Everyone has their unique approach to writing content for SEO. But if there's one step we always recommend that ensures your content is relevant, complete, and comprehensive — before you start writing — it's to develop the right content outline.
When you nail the underlying structure of a piece from the very beginning, the writing and editing process becomes a breeze because the relevant details are already baked in. After that, all that's left to do is connect the dots.
In this article we'll show you an example of how we recommend outlining content using a simple 3-step outline approach. By the end of this article, you'll know exactly how to create bulletproof outline in your own content, or if you're delegating to a writer, you'll know how to make foolproof outlines to keep their writing focused and on track.
Let's get started.
Step 1. Explore Common Questions Using Keyword Discovery
If you want to create the most comprehensive article on your topic, you will want to understand what questions people are asking in the first place.
As the first step, let's use the example keyword, "white house tours." We already know the search intent — they're searching for a resource with practical information and booking options for touring the White House. Now let's find out what specific questions people are searching for.
Head over to the 'Keyword Discovery' tab in your Clearscope report and filter by 'Questions' to see a full list of questions ordered by monthly search volume.
Common sense is your friend here — briefly familiarize yourself with the types of questions you see and make note of any emerging patterns or repeat queries that are relevant to your target keyword. Use monthly search volume as a general indicator of how popular a given question is.
Here are a few questions that immediately stand out around our keyword "white house tours."
How do I book a tour of the White House?
Is the White House open for tours?
How much does a tour cost?
Is there a dress code?
Are there special holiday hours?
Now, make a list of relevant questions for your own target keyword (you'll need these in the next step).
This first step is about exploring your list of questions to gain a general understanding of what type of information people are searching for at a high level.
In the next step, we'll put pen to paper and figure out the specific knowledge we'll want to include in our content to satisfy search intent.
Step 2. Use Relevant Terms to Guide Paragraph Structure
With your question ideas in mind, navigate to the 'Optimize' tab in your Clearscope report to find the text editor screen. On this page, you can outline your content in real-time and evaluate progress along the way.
On the right hand side you'll notice a panel of terms — this is the same list of terms that you'll find in the 'Relevant terms' tab of your Clearscope report, only simplified to a checklist view.
Between the questions you reviewed in Step 1 and the Relevant terms checklist in the current step, you'll have all the information you need to create the core structure of your content.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Use Relevant terms — Think of the Relevant terms panel as a "word bank" to pull from as you begin organizing terms into individual topics and supporting details for each section in your content.
Look for heading ideas — Scan Questions and Relevant terms for heading and subheading ideas, then use Relevant terms to help guide paragraph structure for each section.
Refer to Example Usage — For additional context around how the top ranking content is using a Relevant term, click on a term in the sidebar and then the 'Examples' button for more insights.
Improve the Content Grade — Aim for a higher grade during this outlining phase to help ensure comprehensiveness and relevance in the final piece.
Now let's get specific and walk through an example of how we might outline an individual section in our White House article.
Check your list of Relevant terms and start looking for clusters of related words. Once you've found a pattern or theme, begin organizing them into individual sections of content within your article.
For our "white house tours" example, a number of terms around common tourist items immediately stand out:
By checking the Example Usage feature for any of the above terms, we can confirm that adding them to an individual section on "Prohibited Items" makes a lot of sense.
From a structural perspective, it makes sense to nest this information under a broader section on what the reader needs to know before planning their visit.
Again, use your common sense to work relevant terms into headings, subtopics, or relevant supporting details throughout your content structure.
Once you've incorporated your Relevant terms, refer back to your initial question list to check your work for completeness:
Did you answer the most relevant questions from your list?
Did you organize your Relevant terms into sections that make sense?
Is your content grade healthy, indicating comprehensiveness in your outline?
If the answer is 'yes', then great job! At this point, you should have a comprehensive outline of the main sections of your piece along with their relevant supporting points.
Here's an example of what a completed content outline looks like:
Step 3. Plan For Relevant Supporting Content
Now before you hand off your outline to a writer, or begin writing yourself, you'll want to make a note of any additional content that can be included to fully satisfy search intent.
Remember, the goal with your content is to create a comprehensive resource that satisfies search intent, and in turn, completes the searcher's journey. Written content plays a central role, but it's more than likely that you'll need to add some supporting content as the finishing touch.
Review your outline, making note of sections that could benefit from an additional piece of content, say an image, infographic, even a video — anything that further helps the user find what they need.
Coming back to our White House example, we've identified that there should be a section on the various ways someone could get to the White House. So it makes sense to include a map or visual representation to support that section.
Leaving a simple note or annotation for yourself (or your writer) now means you won't forget to add it later.
When in doubt, put yourself in the reader's shoes. If relevant images, graphics, or videos would support your content to help get your point across, then you should seriously consider adding them.
Content Outlining Is Quality Assurance
From a quality assurance standpoint, the amount of thought you put into your content structure can mean the difference between getting it right from the start and falling down a rabbit hole of time-consuming edits and future revisions.
Clearscope's Keyword Discovery questions and relevant terms can help you research and outline your path towards focused, comprehensive, and highly relevant content. Supporting your written content with additional content types (eg. images, graphics, video) further satisfies SEO-friendly search intent while enhancing the overall user experience.
Ultimately, our advice is this: The best process is the one you'll stick to because, in order to build an efficient, well-functioning content engine, you'll want to have a repeatable process you're comfortable using with your team.
In the next article, we'll share a few sample content workflows to help you streamline that very process.