What Do Your Outlines Look Like?

What Do Your Outlines Look Like?

In a previous post—How Much Time Should You Spend Outlining?—, you learned that you shouldn’t spend too much time outlining and instead should focus on providing direction to writers by giving them a high-level outline.

But what exactly should this outline look like? And what should you expect in return? Let’s have a look.

The Outline You Give Writers

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to outlining but you should, at the very least, provide writers with the following before they produce their own outlines: 

  • The topic of the post—this is not the headline
  • The primary keyword you want to rank for
  • LSI or related keywords
  • Internal links—especially crucial for posts with product tie-ins
  • External links
  • The audience you’re targeting
  • Need or pain point of the audience
  • Type of post. Is it a top, middle, or bottom of the funnel? 
  • Content length. Detail how long you want the article to be 
  • Basic outline. Include a few bullet points explaining what the post should cover. For example, if you want to rank for the keyword “working capital,” a basic outline may include these four bullet points:
    • Explain what working capital is
    • Provide details on how to calculate it
    • Highlight why small business owners need it
    • Mention how the reader can acquire working capital

From there, it’s up to the writer to expand on this outline. I recommend sharing the above outline in Google Docs and then have the writers create an outline based on an H1, H2, H3 structure. In that way, you’re already getting them to think about SEO.

Take note: It’s essential that writers only create a high-level outline which gives you a bird’s eye view of the post. If they fill in too much detail, they may include irrelevant content you later delete which wastes their time.

You also want to provide all writers with the same template to follow as it gives you consistency and helps control your workflow.

What to Expect from the Writer

Once you’ve given writers the above details, they can begin outlining. Below is an example of what this outline may look like after a writer has tackled it.

You’ll notice how there’s extra information not included in the basic outline you provided such as details on the working capital ratio—and that’s the point; you need to give writers the freedom to include extra information that may prove crucial to the post. 

Writer Outline Example


Briefly explain a few scenarios where a small business may need working capital and then lead into what this post covers.

H2: What is Working Capital?

Briefly explain what working capital is and mention situations when a business owner may need it.

H2: How to Calculate Working Capital 

  • Include the formula and examples on how to calculate it
  • Show them how to interpret that number/mention what it means
  • But how do you know if you have enough working capital…enter the working capital ratio

H2: Working Capital Ratio and What it Means

Include calculation and interpret the number.

H2: When You Need Working Capital

  • Running the day-to-day
  • Taking a big step in your business
  • Take advantage of a massive opportunity

H2: How to get more working capital?

List various ways to get more working capital:

  • H3: Improve collections to reduce the working capital cycle
  • H3: Ask for an upfront deposit.
  • H3: Peer-to-peer lending
  • H3: Use Small Business Administration Loans
  • H3: Invoice financing

H2: Conclusion

The above should be just enough to gauge whether your writers are on the right track without them spending too much time creating outlines.

Once you’ve reviewed the outlines and given feedback, it’s time to let your writers get to work and write the first draft.

The Bottom Line 

The outlines you give your writers needn’t be complicated. Simply mention key details (topic, keyword, audience, pain point, etc.) and include a basic overview.

From there, writers can add just a little more detail before sending it over to you for review.

What do your outlines look like?

How Much Time Should You Spend Outlining Blog Posts?

How Much Time Should You Spend Outlining Blog Posts?

A few weeks back, I stumbled across a two-part question from a content manager in a Slack channel: How do you outline blog posts and how much time do you spend outlining? 

In my experience when someone asks a question, there’s an underlying pain point they need help with. In this case, the person felt he was spending too much time on his process and wanted to know if this was, in fact, true.

I’ve decided to answer this two-part question across two blog posts, with today’s post focusing on the time spent outlining. But first, let’s look at why outlines are essential.

Why Create Outlines for Writers

There are three main reasons. Firstly, outlines give writers direction on where to take an article. Secondly, they ensure writers don’t waste time researching and including information that’s not relevant.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they save you from having to make unnecessary revisions later on. You see, if you don’t create an outline, the writer may produce something you simply don’t want. You then get frustrated with the writer and the writer with you—something that could’ve been avoided had you spent just a little more time on outlining.


But, How Much Time Should You Spend Outlining?

In my experience, more detailed outlines lead to better final products. But, and this is a big BUT, as a content manager, you have a lot on your plate.

Not only do you have limited time to spend on outlining, but quite frankly, it’s not your job to create detailed outlines. Your job is to provide direction to the writer, and it’s the writer’s job to give you an outline based on this guidance.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But if I only provide guidance and the writer is largely responsible for the outline, won’t this lead to the very problems outlines are meant to prevent such as the writer doing unnecessary work and me wasting time on edits?”

Well, it shouldn’t if you have a checkpoint in place right at the beginning where the writer has to share their initial outline with you for feedback. This checkpoint ensures you maintain proper control over how the final product turns out without having to do all the upfront work of outlining.

The key, though, is to make sure the outlines remain high-level (has an introduction, key headings, subheadings, and bullet points briefly explaining each section) so that:

  • The writer doesn’t spend time researching and including irrelevant information that only ends up getting scrapped
  • You have a bird’s eye view of the post

As Jane Flanagan, the Content and Brand Director at FreshBooks recently told me when I sent an outline that was a little too detailed: “It’s really helpful for me to see the 10,000-foot view on the story first.”

By taking a more strategic approach and placing trust in your writer to do the work, you should spend no more than an hour on your outline, which includes your primary keyword, basic structure, internal links and competitor research.

Indeed Kendall Walters, the Content Marketing Manager at Vidyard, confirms that it takes her one hour when creating briefs for SEO blog posts: “These include keywords, latent semantic indexing (LSI) terms, a basic structure, some competitor research and links to related existing content,” explains Kendall.

Hiba Amin, the Marketing Specialist at ChefHero, shares a similar view: 

“Outlining will usually take about an hour or so to complete. I’ve found the competitor analysis part to be super useful because I open up all of the external links that are within each article and sometimes it gives me access to some awesome studies that I can reference in my articles. It also helps me put a new angle on the piece that others haven’t used themselves!” 

Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t any exceptions for outlining time—there are. As Teresa Matich, the Content Strategist at Clio explains:

“I take as little as 20 minutes but can also go well over an hour depending on how much initial research I do when setting topics for our content calendar, and how much of a rabbit hole the topic turns out to be (due to the nature of our business I usually end up reaching out to SMEs)! [It] Also depends on whether it’s a pillar or a spoke topic.”

The Bottom Line on Outlining Time

Blog post outlines are undeniably important. Not only do they give writers direction but they save you from unnecessary edits. But just because they’re important doesn’t mean you should spend hours creating them.

In fact, as you saw, one hour is generally all you need. If you spend more than an hour on any outline, it may be time to review your process and revisit the purpose of an outline.

Remember, your outline should merely provide direction so the writer can flesh out a more detailed outline. If your writer is unable to do this, it may be time to find another. 

How long do you spend outlining?

P.S. In the next post, you’ll learn about what to include in those outlines you send writers and what writers should typically send you (and yes I’ll provide a template).

151 Nuggets of Content Marketing Wisdom

151 Nuggets of Content Marketing Wisdom

Navigating the ever-evolving content marketing landscape can be difficult as a content marketer (yes, I know I sound like one of those boring bloggers, but please bear with me). Not only do you have to focus on the day-to-day of your job, but you also have to deal with:

  • Constant Google algorithm updates
  • New marketing trends like voice search
  • Changes in how people now consume content—written content only will no longer cut it as people now also demand video
  • An ever-growing volume of content which has led to content shock and makes it exceedingly harder for your brand to get noticed

And that’s only the half of it. But, navigating this landscape needn’t be difficult as long as you have the right support and resources. 

Today I wanted to share one such resource with you: 151 content marketing tips, tools, and resources by Ryan Law. 

These resources have proved crucial in Ryan’s career development over the years and consist of articles, books, podcasts, and tools, etc. Because Ryan understands that innovation in any discipline requires more than just related content marketing resources, there are also many unrelated ones.

Finally, this is a page/document that Ryan plans to update over time, which seems only fitting considering how dynamic content marketing is.

As Ryan says, “Content marketing is evolving, and so am I.”

The bigger question, however, is: Are you?

What Is Your Biggest Challenge? [Plus a Free Content Strategy Template]

What Is Your Biggest Challenge? [Plus a Free Content Strategy Template]

At the end of 2018, I wrote a post detailing the content plans of six content strategists for 2019. Now, as we enter the middle of June 2019, it’s been almost six months since that post went live.

A lot can change in six months. Chances are, some of those content strategists would’ve already updated those same plans for 2019 in response to new challenges. And odds are, you’ve probably done the same with your own content strategy.

In light of this, I’d love to hear from you. When it comes to your content marketing, what are you currently struggling with? What is your biggest challenge?

P.S. Feel free to reply to leave a comment below or contact me directly highlighting your current most significant challenge, whether you were part of that list of six content strategists or not. I’ll respond with a solution. The response may be detailed or something as simple as pointing you to a blog post online.

P.P.S Here’s is a meaty blog post from Brian Dean I thought you might find useful: The 8-Step Content Strategy for 2019 [Template Included]

Some of My Favorite Writing Projects and Sri Lanka

Some of My Favorite Writing Projects and Sri Lanka

Today’s post will be short and also a little different. Instead of the usual post where I answer a question and/or provide helpful tips to improve your content marketing, I’m going to share a few examples of recent (and not so recent) projects I’ve worked on.

These projects include blog posts, pillar pages and ebooks for companies like 7shifts, LiquidPlanner and FreshBooks. I thought that sharing them would provide a sneak peek into my world. And who knows, maybe the content sparks some ideas for your own content marketing?

So, without further ado, here are links to some of my favorite projects:

  1. Shift Schedules: The Ultimate How-To Guide—Pillar post, 7shifs
  2. How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement (with Examples)—Long-form post, 7shifts
  3. 3 Easy Ways to Spend Money to Buy Back Time—MoFu post for FreshBooks
  4. In 2018, It’s Time to Get Over the Fear of Money Talk— Long-form post, FreshBooks
  5. Unlock Your Growth Potential with Working Capital—ebook, FreshBooks
  6. An Alternative Approach to Dealing with the Inevitable Team Conflict —Short blog post, LiquidPlanner

P.S. If you have any questions about these projects such as how I approached them or what I typically charge, feel free to contact me and ask.

Alternatively, read the FAQ page which answers 10 of the most common question I’ve received from content managers over the years (these questions were actually the topic of a previous newsletter).

P.P.S. Tomorrow my girlfriend and I are off to Sri Lanka for a much anticipated holiday.  We’ve been planning it for well over a year now and are really excited to explore this beautiful country. 

What’s the Deal with Google’s Featured Snippets?

What’s the Deal with Google’s Featured Snippets?

Generating traffic from Google can be hugely challenging. You have to deal with competition from other brands and the constant Google algorithm changes and new features. One of those new features is Google’s featured snippet—the topic of today’s post. We’ll look at:

  • What featured snippets are and the different types
  • The benefits of getting featured
  • Whether it’s difficult to obtain a snippet
  • Seven tips to improve your chances of getting featured

What Are Featured Snippets?

You’ve likely stumbled across them before. But just in case you haven’t and/or need a refresher, here’s an example of one for the search query “invoicing mistakes”:

example of a Google featured snippet

Also known as answer boxes, featured snippets appear at the top of search results and below any ads (if there are any). They typically include a featured link and image and aim to immediately answer a searcher’s question. There are also many types including list, table, and—as depicted above—paragraph snippets. 

What Are The Benefits of Getting Featured?

Because these snippets appear prominently above all other results, obtaining one boosts brand exposure and, increases traffic and click-through rates. While these increases do vary by industry, some reports show a traffic increase of ten percent and a click-through rate improvement of six.

We all know what that means: more opportunities to connect with your customers; more opportunities to convert.

And more sales.

But, Isn’t it Hard to Obtain a Snippet?

It can be. Research by Ahrefs highlights that 99.58% of featured pages already have a top-ten ranking in Google for a specific search query. The good news, though, as Getstat highlights, is that 70% of snippets come from search results that don’t appear in the first organic position.

So in short, it is possible to achieve a snippet, it just requires a little work…

How Do I Improve My Chances of Getting a Snippet?

Below are 7 tips to increase your chances of acquiring a snippet. Take note that this list isn’t exhaustive. If you can think of any other ways, leave a comment below, and I’ll add them.

Tip 1: Write long-form content. Long-form content allows you to cover a topic in-depth and helps you rank for several long-tail keywords. According to Ahrefs. “The vast majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords.”

Tip 2: Include words that usually trigger a snippet. The top five words are recipe, best, vs., make and definition.

Tip 3: Answer a question. Questions often trigger snippets, so find content ideas that answer certain questions. Use Quora, Answer the Public and surveys to find questions your customers have.

Tip 4: Include lists, steps, and definitions near the beginning of blog posts.

Tip 5: Optimize any content that’s already in the top ten search results, for quick wins. For example, include related keywords, cover the topic in more depth, hire the right writer to improve the quality of the content, or incorporate any of the five words above.

Tip 6: Organize your content by breaking up lists, steps, and paragraphs into sections. Use appropriate h1, h2, h3, and h4 headings. Arrange your post in chronological order. For example, if your post has several steps or tips, add “Step 1” and ‘Step 2,” or “Tip 1” and “Tip 2”.

Tip 7: Add stunning and relevant images to your post to grab attention. Or a GIF:

The bottom line:Featured snippets offer many benefits. For searchers, they provide an immediate answer to a question. For brands, they offer more exposure and traffic. 

But as beneficial as they are, getting featured can be challenging. However, this doesn’t have to be your fate as long as you implement any, some, or all of the tips listed above.

Have you obtained a featured snippet? How did you do it?

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