There are many explanations why a blog post can be less-than-perfect. Poor formatting. Poor word choice. Poor grammar. Poor shareability.
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What is the most pervasive issue? Poor flow. The post hops from one idea to the third, then back to the first for a fraction of a second, then back to the fourth, and so on. Or the post reads like that of a river of consciousness – but it wasn’t a deliberate decision.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution. But, first, you should create an outline before jumping headfirst into writing your article.
I’m not talking about scribbling short bullet points; even experienced writers can get carried away with only a few talking points. Instead, I’m talking about a completely fleshed-out outline with enough specifics to prevent the writing from going off the deep end. And it’s not difficult to do.
Here are four reasons why you should make a blog outline:
1. It saves you time.
It may seem paradoxical, but I assure you that it will save you significant time in the long run.
It also makes you much more organized.
When we write a piece of content, we often experience or make distractions because we fear writing it so much.
When you create a blog outline, there are fewer opportunities for procrastination and distractions.
2. You have the choice to outsource your work
I enjoy the concept of writing a blog post. Everything about it gives me so much pleasure and satisfaction.
However, creating a single piece of content took me so long that I began missing deadlines and disappointing my business partner.
I’m ecstatic that my words and blog can reach millions of people all over the world.
A blog post outline is a standard operating procedure for having someone else replicate the tasks and work you are doing. It provides them with the necessary details and expectations to create high-quality content.
3. Improve your search engine rankings and conversion rates
When you draft an outline, you can be more descriptive with your word choice.
You have time to develop a well-thought-out content marketing strategy that meets your target audience where they are and in a language they understand.
So, use your resources to determine the exact words that your target audience is looking for so that you can rank on Google’s first page.
If you’ve grasped this concept, you can strategically place call-to-actions and lead magnets in your content for your readers to interact with.
To get great results from your content, you should have an end goal in mind that is combined with a killer marketing strategy.
4. It helps to avoid writer’s block.
This was a significant milestone for me. I’ve wasted hundreds of hours gazing at a blank screen.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get words to flow on paper — just one word, and nothing else happens.
You don’t have to stress. You have a blog outline because everything is set in front of you.
You’ve got your key points in front of you; all you have to do now is expand on them and include a personal touch.
15 Steps to writing a better outline for a blog post
You are not required to adhere to this very rigid approach to outlining. You need to grasp the fundamental concept at work in blog outlines and adapt a dynamic version to your blogging.
1. Settle on a working title
This is the most crucial move in the entire process. Before you begin outlining, you should have a good idea of what you will write.
Spend time narrowing down your working title to something unique and simple to address in a blog post format – but don’t get snarky. You will make changes to the title later. The intention here is to have a title that conveys what the entire piece is about. You can also make it sound catchy.
2. Begin by learning about your target audience
“Before drawing up any blog outline, it is important to know who you are writing for and why,” advises Nicole Wolfe of TopSpot Internet Marketing. “This describes the structure, concepts, and specifics required to write an effective blog post.”
3. Discover the big idea
Your post isn’t a compilation of key stand-alone points (unless it’s a list post) but rather a collection of supporting points that are connected to and point back to the Big Idea. If you put many Big Ideas in one blog post, you’ll end up with a disjointed blog post that should be split up into different posts.
4. Conduct keyword research
Keyword research will assist you in deciding on a title for your blog. What is important to you may not be important to your target audience.
Keyword research aims to choose a title already being searched for by your target audience.
If you are unsure who your target audience is, use our customer avatar worksheet above to help you figure it out.
5. Understand what the result would be
The first step is to start your blog post not with the content itself but by understanding what you want from the post. You may think to yourself:
- Who is going to read it? What do you need them to understand?
- Do you need to provide any specific data or research? What kinds of questions does the data beg for answers to? How many different interpretations would the data have? How many different angles can the information be applied?
- What kind of call to action (C.T.A.) can you use? How do you arrange the post so that the C.T.A. appears to your reader as a solution?
Since any topic can take several different paths, it’s a good idea to know where you’d like to end up before you start building the framework. You’re not going to get anywhere.
6. Make a list of everything you need to mention
Depending on your target, you may need to mention those details. Make a list of all of them.
For example, as I stated in step one, it could be specific data. Perhaps your team has compiled various data from your website’s analytics. It is entirely up to you to determine what context you can give this data, but you must include it.
“Jim, we’ve seen a spike in traffic after we updated the design of our site’s header. Here is the data. We believe it will make a good blog post.”
Perhaps you’ve decided to include an infographic or a product release from another brand. In any case, if you have a particular piece of information that must be included in the post, you must center the post around it, or it may appear awkwardly added on.
This step may not be included in all blog posts.
7. Determine what you don’t know
If you’re writing a post about a topic and want to know more about something but don’t, your reader probably feels the same way. Make a list of the questions you have.
I often begin blog posts on unfamiliar topics by listing questions (I’ll go into more detail about this later). While I might not use the answers to those questions in the final article, it’s a great place to start structure and research, and you’ll need it when you create the outline’s scaffolding.
8. Determine what you already know
Write down what you know as headings, words, or single sentences. And by “know,” I mean the facts you know or the ideas you want to promote, whether you have the facts to back them up or it’s just an approach you want to take to guide your reader in a certain direction.
Since you aren’t writing the post here, keep it short. Avoid writing paragraphs because this is only intended to help you structure ideas for the outline.
Any of what you find during the brainstorming phase can be useful if you use it to jumpstart your ideas. Mind mapping, for example, will show many potential directions a topic could follow. Choose only one direction to take; outlining is the process of wrangling the vast brainstorming expanse into a linear path.
9. Sort all of the lists into categories that are similar to one another
Evaluate the lists you created in steps three, four, and five. It’s time to put the mess in order.
Start at the top by writing your Big Idea as a provisional headline. Then, it may be useful to write down your ultimate objective from step two.
Then, look at your lists and organize them into groups of similar content. For example, I could evaluate the lists and determine that there are groupings for:
- History of Outlining
- Outlining Tools
- What Outlines Do for Writers
- Using Outlines Creatively
- How to Outline
I may not use any of those sections in the actual blog post. It will be determined whether it suits the Big Idea and end goal and other constraints like final word count limits. If you’re selling an outlining resource, for example, your reader may not be interested in the history of outlining, so you’ll want to cut the copy, so it doesn’t get in the way of copy leading to a sale.
If you come across a grouping that consists of just one item, dispose of it. It will be too shallow to sit on its own, and it doesn’t suit the Big Idea quite well because it was combined with nothing else.
When you develop groupings, you can see how almost every blog post has the potential to be short-form or long-form, depending on what you do next.
10. Make summarizing headings
After you’ve categorized your potential content, assign each grouping a heading summarizing what it’s about.
This is unlikely to be the title of the final post. Instead, it’s primarily intended to assist in deciding what stays and what goes and how to write that section.
11. Rearrange and trim the heading groups
Begin to arrange your groups logically, moving from the Big Idea to your final goal. Your blog post can be intended to convince, sell, or educate. You may want to present your data in a problem-and-solution, cause-and-effect, or compare-and-contrast format.
What you do in this stage greatly impacts how a post turns out. If you get the structure right, you’ll be able to stay on track while writing the post.
Outlining allows writers to remain on track and oriented. If you don’t cut out content that doesn’t fit, your outline will be sloppy and lead you astray.
12. Fine-tune each heading group.
You should know what your post will be about at this stage. You’ve got your Big Idea, and you’ve got the parts of copy that will support it, each topped by a top heading.
You aligned with an angle by arranging the groups earlier. Next, restructure the headings to assist you, the writer, in writing a relevant copy to that angle. Again, this is certainly not the final heading that the reader sees, but it does provide guidance. For example, your final heading may be “The 10-Minute Blog Post Outline System,” but the one you used when writing it may have been “The Basics of Outlining.”
13. Double-check your facts
I revised a post written by a colleague about a big technology conference highlight a few years ago. Under a very tight deadline, the writer did an excellent job writing great copy almost in no time, but he neglected to check his facts accurately.
For example, he quoted a Forbes article in which the author said Steve Jobs used PowerPoint on stage – which never happened. It was sloppy writing on the part of the Forbes writer and a simple oversight on the part of my colleague. Still, the result was the same: one badly written article directly affected another because both writers neglected to do thorough research.
14. Check what your rivals are doing
Informational keywords and headings from competing publications are weighted, and differences are incorporated in the outline as H2s, H3s, and H4s based on their relevance to one another. As necessary, pertinent notes are added to each section, but some sections are self-explanatory and do not require specific details in the outline.
Then I look at the top three competitors already ranked and note the headline or sub-headline structure.
This is convenient since most blog posts now have a table of contents at the top of the page, allowing me to see the entire structure of the article in one look. Then I construct my outline by merging keyword and competitor research data.
15. Create a powerful conclusion
We won’t go into as much depth with our conclusions as we do with our introductions, but we give them sufficient flesh in the outline to explain how we will move from the post body to the call to action at the end.
Don’t just get bored of writing and stop. Give your assumptions some extra juice to rouse the reader and inspire them to take action. It’s a great idea to refer to your solid hook statement from the introduction to bring the entire post full circle in conclusion. It ties the bow on the box and informs the reader that it is time to proceed to the next stage of the buyer’s journey.
Keep in mind that you are leading the reader down the sales funnel with every piece of content. If you’re writing a post about a Top Funnel topic (such as this one), make the C.T.A. a Middle Funnel offer. If the post is about a Middle Funnel topic (your type of service or product), use a Bottom Funnel offer as the C.T.A. If the reader is still considering buying, don’t send them back up the funnel.
Outlining is a crucial part of your process, especially for long-form blog posts. Unfortunately, it gets a negative reputation because we associate it with outlining what we learned in high school, together with Roman numerals, letters, and numbers. Instead, it is a matter of organizing information into groups and determining the best sequential arrangement.
Making a blog outline before writing your blog post will help you become a better writer and improve the quality of your writing for your reader. So what’s the best part?