Content Outlines: Improve Quality and SEO [Template]

In this article, we’ll give you tactical steps for creating fantastic outlines, share an example outline that we’ve used, and provide a template for you to use in your own content creation process.

July 4, 2023
Written by
Nate Matherson
Reviewed by
Charles Purdy

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Whether we’re writing a blog post ourselves or hiring a content writer to write it, an important first step is to create an outline for that piece of content. An outline is a frame for what should go into a piece of content you create for your website. 

We typically spend about 15 to 20 minutes putting together an outline for a piece of SEO-oriented content, and this has proved to be time very well spent. 

By creating a proper outline, as we’ve done for this piece of content, you can ensure that your article covers a topic in the depth required to rank well in organic search, and you can get ahead in your content optimization process.

In this article, we’ll give you tactical steps for creating fantastic outlines, share an example outline that we’ve used, and provide a template for you to use in your own content creation process.

What Is a Content Outline?

A content outline is a frame or guide for the writer of a piece of content; it lays out what they should cover in the piece. As a starting point, an outline includes the primary keyword or topic that you’d like the piece to target. 

An outline should also include information about the intended audience, that audience’s experience level, the piece’s tone and voice, the search intent, a word count target, and the supporting long-tail keywords that the piece should target. Moreover, a high-quality outline will provide suggestions for headings — for example, H2s, H3s, and H4s — that help to frame what should be included in the post.

It’s often helpful to include one or two sample or competitive articles as a reference point in your outline. You should, of course, instruct the writer not to copy these competitive articles directly, but by reviewing top-performing pages for a keyword, you can work to reverse-engineer an effective piece of content.

Lastly, if there are specific pieces of data or references you’d like your content to contain, you should provide them in your outline.

Your content outlines should follow a similar structure (for instance, you may want to use bullet points), and you should use the same template (we share an example later in this article) for each outline you create, so they are easy to refer back to later.

Why You Should Always Create Content Outlines

Any time spent creating high-quality outlines will come back to you later in the form of saved time when you’re optimizing or editing the piece ahead of publishing.

There are a few reasons that we create an outline for each piece of content on our websites:

  • Search engine optimization: Optimizing a piece of content as you’re writing it is often much easier than going back and reworking it after it’s written. For example, identifying the search intent of your primary keyword is critically important, but editing for search intent after an article has been written is nearly impossible. In addition, you’ll want to make sure that your pieces of content include important and relevant long-tail keywords and variants of the primary keyword. In an outline, you can provide the writer with specific keywords to target while writing.
  • Scaling content production while maintaining quality: Building processes around content creation is crucial for scaling a content marketing strategy. By creating fantastic outlines, you can scale content creation faster while maintaining the work’s quality.
  • Less reworking during the editing process: One of the biggest mistakes content marketing teams make is that they throw a list of keywords at a freelance writer and say, “Go!” This will often lead to misalignment and poorly optimized pieces of content. By putting together an in-depth outline, you will reduce the amount of time spent editing and reworking your content after the fact.

10 Steps to Creating Content Outlines

There are ten steps to creating a fantastic outline for your next piece of content.

Step 1: Pick a Primary Keyword.

Even if ranking in search results isn’t the primary purpose of an article, optimizing it to perform well in search is a best practice.

For every piece of content you create, there should be a primary keyword in view. You’ll want to specify this primary keyword in your outline and incorporate it into your H1 or the suggested titles of the piece of content.

There are a number of tools available for keyword research, including Positional, Ahrefs, and Semrush. These tools will provide you with the monthly number of searches for a given keyword and its difficulty. In addition, these tools will provide you with related keywords.

You can use Positional’s Keyword Research to view search volume and competition for the universe of terms you are interested in.

Your primary keyword will typically be the variant of that search term with the highest amount of monthly search volume. Once you’ve identified the primary keyword that you’d like your article to rank for, the next step is identifying the search intent of that keyword.

Step 2: Determine Search Intent

After determining your primary keyword, you’ll want to determine the search intent of that keyword. Search intent is simply the reason that someone is doing a specific search. Google has gotten increasingly good at aligning a searcher’s query to a specific intent. 

In your outline, you’ll want to specify the search intent of the primary keyword and article that you are creating. If you create an outline with a specific search intent in view, your article will more closely match what the searcher is looking for in a result. 

There are four different types of search intent:

  • Commercial keywords — searchers looking to investigate brands or services.
  • Informational keywords — searchers looking for an answer to a specific question or general information.
  • Navigational keywords — searchers intending to find a specific site or page.
  • Transactional keywords — searchers intending to complete an action or purchase.

In your outline, you should specify which search intent the article is looking to address. If, for example, you wrote a very commercial article for a keyword that has very informational results, your article wouldn’t rank as well for that keyword. 

If you’re ever confused as to what the search intent might be, go to Google search results, review the results that are currently ranking for that keyword, and try to classify those results into one of the four categories. Positional’s Content Planner will also tell you what the search intent of a given keyword is once a keyword has been added to a keyword list.

Step 3: Determine Target Audience and Experience Level

After determining the primary keyword and the search intent for that keyword, the next step is to identify the target audience and the experience level of that audience. 

If you’re marketing to software engineers, you should specify that as the target audience in your outline. But you could also get more granular by specifying a type of engineer — for example, DevOps engineers — as the target audience.

For your piece of content to be most helpful to that reader coming to your site, your article should align with that reader’s typical experience level.

In our outlines, we classify experience levels into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced

For example, an evergreen article might be meant for a beginner, but an in-depth guide on debugging or solving a very specific problem might be meant for a reader with advanced knowledge or experience.

You may have many articles on your website, each meant for a different target audience and experience level. By aligning your content to the right target audience and experience level, your pieces will also better address search intent and ultimately rank better in organic search.

Step 4: Specify the Content Type

In your outline, you should specify a content type. There are many different content types that you might consider using; we typically use one of four guides, tutorials, roundups or listicles, and comparisons.

  • Guide — a high-level overview of a particular topic (example: What Is Anchor Text?).
  • Tutorial — an in-depth, step-by-by tutorial for a given topic (example: How to Implement Internal Links Correctly | Step-by-Step Guide).
  • Roundup or Listicle — a collection of different topics or tools (example: 7 Best SEO Tools to Use).
  • Comparison — a side-by-side comparison of two different topics or tools (example: Positional vs. {name of Positional competitor}).

There are likely many other content types specific to your audience or business. 

Step 5: Specify Assets to Deliver

In your outline, you’ll want to specify the assets that you expect the writer to deliver for the piece of content, in addition to the text.

For example, we wrote a highly technical article about React Lazy Loading; in this piece of content, we needed approximately 2,000 words, coding samples, and one or two helpful graphics for the reader.

If you need more than just words on a page, specify what needs to be delivered in this section of the outline.

Step 6: Determine the Word Count

In your outlines, you will, of course, want to target a specific word count. You can target word counts on an article level, but you can also target word counts on a section or header level.

To understand the optimal word count, you can go to Google Search and review the other top-performing articles for a given keyword. 

You can also use Positional’s Optimize toolset to get suggested word counts for each keyword you’re interested in. Simply enter the primary keyword you’d like to target into Optimize; the tool will then reverse-engineer the top-performing articles for that keyword and suggest a word count for your article.

Step 7: Specify Headers & Structure

In all of our outlines, we include a bulleted list of suggested H2s, H3s, and H4s that could be included in the piece. 

We start by reviewing other top-performing articles for a given keyword to get a sense of which sections and headers they’re using in their posts. You can, of course, use your own intuition and knowledge of the space to break down what the headers might look like for a given article.

Positional’s Optimize toolset will give you a suggested number of headers to use and the different types of headers that should be used within a piece of content.

Step 8: Identify Long-Tail Keyword to Optimize For

During your research process, you should be able to identify supporting long-tail keywords that ought to be included in your article. Supporting long-tail keywords are simply closely related variants of the primary keyword that serve the same search intent. By including these keywords in your outline and piece of content, you’ll ultimately help your piece of content rank better and for a larger number of keywords.

During your keyword research, you can note these down and specify in your outline that you’d like to include them in your piece of content. 

In addition, Positional’s Optimize toolset will give you a list of up to 50 supporting long-tail keywords that you should include in your piece of content, with recommendations based on analysis from top-performing posts for this set of keywords.

Positional will tell you how often these long-tail keywords should be used within your piece of content. You certainly don’t need to optimize for all 50 terms, but by choosing 10 to 15 of those important terms to include in your outline, you’ll ultimately save yourself time during the editing and content optimization process.

Step 9: Provide Examples and References

It’s always helpful to provide examples of other articles that are doing a good job of covering the topic or primary keyword. You should try to include two or three examples of good work to reference within your outline.

In general, it’s a best practice to appropriately source any data or claims you’re making within a piece of content. In your content outline, you can also provide reference material, for example, a research report or statistic, that should be referenced in the piece of work. 

Step 10: Specify the Category

As a last step, you should specify the category of the content. In other words, specify which category this article belongs to in your CMS and then on your website.

Content Outline Example

Now that we’ve covered the ten steps to creating a fantastic content outline, we thought it would be helpful to show you an outline that we created for a recent post about duplicate content on our website.


We are writing an article about duplicate content and SEO. This is a problem that our users face, and we are trying to rank for keywords related to “duplicate content.”

Suggested Title

Duplicate Content & SEO | Why It Matters and How to Fix It

Primary Keyword

Duplicate content SEO

Audience, Experience, & Intent

Audience = Content marketing professionals, growth teams

Experience = Intermediate

Intent = Informational

Content Type


Assets to Deliver

~1,900-2,000 words, five images



  • Introduce the topic of duplicate content, and explain to readers how it can hurt SEO and website performance.
  • Incorporate data from the Raven Tools research report referenced below.

(H2) How Does Duplicate Content Hurt SEO?

  • (H3) Indexing Problems (include a screenshot from GSC)
  • (H3) Keyword Cannibalization (include a screenshot from search)
  • (H3) Internal Linking Challenges
  • (H3) Google’s Duplicate Content Penalties (include a screenshot from Google’s Search Essentials guidelines)

(H2) Types of Duplicate Content

  • (H3) Copied or Scraped Content
  • (H3) Republished Content
  • (H3) URL Parameters
  • (H3) HTTP vs. HTTPS or www. vs. non-www.

(H2) How to Check for Duplicate Content

  • (H3) Google Search Console (include screenshots from GSC)
  • (H3) Positional (include screenshots from Positional)

(H2) How to Fix Duplicate Content

  • (H3) Use Canonicals Properly, Internally and Externally
  • (H3) 301 Redirect Similar Pages
  • (H3) Reduce Internal Copied Material
  • (H3) Request That External Websites Remove Duplicate Content
  • (H3) Use the Noindex Tag with Caution

(H2) Final Thoughts

  • Recap the article’s most important points.
  • Provide a quick CTA for the Positional product.

Keyword Optimization

  • duplicate content SEO
  • duplicate content issue
  • duplicate content checker
  • duplicate content penalties
  • duplicate content issues
  • duplicate content
  • ways duplicate content
  • duplicate content penalty
  • internal duplicate content
  • content duplication
  • external duplicate content

Example Articles




Content Category


Content Outline Template

In the example above, we’ve used our standard template for content outlines. We’d love for you to use our content outline template during your content production process.

If you have any suggestions or questions about using this template, we’d love to hear from you at

Final Thoughts

Creating content outlines should take between 15 and 20 minutes for most pieces of content. However, for very long posts — for example, a 3,000-word piece of content — you might need to spend as long as 30 minutes outlining the content.

In your outlines, you should work to identify the primary keyword you’re writing for and frame your piece of content to rank well for that given keyword. You should also include helpful direction for the writer by specifying the search intent, the target audience, the desired word count, the types of headers, the long-tail keywords to include, and any reference material needed to write the post.

In this article, we shared an example of an outline that we used to create a piece of content on our website, and we’ve provided our template that you can use going forward.

At Positional, we’re building tools for content marketing and SEO teams. Our Content Planner toolset generates sample outlines for any keyword that you’re interested in. And you can use our Optimize toolset to intelligently score and judge the quality of your content. If you’d like to learn more about Positional, you can sign up for our private beta on the homepage of our website. You can also email me directly at

Nate Matherson
Co-founder & CEO of Positional

Nate Matherson is the Co-founder & CEO of Positional. An experienced entrepreneur and technologist, he has founded multiple venture-backed companies and is a two-time Y Combinator Alum. Throughout Nate's career, he has built and scaled content marketing channels to hundreds of thousands of visitors per month for companies in both B2C (ex financial products, insurance) as well as B2B SaaS. Nate is also an active angel investor with investments in 45+ companies.

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