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When you sit down to write an article or blog post, where do you start? There are many different ways to write a blog post or an article, but if you have a content outline handy, it makes the process much easier. 

I often hear that creating a blog or article outline is difficult. Some people even say it’s intimidating as they feel like they’re constricting their creativity.

But is it really so?

True, there are a lot of steps to creating a content outline.

True, it can be tedious and time-consuming.

And yes… it’s true, it takes time.

And you know what?

From my experience, it’s worth the effort though.

Whenever I want to write an article, I outline it first. Why? It helps me to figure out what your topics will be before you start writing.

This way I can ensure that it brings the desired results every time, not just randomly generating the relevant traffic.

I use a structured content outline (a very detailed one). I tested it. It brings the results. I will provide you with my content outline example at the end of the article.

So what are we going to talk about?

In this practical how-to guide, we’ll walk through the process for creating an outline from start to finish including how to do research, what information is important in your outline, and ways you can make your content stand out with formatting tips.

So, sit back, relax!

relax
via GIPHY

Let’s get to the bottom of how to write an article outline!

What Is Content Outline for an article?

A content outline is a list of the topics that you will cover in your article or blog post. It can be as simple as a few bullet points, or it can be more detailed with sub-points and specific information about each topic.

A content outline is like a skeleton of an article or blog post. It’s like a blueprint. It helps you make your final draft. You should make it part of your content strategy.

Content outline is a tool used for organizing any kind of content you’re making. It’s especially useful for writing blog posts that have multiple ideas in them or articles with different sections. It is also valuable for websites.

Why do writers use outlines?

Benefits of using the content outline for an article, blog post, website

Content outlines have many benefits, for you as a writer as well as for your audience.

1. Structure keeps your thoughts well organized

The key benefit of creating a blog outline or outline of an article is that it helps you to organize your thoughts and ideas before you start writing. This ensures that your final product is well-developed and cohesive, including all the information useful from the reader’s perspective, rather than a collection of random thoughts that are difficult to follow.

It helps you to stay focused on major points and structure your information.

You can easily rearrange the order of your topics, or omit them altogether if needed.

2. Deliver more value to your reader

Proper research before you start writing will ensure that you’re covering all the topics that are of interest to your audience. This will help you to uncover their interests, needs, questions they ask, problems they are trying to resolve. You will stop guessing and bring more relevant content to your audience.

3. It’s easy to follow for your reader

Another benefit of outlining your content is that it makes it easier for readers to follow. By providing a clear structure, they can quickly find the topic that they are looking for without having to skim through a lengthy article.

4. No More Writer’s Block

Outlines are a lifesaver. They help you to avoid writer’s block. If you find yourself stuck on what to write about next, simply look at your outline for inspiration.

You don’t need to interrupt your creative flow with researching: what I need to write next. Everything is stated there. Right and clear.

5. Scale Content Creation

Content outlines also allow you to scale the content creation and writing process. Instead of having one or two articles per week, you can instead focus on quality and publish multiple blog posts or articles each day.

Why is it possible?

With a clear outline, it is much easier to outsource writing content to external or internal copywriters. The writer, even if not from your industry, will know exactly what they need to write about.

6. Reduced Content Creation Costs

An outline will also save you money.

Just imagine: you are asking an external copywriter to write an article. You just give them a topic, without an outline, without any directions.

If you do so, you can be almost sure that they will provide you with the content that is easy for them to write, not necessarily the one you were looking for.

Try once, and you will never do it again.

And if you want your content to rank and take into account also SEO technicalities, then you can be 100% sure that without directions it will not happen.

What does it mean for you?

You will need to spend time fixing the weak draft. And money is time. An outline can help you reduce these costs.

A good outline means increased collaboration, clear expectations, higher content quality, quicker delivery, and lower costs.

Just imagine how beautiful and effortless your content creation and reviews could be.

7. Produce content that drives traffic

Last but not least. Outlines help you produce content that drives traffic because it matches what your audience is searching for. You are no longer creating random content, but relevant content that people will be interested in reading.

If you strengthen your content outline with some SEO aspects.

Bum.

This is where the magic will happen.

content outline magic
Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

You will soon see how it positively influences traffic and conversions.

Now that you understand the basics of content outlining, it’s time to put those skills into practice.

How to Write a Blog Post Outline: A Step-By-Step Walkthrough

The purpose of a content outline is to help you organize your thoughts and plan out your content.

It can be as simple as writing down the main points of your article as you develop the idea in your head. You could likely do it from the top of your head.

Wait. Don’t do it that way.

Do the proper research.

So how to outline an article? How to outline a blog post? What information should you gather before writing an outline? These are probably the questions that are going through your mind right now.

Let’s get started on how to create and use a content outline: 

Step #1: Define your topic

There are certain steps you need to do to start writing an outline.

The first step is to do your research. Find out what the topic is about, what people are searching for, and what you can offer that is unique and valuable.

Keyword research

Find the right target keyword. Find the one that is relevant to your audience and your website. You can use tools like:

  • Google’s Keyword Planner
  • Semrush
  • Ahrefs

There are plenty of them that can support you within this process.

I usually start my content brief by listing keywords at the top of my outline. This will become handy when you’re gathering information and drafting.

By keeping all of the relevant keywords in your outline, you won’t have to switch back and forth between platforms while you’re working on your outline and, later, writing.

After you’ve figured out what people are searching for, you may examine the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for that topic.

Analyze search intent behind the keyword

Before you start writing, think about who your article is aimed at. This will help you better target your content and make sure that it is useful and interesting for your audience.

Look into search intent.

What do I mean by search intent?

Simply said, it’s the “why” behind a search query. What is someone hoping to achieve by making this search?

The simplest way to understand search intent? Google your target keyword and look at the SERPs. Let’s take the content outline as an example. 

content outline google results

For “content outline” I see that the search intent is informational. People want to learn more about the content outline, what it is and how to make one. This explains why almost all search results are articles.

Decision: I’ll need to write a blog article to raise my chances of ranking for this term.

Analyzing and understanding search intent will help you choose the right angle. The appropriate angle can help you edge out the competition.

Step #2: Define the value 

What sets your content apart? What is the unique perspective that you’re bringing to this topic? What kind of value will your content bring?

After you know your target keyword and understand the search intent, it’s time to identify your angle.

Your angle is what will make your content stand out from the rest of the articles on the topic.

Determine your working title

Choose the working title. It doesn’t have to be the final one, but it should show direction.

A great article title should be:

  • Attention-grabbing – This one is obvious. Your title has to attract your audience’s attention so that they click on it. Google also pays attention to this factor when ranking your content. A good rule of thumb is using numbers in titles and some powerful words.
  • Specific – The more specific your title is, the better. It will help you rank for long-tail keywords and people will know what to expect when they click on your content and read it.
  • Actionable – Your title should also be actionable. It should tell the reader what they will learn from your article, how it will contribute value.

Let’s get back to the SERPs. Here are the results for “content outline”:

content outline top SERP

You can easily notice that Google is prioritizing guides and how-to articles. Seems right, as the content should be educational and informational.

Some hands-on suggestions are given by John Bonini who links search intent with topics.

Go deeper and analyze the top 3 SERPs

Would be nice to be in the first position, right? In most situations, it is doable!

So dig deeper.

To obtain the top spot, you’ll need to produce original and in-depth material.

Also known as skyscraper content.

By researching the SERPs in detail you can get more insights into:

  • recommended word count
  • keywords the article is ranking for
  • headings and subheadings

Step#3: Create headings and subheadings for your article

Finally!

We arrived at the step where you can build the outline of how you know it.

You already have H1 from your previous step. In my case, it is “….”

So now you can jump into H2s, H3s, and H4s if needed.

Let me give you some hints on how you can approach it:

  • look through the SERPs and identify the headings you would like to include in your outline
  • structure them in the correct order
  • add additional value. What questions do your customers ask? What challenges do they face regarding this topic? Add your experience to the outline to make it more valuable.
  • Try to name the headings in a meaningful way so that they convey a message and it is easy to understand what kind of information can be found in certain sections.
  • Each header should correspond to a major search item associated with the main key term. 

The foundation of your outline is your headings. It’s time to arrange your data once you’ve created them.

Step #4: Give context under headings

You can always go a step further!

Include in the content outline not only headings but also context.

You can think of it as adding some muscles to your skeleton. Or even dressing it up a bit.

Why is it worth the effort?

Your content writer will know specifically what they need to write about. Clear and concise. Taking guessing off the table.

Bullet points are fine.

Consider what you want the reader to take away from each section. What will they learn from this article step by step?

Add statistics and internal links

Nice to have but very valuable.

If you know of any up-to-date stats add them to the outline. Adding relevant data makes your article more recognizable.

Do you have internal content that pairs well with what you write? Add the links as well.

Step #5: Add questions to your Outline

Look at the questions your target audience is asking related to the topic.

Where?

There are a couple of places that come in handy here:

  • Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ (PAA)

The ‘People Also Ask’ box appears in the SERP and provides questions that searchers are asking (relating to your keyword). If you want to access it, just type your keyword and see if any questions come up:

people also ask for content outline
  • Ahrefs questions

If you’re using Ahrefs, go to the Keywords Explorer. Enter your target keyword. In the questions section, you can see some more examples of what is interesting to people:

ahrefs questions for content outline

Additional tips:

  • For further inspiration, you can investigate Quora or Reddit.
  • If you use these questions as headings (or subheadings) in your article or blog post it might appear as a featured snippet.

Introduction and conclusion in the content outline

Treat it as a bonus task when creating an outline.

From my experience, it’s a good idea to have the introduction and conclusion in full. It provides a clear goal of the article and states what the audience will learn from it.

A couple of things more.

  • Don’t make your introduction or conclusion longer than 150 words on average. A few extra or fewer words won’t hurt you. They’re the article’s entrance and exit doors, so they don’t have to be excessively long.
  • Introduction – think of this section as a hook for the reader and a way to pull them down the page.
  • Conclusion – In conclusion, you need to summarize everything that your reader has learned up to this point and put an end to the arguments that you have been making. Put final punctuation here. If there is a call to action, label it in your outline.

Well, we’ve arrived at the end. I hope it makes sense to create your content outline as an additional step before creating the actual article.

Content outline example and format

So you’re wondering what the outline might look like, right?

I’ve seen various article outlines. Some simple, some more structured.

Let me share my secret

via GIPHY

I’m a fan of a more structured approach. No, not true. It doesn’t have to kill creativity. It brings value.

Mind mapping, no structure

Mind mapping is a great technique that brings some order to your way of thinking. It might be especially valuable when you’re creating content yourself. It can also work with advanced writers who have strong research capabilities, along with SEO and creating writing skills. Still, it requires more effort on the content writer side which usually means additional remuneration.

Many people use other tools for outlining their content such as mind maps or mind-mapping software, but this blog post will be focusing on outlines in Microsoft Word (or Google Docs if it’s not available).

Pros:

  • it makes your content more organized than no structure at all
  • gives flexibility
  • includes links with valuable content

Cons:

  • it usually only contains content ideas, so it’s very general
  • there is no place for context and additional content outline information
  • no SEO guidelines meaning the content will likely perform poorly in terms of its visibility and traffic

Sample content outline

Title:

Research/Articles:

  • LINK
  • LINK
  • LINK

Introduction: [one sentence introduction]

Main points:

  • Point #1: Headline
  • Point #2: Headline
  • Point #3: Headline

Conclusion: [one sentence conclusion]

Structured content outline

This type of outline provides a well-detailed structure that helps to guide the writer through the content creation process. It focuses on the content that is valuable and interesting from your audience’s perspective.

Outlines like these are ideal for producing valuable content. The valuable content and context have been identified. Now, all the writer has to do is to fill in the text with supporting material.

Pros:

  • it has a pretty detailed structure so your content is well organized
  • provides more insights into requirements like word count, along with article purpose
  • includes links with valuable content

Cons:

  • no SEO guidelines meaning the content will likely perform poorly in terms of its visibility and traffic

Sample content outline

Title:

Suggested article length [in words]:

Writing style:

Article purpose:

Research/Articles:

  • LINK
  • LINK
  • LINK

Article Outline:

  • Heading #1:
    • Key takeaways
  • Heading #2:
    • Key takeaways
  • Heading #3:
    • Key takeaways

Structured SEO content outline

This is the one you want. Here’s a great way to get structured SEO content. This is the king of all kings, and it’ll help you get on top of your game quickly.

Why?

It combines what’s best in content as well as SEO, meaning that the content will be appreciated by people (priority) but also search engines.

Pros:

  • it has a pretty detailed structure so your content is well organized
  • provides more insights into requirements
  • includes SEO guidelines to optimize content

Cons:

  • Some people might argue that it limits creativity.

Still, what is the creativity worth if the article is not found by people, read, and shared. SEO is the key.

Sample SEO content outline

Title:

Article guidelines:

  • Focus keyword: {keyword} (search volume: X)
  • Secondary keywords: {keyword 1} (search volume: X), {keyword 2} (search volume: X), {keyword 3} (search volume: X)
  • Suggested article length [in words]:
  • A suggested number of headings:
  • A suggested number of images/media:

SEO tags

  • SEO title
  • SEO description

Article Outline:

  • Heading #1:
    • Key takeaways
  • Heading #2:
    • Key takeaways
  • Heading #3:
    • Key takeaways

Research/Articles:

  • LINK
  • LINK
  • LINK

Frequently Asked Questions regarding content outline

What is the order of an outline?

An outline is a great way to organize your thoughts and information before you start writing. A content outline is a great tool for any type of writer. Whether it’s an essay, web article, or even a novel, having a good structure to follow will help you better layout your ideas and ensure that the flow of your writing will be smooth and effective.

It can also help you to stay on track while you are writing, and make sure that you cover all of the points that you want to make.

Generally, an outline has three parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

The introduction should introduce your topic and explain why it is important. The body should discuss each point that you want to make about the topic, in detail. The conclusion should summarize what you have said in the body, and offer your opinion on the topic.

How content outline is prepared

A good content outline needs to be developed carefully and thoughtfully.

The simplistic format for a content outline you’ve been taught at school is as follows:

(1) Introduction, (2) Body Paragraphs, and (3) Conclusion.

This means the first point you need to understand is what your topic will be about, and then develop certain sections around particular topics.

Creating a content outline for articles or blog posts that are SEO optimized and bring traffic, is a much more demanding process.

Worth the effort though! Especially when you start experiencing tremendous results.

If you want to go through step by step process I recommend you go to the section “How to Write a Blog Post Outline: A Step-By-Step” in this article.

What is a content outline for a website?

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

A website outline is a document that outlines the key components of your website. It provides a summary of each element, along with guidelines for how each element will look and behave.

You can treat it as the raw version of a website page.

A website’s content outline should reflect the structure and overall flow of that website page. It is not meant to be an actual page, but it does have a purpose. The wireframes and designed version are what is seen on the website pages. Content outlines are what hold everything together and give it shape.

A website’s content outline can also be used as a checklist for all of the components on your website page. If something was not done, can use certain types of outlines to describe something you want to accomplish or achieve.

You have to start by defining what kind of website you want to create; this specific detail determines what information is conveyed in your layout, as well as how it should be structured.

Each content outline should have the page name, where the page exists within the site architecture, and the SEO metadata, along with the copy and content description for each section of the page.

For each content component or module, state the sort of text it contains (body, header, subhead, etc.), word and character count limitations, a description of any images that should be included if applicable, and link destinations where relevant. If the writers or editors are unfamiliar with wireframes, you may offer them a screenshot so they can see how it will look.

Conclusions

If you follow this outline, you will have a great chance of success. These outlines can help write content according to SEO guidelines with less effort and time for research. So, the writer gets more time for creativity which means happier clients!

I hope this article has inspired you to create more structured outlines for your content. Feel free to share any other thoughts, questions, or feedback.

Happy outlining, everyone!