Have you ever assigned an article to a content writer only to get something back that wasn’t what you’d hoped for? Perhaps the angle was off, the post was too long, or you still had to spend hours optimizing the content so it would rank in Google.
Perhaps the writer didn’t do a good job, but there’s also a chance they did the best job possible with the information they had.
If you want something specific, you need to ask for it. The same goes for content. That’s where detailed content briefs come in. Creating content briefs is a crucial part of making sure writers produce content that follows your content strategy, but it’s not always done in the most consistent or effective way.
In what follows, I’ll take you through why content briefs are important for creating high-quality content, and what you should include in them. Don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own content brief template? Then you can find mine for free at the bottom of this blog post.
What Is a Content Brief?
A content brief is a set of instructions that tell a writer how to create a piece of content so that piece of content answers to the expectations of whoever assigned it. The piece of content can be a blog post, whitepaper, e-book, or any other type of content
In this article, we’ll focus on content briefs for blog posts.
Why Content Briefs Are Important
An effective content brief communicates to the writer what a piece of SEO-friendly content should contain. More specifically, content briefs are important because they:
Reduce the need for revisions
When a writer has solid instructions to follow, the chance that they’ll turn the article into something very different from what you wanted is small. More so: when you send a great brief to a great writer, you’ll more often than not get an article back that’s as good as publish-ready.
In other words: supplying your writers with strong content briefs reduces the risk of needing to have a first draft heavily revised or – worse – rewritten. Creating them requires only a little bit of time upfront to save a lot of time later.
Help optimize the article
Ideally, your content briefs also include SEO instructions. We’ll go into that a bit more later, but for now, it suffices to say that including those instructions for your writer means that they can optimize their article following SEO best practices and give it a better chance of ranking and getting you organic traffic.
Provide a checklist for the editor
If your content brief communicates everything that needs to be included in the article as well as all of the instructions the writer needs to follow, it can double as a checklist for your editor.
Based on the content brief, they can see whether an article includes the right primary and secondary keywords, if it’s taken the right angle, whether it links to the correct pages on your site, and so on.
Of course, this only works as long as you include all that needs to be included in the brief, which brings me to my next point.
Why Consistency Matters
Instructions are easier to follow when they always look the same. That’s why I highly recommend creating a content writing brief template. Having a template allows you to communicate instructions to your writers in a consistent way.
This has several benefits:
1. It removes friction
When content briefs always look the same, writers know which type of instructions to expect and how the information they need is presented. They won’t need to email you to clarify things, so you save time on communication.
2. It increases productivity
When their briefs are clear, writers don’t need to wreck their heads about what you tried to say with that one line or if it means something that the list of secondary keywords is suddenly presented in a different way.
They won’t need to waste time analyzing your content brief and can, instead, simply get started writing.
3. It creates goodwill
Writers go the extra mile for their best clients and part of being a great client is communicating clearly. If you make it easy for your writers to do their job, you can be sure that creates goodwill.
How to Write a Content Brief
So how do you go about writing a brief? While there are tools that help you create effective content briefs, Google Docs or Sheets will often do as well. What’s more important than the tool you use, is how complete your briefs are.
I’ve put together a list of things I include when I create an SEO content brief for a client, and that I love to receive when I’m asked to write an article.
Links to brand documentation
While every writer should get access to your brand documentation when you onboard them, no matter if they’re an in-house or freelance writer, it makes their lives easier when you add a link to that documentation somewhere in your content brief.
If you’re using an SEO content brief template, this doesn’t even take extra time as you can just make the link(s) part of the template.
Examples of brand documentation include:
- your style guide, including your brand voice
- your writing guidelines
- your target audience descriptions
Even if you have a large document describing your target audience(s) somewhere, your content brief should include a one to two-line description of the audience this specific article is targeting.
Examples of the intended audience for a B2B brand could include:
- “e-commerce email marketers”
- “HR managers”
- “paid advertising agencies”
Examples for a B2C brand could include:
- “toddler moms with a high disposable income”
- “style-sensitive men with beards”
- “active pensioners who love to travel”
The slug is the part at the end of a URL that refers to a specific page or post on a website. Ideally, the slug corresponds to the target or primary keyword of your post or page. If that’s not possible, for some reason, it should at least include your primary keyword.
If, for example, you’re creating an article that targets the keyword “newsletter design” then your slug would be “newsletter-design” and your URL would be “yourcompany.com//newsletter-design/” or “yourcompany.com/blog/newsletter-design/”
Now, you may have someone other than your writer or editor responsible for uploading articles to your CMS. In that case, it’s still a good idea to add the slug to your content brief as that way, everyone on your content team can use the brief to do their job.
Search intent and article structure
Next, you want to figure out what type of angle your post should have to have the best possible chance of ranking in the search engines. You could just decide to write a product-focused post aimed to make readers sign up for your free trial, but if all the articles currently ranking for your keyword are informational listicles, you’ll do much better also writing an informational listicle.
To analyze the types of content already ranking for your target keyword, you can either use an SEO tool such as Ahrefs, or simply use Google.
Whichever option you go with, make sure that when you look up your keyword, you do so for your target country. In Ahrefs, you can choose your target country from a dropdown. To make sure Google shows you the results for a specific country, you can follow the instructions in this post.
Once you’ve figured out what the search intent for your article should be, add it to your briefing in a concise way. Here are some examples, from very concise to a bit more specific and also including the article structure:
- “informational listicle”
- “informational listicle with example screenshots”
- “commercial how-to”
- “commercial how-to showcasing our internal chat function”
Target word count
Experienced writers will make an article as long or short as it needs to be to share everything that matters on a given topic. Unfortunately, you can’t leave the optimal content length up to writers alone if you want the best possible chance of ranking.
Here too it’s important to look at the relevant articles that are currently ranking for your target keyword. You could either copy/paste the content of these articles into a Word file and calculate their average word count manually, or you can use a tool such as Surfer SEO that does it for you.
Note that if you use a tool such as Surfer, it’s possible that comments are included in the calculation and so it’s good to have a look and see if an article appears to be as long as Surfer claims it is.
On top of that, if all ranking articles are around the same length but one is much longer or shorter, you may want to leave that outlier out of your calculation.
Lastly, there are two ways you can communicate target word count in your content brief:
- as a range. This is my favorite and looks something like: “Target word count: 1250-1550.”
- as an approximation. This looks like: “Target word count: ~1400 words.”
How to do keyword research and choose the target keyword for an article takes us too far from the topic of this blog post, but it is important to include your target keyword in your brief so your writer can optimize the article for that keyword.
The same goes for secondary keywords. For these, it’s important to note that you don’t just include them so the writer can add them to the article. Secondary keywords also help the writer diversify the way in which they mention the target keyword and give them ideas for things to write about.
For example, if your target keyword is “remote team communication” and one of the secondary keywords is “remote team communication tools”, then your writer might add a section on different remote team communication tools instead of just mentioning the keyword somewhere.
Meta title and blog title
Ideally, your writer will create both the meta or SEO title and the blog title of your article. The meta title is the title as displayed in Google, while the blog title is the one that appears to your readers when they visit your blog.
That being said, I do recommend you include at least fields for these titles in your brief as a reminder to the writer to create them. Alternatively, you can include a suggested title or a working title as inspiration and to indicate which angle you want the writer to take with the title, while still leaving them the freedom to create their own.
You can also add some instructions, such as that SEO titles can have a maximum of 60 characters or that they should include the company name in the meta title.
Here is an example of how Moz includes its brand name into its meta title with a hyphen as the separator:
The meta description of an article is what you hope Google will display as the description in the search results. Your writer will create this, but it’s best to add it to the brief so they don’t forget to do so. Just as for the meta title, you can include some (SEO) instructions for it.
Link to a content optimization tool (optional)
SEO writing tools such as Surfer, Frase, and Clearscope allow you to easily create content briefs based on machine analysis of the top 10 search results. I do not recommend using these content briefs as a replacement for your own, but they can be great to discover other keywords to use as well as to calculate the word count for an article.
If you run such an analysis, add the link to it in your brief for your writer to use.
Relevant source articles (optional)
Good writers analyze relevant ranking articles to make sure they don’t miss anything as well as to try and find gaps – things that your competitors haven’t covered that you could include in your post.
Any writer with a bit of SEO experience knows how to find competitor articles and so you don’t need to add them all to the content brief. What you could add, however, are links to articles you’ve come across that you think are really well done.
These could be competing articles, but they could also be related articles that you like the approach of or that can serve as inspiration, as well as webinars, Linkedin posts, and so on.
Internal links to include
To guide both Google and readers through your website, each article should contain links to other posts and pages on your site. In your brief, you can keep the instruction general and ask the writer to include links to two other related posts, or you can be more specific and include which posts you want them to link to.
You can also add which anchor text to use, but make sure not to overoptimize those as it may look unnatural to Google and hurt your content marketing efforts.
If you have a lot of high-quality content already and are not sure which articles you could link to, an easy way to get some ideas is to go to Google and search for: “site:yourdomain keyword”. This will give you all the pages on your site that mention or are related to your keyword, and that would thus make great internal link targets.
External links to include (optional)
If you want your writer to include a certain number of links to authoritative external sites, you can also add that to the brief.
Call to Action
Unless you’re writing a highly informational article of which the goal is to get people to click on the internal links within the article so they keep reading, you’ll want to add a call-to-action to your post.
The instructions for how to add a CTA can also range from general to specific.
- General: “Include a CTA to get people to click to product page x.” – In this case, the writer can choose how to formulate the CTA.
- Specific: “Use shortcode x to get people to sign up for y.” – In this case, the writer needs to use an already existing shortcode (or formulation, or signup form).
The notes section of your content brief is the place where you share any instruction that didn’t fit anywhere else. These could include questions to answer, which perspective to adopt, quotes to include, things to avoid, background information, and more.
Finally, I highly recommend adding an SEO checklist. Doing so will allow your writer to check for themselves whether their article follows SEO best practices.
Not sure what to include in your SEO checklist? I’ve added mine to the free content brief template you can download below.
Free Content Brief Template
That’s it! The list above entails all you need to create your own content brief template. But why make your own when you can just download mine?
Go ahead, and let me know if you need any help with it!