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How to Write Better Content Faster

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How to Write Better Content Faster

What if I told you that you could write faster, better, and in a way that increases your odds of ranking highly on Google’s search results?

Well, you can—with content outlines.

Outlining your content can improve your writing efficiency and content flow, as well as ensure you include the required bits for SEO in every article.

I’ve personally outlined thousands of articles over the last 10 years, and it’s been the key to keeping up with the constantly changing pace and need for ever-more and ever-better content.

In this guide, you will learn the following:

What is a content outline?

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A content outline is a detailed overview of what your article will include.

My outlines always include the headings and subheadings of the article (H2s, H3s, etc.). The outlines also include a look at the competing content in Google and important questions to address or long-tail keywords to be included.

They also include things like the goal of the article, the approach angle, the unique selling proposition, and more. We’ll look at these in more detail later in the section discussing how to outline your content. But first…

Why you should always outline your content

I always draft an outline before I start writing an article. This is for several reasons:

  1. An outline guarantees you include important things for search engine optimization (SEO) – These include having the right keywords and satisfying the searchers’ intent by addressing their most common questions.
  2. An outline helps you improve the flow of your article before you start writing – If you just dive into the writing, your ideas can be all over the place and you may have to spend a lot of time reorganizing the information to be more logical… and this process can be a nightmare without an outline.
  3. You can more easily outsource content at scale with proper outlines – With a great outline, even a mediocre writer can produce great content. If you want to scale up your content production with any level of quality control, good outlines are a necessity.

So how do you write a great content outline?

Download our content outline template

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Click here to make a copy of our content outline template.

This template includes everything you need to properly outline your blog articles, including the:

  • Target keyword.
  • Search intent of your target keyword.
  • Approach angle.
  • Goal of your content.
  • Unique selling proposition (USP).
  • Title of the article.
  • Headings and subheadings of your content.

Don’t worry if any of the above confuses you. I’ll break down what each means in the next section.

How to outline your content in five steps

Luckily, outlining content is fairly easy once you learn the process. I break down each section of our template outline below:

1. Decide on the goal of your article

Before you do any research or put down any words, the first step is to decide why you’re even creating this piece of content to begin with.

Your content can have many goals, such as:

  • Increasing brand awareness.
  • Explaining use cases for your product(s).
  • Building backlinks for SEO.
  • Growing your email list.
  • Ranking for keywords on Google to grow traffic.
  • Etc.

Throughout this guide, I’ll be using ramen noodles as an example.

So let’s say I want to write an article about how to make amazing ramen noodles. My goal is to promote my fake company’s amazing hoisin sauce and build brand awareness. So I put that in under my “goal” section:

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"Goal" section in content outline

2. Pick your target keyword

I never write an article without doing some basic keyword research first. Even if the intention of your article isn’t to rank for keywords on search engines, having SEO built into every article you write is still good practice.

Why?

Because it guarantees you build good habits. You may even be surprised at how much extra traffic you can gain—even from keywords that get almost no searches.

For example, I wrote an article about the best places to travel, and its goal was to get links from well-known travel blogs.

While outlining, I targeted the keyword “best places to travel in the world,” which gets about 1,500 searches per month. That article is now ranking for over 200 keywords and gets Google traffic even though SEO wasn’t the goal.

Site Explorer overview for The Wandering RV's articleSite Explorer overview for The Wandering RV's article

You can easily perform simple keyword research like this by putting keywords related to what you want to write about into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and browsing the results.

For our article about how to make the best bowl of ramen noodles, I start by searching for “ramen noodles” in Keywords Explorer:

Keywords Explorer overview for "ramen noodles"Keywords Explorer overview for "ramen noodles"

You can see it gets a whopping 143,000 searches per month. That’s awesome—however, we need to see if our article idea can actually rank for this keyword.

Scroll down, and you’ll see that the search results in the SERP overview consist of two product pages (Maruchan and Amazon). Those are followed by some extremely authoritative websites:

SERP overview for "ramen noodles"SERP overview for "ramen noodles"

In other words, unless you already have a strong website, ranking for this keyword with a guide on how to make ramen noodles will be difficult.

Next, scroll back up and look at the Keyword ideas panel. Here, you’ll see other ideas for potential keywords to target, such as “how to make ramen noodles.”

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List of keywords and suggested questionsList of keywords and suggested questions

If we look at the Overview page for “how to make ramen noodles,” we can see it may be a bit easier to rank highly on Google for this keyword because the competitors aren’t as strong.

In fact, the featured snippet website has a Domain Rating (DR) score of just 20, which signals that even a newer website with fewer backlinks can likely rank for this keyword.

SERP overview for "how to make ramen noodles"SERP overview for "how to make ramen noodles"

And that’s how you do basic keyword research! Put your target keyword into your outline, and let’s look at search intent.

3. Research your keyword’s search intent and article angle

Search intent is the why behind a search query. Why did the user search for this keyword? What are they looking for?

Search intent is important because it determines the kind of content you should create for a given keyword. There are four primary types of search intent:

  1. Informational
  2. Navigational
  3. Transactional
  4. Commercial investigation

Refer to our guide to search intent for more information on each of these. For now, let’s continue with the example we used above on “how to make ramen noodles.”

This is an informational keyword. The searcher is looking for information on how to do something.

Most of the articles you will write are going to either have informational intent (what, how, when, etc.) or commercial investigation intent (like “best X” or “X vs Y”). Navigational intent and transactional intent are for other pages on your site, not blog articles.

But search intent goes beyond simply writing “informational” in a section and calling it a day. That’s where the angle of your content comes in.

What is the angle your competitors are using?

For example, if we look at “how to make ramen noodles,” we see that the top result talks about how to make ramen noodles from scratch. Other results talk about homemade ramen noodles.

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SERP overview for "how to make ramen noodles"SERP overview for "how to make ramen noodles"

The two angles here are making the actual noodles yourself or using prepackaged noodles but making them better with other ingredients. The former is ranking higher on Google, but either angle can work.

As long as you use one of these two approaches, you increase your odds of ranking on page #1 of the search results.

Now research the SERPs and use the “search intent and content angle” section to indicate what kinds of content are currently ranking and what angle YOU want to take with this article.

Here’s how mine looks:

"Search intent and content angle" section in content outline"Search intent and content angle" section in content outline

4. Decide on a USP and title

Your USP is what makes your content different from your competitors (and, thus, makes your article worth clicking on over theirs).

Oftentimes, your USP is made obvious by your title, which is why these steps are mixed together. Let’s look at the USPs of our competitors:

Results in SERP overview help us figure out competitors' USPsResults in SERP overview help us figure out competitors' USPs

Many of their titles show exactly what you’ll get from them over everyone else, such as these:

  • Easy Ramen Noodles
  • Ramen Noodles in the Microwave
  • Perfect and Instant Ramen Noodles

The one that displays its USP the best, however, is the featured snippet result: Ramen Noodles From Scratch (the No-Knead Easy Way).

This article makes two big promises in the title: The ramen is easy and from scratch—both of which seem to be what searchers are looking for.

Think about how you can make your article stand out among the crowd like these guys did. Dig into the SERPs and the “People Also Ask” boxes to try and determine what the searchers are going after. Read forum posts like those on Reddit and try to find ways you can address problems people are having that your competitors aren’t talking about.

For my “ramen noodles” post, my USP is that our ramen is both from scratch and can be improved with better ingredients (something searchers seem to care about). I can also try a slightly different angle and go for authenticity to stand out from the crowd.

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Some title ideas can be:

  • How to Make Ramen From Scratch (The Easier, Better Way)
  • How to Make Authentic Japanese-Style Ramen Noodles
  • This Is Exactly How to Make the Most Delicious Ramen Noodles

I always suggest brainstorming multiple title ideas. Then pick what you feel is the best one. This is because your title is so important for getting higher rankings and more traffic.

Check out this guide to writing the best blog titles for more information.

5. Outline your article with headings and subheadings

Here’s where the bulk of the outline work comes in. Choosing headings, ordering those headings, and explaining what should go in each section will determine the quality of the final result. It’s also important for on-page SEO.

This is where you dig into what needs to be covered and what order to cover it in. To do this, we go back to the SERPs once more and look at how competitors wrote their content for inspiration.

For example, the top result covers a few major points that we should probably also cover:

  • What ramen noodles are made out of
  • The steps to making your own ramen noodles
  • An “ingredients and instruction” section for the recipe

After looking at some other search results, I found they all have some variations of these three points.

Beyond looking at the competitors’ content, you can also look at the “People Also Ask” box for questions people often search for when searching for the keyword you’re targeting.

Questions in PAA boxQuestions in PAA box

If you open a question to expand it, Google will display additional questions. Keep doing that to get more ideas.

Even more questions in PAA boxEven more questions in PAA box

Looks like I can add sections on “what veggies go well in ramen,” “how to add egg to ramen,” and even “what else to eat with ramen” to cover the topic in more detail.

Finally, you can look at the related searches at the bottom of the SERPs for some extra ideas.

Google SERP "Related searches" section Google SERP "Related searches" section

Based on this, we can add sections on “how to make ramen noodles without a pasta machine,” “how to make ramen noodles better,” etc.

Moving to our outline, I can create something like this based on my research:

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Except of our content outline templateExcept of our content outline template

You can see I have H2s for all the main headings. Further down, I also have each step as an H3 (you can see that when you make a copy of the outline template).

Under each heading, I have at least one bullet point explaining what should go in that section so that the writer has more context. The more detailed you are about your expectations in these bullets, the higher the chances of you getting what you want from your writer.

And you’re done!

Final thoughts

Having a content outline makes it easier to write content that’s better, faster, and at scale. A great outline means a better chance at ranking on search engines and gives your writers a standard operating procedure to follow.

If you’re not outlining your content, you’re doing it wrong.

Want to learn more? Check out these other helpful guides:

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SEO

Top 6 Free Survey Maker Tools For Marketers

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Top 6 Free Survey Maker Tools For Marketers

The number of online surveys has risen dramatically in the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.

From short social media polls to lengthy feedback forms, it’s never been easier to survey your target audience and find out what exactly they’re thinking.

When it comes to free survey makers, you have plenty of options to choose from.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is you have to wade through your options to figure out the best survey tool for you.

In this article, I’ve done that dirty work for you.

Below I outline the top six free survey makers, with a simple bulleted list of their pros and cons, so you can quickly select the best one for your needs.

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But first up, the caveats.

What You’re Missing With Free Survey Makers

When something’s free, there’s usually a catch. The same goes for free survey makers.

Free survey tools, or the free plan offered by a paid survey tool, often come with the following limitations:

  • Limited export options. You may not be able to export your survey data for review in Excel or Google Sheets. There may be a PDF-only export option or no export ability at all.
  • Limited analytics. Free survey tools often skimp on the analytics. You may be left to your own pivot tables and Excel expertise if you want to create anything fancy from your survey data.
  • Limited survey functionality. This runs the gamut, from a limit on how many respondents or questions you can have per survey, to only allowing so many question types (e.g., multiple-choice, long-form, etc.).
  • Limited extra perks. By perks, I mean those other features that make software from good to great. With survey makers, that might mean easy-to-access support, the ability to embed surveys in email or webpages, multiple user accounts, or integration with other email marketing or CRM software.
  • No branding. Free survey makers give you their tools for free. In return, you provide them with free brand awareness. Don’t expect to be able to swap out their logo for your own. You’ll probably be stuck with their branding, along with a prominent link to their site throughout the survey or on the thank you page (or both).

If any of the above is a dealbreaker for you, you should plan to drop a little dough on a paid survey tool. That’s why I’ve also included the starting price for all six of the tools featured below.

In case you end up having to upgrade later, it’s easier to do so from a tool you’re already familiar with.

Top 6 Free Survey Tools

Without further ado, I present the best free survey makers you’ll find today. These are listed in no particular order.

1. Google Forms

Screenshot by author, June 2022

Do you live and die by your Google Drive?

Great news: Google also offers free survey software via Google Forms.

Alright, I know I just said these were presented in no particular order, but I’ll openly admit Google Forms is my personal favorite. Just look at all of the features they include in their free plan!

All you need is a free Google account to get started.

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Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited questions.
  • Unlimited responses.
  • Export to Google Sheets.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Ability to embed images and YouTube videos.
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website and share to social media.
  • Survey analytics, updated in real-time.
  • Integration with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides.
  • Unlimited collaborators.
  • Customizable survey templates.
  • Free branding.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Enhanced security and collaboration options.
  • Integration with your existing Google Workplace account.

Price: Completely free. Google Workplace pricing starts at $6 per user per month.

Best for: Anyone and everyone, for business or casual use.

2. SurveyMonkey

surveymonkeyScreenshot by author, June 2022

SurveyMonkey is the online survey tool. Established in 1999, it’s still the most well-known online survey software.

Despite the limitations of its free plans, SurveyMonkey continues to be popular thanks to its intuitive interface and brand recognition. Notable clients include Allbirds, Tweezerman, and Adobe.

One nice perk is that you can test out any of the paid features with your free plan. (You just won’t be able to actually use it in your live survey until you pay up.)

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions.
  • 15 question types.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Over 250 customizable survey templates.
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website.
  • Mobile app.
  • One user.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions, question types, and responses.
  • Data exports – this is a biggie!
  • Custom branding.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Team collaboration.
  • Advanced security (single sign-on, HIPAA compliance).
  • A/B testing.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $16 per month for individuals, $25 for teams.

Best for: Those who want a tried-and-true survey maker with all the features you could ask for.

3. Typeform

typeformScreenshot by author, June 2022

Many online survey tools are designed for the general public.

Readers of Search Engine Journal will be happy to hear that there’s a survey tool created just for us. Typeform was built specifically with marketers, UX researchers, and business owners like us in mind.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

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  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions per survey.
  • 10 responses per month.
  • Basic question types.
  • Basic reporting and analytics
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website.
  • Integrations with MailChimp, HubSpot, Trello, Google Sheets, Zapier, and more.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Custom thank you screen.
  • Custom branding.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Team collaboration.
  • Ability to accept payment.
  • Ability for survey respondents to upload files.
  • Integration with Facebook pixel and Google Tag Manager.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $29 per month.

Best for: Enterprise users, UX researchers, and marketers hoping to track customer behavior.

4. Zoho Survey

zoho surveyScreenshot by author, June 2022

Zoho Survey is part of the same Zoho suite of apps that caters to sales, HR, IT, finance, and virtually any kind of business user you can think of.

Given their tenure creating SaaS software for business, their survey tool is just as robust as you might expect. Customers include big names like Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Change.org.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions per survey.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Ability to embed surveys in email or website, or share to social media.
  • Export to PDF.
  • 250 survey templates.
  • Password protection and HTTPS encryption.
  • One user.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Ability to export to XLS or CSV.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • Team collaboration.
  • Real-time responses.
  • Multilingual surveys.
  • Integration with Google Sheets, Tableau, Shopify, Zendesk, Eventbrite, and others.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $25 per month.

Best for: Zoho users, or anyone who needs an extra level of security for their surveys.

5. Alchemer

alchemer survey makerScreenshot by author, June 2022

Alchemer is an advanced survey maker developed for the enterprise client.

Paid features include custom coding so you can customize every single element of your survey, from the survey URL to the form logic.

They stand out among free survey makers for being one of the few (besides Google Forms) to offer unlimited questions and Excel exports in their free plan. Clients include Disney, Salesforce, Verizon, and The Home Depot.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Three surveys at a time.
  • Unlimited questions.
  • 100 responses.
  • 10 question types.
  • Export to Excel.
  • Customizable templates.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited responses.
  • Unlimited question types.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • Ability to embed surveys in websites.
  • Export to PDF, PowerPoint, or Word.
  • Ability for survey respondents to upload files.
  • Survey analytics and reporting.
  • Ability to accept payment.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $49 per month.

Best for: Enterprise users needing to create long surveys with advanced logic and question types.

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6. Jotform

jotform survey makerScreenshot by author, June 2022

With over 10,000 templates, Jotform takes the cake as the survey maker with the most form templates on our list.

Jotform also stands out for letting you accept payments with the free plan (although you’re limited to 10).

This popular survey maker includes clients as wide-ranging as AMC and Nickelodeon to Redfin and the American Medical Association.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Five surveys.
  • 100 questions per survey.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Ability to embed surveys in email or website.
  • Export to PDF or Excel.
  • 10,000 survey templates.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • HIPAA compliance.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $29 per month.

Best for: Users who want a template for every kind of survey possible.

Which Survey Tool Will You Use?

There truly is a survey maker for everybody.

The above options are all solid choices. Which one works for you may depend on your organization’s needs and your personal preferences.

Take advantage of the free trials and see which one you like best.

More Resources:

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Featured Image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock



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