can we add that they don’t have? With these questions answered, we put the headers in place to create the outline skeleton.
Now that the outline is in place, we examine the sections for opportunities to add internal links and research.”
Vasyl Kafidov of Kafidoff.com opines that working with a skeleton outline helps outline blog posts. And what’s a skeleton outline? Kafidov shares their process of creating one:
Jonathan Delfs thinks this is the right way to outline based on their experience at Men’s Venture.
“Our team works remotely, and we highly value freedom and creativity. Therefore. our template is not locked – but more flexible than others would do. We do point out specific headlines, but the writer gets to change them – and for the specific section they will have a lot of freedom,” shares Delfs
As for the details, Delfs explains, “first off we start with a topic, let’s say ‘Men’s jackets this winter’. This will not be the headline, just the topic. Then we write down what we think this article should include. Without doing any research I come up with a couple of subheadings: ‘What’s the warmest jacket’ and ‘How not to sweat in your winter coat.’
The editor then goes into finding out what people are searching for at the moment. By using Google’s autocomplete (earlier called Google Suggest), we find relevant questions people ask about the topic.
Simply type in: ‘men’s jacket’ and look at the suggestions. Hit enter and scroll down to the ‘people also searched’ section. There we find the search ‘what styles are fashionable this season’.
This gives me 3-4 subheadings that will be the structure of the blog post.
First the main title: ‘5 Fashionable Winter Jackets 2021 and How to Choose the Best One’
Then our subheadings will be:
This gives the remote writer a chance to dig into the topic easily and not go too much into other directions.”
You can flip the process above too – research first and then work on the outline. Here’s how this approach looks like in the words of George Mouratidis from Content Writing Services:
“My process of creating a structure for any topic is this:
At QuoteCarInsurance.com, Melanie Musson and the rest of the team also dives into research first. “Our approach is to do extensive research. We examine how our competitors cover the topic. We spend time researching keywords. We consider what we need to include to be appropriately comprehensive.
We spend what some may deem an excessive amount of time on an outline, but it’s worth the effort because we use that outline multiple times. The way our blog is set up, we address issues by state, so we can use the same outline for each of the 50 states.”
Dan Thornton from TheWayoftheWeb brings an important point to attention by noting, “The outline and structure of a blog post will generally depend on the type of content being written. For news and industry updates, an inverted pyramid news structure will always work best by putting the most important information first to grab the attention.”
As for “Longer articles and guides, the outline will generally involve a mix of the key points we want to utilize for a business, the important areas to cover based on keyword research, and anything which is required, such as useful external resources, and it’s then a case of working out a logical flow between them which will keep readers engaged if they’re going through the whole thing, but made scannable and skippable if someone just wants to jump into a particular section.”
The Predictive Index’s Shannon Howard agrees that the answer to how to write a blog outline “depends on the blog type. Howard writes, “I’ll share outlines for the two types of blogs we most commonly write: thought leadership and SEO.
For thought leadership blogs:
Mostly Blogging’s Janice Wald suggests you take the classic outline writing approach by working on the following sections:
Part 1: Make it sound like you understand the problem the reader has come to get a solution to.
Part 2: Tell the reader by the time they are done reading, they will have the solution to this problem.
The conclusion also has two parts.
Part 1: A recap of how to solve the problem so readers know time spent on your site wasn’t wasted.
Part 2: A CTA telling readers to take action. This could be signing up for your blog, sharing, or commenting. You can recommend related reading and backlink to another article on your site.”
Ariel Lim of Ariel Lim Consulting also observes, “This depends on the nature of the post. I differentiate my posts into two distinct categories: brand building vs. SEO.
For SEO posts, I write detailed how-to posts or what is (definition) posts that are usually several thousand words long. It’s about one single topic (how to grow your website traffic) and include all the steps you need to do, tools needed, etc. as different sections.
But if it’s for brand building, it’s usually shorter and follows a specific format. I follow the rule of three:
I start off with a short story or realization in the intro then give a brief overview of the topic. In the body, I write at least three things about the topic and expand. Then, in the conclusion I summarize the pointers I touched on again. It’s a very simple and straightforward process that allows me to quickly churn out posts.”
To add to these insightful tips and tactics to outline blog posts, Kristi Andrus suggests you use this 6-pointer checklist:
“As a foundation, we use a targeted SEO content template where we choose which keyword we will be targeting for each piece,” outlines Madi Ballou from Green Apple Strategy.
“Along with the main keyword, semantic keywords that we will use throughout the body of the copy are also included.
The template helps us organize all headers and subheaders, meta descriptions, alt descriptions, and blog copy strategically. The keywords help organize the outline of the blog, and how it will flow in a way that is engaging and informative.
The final important step in our process before writing the blog is research. Not only do we link to highly authoritative and reputable websites throughout our blogs, but we also pull valuable insight that references when applicable.”
“Using this process over the past two and a half years has helped our content marketing team improve organic traffic by 791%,” notes Tony Mastri of MARION Marketing Company.
Here’s how their outlining process unfolds: “Due to the relatively small size of our content marketing team, the content manager creates the outline for nearly every blog post before it’s written.
First, keyword research is done, and a comprehensive list of topically-related keywords are gathered into a list and ordered by volume. The top performing 3-5 organic results are pulled up alongside the keyword list.
Informational keywords and headings from the competitor articles are weighed and variations are included in the outline as H2s, H3s, and H4s depending on their relevance to each other. Pertinent notes are added to each section when required, but some sections are self-explanatory and don’t need unique details in the outline.
Once the outline is passed along, writers are empowered to add or combine sections based on further research.”
Nikola Roza of Nikola Roza- SEO for the Poor and Determined seconds this method: “I first do keyword research using Google autocomplete feature. I jot down all keywords Google shows me users type.
Then I check the first 3 competitors already ranking and take note of the headline/sub-headline structure.
This is easy to do because almost all blog posts now have a table of content at the start of the page and I can see at a glance their whole article’s structure. Then I create my outline by combining keyword data with competitor research data.
The goal is to cover everything the number #1 result has, AND also things they missed.
Because they’re already ranking number #1 they aren’t as incentivized to keep updating their content over and over, and I always find that the ranking article is an incomplete source of information on topic X. So I want to make my article a complete one, hence better.”
From using AIDA to write an outline to conducting keyword research, I’m positive you’ve got lots of takeaways that tell you how to write a blog post outline.
To sum it up, remember to treat your blog outline as a “Model [to] use to consolidate and organize research. That way, [you’re] not staring at a blank page — or a half-done article — wondering what to write next,’ as Soundstripe’s Zach Watson puts it.
Keep this in mind and you’ll create stellar outlines in no time.
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