Eight Content Templates That Work

content templates that work

Once upon a time, there were basically two choices for a successful (at least for SEO purposes), blog post: a List post or a How-To post. Ho-hum.

As the blogosphere has grown up, people have been experimenting with more and different formats for their posts. Working within a framework can help you create better content, faster, and, with that in mind, we’ve borrowed from blogging’s past by putting together an old fashioned list post of eight, shall we say more contemporary content templates that work:

The Explainer

content templates that workWhat it is: The Explainer is essentially a very thorough how-to post, giving the reader an overview of a particular topic and a step-by-step as to how to use/understand it. An Explainer post might have some theory or deep background, but it’s not supposed to be pure theory–there’s definitely an emphasis on action.

Sample outline: Here’s a really basic outline for the various composite parts that make a good Explainer post:

  1. A solid introduction that brings the reader in and gives them some useful background on the topic, usually with some data­-based statistics and research.
  2. A list of immediately actionable tips that back up and correspond with the statistics/research you’ve already covered.
  3. A description of available tools readers can use to implement those actionable tips.
  4. Nearing the end, a general recap with “next steps” and closing notes.

Example post: Freelancers: Increase Your Profits 75% in 8 Simple Steps

The Case Study

What it is: A case study is similar to both a How-To or Explainer post, the difference being that it chronicles the story of one specific incident from beginning to its end result. Instead of “How to Grow Profits”, it’s more, “How Company-X Grew Profits 82% In Six Months”.

To make a case study post both readable and interesting–no small trick–try to frame it so that it’s not about the company, it’s about precisely what the company actually did that brought success their way. You’re not just advertising the company or their marketing strategies–you’re telling the story of how they got specific results and what actions the reader can take to replicate those results in their own business. Ideally, you’ll have data to use in the case study, both because it makes the story more interesting and because specificity makes for compelling headlines and a truly valuable piece of content.

Sample outline: Here’s what a typical case study will look like:

  1. An opening paragraph that details the problem (and in a way that other business owners can relate to; you want an “I have that problem too! How did they fix it?!” reaction).
  2. The steps that were taken to solve the problem, and why. Be sure to detail the thinking behind each action taken, as in “knowing our demographic to be heavily female, we decided to experiment with optimizing our site for Pinterest”, as opposed to simply “we made all our images more Pinterest friendly”.
  3. A quick recap of what the problem is and what the results were.
  4. Action steps that the reader can replicate in their own business (or life).

Example post: KISSmetrics does an especially good job of publishing these–here’s a recent post: How to Overcome the Content Distribution Hurdle: Lessons from Someone Who Had No Idea What They Were Doing

Thought Leadership

What it is: In general, having a viewpoint is, naturally, a good thing when blogging, but it’s especially important for a thought leadership-style piece. These articles are the ones that are most likely to get you new clients or customers because you’re taking a stance and saying, “that might be how it’s normally done, but this way is better, and here’s why…” Obviously, to pull this off, you’ll need to be able to back your viewpoint up with data, case studies, experience, and a well thought-out argument.

Sample outline: Here’s an outline for a thought leadership-style article:

  1. An introduction, where you talk about “the way things are” versus your way.
  2. The proverbial meat of the article. Here, you’ll discuss “your way” a bit more in depth. If you have additional data points or client case studies to back it up, cover it here.
  3. If you want to include actionable takeaways or a How-­To section, put it here.
  4. Re­state your thesis (why your way is better) and summarize the post in your closing notes.

Example post: How Startups (And Everyone Else) Should Handle Social Media

The Interview

What it is: You know what an interview is; (and, if not, contact a neurologist and check for the distinct smell of burnt toast.) The key to creating an interesting interview post is twofold:

  • Interview (actually) interesting people in or adjacent to your field or industry, and,
  • Ask penetrating, thought-provoking questions.

With an interview, you should always aim to uncover a large narrative that weaves the answers together and gives the article some context. This way, readers are lead through the piece without ever feeling disjointed or confused.

Sample outline: No sample outline here, but check out these nine tips to conduct great interviews.

Example post: Lifehacker does an excellent job of this with their “How I Work” interview series.

how i work

The List

What it is: Exactly what it sounds like: a list of items (tips, apps, sites, articles, whatever) that all fall under a particular theme. You’ve got to exercise discretion when it comes to a list post, though, because it can easily descend into a tedious and mediocre offering and tedious, mediocre content does nothing for you or your business. The two best ways to avoid this are:

  • Be comprehensive. The days are gone (if they ever existed) where you can simply put a few links together and have your list post get shared out. Instead, you need to provide value by pulling together a large list, and by providing interesting and useful information that goes along with each item on your list.
  • Be specific. This might sound like ‘be comprehensive’, but it’s not exactly the same. You could create a list post titled “15 productivity apps”, but you’d probably do a lot better if you created a post around “15 productivity apps for small business that save time and money”, etc. See the difference?

Sample outline: This outline isn’t rocket science. An introduction, a list of the items (maybe with a catchy header for categories or items), and a closing statement. Pretty simple.

Example post: 53 Freelancing Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash, and Credibility (Note the high number, the details given on each mistake in the article, and the specificity of the headline as to what the mistakes are actually costing you.)

Book Review

What it is: Self-explanatory: it’s a post reviewing a book. The best book reviews often include background on the author and what went into the creation of the book, and, of course, lessons learned from reading the book.

Sample outline: Book reviews can be fairly simple, or they can go more in depth. Here’s an example outline:

  1. An introduction on the background issue or problem that the book discusses or solves, and how you found out about the book.
  2. A summary of the book. (Optionally, with a description of who the book is–or isn’t–for.)
  3. Any critiques of the book or additional commentary.
  4. A “lessons learned” or “actionable takeaways” section that goes over the most important things you learned from the book or got out of reading it.
  5. Closing notes, optionally with a few suggestions for reading alternatives or similar books.

Example post: I Will Teach You To Be Rich: A Solid Intro to Money Management

Product Review

What it is: Again, pretty self explanatory–a product review just goes over the pros and cons of a particular product. Product reviews are great for SEO as, oftentimes, what people are looking for when they Google a product is help deciding whether they should buy it or not. A solid review will do that.

Sample outline: Here’s a framework for a good product review:

  1. Introduction of the problem that the product solves or addresses and how you found out about the product.
  2. Your personal experience using the product.
  3. Pros and cons of the product.
  4. Wrap-up notes with price and information on how the reader can buy the product (or, possibly, alternatives to the product, depending on your experience.)

Example post: The Wirecutter does a great job with product reviews and product round-ups, and they’re fairly in depth, too. You’ll also notice that they optimize the posts for commonly searched phrases, like “the best headphones under $150.”

Video Post

What it is: A video post can be a screencast or, more commonly, a video of you discussing a particular topic. Doing video content used to be quite the ordeal, but now, almost all of us carry a decent video recorder (at least via our smartphones).

The idea of video can be intimidating, but it’s worth it. People love getting to know the person behind the business, and on a tactical level, YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, with YouTube videos showing up in Google results as well. You may find your video posts (when titled well–here’s a few tips for video SEO) will drive a surprising amount of search traffic. And to get you off on the right foot, here’s four mistakes you can avoid, and 10 steps from Social Media Examiner to get you started.

Sample outline: This is going to depend on what kind of video post you’re doing. Take any of the above content templates and use them as inspiration for a video post, and voila.

Example post: Marie Forleo does a great job with videos for her blog. If you look at an individual post, you’ll notice that she always gives a lead-in to get the viewer intrigued, and you’ll notice that most of her videos are under 10 minutes (most are under 5)–which can be crucial in maintaining the internet audience’s ever-shrinking attention span.

Not all videos are created equal. For example, some people use Fiverr to make videos for their sites. Click the chicken below to see what happened when we did:

fiverr videos

Try out a few of these post types and see if one performs better with your audience than others, or look at your previously successful posts and see what template they would naturally fit best. (There. Now, you have no excuse for resorting to a boring or structureless post for lack of ideas!)