Start with the Main Header
Google favors posts with a clear hierarchy which means subpoints need to be nested inside of main points. The post title is the first header (H1), and that’s the most important text in a post. Make sure that you do your keyword research ahead of time and use the exact keyword in the H1.
You’ll also want to use the exact target keyword in the H2. We usually change the H2 a little from the post title (H1), just so it isn’t repetitive on the page. Here, the H2 is the first header in the body of the post, and we’ve altered it slightly from the H1, “How to Write a Winning Blog Post Outline.”
There should only be one H2 in each post. This single dominant header is a signal to Google that these are the words that this post is about, and, because it’s an echo of the title, Google knows exactly what people will get when reading this post.
Fill in the Subheaders
Next, map out the main points of the post as H3s. We usually try to have at least three H3s in each post. These subheaders can include the target keyword, but don’t have to. Be careful not to overdo it and stuff keywords in so much that it seems unnatural.
If you do a search for the target keyword on Google and the results page includes a featured snippet with a list at the top, it’s a good idea to number your subheaders. This helps Google identify the prominent components of your list and you’ll have a better shot at getting into the coveted Position 0.
It may be tempting to get really creative with your subheaders, but don’t do that. Keep in mind that people usually skim blog posts, looking at the headers. If your headers are cryptic, requiring readers to read the content under them to understand them, you’ll turn people off. Subheaders should make sense without any explanation.
The 10-Minute Blog Post Outline
But good news: You don’t have to follow this rather strict approach to outlining. You only have to understand the basic idea that is at work in blog outlines, and apply a flexible version to your blogging.
1. Find the Big Idea
Your post isn’t a collection of main stand-alone points (unless it is a list post of that nature), but with supported points that are related and point back to the Big Idea. If you have lots of Big Ideas in one blog post, you will have a disjointed blog post that would be better broken up into separate posts. What’s a Big Idea? It’s the thing you base your headline on. You can only have one Big Idea per post. So with outlining, you take your Big Idea (headline), break that Big Idea into a handful of Key Points, and then support those key points. What’s a Key Point? A key point is a car without wheels. It needs the rest of the wheels to go anywhere. Together, your key points lead the reader to a conclusion or place of understanding. On their own, they are merely interesting facts or ideas. So what does a ten-minute blog outline approach look like? Remember, you’re not writing the post in ten minutes, but outlining it so it is easier to write.
2. Understand what the end result must be
3. List what you have to mention
Depending on what your goal is, there might be specific things you might have to mention. Make a list of them. For example, it might be specific data, like I mentioned in step one. Perhaps your team has gathered up various data from your website analytics. It’s up to you to decide what context you are going to give this data, but whatever you choose, you have to include it. “Jim, we’ve seen an increase in traffic ever since we changed our site’s header design. Here’s the data. We think it would make an interesting blog post.” Or, perhaps you’ve agreed to feature the infographic or some product announcement from another brand. Whatever the case, if you have a specific piece of information that has to be in the post, you need to center the post around it or it will seem awkwardly added on. Not all blog posts will make use of this step.
4. Figure out what you don’t know
5. Figure out what you do know
6. Organize all of the lists into related groups
If you find a grouping that is made up of only one item, get rid of it. It’s going to be too weak to stand on its own, and it clearly doesn’t fit the Big Idea very well because there was nothing else it paired with. When you do form groupings, you start to see how almost any blog post has the capability of being long-form or short-form, depending on what you decide to do in the next step.
7. Create summarizing headings
Now that you’ve grouped all of your potential content, give each grouping a heading that summarizes what it’s about. This isn’t likely to be the heading you use in the final post. It’s mainly meant to be helpful in deciding what stays and what gets cut, and how to write that section.
8. Reorder and cut the heading groups
Start to order your groups in a way that fits logically, flowing down from the Big Idea into your end goal. You might want your blog post to persuade, to sell, or to inform. You may want to present your information in terms of cause-and-effect, problem-and-solution, or compare-and-contrast. You can do so much with how a post ends up simply by what you do in this step. If you get the arrangement correct, when you write the post, you’ll stay on the path. Outlining helps writers stay on point and stay focused. If you don’t cut material that doesn’t fit, your outline is loose and will lead you astray.
9. Refine each heading group
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what your post is going to be about. You have your Big Idea, and you have the sections of copy that will support that big idea topped by a guiding heading. By arranging the groups earlier, you committed to an angle. Rework the headings to help you, the writer, write copy to that angle. Again, this is likely not the final heading the reader sees, but one that gives you direction. Your final heading might be “The 10-Minute Blog Post Outline System”, but the one you used while writing it might have been “The Basics Of Outlining”.
10. Start writing your draft
At this point, you’re ready to write the post. You know where you’re headed, you know where you will end up. You know specifically what you need to research, and where to dump that research back in your draft. You know that your own ideas are where they should be and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to include them. An outline like this will make much better use of your time.
Blog post formats to be aware of
When creating informational blog posts–which are the most popular on Google and for your site traffic, there are mainly three types in nature: listicles, ‘What is’ and ‘How-to’ structured blog posts.
The blog post template ‘What is’ consists of explainers that educate on what a topic is about. They provide definitions, summarize historical information, and get all the preliminary stuff out of the way. These articles are suitable for beginners, but an advanced audience will probably find ‘what is’ articles lacking in depth.
‘How to’ blog posts are more in-depth on a topic. These articles assume that you know the basics and offer tactical advice on doing things. ‘How to’ blog posts are usually more engaging since the reader will typically follow along while reading the content, and therefore the user will spend more time on the page.
Deciding between a ‘what is’ and ‘how to’ structure will help with your writing style, jargon, and ideas. For example, for a ‘what is’ piece of content, you could be more friendly, use simple language, and introduce basic concepts. On the other hand, a ‘how to’ gives you rights to more jargon with a more instructive voice. You kind of figure it out from there.
Ah, Buzzfeed’s favorite blogging format. The listicle consists of, you’ve guessed it, a list of ideas neatly bundled together into a blog post. Over the years, this format has gained a fair bit of notoriety for being overdone and is considered by some as lazy writing. But if someone as excellent as Tim Urban from the Wait But Why blog loves listicles, then it can’t be as bad as people think that it is.
At the end of the day, the quality of a listicle depends on the writer’s quality of writing. A great listicle is fun, insightful, and has ideas that flow well from one to the other.