Content is the heart of the inbound marketing strategy. Good content will propel your website to the top of the Google search results page (SERP). However, bad content will penalize your site’s SEO. Content briefs can be used to guide the content writing process. In fact, every article you publish should be based on a complete content brief.
What is a content brief?
A content brief is a document that establishes everything you want out of an article and all of the resources you are committing to the article.
While the content map is the plan for the overall content strategy, the content brief is the single article plan. Writing all of the content briefs for an entire content cluster is a good way of understanding how the articles will support each other.
What should be in a content brief?
The content brief should include all of the resources you are putting into the article and all of the expectations you have for the article.
Here, the resources include the money and research you are putting into the article. Next, the expectations can be as simple as “1500 words on the keyword” or as complex as needed to meet your inbound marketing goals.
The following is a list of everything you should include in a complete content brief:
- Article title: There are a lot of things that go into an SEO title. Creating the title should be left to the content strategist/content manager.
- Article length: The article length should be listed clearly. It can be a minimum such as “1500 words” or a range if there is also a maximum desired length, such as “1500–1800 words.”
- Keyword: In addition to the keyword or keyphrase, it is worth providing several common variations so the writer doesn’t feel the need to use ungrammatical writing to fit the keyword into many places.
- Pay: It’s important to include the per article or per word rate, as well as any additional payments for extra services (for example, obtaining royalty-free images). It’s also important to look at the pay vs. the expectations to make sure they are aligned.
- High-quality articles on the topic: Not every content writer has access to Ahrefs or SEMrush or uses a VPN. You should assume that they will not be able to find the right articles for research. In general, you’ll need about four high-quality articles per 1000 words to have enough research, reduce the risk of plagiarism, and make sure that you are hitting all of the important subsections to rank on the first page of Google.
- Ideal article: If you have a specific look in mind, such as a high-ranking article on your site, the competition’s best article on the keyword, or just an article written by an author you like, you should include it so the content writer has something to aim at.
- Subsection/H2 titles: A full outline of the article including all H2 and even H3 titles is a good way to make sure all the topics important to your customers are covered. As part of this outline, you can even provide approximate word counts for each subsection.
- The target audience: If you target multiple different buyer personas, you should list which one is the focus.
- Preferred writing style: This is everything from using single or plural personal pronouns to whether it should be serious or with humor.
- Interlinking articles: This can be something as simple as “please link to at least three other articles on our blog” or a list of specific blogs to link to. Keep in mind that writers are not going to look at your entire site map to find articles, so more specific is better.
- Outside sites to link to: Outbound links can be good for SEO. If you have specific friendly sites you like to link to, then this is a good place to look.
- Do not link list: If you have a rule against linking to specific competitors, then you should list them.
- Target action: Some articles are there to build up the domain authority of your site. Others have a specific goal in mind, such as “convert to free trial” or “convert to demo.” Whatever the goal is, you should list it. (Check out my blog goal primer for more information.)
- Calls to action (CTAs): Calls to action are actually copy not content. While content writers often write copy and copywriters often write content, they are not the same. Copy is harder, and it is a more specialized skill. Especially if you are working with new writers, you should provide both the CTAs and where they should be placed in the outline.
Why do you need a content brief?
The content brief is designed to guide the content writer. Skilled content writers will produce great content even without a content brief, but it won’t be the content you want.
In my career, I have had more than one content brief that looked as follows:
Keyword: The keyword
Article: At your discretion
I appreciate the great trust such content managers have had in me. I’ve enjoyed the chance to write where the topic took me. However, I would never recommend doing this, even with content writers you trust.
What happens without a content brief?
Without a content brief, you are at the mercy of the content writer. A good content brief can elevate a mediocre writer by putting in place guardrails. You are telling them exactly how to write and what to write, which will lift them above their skill level. It will also help make sure that your article fits into your overall blog content strategy.
Even if you are dealing with a great content writer and one who has been with you a long time, no content brief means no control over what article you get back. Your desire might be an article focused on B2B but the writer has instead written about B2C.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen when hired as a copyeditor is a content writer who thought the keyword was an investment term and not a finance one. But even subtler issues make the article slightly less targeted towards your buyer persona.
Who should make content briefs?
In a large department, creating the content brief can be left to the content strategist. If the content department only has a content manager, then it is their job. In a company without a separate content marketing department, then the content strategist under the marketing manager is given the task of drafting content briefs.
Do you need a content brief if you are also writing the article?
Even if you are planning to write the article yourself, a content brief can be a huge help. On the one hand, it can help you plan the research process to make sure you hit all the key points you need to compete on Google. On the other hand, it can help you organize your writing, which makes writing faster and improves your writing.
Before you commit to writing the article, preparing the content brief can be a key step in vetting the keyword. Indeed, even if your tools and competitor research indicate a keyword is worth exploring with an article, it might not be the case. During the content brief creation, you might find there isn’t enough information available to write a whole article or the search intent doesn’t line up with your buyer personas.
It might just be the case that you find a better long-tail version of the keyword to target. In this case, the content brief is a good place to pivot the focus of the article before you need to scrap a lot of prose.
Content brief examples
Here’s a copy of a content brief that I have received (with all the private information removed).
Title: Article Title
Length: Desired article length
Rate: Pay rate
Business goal: Article goal
Audience: Targeted buyer persona
Style: Desired writing style
Additional background information: Links to current competing articles
Ideal look: Link to an article on a competitor site to mimic.
Keyword: Article keyword
Keyword density: Number of times keyword should be used and where
Outline: All of the H2 headings
Other requirements: Interlinking, etc. requests
Content brief template
Here’s a basic content brief template. It allows you to add in all of the pertinent information. It works best in combination with my content map templates. I also have specific content templates available. For example, here is my success story template for all your case studies and/or testimonials.
Be sure to use the outline side as well! In addition, you can easily add more lines or stretch out the cells as needed. If you have interest in templates like these or have ideas for sections to add, please reach out to me on LinkedIn
Good content briefs guarantee good content
A good B2B SaaS content writer will produce a good article with just a keyword. However, they won’t be able to produce the exact content you want. For that, you need a full content brief. I encourage you to use the content brief template provided or develop your own!