Content Templates vs Content Outlines

Author: Daniel Cuttridge

Content templates are standardized outlines. All content templates are outlines, yet, not all outlines are templates. So what are the differences, and why does it matter?

Outlines without the use of templates have few standardized sections. A custom outline is created from nothing, so the focus is on research. The goal is more comprehensive and accurate content. This can help create content that will inform and delight readers alike.

Templates are an outline which contains common sections. This standardization provides the publisher with efficiency, which is important when scaling content production. Efficiency though can come at the cost of effectiveness. For years this has been a profitable trade-off for publishers - especially those who focus on organic traffic. Increasingly, this is no longer the case owing to advancements in machine learning and search ranking algorithms. Search engines have become much better at identifying missing topics in your content. The easiest way to miss topics is not allocating sections for them in your content outline, which is something templates are often guilty of doing. As a publisher on the web, your job is to navigate the pros and cons, weighing them up in every scenario. Standardization and customization are both important, they both have their pros and cons. So what can we do? One answer is selective standardization.

Selective standardization requires that you standardize only what you can afford to because you cannot always know the important topics ahead of time... Even reviews on raincoats will vary from product to product. Being selective means using fewer standardized areas (common sections) than before. Instead, you have to leave room for research.

Another good option is creating more templates than you used to have. You can even think about niching down your templates to a category-level or subject-level. The goal of creating laser-focused templates is to identify common sections... The more common sections you identify the more you can standardize your new template. This brings efficiency back into the fold without sacrificing effectiveness. Keep in mind that even these templates should leave room for additional research.

Using the same generic templates from niche to niche, or subject to subject, is inadequate. It should be no surprise that this is unable to produce the best results. Unfortunately, this is the way that many publish on the web. Templates get generalized to a fault. If something is ineffective it is hard to argue that it is efficient. Many publishers have suffered losses in the last few years, and in many cases the root cause is their templates.

No matter what approach you take, the focus should be on giving the barebones outline and standardizing only what we can afford to. Our templates should not make assumptions about what sections should be there, or they will miss important topics... Only research can inform us of all the important sections and topics.

Content templates need to evolve to remain efficient.