Want a quick and easy way to improve your content creation process and overall workflow? Use detailed content briefs. It’s really that simple — and yes, I realize I sound like a product salesman from a TV infomercial. But hear me out: over the past two decades or so, I have found a handful of game-changers that truly improve the article writing process, and an effective content brief is absolutely one of them.
Key components of SEO content brief template
Every content brief needs to include at least the following elements, some of which may seem obvious but require more thinking than you may assume.
It’s also important that everyone involved knows that the brief is a living document. While this won’t apply to every brief you create, I’ve found that a collaborative brief ends up leading to the best piece of content. Why? Because you have already ironed out so many of the kinks, and both you and the content team know exactly what the end product should look like.
Here are the core elements of a content brief:
- Word count
- SEO elements
- Tone of voice and style notes
- Target audience
- Competitor landscape
Providing the title sets the tone for the article and is the clear first step in the content creation process. It also allows the content writer to potentially offer feedback and suggestions. In some cases, they may know the audience better than you do, especially if they’re a subject matter expert (which they should be!).
Pro-trip: Never settle on your first, second, or third title. Shop it around amongst your internal team, to your writer(s), and even the client. While you should use SEO research as the first step in creating the title, your collaborators can help you nail it.
This gives the writer a baseline target to hit. While you can determine a baseline by looking at competitor content, you also shouldn’t make the mistake of going long simply for long’s sake. The “skyscraper” approach—”outdoing” the competition by publishing a similar piece of content with a higher word count—has its place, but it’s a lot more challenging than it seems.
High-quality content always serves a purpose, whether it’s providing direction, answering a question, or offering advice of some kind. Simply writing more words is an easy way to get away from that purpose. At a time when Google continues to push E-E-A-T—Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness—it’s more important to follow those directives than an outdated “hack.”
If you do want to go long, you need to make sure there’s a reason for it. For example, you have a new angle that allows you to say more on the subject, and this includes original, unique research such as bespoke data and interviews.
The SEO elements that you, as an SEO or content marketer, provide to the writer will vary. For example, you may ask the writer to create the meta description, slug, etc. However, all of the remaining elements require your direction, which you’ll gather through keyword research.
The primary keyword and secondary keywords are crucial to optimize the content, and they will help it rank in the search engine results page (SERP). However, they actually offer so much more than that. These target keywords also provide guidance on topics and subtopics to cover, potential headings to use, and even FAQs to include (the long-tail keywords with low search volume).
It’s important to include any internal links you want the writer to use in the copy, including landing pages, other articles, case studies, etc. If you try to let the writer do this on their own, you or your editor will likely add more links than the writer provided. Chances are you know the client better than your writer, so it just makes sense for you to put them in the brief. Include anchor text for bonus points.
You can use this space to specify which types of external links the writer can include and should avoid, too. Beyond the obvious note to not link out to competitors, the best content typically includes citations/references to the .govs and .edus of the world.
Tone of voice and style notes
In a perfect world, you’ll provide your client’s brand voice and style guide to your writer and you can move to the next section. But we don’t live in a perfect world. You may need to distill tone and style down to simple elements, such as leaning on AP style, which I often do.
You can look at existing content on the client’s site for hints for voice and tone, but this may not work if your client is either unhappy with their existing content or if they’re pivoting to a different audience. In this case, you should meet with your client to create a solid foundation for the writer, especially if this is a pain point.
Identifying the content’s target audience is closely related to the tone/style notes we just mentioned, because you will use different messaging for different intended audiences. For example, your client may fall into both the B2C and B2B spaces, and they will require very different CTAs, among other things.
You could also want to target a very specific demographic within the audience, such as business owners in a particular industry (e.g. software vs. restaurant, DIY vs. contractor, etc.). This is where you can incorporate buyer persona research, which is often part of a bigger content marketing strategy, to really drill down on how you want to speak to the reader.
The competitor landscape portion of the brief doesn’t need to be as in-depth as a competitor analysis or audit. Instead, keep it relatively simple and provide the writer with a hand-picked selection of links to competing content that goes beyond listing the top three results in the SERPs.
By thoroughly reviewing the competing content, you’ll glean insights on a number of crucial elements. These can include valuable sub-topics that the writer must feature in the article as well as potential rich-snippet features. When you’re aiming for a clear target—keywords, topic, etc.—you can use the competitor landscape as another layer of your brief’s foundation.
This is where you can really put the aforementioned SEO research into practice by helping the writer know exactly what you’re looking for in terms of article structure. By “rough outline,” I mean that you don’t have to get as specific as, say, putting word counts under each and every subheading. But at least provide the subheadings, because they help to ensure that the article includes the primary and secondary keywords you identified.
You should include a client- and legal-approved example of a call to action (CTA) for the writer in the outline, too. This provides them with an even clearer picture of both the content’s audience and the potential final version of the CTA. You may want the writer to amend it or refresh it for this new article, but this example helps to skirt potential legal hiccups once the content gets to the compliance/legal review stage.
Free content brief template
Now let’s get to the fun stuff—the content brief example you can use for your next content writing project.
The content brief is a lot like a seed. You can have the biggest ambitions about growing your content offering, your client’s website, or your social media following, but it all needs to start somewhere. And that somewhere should be a content brief.
Are you looking for help with your content marketing strategy or content creation? We can help! Just get in touch with our team of experts to find out more.