How do you write a blog post that people want to read? Great blog posts have a few things in common:
Writing a great blog post is not easy. But there is one tried and true method that we use at Kaiiax to help the writers we work with create content for their blogs. This method is an outline. In this article, I'm going to explain to you the exact process we use for building an outline that results in a cohesive, logical piece.
Let’s dive in!
Why do you need to write an outline before you write a blog post? Some content writers I've met believe an outline is a waste of time. I couldn't disagree more.
By planning ahead, you can better understand what you’re going to write and how. The outline helps you focus your attention and gives you a roadmap from the start, through the middle, and to the end.
What do you need to tell your readers? Are you telling it to them in the right order? Are the transitions logical? What are the relationships between topics and subtopics? Is the hierarchy transparent? It’s far easier to build the flow of a text with an outline. What’s more, outlining increases your writing speed because it gives you discipline and kills procrastination.
An article without an outline is like software without a backlog. It takes too long to write, it gets too heavy, and it performs poorly.
An outline doesn’t only benefit you as the writer. It’s also a great way for your boss or editor to understand what they’ll get before you write it. If your outline is detailed enough, your editor can even show you where you may be going wrong and what’s missing, helping you improve your first draft.
Now, here are a few steps to create an outline.
Your article’s key message isn’t your topic. The key message is something that guides your outline, and eventually your article, so you don’t end up beating around the bush. To define your key message, you need to know three things:
For example, let’s say your topic is the cost of mobile app development. Your reader is an entrepreneur looking to build an app. Their job to be done is knowing the cost of developing an app so they can plan their budget.
What could your key message be? Ask yourself:
Is there anything my readers don’t know that I can tell them about?
Your key message must be believable and easy to understand, and it must align with your brand strategy? The message below meets all three requirements:
The cost of an app depends on the scope of work to be done by the developer and their experience building similar applications.
How do you make it believable?
Prove it by demonstrating popular apps, what amount of work was needed to build them, and how their costs differed.
How do you make it easy to understand?
Show how an app’s functionality influences the time and money needed to develop it.
How do you align it with your brand strategy?
Make the point that it will cost less and take less time to develop an app if a developer has lots of experience building similar applications. You can give examples of apps your company has built to support this message and spread brand knowledge.
Make sure you have supporting arguments, proofs, and relevant experience unique to your company to drive home your main point. If you don’t have all of this yet, do your research and prepare questions to ask your team members before you start writing a draft.
Prior to creating a content structure, do a brainstorming session. Imagine that you’re the reader. What questions about your topic do you want answers to? Make sure your list of questions is complete and comprehensive.
For example, in an article about the cost of mobile app development, the reader might want answers to the following questions:
And so on.
You might want to do some research before listing these questions. Check out forums like Reddit and Quora for questions related to mobile app development costs. You might find questions you’ve never even thought about.
Once you have the list of questions you need to answer, start putting them in order using subheadings and bullets and start adding relevant examples. At this stage, you want to ensure that your points are coherent and that nothing is missing or excessive.
If you’re writing about topics that others have already written about, you want your piece to be the best in your niche. To make it the best, you need to look at your competitors’ content and analyze its format, structure, messaging, and visuals. Here’s the quickest way to do it:
When you’re analyzing your competition, you must pay attention to visual content. Even if your competitors’ articles don’t have catchy visuals, that doesn’t mean yours shouldn’t. Comparison tables, images, videos, infographics, screenshots, and charts simplify complicated topics and make your content more engaging.
Content writers typically add images to their content when they’ve finished writing it. And these images often play the role of useless decorations. But if you plan your visuals in advance, you can make them part of your story.
Depending on what you’re writing, you might need to pull in a designer or illustrator to work with you right as you’re starting your draft. They’ll probably be busy, so the earlier you tell them what you need, the more likely you are to get it by the publishing date.
I purposefully added this important step after everything else because you might not be able to create a great headline before you know what you’ll write and how you’ll write it. You might also go back to the headline in the middle of writing your draft and when it’s done. The headline is one of the most important aspects of a piece of content and requires a lot of attention.
Hook readers with a promise, then close the deal with your content. Your headline must reflect your promise. There are also a bunch of tricks to make headlines more clickable such as using emotional words, digits, verbs, and expressions that inspire curiosity.
Let’s consider the difference between good and bad headlines:
Too vague and doesn’t interest readers:
Cybersecurity threats caused by ransomware
Too specific, making readers feel they already know the whole story:
Ransomware can infect and encrypt your files
Just enough intrigue to encourage click-throughs:
You won’t believe what ransomware might do to your files!
If you want your article to rank well in search engine results, make sure you include your focus keyword at the beginning of your headline.
Now your outline is ready! There’s just one more thing you need to plan before you send it to the editor.
Getting a response is the whole point of writing content. When you’re working on your outline, you need to plan the action your readers are supposed to take once they’ve read your content. What can be considered an action? Anything that takes your readers to the next stage of their journey, helps them get to know your company better, or prolongs their time on your website. For example:
Plan how you’re going to get readers to take action. What wording will you use? How will the CTA appear? As a link in the text? As a pop-up? As a button? Think carefully about what action you need to implement, how you’ll implement it, and how you’ll measure it.
Once your outline is complete and informative, it’s ready for your editor’s review. Like a movie treatment, your outline needs to sell your story. A good outline isn’t a content skeleton. It doesn’t just list the headings and subheadings. To write a good outline, you need to include pieces of actual content. Write the opening line, include examples you’ll mention, and add descriptions to each section. This will help you get meaningful feedback from your editor and make your draft even better.
Don’t overdo it with the outline, though. It’s still not a draft. If you’re being too thorough, working on your draft might turn into a to-do list that leaves no place for unexpected discoveries and creativity. Know what you need to write, but leave some space for exploration.
When your outline is done, you can start working on your draft.
Your key message, article structure, the reader's next move, and much more are broken down in my book From Reads To Leads. You can get it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other book stores, or you can read the first chapter which is freely available on my website.
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