December 24, 2020 | Sean Foo
Blogging is one of the most reliable inbound marketing to build a consistent flow of traffic to your website.
However, many bloggers fail to reach this “sales nirvana” as they publish only amateurish, half-baked posts that offer readers little clear, structured value.
For your posts to rank and deliver you measurable results, they need to flow – something that can be done only if you plan before you write.
In this article, we will show you how to plan and outline your blog posts so they rank and engage your audience (while satisfying the Google algorithm).
Every month, over 70 million posts are published. That’s over a hundred posts published in the time taken for you to read this sentence!
To stand out from the crowd, no longer can you rely on just posting consistency and intuition.
You need a structured process to eliminate all guesswork and make your post rank.
Outlining helps you do so, by organising your thoughts and making sure readers can follow them from A to Z.
It sieves out gaps in your posts so you can find sub-points to plug in, or data and examples to substantiate your points.
It also helps you overcome the dreaded writer’s block that serves as no valid excuse if you’re following a strict posting timeline!
At SpeechSilver, our approach is what helps us write posts that rank for our clients and drive them quality inbound leads.
Using this approach you’ll be able to consistently craft articles that are competitive, fulfils the searcher’s objectives and add value to your readers.
In the following 9-step process, we’ll reveal exactly how we do so (and how you can copy our process as well!)
Before you do any outlining, you’ll need a starting idea to work with.
What do you want to write about, and who will it be for?
Let’s say you want to write about press releases. (We will be using our article: How To Write An Effective Press Release (Examples Included!)’s outlining process as an example for the rest of this post.)
List down some key takeaways you want your audience to leave with.
Perhaps, they may be:
Next, you’ll need to know who you’re writing for.
Who is your target audience for your site and why would they want to read your post?
For us, our blog targets business owners and marketers looking to grow their companies through inbound marketing.
They might’ve heard of press releases, but they do not know exactly how effective they are and the mechanics behind a well-written press release.
Given a chance, they might want to learn more about press releases, and how to write one for their own businesses.
To understand your audience, you need to go beyond knowing just generic information like their age, gender, industry, and occupation.
You need to know their hopes, fears, and dreams.
The pain points that trigger them, and their daily experiences.
To accomplish this, it helps to craft a specific audience persona beforehand.
Now you’ve got a starting idea, you’ll want to validate it too.
Is your intended post something people will search for and want to read?
To find out, do some keyword research.
And narrow down to one keyword phrase you want to target.
(Learn more about keyword research here.)
Then, do some topic research by searching up your target keyword and checking the top 5 results’ headlines.
Based on the headlines, do the results aim to inform or sell?
At least, it seems from the headlines on the search results that the results aim to inform – by providing readers “7 Easy Steps” and “21 Examples” to guide them.
Which means your post needs to aim to inform too if you want to rank for the keyword or search term.
If your starting idea’s intent matches the results’, great.
It means you’ve validated your idea. You’ve found a target keyword people search for to look for posts like yours.
If not, tweak your idea so its intent matches the results’.
Now, you’ll want to find out what it takes to rank for your target keyword.
To do this, you’ll explore how currently ranking posts are written.
The top 5 search results usually give a good idea of what people want to read and it’s worth investigating their content structure or outline.
Start by copying each ranking post’s outline with tools like SmartTOC.
Then, paste the outlines side-by-side to compare them.
Also, note down each post’s:
As well as their Domain Authority (DA) and word count.
DA tracks how credible the site is, based on how many backlinks it has. The higher the site’s DA, the more likely any post it publishes will rank.
You can find this out with the free Moz toolbar.
Word count tells you how comprehensive the post is (since ranking posts are unlikely to be lengthy due to fluff). The longer the post, the more likely it is to rank.
You can find this out by pasting the post’s URL into Word Counter.
Each post’s DA and word count tells you whether they are a suitable reference for outlining your post.
In this case, our top 5 results were:
1. CoSchedule’s post (DA = 69, word count = 4,327)
2. Hubspot’s post(DA = 92, word count = 4,045)
3. JustReachOut’s post(DA = 43, word count = 4,356)
4. Class-PR’s post (DA = 23, word count = 2,853)
5. The Guardian’s post (DA = 95, word count = 1,332)
Notice how The Guardian’s post seems to be way shorter than others?
It’s likely that The Guardian’s post is ranking due to its high DA instead of the post’s comprehensiveness.
That’s why the next ranking post (that seems to be ranking not solely due to its site’s DA) will be used as reference instead.
With your reference posts’ outlines ready, collate the common points they touch on.
You’re also going to break the competitors’ posts down with the “Triple-A” approach to gain more insights.
The “Triple-A” being:
A quick tip: You don’t actually have to read the entire post to find its “Triple-A”.
A post’s introduction and outline usually give you enough clues to do so!
For instance, a breakdown of CoSchedule’s post would be:
While a breakdown of Class-PR’s post would be:
Knowing your competitors’ “Triple-A” helps you to figure out your own later.
With these done, it’ll be easier for you to dive deep into each competitor’s post.
While reading each post, note down:
So you gain a deep understanding of how competitors’ posts are written, hence why they may be ranking.
Competitor research tells you why currently ranking posts are ranking.
It tells you what the baseline standard for ranking posts is – but not what more is needed for your post to rank!
For your post to rank, it has to be better than competing posts in fulfilling the audience’s needs.
It has to be more updated, clearly explained, and thorough – through what’s called the “Skyscraper Technique”.
To do so, you’ll need to find gaps in ranking posts and fill them.
Through a brain dump.
After dissecting your competitors’ posts, you may still have questions about the topic.
These questions you have are likely what others would have too.
Your aim is to then answer these questions so that when readers read your post, they’d be left with no doubts at the end.
Start by writing down all the questions you have.
They may be:
Then, read the competitors’ posts again to see if you missed anything.
If you did not, congrats! You’ve found a potential gap to fill.
To fill that gap, research deeper into your topic.
Until you find your answers.
If your brain dump does not help you find enough gaps to fill, you can also try Google’s “People also ask” feature.
Are there any concerns your audience may have, that is not addressed by your competitors’ posts yet?
If there is, figure out how your post can address that.
Keep brain dumping and digging until you have enough gaps to outdo ranking posts in thoroughness.
Now, you’ve done plenty of digging.
It’s time to consolidate all your findings into your post’s angle (or “Triple-A”) such that it will stand out and rank.
To do so, look back at your competitors’ “Triple-A”.
For our press release post, we’ve found earlier that competing posts seem to target a few audience groups:
And these groups seem to share a common desire – to expand their organizations’ reach through press releases.
So though we originally targeted only marketers and business owners, we can target PR reps too as it won’t really affect how we write our post.
That forms our Audience and Angle:
We also found earlier that competing posts tend to be lengthy though thorough.
One may simply quit reading halfway through the article!
Class-PR’s 2,800+ words post feels more approachable. Yet, it lacks details on how to distribute a press release which can be quite important for this topic.
So ideally, our post will be a little more thorough than Class-PR’s post at 3,000 to 3,500 words – written in a way that’s approachable, yet covers all the important points.
That forms our Approach then:
And with that, we’ve nailed our post’s “Triple-A” or unique factor to help us rank.
A note on word count – while longer posts are more likely to rank, length does not in any way guarantee rankings.
What matters more is the depth, coverage, and focus of the post on the given topic!
Word count guidelines are but a way to ensure the posts we write will be more comprehensive as they are generally longer.
Should ranking posts’ average word count exceed 3,000 words, we may make ours longer or shorter – depending on what we feel would fulfil our audience’s needs better.
After all, not many people would want to browse a 5,000 to 10,000 words behemoth while relaxing at their desks with a cappuccino by their side!
Having found your post’s unique angle, you’ll want to package the angle into a snazzy headline.
One that would stop searchers dead in their tracks and click on your post!
After all, what’s the point of writing a killer post if no one will read it?
Besides catching your audience’s attention, your headline is also important in dictating your post’s focus so writing the rest of your post gets easier.
It does so by capturing the essence of your post’s “Triple-A” or differentiating factor.
For instance, for our press release post:
“How to Write An Effective Press Release (Examples Included!)”
The headline helps the post stand out by assuring readers that they would have clear examples to refer to, in case the explanations feel too vague for them to grasp.
It also provides a focus for the outlining process, as the headline implies that the post will need to be heavily example-based.
This doesn’t mean you need to figure your post’s key differentiating factor right from the get-go though. It’s something you figure as you refine your headline.
To craft your headline, start by coming up with a rough one that incorporates your target keyword. In fact, it can even be your target keyword itself. For instance:
“How to write a press release”
Is both our target keyword and rough headline.
Then, refine your headline by considering the following:
Check out more considerations in Wordstream’s guide here.
You might feel stuck while refining your headline.
If so, you might want to write a list of 25 potential headlines. Some might be bad, but you’ll eventually find winning ones doing so.
Or if that sounds too tedious, here are 27 winning headline formulae you can try.
Once you have your headline crafted, you can begin outlining your post.
With your post’s focus set, it’s time to flesh out your outline.
Your “Triple-A” and headline will tell you what you’ll need to include in your post.
For instance, our press release post’s tell us that that we need to include:
As sections in our post.
Then, you’ll want to organise your sections such that readers can easily follow their ideas from the start to the end.
How do you do so?
By finding a “One Big Idea” your post can focus on to rally your ideas around.
The “One Big Idea” is what your readers need to know before they feel compelled to read your entire post.
In our post’s case, it would be why they should consider writing a press release. Like how press releases help in:
Having this as our “One Big Idea” would help them see the relevance of press releases to their desire of enhancing their organization’s reach. Hence, they would feel compelled to read on.
It also helps them understand why each following section is important, so they absorb and retain each section better.
With that done, list down key takeaways you want to share.
They may be:
And group them into sections, for example:
It may take you some time to think of and group your key takeaways into relevant sections.
Note that the “One Big Idea” is placed directly after the introduction, as it’s intended to be read before your readers read other sections.
Also, don’t worry about perfecting your headers now, you can always tweak them later.
After a while, you should have a pretty solid post structure outlined.
A note on formatting – you’ll want your headers to be in the H2 tag, and your title in H1 (or title tag) while writing.
This makes your post more readable for users and more likely to rank by making it easier for Google to understand your headings.
Now, you’ll want to flesh out your outline further so you know what to include in each point and section.
Under each point, add in sub-points you feel are relevant.
You may include relevant internal links to encourage users to explore your site more.
Then, you’ll want to ensure your sub-points are substantiated so your post is credible.
Look for relevant:
To add below your points and sub-points.
A note on examples – they are one of the best ways to explain and substantiate any point you make.
Having a concrete example for readers to refer to keeps them from guessing what you’re talking about.
Once you’ve filled your outline with sub-points and substantiation, you’re nearly done with outlining.
At this point, you may be wondering: Why craft the intro & conclusion now?
A good intro sets your post’s angle, tone, and determines whether readers will read the rest of your efforts…
…while a good conclusion ensures that readers end on a positive note. So they are more likely to take the action you want.
Together, they form your post’s roadmap – how it begins, and how it ends.
By having a clear roadmap, you can easily spot parts of your outline that stray from it.
For instance, there might be a section or two that doesn’t align with the post’s direction.
Spotting these stray parts allows you to re-order or cut them away, so you avoid tons of messy writing and edits later!
Now, onto writing your introduction.
A good introduction has 3 main parts:
The introduction may be long or short. It may be one, or a few sentences long.
Anything works, as long as it entices readers to read on.
To craft an enticing introduction, Neil Patel’s ultimate guide offers 7 strategies:
1. Hit with a controversial opening
2. Offer the “why” of your content
3. Lead with a memorable story
4. Get readers nodding by stating the obvious
5. Use an analogy, metaphor, or simile
6. Cite a shocking statistic
7. Open with a thought-provoking question
Which you can refer to if you find yourself racking your brains to no avail.
Or in our case, we like to link our topic to the big picture of why our audience should care.
Either way, writing a good intro requires a thorough understanding of your audience so you know what will hook your readers’ attention and lead them to read on.
Next, your conclusion.
A good conclusion:
And is usually short – as readers would be mentally exhausted by the time they reach the end!
Wrapping up can be done by summarizing your points, offering concluding remarks…
Or by the tried-and-tested way:
Linking back to your intro, so your post has a sense of completeness.
If you’ve started your post with an analogy, for instance, you can end with the same analogy.
As for offering readers the next step, you’ll always want to find a way to do so.
By the time readers have read to the conclusion, they are the most primed to accept any suggestions you offer!
Here is where you can offer a CTA or an internal link – anything that guides them down your sales funnel or gives them the next piece of critical information that is relevant.
In our case, we encourage readers to contact us to write press releases for them.
For instance, by offering them an internal link that builds problem awareness, if your post intends to intensify their desire for a solution.
This would waste your entire post’s efforts in creating this opportunity to nurture or convert your leads!
With your intro & conclusion done, you’re left with refining your outline.
Now, for the final bit, you’re going to clean up your outline so you can start writing.
At this point, your post has a clear start and end, but the in-between might be messy.
Start by reordering and cutting away sections until your outline flows.
Next, you’ll want to compare your outline with your competitors’ posts.
Does your intended post seem thorough enough to outdo theirs?
You may spot points that you missed. You can find ways to fit them into your outline.
Look back at your headers too, and see how you can refine them.
Great section headers are like “mini-headlines”. In that they:
Check out more tips for refining your headers here.
Finally, compare your outline to your targeted word count.
Does your outline seem like the post would reach the word count? (This takes a bit of writing experience to tell.)
If it does not, consider what other examples you can add to further substantiate your points. Examples are a great way to boost your word count without adding fluff.
Or you can leave your outline be, as long as you feel you’ve covered your topic thoroughly enough.
With that, you’re done. You can now write your first draft with ease!
Writing posts that rank needs not be a struggle if you have a process to follow.
Outlining them beforehand may take more effort – but at least you know your efforts will pay off.
Want a complete blog post done for you? Contact us here and we’ll be in touch!