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How To Create A Content Outline In 5 Steps

The content outline serves as a blueprint for guiding writers through the content creation process and writing articles that rank.

By organizing your thoughts and research before the writing begins, a content outline ensures that the final product is coherent, targeted, and aligned with your content strategy.

In this article, I'll go over the importance of outlining your content and walk you through the step-by-step process of creating content outlines.

What you will learn:

  • The importance of content outlines for both search engines and readers.
  • How to create a solid content outline in 5 steps.
  • How to perform keyword research to identify what your audience is searching for.
  • How to define your content's approach based on search intent.
  • How to craft a catchy and SEO-friendly title.
  • How to properly structure your content outline using headings, subheadings, and bullet points.

What is a content outline?

A content outline is a structured framework that organizes the main topics, subtopics, and key points a piece of content will cover.

It includes elements such as H2 and H3 headings and your primary and secondary keywords. It can also include brief explanations under each heading and references for research to guide the writing process.

Why create content outlines?

Content outlines pave the way towards creating quality content.

Specifically, they can help:

Enhance reader engagement

Content outlines ensure comprehensive coverage of topics and subtopics by providing a structured framework that organizes main ideas and their related points, ensuring that no critical aspect is overlooked during the writing process.

In turn, a well-structured and comprehensive blog post significantly enhances reader engagement by making the content more digestible and easier to navigate.

Additionally, thoroughly covering all relevant aspects of a topic ensures that readers find the information they're seeking, which can lead to increased trust and repeat visits.

Streamline the content writing process

Content outlines streamline the content creation process by providing a clear roadmap for writers to follow.

This structured approach breaks down the writing process into manageable sections, making it easier to avoid writer's block.

It also saves time by reducing the need for extensive reorganization and editing, which can be especially helpful when outsourcing content writing.

Boost content visibility and rankings

Content outlines allow you to strategically integrate primary and secondary keywords into headings and subheadings, which helps search engines understand and rank content effectively.

They also ensure that the content aligns with user search intent by organizing information in a way that meets the audience's needs.

Effectively structured content enhances user readability and signals to search engine algorithms the relevance of the content, thereby improving its visibility and ranking in search results.

How to outline your content

Now that you've seen the what and why of content outlines, let's get down to the how.

Using a practical example, I'll walk you through a step-by-step guide to creating an effective content outline.

1. Choose your target keyword

Keyword research is the first step in creating a content outline. Here, you'll identify the terms and queries your target audience is actively searching for, ensuring they are relevant and have the potential to rank well in search engine results.

So let's say you want to write an article about "cold brew coffee"—this is considered your seed keyword and it's the starting point of the keyword research process.

You can start your search using the Google autocomplete feature to pinpoint what users search for related to that specific subject.

Continue your search by looking at Google's People also ask feature.

Another place to look for keyword ideas is the Related searches section you'll see as you scroll further down the search results page.

By now you should have a list of keywords related to the topic of "cold brew coffee", such as "cold brew coffee maker", "cold brew coffee reciple", and "how to make cold brew coffee in a french press"

You know what your audience is looking for.

The next step is choosing the right keyword to target in your content. You'll have to look at specific keyword metrics, such as monthly keyword searches and the difficulty of ranking for a keyword.

The goal is to find a keyword with a decent search volume and a low to medium difficulty score.

High-volume keywords might seem appealing, but they're difficult to rank for, especially if you don't have a well-established website with a high domain authority.

Meanwhile, a keyword with a lower search volume and competitiveness might bring you more traffic.

To determine that, you'll need to turn to a keyword research tool.

Head to Surfer and type your seed keyword in the Keyword Research section.

Surfer came up with 83 keyword ideas related to "cold brew coffee" and has grouped them into keyword clusters.

In this step, you should pay attention to each cluster's monthly search volume (MSV) and keyword difficulty (KD).

For instance, the keyword "cold brew coffee makers" has a very high monthly search volume. But it also has a keyword difficulty of 10, making it hard to rank for.

Meanwhile, a keyword like "cold brew in french press" has a decent search volume and a lower keyword difficulty, making it better suited for our blog post.

2. Identify the search intent

Now that you have your target keyword, it's time to determine the content angle by identifying the search intent.

As the name suggests, this term refers to the reasoning behind what people search for. There are four types of search intent:

  • Informational intent: Users are looking for information on a topic
  • Navigational intent: Users search with the aim of reaching a specific website or page
  • Commercial intent: Users are exploring and compering different purchase options
  • Transactional intent: User research products or services with the aim of making a purchase

In Surfer you can already see that the keyword "cold brew in french press" has an informational intent.

You can also determine the intent of a keyword by looking at the SERPs. As you can see, the articles that are ranking on the first page are informational, how-to articles.

To rank for such a keyword, you'll also have to create an informational, how-to guide on how to make cold brew coffee in a French press.

3. Craft a compelling title

Next, you need to come up with a catchy title that includes the target keyword and promises to fulfill the user's search intent.

You can add two titles to your article: the meta title and the H1 title.

The meta title appears in search results.

The H1 title will show as the article title when people click on the page.

The H1 and meta title can be slightly different, but they need to align.

Do not resort to clickbait tactics merely to attract clicks.

A title that sets clear expectations and then delivers on those promises will help build trust with your audience and reduce bounce rates.

Here are some tips for writing great titles:

  • Incorporate your target keyword in a natural way
  • Use powerful words like "perfect", "essential", and "effortless"
  • Invoke curiosity with words like "all you need to know", "the secret to"
  • Leverage numbers and lists e.g. "5 tips" or "5 steps"
  • Be clear and concise

Additionally, keep your meta titles between 50 and 60 characters in length. Otherwise, Google may not display them fully.

Following the above tips, you can come up with a few title ideas, such as:

  • How to make the perfect cold brew French press coffee
  • 5 Steps to the perfect cold brew in French press coffee
  • 7 Mistakes to avoid when making cold brew in French press
  • Homemade cold brew coffee using a French press
  • Easy cold brew French press coffee recipe

Then, you can use a free headline analyzer tool, like Monster Insights to help you pick the best one.

Such tools evaluate your title based on factors like keyword inclusion, emotional impact, length, and readability to determine its potential effectiveness in attracting readers and performing well in search results.

In this case, the analysis shows we have a clear winning title.

4. Define headings and subheadings

In this step, you'll set up the blog post structure by defining headings and subheadings.

The H2-H6 headings serve a dual purpose: first, they enhance user readability by breaking down the content into digestible sections; second, they help writers grasp the flow of the article, allowing them to adjust their writing to fit within the established framework.

Your headings should include relevant keywords and questions to address the readers' interest.

So, go back to the keyword research stage,

The People also ask section is a good place to start. For instance, "Can you make cold brew with a French press?" and "What is the ratio for French press cold brew?" can be some possible H2s.

The Related searches section is another great place to look at. From there, you can pick up some headings like "French press cold brew ratio" and "French press cold brew overnight".

Next, perform a competitor analysis to see how your competitors structure the articles.

You should aim to create an article that answers your audience's questions and it's more comprehensive than what's already out there.

So make sure to include answers to the questions raised in the People also ask section and include headings that your competitors use.

Based on the above, here's how I would structure the "How to make the perfect cold brew French press coffee" article.

Or, you can use Surfer's free AI outline generator to create your blog post outline.

The tool does the research and prepares an outline with clear heading tags in a matter of seconds.

5. Add bullet point summaries under headings

Next, it's recommended you populate your outline with detailed instructions under each heading. This way, you can ensure the writer will cover all relevant points.

These instructions can be in the form of bullet points. When relevant, you can also include internal links and further resources for the content writer.

For instance, here's what our content outline example looks like now:

The finished article outline provides detailed explanations of how to approach the content—from how to write a compelling introduction down to what each subheading should discuss and what kind of internal links can be added.

This way, you also increase the chances of receiving a final draft that aligns with your content objectives.

Now that you have a content structure in place, you can start writing.

If you're using Surfer AI, the tool will create an outline that you can customize and add more details to.

Providing the AI with a detailed blog outline ensures the article will cover all major points and be closer to a final draft.

Key takeaways

  • Content outlines help you streamline the article writing process. They reduce editing time, eliminate blank page syndrome, and ensure your content is optimized for SEO and readability.
  • The content outline process starts with identifying relevant content ideas and finding the right keywords to target.
  • Understanding the search intent behind the chosen keywords will help you produce content that appeals to your audience's needs and has a higher chance of ranking.
  • Come up with a compelling title and add descriptive, attention-grabbing headings that include your chosen keyword.
  • Your content outline should be as detailed as possible. It helps writers deliver the final draft quicker and reduce editing time.

Conclusion

Creating a detailed content outline is the first step to writing top-ranking articles. The outline can help you increase reader engagement, streamline content writing, and boost rankings.

By following the five practical steps outlined in this article—choosing your target keyword, identifying search intent, crafting a compelling title, defining headings and subheadings, and adding bullet point summaries—you can create content outlines that elevate the quality and impact of your writing.

Remember, a well-thought-out content outline guides the writer and ensures that the final product meets the needs of both the audience and search engines.

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Screenshot of Surfer SEO Content Editor interface, displaying the 'Essential Content Marketing Metrics' article with a content score of 82/100. The editor highlights sections like 'Key Takeaways' and offers SEO suggestions for terms such as 'content marketing metrics