Amazing blog posts don't just happen on their own.
It takes considerable skills to be able to put together a blog post that flows seamlessly from one idea to the next, carrying the reader all the way to the end of the post without losing engagement.
If you want to be able to write posts like that, it's important to learn how to create effective blog post outlines.
In this post, you will learn how to plan your posts, conduct research, and create a blog post outline that will help you improve your writing and enhance your readers’ experience.
Alright, let's get to it.
A blog post outline is simply a plan that you create ahead of time so that you know the general idea of what you want to write about.
It is the roadmap, skeleton, foundation, or structure (take your pick) of the post you want to write.
Traditional outlines have a pattern:
But, the good news is that you don’t have to adhere to this strict approach when outlining your posts.
In fact, right now, you simply have to understand the basic concept behind effective blog outlines, and you’ll be able to apply a more flexible version to your own blogging.
Different writers do blog outlining in different ways. As you grow your writing skills, you will be able to take outlining beyond mere planning and transform it into a conscious commitment to developing your ideas logically and persuasively.
No matter how you define it, an outline will help you avoid the most pervasive problem faced by bloggers everywhere: poor flow.
I'm sure you've seen some of these posts online, where the content jumps from one idea to another, and then circles back to the first idea for a few seconds before jumping back to the third, and so on.
Some writers swear by ‘writing in the moment,’ while others argue that the only way to produce high-quality posts is to plan and outline them beforehand.
Creating a blog post outline will help you inform or create a more structured outcome from your writing.
In fact, the more planning you do, the less likely you are to go off the deep end, and the more effective your final result will be.
By creating a fully-fleshed outline, you avoid all kinds of problems and make it more likely that your post will be engaging and to the point.
Here is a quick summary of the benefits of creating an outline:
But most importantly, a great outline makes it impossible for you to go astray with your writing - something that even the most experienced writers sometimes fall prey to.
Here are the steps to take in crafting a great outline for your next blog post:
Your first step is to determine the main takeaway of your post.
Who is your target audience?
You need to know the ideal reader for your post in order to be able to provide relevant information.
Determine the specific demographic profile of your target reader.
For instance, are you writing for 40-year-old women from New York who love skiing the slopes? Or are you writing for 50-year-old men who are looking for more effective ways to handle their finances?
These are all questions you have to answer if you are going to be able to create content that is relevant and caters to your readers’ intent when searching online.
Once you have this information, you're going to have a clearer picture of the key message you want your readers to be able to take away from your blog post.
You will have a better understanding of the exact problem you're trying to solve with your content.
Write down that one important message that clearly outlines how your blog post will benefit your target reader.
This decision on your thesis will also help dictate what form your blog post will take.
There are a variety of ways in which you can present your solution to your readers, including:
Each of these different blog post templates conveys information to your readers in a slightly different way.
It's important to decide on a blog post format that will get your message across effectively and make it easy for your target readers to consume your content.
For instance, if you are writing a review post, your aim is to help readers determine if a particular product is worth purchasing or using.
If, on the other hand, you are writing a tutorial post, then your goal is to show your audience a step-by-step process that they can follow to take action towards a specific goal.
Once you've narrowed down your post's main take away, and chosen the format for your blog post, it's time to move on to the next step.
This is a very important step. You need to have a clear understanding of exactly what you are going to write before you even begin outlining your post.
A working title will guide you and help you focus on exactly what your blog is about as you go about writing your outline.
When it comes to picking a great working title, you need to make it specific.
For instance, instead of using a working title like "Social Media Lead Generation," you might use instead, "How to Use Images to Generate Leads on Facebook."
Spend a bit of time on this. Do your best to make your working title as specific as you can, but don't get too nitpicky.
You can always refine the title later.
Your goal at this stage is to create a working title that will give you a clear idea of what your entire blog post is all about.
It should be something that tells the readers what the post is about and makes them eager to read your post to find out more.
Important Note: Some writers recommend that you write your post first, and then create a title afterward to try and embrace all the madness!
I believe it's better to come up with a working title first, and then let it guide you as you write your post.
You'll be able to optimize your title and make it sound catchy once you're done with your blog post.
Check out this post on our blog to find examples of headline formulas to help you quickly come up with enticing titles for your blog posts.
Now, it's time for a brain dump. Make a list of all the questions that your blog post will have to answer.
What are the things that your readers want to get from your article?
You don't have to focus only on the main sections of your blog post, but you can also list related things that your readers might want to know as they read through your post.
At this point, don't worry about the organization. Simply let your ideas and thoughts flow naturally.
Using the previous example, if your working title was "How to Use Images to Generate Leads on Facebook," you would probably want your readers to know things like:
If you are having trouble coming up with questions, use the following tips to help you find out what you readers are asking:
A tool like SEMrush will help you find questions in your niche. Simply enter the topic of your blog post and apply the ‘questions’ filter to see only the questions that are being asked on that topic.
Use Google search
Prefix your seed keywords with words like ‘what,’ ‘why,’ ‘who,’ and ‘how’ in order to get plenty of good ideas for questions that your audience is asking.
You can also check Google’s ‘related searches’ to get more ideas.
Browse Niche-Relevant Forums
Go through Quora or any other forums that are related to the topic of your blog post to see the most common questions members have.
A good rule of thumb is to come up with at least one question for every 100 words of your post.
So, if you are writing a 2,000-word post, you may want to come up with a list of 20 or more questions.
It's alright if you don't have all the answers to the questions you suspect your readers will have. You will be able to conduct research a little later on in the process.
For now, simply put yourself in your readers’ shoes and add as many questions as you can to help support your main points.
Also, don't worry that you might have too many questions. Simply jot them all down and the ones you don't use now, you will be able to save for future topics.
Once you have every question that you can think of answering in order to address the key takeaway of your blog post, it's time to move on to the next step.
A major secret of most professional bloggers is that they don't actually know everything.
Oftentimes, bloggers have to sit down to write about a topic that they know absolutely nothing about.
That's why it's important to hone your research skills so that you can produce high-quality, informative, and factually correct information that will please both your readers in the search engines.
If you are relying on third-party information for your blog post, choose authoritative sources like:
Here are some popular research sources to help you find reliable information to finesse your blog post outline:
(Image Source: NeilPatel.com)
It goes without saying that you should do your best to ensure that you’re not feeding your audience misleading information.
Nothing kills a blogger's reputation, credibility, and authority faster than publishing incorrect facts.
So make sure that you do proper research during the outlining process. Always do your due diligence and check your facts.
It is best to approach every source with the skepticism of a journalist.
Question everything and don't publish anything unless you’re positive the information is solid.
If you use a site like Wikipedia as a source, keep in mind that the website is not infallible. It's been known to let erroneous facts slip past editors.
Also, when citing information, even from reliable sources, do your best to look for the true source of the information and avoid citing the middleman.
At this point, you have your major theme, and all your questions lined up.
Now, it's time to get technical on the most effective way to organize the idea mess you have just created so you can translate all that information into real output when outlining your blog post.
This is a simple process of placing each of the ideas into overarching sections.
Think of this process like sorting laundry where each thought belongs in its own pile.
First, narrow down your list to the most impactful questions you absolutely have to address in your article.
Then, arrange them into three or four major themes and sections in your blog post outline. This can be more or less, depending on the length of your post.
Once you have arranged the major themes and sections, it will give you a macro-level view and make it easy to work on your document.
Your post should have a clear hierarchy, which means that sub-points must be nested within the main points.
Start With the Main Header
Your first header (H1) should be the post title. Only use one H1 header per post and do your best to include your main keyword within the H1 title.
For example, "blog post outline" is the target keyword for the post you are reading, so we included it in the title "My Copy of How to Write a Blog Post Outline (11 Easy Steps)".
Then, Fill in the Subheaders
Prepare the top-level hierarchy of your blog post by analyzing the research file that you created previously.
This will help you to easily add the H2 subheadings, as well as the H3s, and H4s, if any.
Do your best to include your primary and secondary keywords within the H2 titles. But don't obsess over this. If the keywords don't fit naturally, it’s alright to leave them out.
It's usually tempting to get creative when mapping out subheaders. But please don't do that.
Remember, people typically scan blog posts by looking at the headers. If you make them cryptic, your readers will have to read the content beneath them to understand your headers.
This can turn readers off.
Good headings stand on their own without any explanation. So make sure your subheadings convey a clear benefit and that they make sense.
In other words, each subheading should sound like an actual takeaway.
Consider rephrasing some of your subheadings so that they properly fit within the context of your blog post.
(Image Source: SlideShare.net)
As in the example above, you should have a few major themes from your brainstorming session, and plenty of bullets that fall under each one of those themes.
You may find that some main themes have lots of bullets, while others don't have any, but definitely call for it.
Do your best to make sure that each section is balanced, but don't worry if you need to say more on one section than the other.
Just make sure your content has a natural progression and flows logically from the first point to the last while educating and engaging your readers along the way.
Now, you have the main skeletal structure of your blog post outline, with all the main headings and subheadings, and sub-subheadings.
Now that you have everything sorted out coherently, it's time to add detail to your subheadings.
The more detail you add at this stage, the easier the rest of the writing process will be.
When adding details to your subheadings, first write everything you know. Let your thoughts flow and try not to distract yourself by stopping to do more research.
Just get as much information as you can down, and you’ll be able to come back and fill in the gaps later.
Here are some tips to follow while filling in the details:
By the end of this step, you should have a completely filled blog post outline that is at least a quarter of your actual article's length.
For instance, if you are writing a 2,000-word post, your outline should be roughly 500 words.
Pro Tip: One of the things I find extremely helpful when setting up a blog outline is to use links, snippets, and notes in various places on the blog outline, and then worry about writing at the very end after all my research is done. This helps to save time and it makes your writing flow smoother.
Once you have fleshed out your outline, it's time to go back and conduct some more research to help you add more relevant subsections and to support the overarching points in your post.
In essence, you are doing this research to beef up your blog post, and ensure that it provides more value than everything else that's already out there on the Internet.
Your goal in conducting this research is to firm up your points, so keep the following in mind as you go through the research process:
You need to find relevant studies, data, and various additional sources or links to examples.
When you find them, simply add them beneath the relevant sections so that when you start writing, it's all organized properly.
For instance, if you want to cite a statistical study in the introduction, that's where you paste the relevant link.
If you make any claims in your post, you have to back them up with real research to add authority to your content.
So, anytime you make a claim, paste in the link to the material that you're referencing so that you can properly cite them as you are writing your post.
This is a very effective time-saving tactic.
If you're having trouble knowing when to add additional research or sources, simply think of it this way:
This not only gives more authority and credibility to your blog posts, but it also lets your readers know that your content is well researched and verifiable.
After researching at this stage, you may find the need to add more points to the outline.
Even as you continue working to refine your outline, you may still find that certain points do not seem as relevant, or that new points come up.
Keep making notes, and you’ll be able to put it all together in the next step.
This step involves cleaning up your blog post outline. You need to remove and/or reorganize details in each of the sections as necessary to ensure that your post flows smoothly.
If any details come to you that you don't want to forget, add them in. If the article doesn't flow smoothly enough, consider reordering the structure.
To check topical alignment, read through your entire blog post outline to see if all of the content is aligned or relevant to the main topic. On a micro-scale, you might want to check if the content within each of the heading groups is relevant in its scope.
Editing your outline doesn’t have to be a complex process, but it's important to assign adequate time to this part because once you start creating an outline, it can be easy to lose track and wind up too much into the weeds.
If you notice any irrelevant content, consider moving it to another group or even removing it completely (hard as it might be).
Once you’re happy that every section of the post flows logically and seamlessly guides the reader to the subsequent sections, it's time to move on to the actual writing of your blog post.
Once you've tightened up your outline, leaving only the most relevant information, the hard part is done, and writing it will be a breeze.
All you need to do now is to start filling in the outline.
With your detailed outline in place, you will be truly amazed to see the speed with which you will now be able to write your blog posts.
The more research you do at the onset and the more information you fill in your outline, the easier and quicker writing the rest of the content will be.
It's beyond the scope of this article to go into the details of how to write a blog post, but there's an excellent post on our blog that you can check out to help you write high-quality posts that will outperform your competitors and get you high rankings in Google's first page.
You now have everything you need to write a fully-fledged outline for your blog post.
Follow the steps in this article to help you craft well-organized masterpieces that will rank high in the search engines and drive a steady flow of engaged readers to your blog.
What’s your process for writing blog post outlines? Let us know in the comments below!
by Steve Rajeckas
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