On average, our team collectively prepares around 350 content briefs a month. You can bet your bottom dollar that we’ve learned a thing or two about refining the briefing process over time.
Let’s start with this little revelation:
The single best way to set up your writers for success is to provide them with detailed content briefs.
Having worn both the writer and editor hats, I have a first-hand appreciation of the impact a great writer brief can have.
Besides helping your writers hit the mark, a thorough outline enables you to tick the search engine boxes and rank your content.
Trust me, it’s not worth cutting corners. A light-touch brief can result in sending back heavy revisions to the writer. Or worse – doing an extensive copy rewrite yourself.
When this happens, it’s frustrating for everyone involved. Not to mention, a waste of time and money.
In this article, I show you how to create an epic SEO content brief your writers will love. There’s also a bonus free content writing brief template you can access at the end.
What is a content brief?
A content brief is a document that lays out content requirements and provides instructions for writers to produce compelling written copy.
Among other formats, this could be SEO-friendly copy for blog posts, service pages, landing pages, case studies, or white papers for websites.
Content marketers, editors, agencies, and entrepreneurs are just some of the people who create writing briefs.
At a minimum, the document typically includes information such as:
- Article title
- Synopsis of the article
- Word count
- Due date
- Target keyword and keyword variations
- Information about the audience
- Resources for the writer
This is only a very light overview of what can go into a writer brief. I’ll dive into more detail on this in the sections below.
Where do briefs sit in the marketing workflow?
All of your editorial content should have its place in your content marketing strategy. After performing market and SEO research, map your ideas into a content calendar.
At this point, your writers can start developing the content — cue content briefs.
Developing briefs for every calendar line item will guarantee that the content supports your overall strategy.
In doing so, you’ll see better results, including increased organic traffic, extended social reach, and better traction throughout the content marketing funnel.
Honestly, nailing briefs is a critical step in the marketing workflow. Ultimately, briefs bring content marketers, SEO experts, and content creators together, helping them achieve content lift-off.
What is the purpose of a writer brief?
Writer briefs are crucial for bridging the gap between your content marketing strategy and getting the most out of your team. Here are a few ways these documents streamline the writing process:
Set up writers for success
To understand the purpose of a content creation brief in this context, think about what a recipe does.
A recipe outlines the ingredients you need and the method to follow to create a perfect dish.
A detailed brief does similar for a writer. It pulls together the elements of writing, then provides instructions and guidance to produce a compelling draft.
The writer won’t miss any critical information needed for the article, as it’s clearly outlined in the brief.
They know what sections to cover, pertinent information to mention, article context, and who the audience is.
Naturally, this makes their job of crafting a masterpiece of an article much simpler.
Detailed briefs are particularly mission-critical if you’re using freelancers who aren’t yet 100% familiar with your company, product, or service.
Get content teams on the same page
Briefs don’t only play to the benefit of writers. They’re helpful for content teams too.
Part of their purpose is to act as a single source of information for reference purposes. This central point helps streamline the content production process and align stakeholder expectations.
Think about it.
The marketing manager and relevant company stakeholders can view the briefs, agree on the content direction, and approve the outline before you hand the work to the writer.
As a result, there won’t be any surprises in store when the relevant parties start reviewing edited article drafts.
Accelerate the content production process
A great content brief gives your writer the information they need to nail a compelling draft the first time around.
Theoretically, this initial writing draft will be easier for you to edit.
I am not saying it will be perfect. But it should be much closer to the piece of content you ultimately want to produce.
Fewer revisions and less editing time mean the time to publish is considerably quicker.
As a result, many content teams find they can ramp up content production when using comprehensive briefs.
It’s certainly a consensus within our team – there’s a shorter turnaround when doing the work upfront to create epic content writing briefs.
Help the editor master the writing topics
This final point is something I’ve learned at Contentellect while working on clients’ content.
The point won’t apply to everyone. But, it might be relevant if you’ve moved into a new industry or company and are still getting acquainted.
When I start working with new clients, it’s pretty standard for there to be an initial learning curve. This is while I get up to speed with the industry and brush up on product knowledge.
Naturally, I take in all the information I can during this discovery phase. I research online, watch product demos, and converse with my client.
Interestingly, what I have found through this is, creating detailed briefs has accelerated my learning.
It forces me to dig into the nuts and bolts of the subject matter while I formulate article outlines for my writers.
So, developing briefs is another way to uncover aspects of the business or industry you may be unaware of.
What information belongs in a content brief?
Here’s an outline and explanation of the information that typically belongs in a writer brief:
This is the title of the article to be written.
An easy way to generate a title is to put your primary keyword into Google and browse the results. Get inspiration to create a unique and eye-catching header that is sure to draw in readers.
Here you insert the type of content to be written.
- Blog post
- Service page
- Landing page
- Pillar post
- How to guide
- Product reviews
- Top 10 list
This helps the writer clarify how to position the content to serve the reader.
Describe in a few sentences what you want the blog post to cover. Mention any specific points or subtopics to touch on.
Key message for readers
Identify the main takeaway you want readers to have from this blog article. Consider this to be the blog's ‘thesis.’
Purpose of the article
Describe why you are producing this article and how it fits into your content marketing plan/funnel.
For example, is it to create brand awareness or highlight a recently launched product.
Call to action
Specify the CTA you want the writer to include in the content.
This CTA should encourage the reader to take action in some way. Do you want them to sign up for a demo or visit a product page?
Be clear on what the next steps are. Leaving it open-ended can result in people navigating away from your website.
This outlines how many words the article should be and what the writer should aim for.
Check our post on how long a blog post should be to get tips on determining the ideal length.
This is the completion date for writing.
Give yourself enough time after that to edit and send the content for approval before publishing.
This is the primary keyword to target in writing.
Keywords are search terms your audience enters into Google (or other search engines) to find your business's products or services.
Discover what primary and secondary keywords to target in writing by performing a keyword research exercise.
These are the secondary and long-tail keywords for writing and inner-linking.
Often these are semantically related or Natural Language Processing (NLP) terms that Google expects to see associated with your primary keyword.
Provide instructions for linking to internal and external sources.
Strategic inner-linking connects your website and sends link juice to the pages you want to boost.
It also sends the reader on a journey of discovery on your website. The more time they spend on your site, the more opportunities you have for building trust.
External links to high-authority non-competitive websites tell Google that the content is well-researched. In turn, this can improve its credibility and ranking.
In both cases, you can specify links for the writers to include in the content.
For a 1,000-word article, ideally, you want at least three to five internal links and one external link.
Heading outline/article structure
Here you provide direction on the proposed headings to use in writing.
There are two ways to develop heading outlines: manually or with a briefing tool (more on this below).
If you’re manually creating briefs, the best way to tackle the outline is to get an eyeball on how the top-ranking pages are structured.
Start by entering your keyword into Google and hitting search.
Open up at least the top five results. Scan the articles’ structure, taking into consideration:
- What headings are being used
- Format, i.e., H1, H2, H3, H4, etc
- Flow of the article
- Relevance to the search term
- Introduction and conclusion
Discover more on this topic in our article on how to structure a blog post.
Say you’re not prepping briefs manually but using software instead. Many tools simplify this step by providing heading recommendations after analyzing the top-ranking SERPs.
These website URLs provide the writer with research information for writing.
They are typically the top-ranking URLs in Google for the target keyword.
You can also include links to specific stats you want to feature.
Or examples of exemplary content you want the writer to glean inspiration from.
Target website and blog
Include a link to the website where the writing will be published.
Encourage the writer to browse the site to get a general feel for the tone and company.
About the business
This is a synopsis of the business the writer is writing for and what it does.
It’s critical that the writer understands this. The person needs to be able to connect the dots between the company and the content they are writing.
Tell the writer who will read the article. Provide a general audience avatar.
Considerations could be:
- Is it a B2B or B2C audience?
- What position do they typically hold in business?
- Where are they based in the world?
- What problems are they looking to have solved?
Let the writer know which spelling conventions to use - it’s usually either American or British English.
You’ll know which is it based on where the company and its target market are located.
Tip: Use Grammarly to check that writing adheres to the rules of the relevant spelling conventions.
Set the app to American English, British English, Canadian English, Australian English, and Indian English, among others. Receive automated suggestions to correct spelling based on the language selection.
That said, Grammarly doesn’t provide corrections to diction or terminology. So, keep an eye out for the word ‘isms’ that might speak closer to one population group over the next.
Provide any other critical notes for the writer.
Tone of voice
Give details about the tone of voice and specific brand language the writer should use.
For example, should the writing be funny or professional?
Are there specific descriptors the company uses to differentiate its products or services?
An easy way to determine the tone of voice is to scan the existing content on the target website. See what tone is being used and take the same approach for consistency.
Specify the writing style, such as the Associated Press (AP Style) or the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS).
Provide general formatting guidelines and pointers for writing that haven’t been covered.
This includes things such as:
- Font type and size
- How to select products for review pieces
- Rules for linking
- Tools for optimizing content
Content brief example
Want to see what a real content marketing brief looks like?
Here’s the link to the brief for this very article.
We use a platform called Frase to develop SEO content briefs. Frase is an AI writer (read our Frase AI review here) and content optimization tool.
Our team finds Frase useful for the SEO content briefing process. It provides recommendations on word counts, headings, research links, images, etc., based on what the top-ranking articles for a specific keyword in Google are doing.
Want to use this sample brief to create your own SEO content brief template? Keep reading – there’s a downloadable template below.
How to write a content brief: Important tips
You now know how writers and editors use content briefs.
You also understand what information should go into these documents to position everyone for success.
Let’s bring this together with quick tips that will guide you in the actual brief creation process.
Automate the briefing process where possible
Everyone is on a mission to master search engines and climb the SERPs. This means you’re probably going up against stiff competition to rank your content online.
The best way to make headway is to use tried and tested data to inform how you create and publish content.
This is where automating the briefing process with content optimization tools is beneficial. These tools analyze the top-ranking pages for specific keywords. They then provide SEO and editorial direction for your content.
After all, the position holders in Google’s top ten must be doing something right with their content.
Let’s use Frase as an example again. Frase gives you:
- Suggested word counts
- AI-generated heading suggestions
- Topics to include in writing
- Insights into People Also Ask and Questions on Google
- Research links
- Statistics across top search results
Now imagine doing this leg work manually to uncover the same information. It would take eons.
Automate where you can -- you can bet your competitors are doing it.
Wrap your head around the article topic upfront
Pay close attention to this point if you’re involved in both the briefing and editing process.
Editing doesn’t only involve checking writers’ grammar and spelling. It’s also more than cutting out fluff and ensuring keywords appear in articles.
Instead, editing requires you to have a good understanding of the writing topic as well.
It’s not only on the writers’ shoulders to understand the subject matter; editors must also. You need to know where to suggest additional context and expand on key points.
The answer is to become an expert on what the writer will write about.
If you’re automating brief creation, you might think it’s okay to quickly read the research links before editing. That way, your topic understanding is fresh.
But performing this step so late in the content creation process can lead to you discovering you’ve given the writer incorrect information to work with.
The best thing to do is spend time upfront researching the topic while creating your content brief.
Getting to grips with the material at this point should reduce the time you spend editing written articles afterward.
Open up those top five SERP results for the specific keyword. Make a point of really absorbing the information and wrapping your head around it.
Doing it this way means you’ll be able to provide your writers with a more developed SEO content brief to work from.
Less guesswork for them means more success for everyone involved.
Don’t fall into this habit when creating briefs: My lesson for you
One of the earlier lessons I learned as an Editor and Account Manager was around the potential pitfalls of not putting enough effort into my brief development process.
Thankfully, I quickly caught on that there were better ways of doing things.
For the sake of your and your writers’ sanity, don’t take shortcuts when creating content briefs.
Creating a light-touch brief won’t get you the content you want
I hate to admit it, but I was guilty of this, especially if I was busy and juggling various work tasks. It was too easy to whip up quick briefs and input just the barebones information.
By this, I mean that I would open up my SEO content brief template, create a blog title, then paste in the keyword and a target word count. Then I would google the keyword and paste the top results into the brief without reading them.
That done, I sent the briefs to the writers and let them decide how to shape the information.
The long and short of it is I didn’t get into the nitty-gritty of the subject from the start.
The worst-case scenario can (and did) happen
Unfortunately, this approach to creating briefs backfired on me from time to time.
For one reason or another, the work I received wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
As a result, either the writer or I had to action more revisions than should have been the case.
Talk about a poor use of everyone’s time.
To be clear, these were my faux pas, not the writers’.
Truth is, we have a stellar writing team. Every person moves heaven and earth to hit deadlines, write great content, and execute revisions promptly.
As the editor and account manager, it was my job to distill information about the client’s content requirements to the writer.
And when I failed to communicate these requirements and apply myself to creating a detailed brief, this, in turn, could show up in the content drafts I received back.
All in all, the situations were frustrating and avoidable.
Understandably, no one wants to action heavy edits or rewrite content that could have been nailed at the first attempt.
It takes up precious time and costs money - two of the resources that any business tries its hardest to manage efficiently.
Paving the way forward
There is a way to eliminate the setbacks I have just touched on.
I found that creating comprehensive briefs from the get-go is a better approach for me.
The same might work for you if you want to cut to the chase.
Get in front of the subject matter and develop more prescriptive writer briefs. Every. Time.
Of course, the reality is, sourcing and hiring writers; briefing, editing, and reviewing content all require considerable expertise and energy input.
Sometimes it’s better to focus on your business and leave the content production process to the experts. In these cases, you’re better off outsourcing content writing services.
Download your free SEO content brief template
You’ve gotten this far and are ready to launch your blog writing for your business. Now to share what you’ve been waiting for - the downloadable content brief template.
Access it here.
Over to you
Hands down, the best approach to briefing writers is to spend time creating content briefs that provide meaningful direction. That way, you’re much more likely to receive solid first drafts to work on.
The best briefs ensure that every piece of content is well-written and ready to generate SEO results. They effortlessly blend content strategy with editorial guidance.
Need help with creating blog posts for your website? Follow this link to find out how our content writing services work.