You may have an excellent vision for a piece of content. But if you don’t communicate it clearly to your writers, don’t be surprised if the results don’t match your expectations.
So if you’re spending hours editing work turned in by your writers, it’s time to create a detailed content brief. If you’re already using one and still not seeing the results you want, consider improving the format by including more targeted elements.
We’ll show you how to create a successful content brief, and share insights from content marketing experts who use them to drive productivity and consistency in their content teams.
What is a content brief?
A content brief is a document that guides a writer on how to write a content piece that satisfies your requirements and what direction it should take. It includes important elements such as the primary keyword, headline, CTA(s), and a rough outline.
Krista Lawson, Content Specialist at Break The Web, says, “Without a content brief, the hard work you put into finding those unique topic opportunities is often a complete waste of time. In essence, you’re providing a blueprint for the writer to create SEO-driven content.”
Content briefs are sometimes called SEO content briefs, especially when the content piece is meant to target a certain search query that helps it rank higher in SERPs.
Why do you need a content brief?
In essence, content briefs prevent misunderstandings between the writer and the editor, strategists, and content marketers.
By working from a content brief, you get the following benefits:
1. Prevents too many rewrites
“Content briefs are a great way to ensure everyone is on the same page from the beginning. You can get all your thoughts and ideas down on paper, organize them, and share them with your writer. This will help to reduce the back and forth and hopefully cut down on rewrites or revisions,” shares Jennifer Klemmetson, Klemmetson Communications.
2. Enables consistency and scaling of content production
When you have several writers working for you, both in-house and freelance, a content brief helps align style, tone, and voice to present a cohesive brand image in the piece.
Maeva Cifuentes, CEO at Flying Cat Marketing, says, “Content briefs allow you to scale content creation and have a consistent result over time. Any good writer can easily bring the editor or strategist’s vision to life, without rewrites or disagreements about what the piece was about.”
3. Ensures deadlines are met
With clear content briefs, writers don’t waste time gathering information that could easily have been provided, and are aware of the submission date.
Dustin Ray at Incfile says, “Creating content briefs helps me to keep my creative staff organized and productive. In some companies, creatives are simply given a title or topic with no further instruction on how to execute the piece. This leaves room for miscommunication and errors.”
4. Ensures no critical information is missed
Content briefs act like checklists to remind writers of every detail that should be in the content piece, such as recent statistics, graphs, charts, tables, or real-life examples. No important information is missed.
5. Provides a single source of reference for the content team
Many people are involved in the creation of an on-brand content piece. A content brief acts as a single point of reference to ensure expectations are aligned and everyone works toward a common goal.
Elements of a successful content brief
To be truly useful, you should include the following elements in your content brief:
1. Working title
Give your content piece a tentative headline, which should include the primary keyword. Your writers may make changes to the title to make it more attractive or reflect the correct number of items in list posts.
E.g. X Elements to Include in a Content Brief Document
“A content brief should help a writer understand the goals and the intent of the content. Don’t just give them keywords and guidelines – also give them an idea of how you expect the piece of content to help the business. This allows the writer to use their professional skills to take your content to the next level,” says Debbie Vasen, Chief Content Officer at LovetoKnow Media.
Mention what you’re trying to achieve from the piece: to educate readers? To generate leads by including a content offer within the piece? Or to sell a product/service? Writers can then draft the piece to lead readers to the end goal.
Some calls-to-action (CTA) that writers can include are:
- Request a demo
- Download a content asset such as guides, ebooks, case studies
- Sign up for a free trial
- Sign up for a newsletter
- Use an online tool/calculator
3. Target audience
Describe who the content piece is intended for, what their job titles are likely to be, and what this section of the audience is most interested in. You may have buyer personas available — use them to create a detailed description of the target audience.
E.g. This content piece is for founders, CTOs, and technical heads. They want to understand to whom PCI DSS applies to.
4. Primary and secondary keywords
Provide the keywords you’re targeting and their search volumes so that your writer knows which ones to focus on and include in the title, meta description, and subheadings.
Your keyword research should include seed keywords and long-tail keywords. Ideally, you should aim for no more than 1-2% keyword density to maintain the readability of the piece.
E.g. content brief examples, content brief template
Also talk about the SERP goal, as Trina Moitra, Head of Marketing at Convert says. “Do you want to rank well for a certain keyword, or do you want to rank for several but not focus on one of the top three spots? The latter improves your keyword coverage.”
5. Search intent
David Bitton, co-founder of DoorLoop, advises, “Describe the search intent behind each target keyword that you want your authors to include in the content. It enables writers to determine what readers should get out of reading the content, allowing them to approach writing in a more targeted and purposeful manner.”
An element that dovetails well with search intent is the funnel stage of the piece:
- Top-of-funnel (TOFU): If the search intent is educational or informational, readers are aware of the problem.
- Middle-of-funnel (MOFU): If the search intent is to compare options, readers are aware of your solution to the problem.
- Bottom-of-funnel (BOFU): If the search intent is to complete a purchase or take a desired action/convert, readers are ready to buy your solution.
6. Internal and external links
To improve the credibility of the content piece and boost SEO, you should include internal and external links.
- Give your writer a list of relevant internal links to existing content that they can include in a natural manner within the piece.
- Mention that any facts or statistics need to be linked to their original, high-quality sources.
You can also provide guidelines about the minimum/maximum number of links to be included.
7. Suggested word count
While the length of a content piece should be determined by the topic and audience, you need to give your writers a ballpark figure to help them plan how in-depth they need to go.
Kamyar Shah, fractional COO at World Consulting Group, mentions, “What you are aiming for is content that makes sense and doesn’t fall below 300 words. There are more chances to rank for long tail keywords if you write longer articles, and it is good practice to write content that is about 1,000 to 2,500 words long.”
8. The tone of voice and style
Each content piece should fit in with the overall brand voice and tone. You should brief writers about the appropriate tone of voice and share examples of what you’re looking for.
If available, also share your brand’s style guide so you don’t get a discordant piece.
E.g. The tone should be casual and conversational. Write in the third person.
Lee Dussinger, Senior Content Marketer at Opal, shares, “The best content briefs contain a detailed outline for the structure of the piece. This ensures that the writer understands your intention for what topics need the most focus and the order of importance behind those topics.”
Give your writers an idea of the structure you’re looking for by providing some headings and subheadings with some bullet points you want to have covered.
10. Deadline and Guidelines
Provide writers with a realistic deadline to submit their first draft to help them plan their work.
Also, mention any other guidelines like do’s and don’ts for the writer, types of visuals to be included (screenshots, images, charts, infographics), naming conventions for images and files, and so on.
You may also include an “on-page SEO cheat sheet” similar to this one by Moz:
Content brief template
Here’s a content brief template that you can adapt for your requirements:
What to avoid when writing a content brief
Just as there are some must-have elements in a content brief, there are certain aspects you should steer clear of.
1. Don’t choose keywords only with high volume
The search intent of keywords is more important than their search volume. If you only keep search volume in mind, you may get traffic that does not convert and is therefore of no use to you. The keywords you choose should have the same intent as that of the piece you’re creating.
2. Don’t ask writers to stuff the piece with keywords
Alexander Reid, content editor at TriviaWhizz, cautions against “stuffing your readers with keywords. They should be present there to capture the interest yet should not interfere with the quality reading experience.”
3. Don’t depend only on keyword tools
Keyword tools may not always provide a complete picture of search demand. Use insights from Google Search Console and Google Trends to determine which keywords could be valuable for your business.
4. Don’t provide keywords after the piece has been drafted
It is a bad idea to attempt to optimize content by adding keywords after the piece has been written as it impacts the reader experience.
You should conduct comprehensive keyword research before creating the content brief, and provide topics and keywords to be naturally woven within the piece during the drafting stage.
5. Don’t use too much jargon
Dan Barrett, CEO of Social Vantage, believes that you should “avoid too much jargon or technical language because it will make it more difficult for your content writing team to understand their roles and the overall purpose of the content pieces you want to create. The result is a lot of confusion, miscommunication, errors, and frustrations for everyone involved.”
Content brief templates
Content briefs, while having the basic elements, can vary from business to business to suit specific needs. Here are some templates used by the top content teams.
While CMI’s content brief does include most of the key elements that would help a writer draft a comprehensive piece, it is loosely structured and leaves more room for creative interpretation.
Orbit Media Studios have a content brief template that’s somewhat different from that of others. They’ve included sections like email marketing, influencer marketing, and social promotion which makes it seem like their writers work closely with the digital marketing team.
Portent has a detailed three-page content brief template in PDF format that is divided into five parts: summary information, SEO research, target keywords, metadata, and blog post outline.
Zapier has a clean, one-page content brief that captures the major elements required to draft a content piece. However, an outline is missing that could have been useful for the writer.
If you’re looking to get an output that closely matches your vision and expectations from a piece, you should create detailed content briefs that communicate everything clearly. Even if the writer is experienced in a niche, you cannot expect them to produce exactly what you have in mind unless you clearly communicate your requirements.
All in all, content briefs are essential if you want a close-to-perfect content piece in the first go.
Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of Growfusely, a SaaS content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO.