How to Write Content Outlines for SEO — Plus a Free Outline Template

How to Write Content Outlines for SEO — Plus a Free Outline Template

Anyone tasked with content writing knows that the better content you provide on your website, the better your odds of ranking well on SERPs (search engine results pages). It’s a foundational concept of search engine optimization, or SEO.

But every copywriter and content marketing manager also knows that SEO writing is anything but simple. It’s a worthwhile but demanding endeavor. To reap all of its benefits, you need to consistently publish content that attracts both search engines and your target audience.

An important trick of the trade can help you balance user expectations with SEO requirements: content outlining.

With content outlines, you’ll write faster, improve your workflow, and maybe even find your site on the coveted first page of Google. In this article, we’ll cover how content outlines can help you not only create great content but also manage the rigorous undertaking of content creation. We’ll also provide you with a step-by-step outline template that will guide you through the SEO writing process.

What Is a Content Outline?

Outlining is a vital part of the writing process. In its most basic form, a content outline is a structured document that organizes your ideas into a framework that you can reference to construct your blog, whitepaper, press release, etc.

The goal of a content outline is to identify and organize the key takeaways in your content. When it’s done, the content outline will also help speed up the actual writing process. Using bullet points, numbering, or even classic Roman numerals, you organize your ideas into sections, including your intro, main points, and conclusion.

It’s tempting to forego the outline and just sit down to write, but a content outline has a lot of benefits, including:

  • Built-in fluidity: You can easily manipulate your copy without composing complete paragraphs. If you need to change or scrap an idea, you can do it more easily in the outlining phase.
  • Better brainstorming: An outline provides a safe space for brainstorming without the pressure of worrying about structure or readability.
  • Ditch writer’s block: Kick writer’s block to the curb with a content outline. Start with high-level bullet points and add more details as you go. 
  • Clearer flow: Creating a content brief organizes your thoughts into a logical order with supporting evidence.
  • Hit the mark: A content outline provides a checklist of things you want to include in every piece you write. This is a big one for SEO! An outline ensures that you link internally, cite credible sources, and include images to create more SEO opportunities for your website.

Why Is Content Outlining Important for SEO?

Content outlining is a must for any writer. But when it comes to the moving parts of effective SEO content that speaks to search engines and searchers alike? Well, let’s just say that outlining should be part of your overall content strategy, not just your writing process.

To achieve content marketing success, you need web content that ranks. To do that, each piece of content you create needs to meet a search engine’s criteria for A-plus content. 

Of course, there are many strategies to level up your SEO writing. So many, in fact, that a templated content outline will ensure you include all of your must-haves. Think of it as a useful checklist that helps you include critical pieces to the SEO puzzle. 

The bottom line is that, in addition to organizing the main points of your article, an outline helps you organize the main components of SEO writing, too.

5 Components of an Effective Content Outline

Now that you know how useful content outlining can be for the SEO writing process, download our outline template to become your very own subject matter expert.

Whether you take advantage of our template or have your own outline in mind, make sure you include these five SEO essentials to optimize your content every time.

1. Choose a Target Keyword

You already have a topic for your content, but that topic needs to tie into your SEO strategy. To do that, you need to identify a target keyword. 

If you want to create the most comprehensive article on a topic, check Google’s “People Also Ask” feature to source effective keywords. 

You can get a big boost from SEO keyword research tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush, too. Be sure to watch for keyword difficulty and search volume to find that sweet spot.

Search intent also matters here: opt for keywords that indicate interest. For example, “renters insurance” has low intent, while “best renters insurance for college students” has high intent.

Once you decide on a target keyword, place it at the top of your outline. Whether you write in-house or hire a freelance writer, this will help you keep the keyword top-of-mind during the outlining phase.

2. Add Relevant Keywords

Don’t just use keyword research for your main keyword. Once you have your target keyword, use your keyword research tool to build a lexicon of related keywords, which are also known as “semantically related keywords.” 

If you’re using an SEO research tool, it will generate a list of relevant keywords for you. Think of this like a word bank you can pull from. It not only helps you nail SEO, but also cures writer’s block because the keywords will naturally guide your outline. 

Go through the list and look for clusters of related topics. Once you identify a pattern, organize the keywords into individual sections that will eventually become sections of your article. 

Now’s the time to look for header ideas, too. Determine which keywords should be your headers and subheadings. From there, drop keywords underneath each header to guide the content for that section. This will help you maximize on-page SEO by including relevant keywords in your H2s, which will make your content both skimmable and Google-friendly.

3. Link Internally and Externally

The flow of your content matters, but links matter for SEO writing, too. You should leave space in each section of your outline for links. These should not only support your main points, but also give readers additional resources if they want to do a deep dive into a particular topic. 

Every content outline should include two types of links: 

  • Internal links: These are links from your website. They’re usually other blogs or resources, but they can be product pages, press releases, or reviews, too. Internal links keep readers on-site longer. They also indicate that you’re a subject matter expert, which can build trust with readers over time. If you can keep users on-site longer, Google will look at that as a positive ranking factor, so internal links are a win-win.
  • External links: Be sure to find a few sources from other reputable websites to back up your claims. It may seem counterintuitive to link to another website, but citing credible and authoritative sources can increase your authority. Used wisely, external links can boost your credibility both with readers and search engines. 

4. Optimize Visuals

Text matters, but so do images. If you want to squeeze more value out of your content, be sure to include visuals in your content outline. 

You don’t have to design them right now, but adding direction for graphics, videos, and other visual elements can help you tell a more compelling narrative. This can also include structured visuals like bulleted lists, numbered lists, and headers. 

Images are an underutilized aspect of SEO that can help you rank better over time. Image SEO optimizes the images in your content so they’re easy for search engines to read and rank. Always include images to improve your user experience, boost visibility, and ultimately increase your rankings in Google. 

5. Get Meta

At this point, your content outline is taking shape. But before you begin the writing process, it’s a good idea to come up with options for your metadata. This essential information goes on the back end of your blog.

Although most of your readers won’t see it, Google will use your meta information to rank your content, so it’s a must-have for any content outline. 

Come up with some options for your: 

  • Title
  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • Image alt text

While your meta information needs to be descriptive, it should also include your target keyword. 

Boost Your SEO Marketing Strategy With Better Content Outlines

You need to consider a lot of factors when you write content for SEO. While there’s nothing wrong with simply writing a blog from scratch, a content outline will help you ditch writer’s block, share your ideas clearly, and improve your search engine rankings long-term. 

Whether you follow a template of your own or use Growth Machine’s content outline template, be sure to follow these tips to glean more value from your content: 

  1. Choose a target keyword
  2. Include related keywords in the copy
  3. Link internally and externally
  4. Optimize visuals
  5. Include metadata

SEO writing is a rigorous process that never truly ends. Once you produce one piece of content, it’s time to get started on the next. If you have limited resources but want to scale up your SEO content strategy, work with a content marketing agency like Growth Machine. Contact us now to get tailored advice for your business from an SEO expert.


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