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How Great Outlines lead to High-Ranking Content

Creating high-ranking content is always going to be hard work. 

Sometimes it requires hours of research and planning before you can even begin the actual writing process. You must do extensive keyword research and check search engine results in order to see what search engines are favoring. 

While you’re doing this research, it only makes sense to organize your findings into a concise but well-thought-out outline so that you can hit the ground running when you’re ready.

I’ll explain why outlines are so effective for creating high-quality content, what to include in your outline, and how to streamline the process with SEO tools

Why build outlines

If you’re not already building outlines, I’ll explain 3 reasons why it’s crucial that you begin doing so. 

Freelancers and clients

At Tuff, a growth marketing agency, we work with a lot of different freelance writers and clients. 

Sometimes clients prefer us to provide them with topics that they can pass on to their in-house writers. Sometimes we’re working with a new freelancer for the first time.

What level of quality content could we expect if we weren’t providing them with in-depth outlines that include word count, search terms, and more?

We would have no control over what is included in the content and it would significantly impact our search engine rankings.

Prioritize your research

As mentioned above, the research process is long and intensive. Even if you’re writing the piece of content yourself, you want to keep a prioritized list of search queries that you’re going to include and questions that you want to answer. 

That way you’re basically turning all of your actionable insights into an outline as you research.

Make sure you’re answering the most important questions

One of the surest ways to rank your blog content is to answer the questions that people are most frequently asking. 

There are several SEO tools that will help you find the most popular questions on your topic, based on search volume, and will analyze the first page rankings for you. 

SurferSEO and SEMrush are two of the tools that we use most frequently for this research.

Answerthepublic is a free tool that helps you find the most popular questions related to a keyword or topic.

One manual way to do this is to check search intent for questions in the People Also Ask section and what is ranking on page one, especially in the Featured Snippets.

By answering these questions in a clear and concise manner, on a website technically SEO-optimized for rich snippets, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of ranking on the first page of google search. Google’s algorithm is always changing and the best way to see what they’re favoring is to see what they’re currently ranking in the first page.

What is included in a great outline?

Below is a list of components that should be included in every SEO content outline, and a few of my own that I added. Most of these are based on google ranking factors and best practices and will significantly impact your rankings.


If you're creating an outline for someone else, you always want to include notes on the specific direction you want them to take. What is the purpose of the article, is it SEO-focused, is it for sales or is it for culture, etc,. If you have specific internal links you want them to include, the outline is the place to let them know.

Bullet points, not sentences

I like to keep my outlines to bullet points rather than sentences. This is something I was taught in college and it helps to keep your thoughts open rather than having a specific sentence that you've already written and need to stick to.

Keyword research

Like with any SEO-related piece of content, keyword research plays a big role. You want to make sure that you have a target keyword that's going to be included in the URL, the meta description, the body of the content, and the subheads.

Once you have the target keyword that will help you determine the secondary and tertiary keywords that need to be included as well.

Semantically related keywords to include

These are the secondary and tertiary keywords that you want to include in your long form content period you can find these keywords by looking at search results in finding keywords that are commonly mentioned on the top 10 search rankings.

Surfer makes this extremely easy for you by not only showing the search terms to mention, but in real-time showing you which ones you’ve already mentioned and how many times. 

Questions to answer

Questions are typically an important part of any high quality content outline because Google has determined which questions people are frequently asking and if you check google results you’ll see that a lot of the SEO titles and meta descriptions and focused around answering these questions. In order to increase organic traffic, we have to answer the questions that people are asking.

Relevant Links

Building a running list of internal links to your most important landing pages or product pages will save you time when doing internal link building. Add this list of internal links, optimized with keyword rich anchor text, to your content outline template. 

In this section, you can also include external links and websites not to link out to.

Examples of great content

The same way it's good to provide a sense of direction, it's also good to have examples of high quality content so you have a benchmark to beat. By conducting SEO competitive analysis on the top web pages - everything from their inbound links to their title tags - you’ll get a better understanding of why they’re ranking and what you need to do to outrank them.

How to make a great outline

Okay, all this talk about outlines, but what the most efficient and effective way to build a high-quality outline for high-quality content?

At Tuff, our answer is manual research and SurferSEO. 

We've already explain how everything starts with keyword research. Whether you use Google Analytics, Google search console, or any other tool, nailing down your target keyword in the first part. 

Once you have your keyword, simply input it into SurferSEO’s Content Editor and it will spin up a list of short and long tail keywords to include in your content, as well as questions to answer.

From there, you can decide to export this to Google docs so that you can have your outline directly in the sidebar of your Google doc while you write. 

The best part about this is that it will rank your content on a score of 1-100. This is extremely valuable because now during the content creation phase of your SEO strategy, you can provide this Google doc outline to your writers and build a benchmark content score that they must reach for each piece of content to be accepted.

Aside from SurferSEO, it’s always important to check Google rankings and search intent to see which type of content and rich snippets are ranking. 

If you see that videos or images or maps or events are being ranked at the top of search engines then this is something that you will want to include in your content as well.

Also check our Blog Content Outline Generator - Free AI SEO tool

Conclusion: 4 Ways great outlines help you rank better

Target keyword

The target keyword is incredible important because it's going to set the tone for the rest of your outline. If you input the wrong target keyword then all the information that you get regarding secondary keywords, subheads, and questions will be incorrect. 

Vice versa, if you choose the correct exact keyword, it's going to influence all rankings factors and greatly improve your chances of ranking high in search results.

Semantically related keywords

Google is looking for comprehensive coverage not only on your blog posts but also on your web pages. By including semantically related keywords you are improving your chances of ranking not only for the focus keyword but also for keyword variants.

Searcher intent / direction

It's important that you understand searcher intent before you start writing on a topic. If Google has determined that Google search results are related to something other than what you are writing on, it's going to make it extremely difficult for you to rank for that topic.

For instance, in the Enterprise tech industry there is something known as network attached storage, or NAS for abbreviation. If you search google for NAS, you’re going to get results for the rapper Nas and it’s very difficult to rank a network attached storage piece of content in the top-5.

Questions - people also ask

Almost all Google searches will include a People Also Ask section nowadays. Take into account the questions that are in here and find a way to concisely answer them within your content. Assuming your website has relevant content and has been optimized for technical and on page optimization, this will increase your chances of showing up in that section.

Having high quality content is going to greatly improve your content marketing as well!

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Derek Coleman

SEO Team Lead at Tuff Growth. Derek is a digital marketer based in Miami, FL with almost a decade of hands-on SEO experience. He finds it meaningful, challenging, and exciting to develop, test, and implement new SEO strategies. When he’s not auditing websites and optimizing content he’s usually backpacking and exploring new cultures.


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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