Content and SEO are equally as important… But which do you start with? We asked 60+ experts to share the strategy they prioritize—and why.
Content Marketing | Jun 25
Masooma Memon on January 26, 2021 (last modified on January 25, 2021) • 12 minute read
With telepathy not being an option, a solid content brief is your best bet at communicating your expectations from a content piece to the writer who’ll work on it.
So, what should you include in your content brief to ensure it’s effective and easy to understand? We asked 20+ experts what they add to their content briefs and here’s what they shared.
Let’s get on with it.
A content brief is a document that lays out details of a content piece such as the direction it’ll take, the CTA it’ll lead to, a rough outline, and so on.
Generally, each content brief includes about 4-5 important pointers according to the majority (about 48%) of the marketers we surveyed. But this isn’t set in stone as 20% of the marketers add between 6-7 details to their content briefs. And, about 10% include over ten details.
Of these details, however, our respondents vote primary keyword as the most important part of a content brief, followed by the headline, an outline, internal links, and CTAs.
A content brief is typically no longer than 1-2 pages and you can share it with your writer using a Gdoc or by simply adding the brief’s details in the project management software that you use to collaborate with your writers.
Here’s a list of what to add to the content brief, followed by the details:
1. The content’s goal
2. Target audience
3. The target funnel stage
4. Primary keyword
5. The angle you want your writer to take
6. Recommended outline
7. Reference material and examples
8. Important dates
9. Internal links to add
10. A call to action
11. A MoSCoW matrix
“The most important piece of information for content briefs is the client’s goal for the content,” Jaime Laats from Jaime Laats Consulting LLC notes.
“What are they trying to achieve with this post or page? More followers? An increase in leads? Brand awareness? Maybe all of the above. What do they want readers to do after reading? What action should they take? This is what’s important to communicate effectively in a content brief.
Hearst Bay Area’s Shana Haynie also shares their experience on this: “The most important thing that I include in every single content assignment brief is the goal of the piece. As long as the person who is going to produce the piece understands the ultimate end result you are looking for, they will be able to figure out the rest.
When I create a content brief for a writer, I will always include a section at the top that speaks about why we are producing the piece, and what we hope it will achieve.
For instance, some articles may be targeting a specific keyword that we want to rank for. Others might be more for sales enablement purposes instead of SEO. It is important to clarify this upfront so your writer has a good starting point.”
Lots of our expert respondents suggested you don’t miss out on this detail to include in your content brief.
Starting with what Wistia’s Meisha Bochicchio says, “Specifying the persona or target audience for each piece of content is critical. This drives the entire direction for the content and clarifies whom we’re talking to and how we’re talking to them. A piece targeting an entry-level marketer feels entirely different than a piece targeting a CMO, so we always provide as much context as possible upfront to help our writers nail the execution.”
Sales hacker’s Brooklin Nash adds, “No article should try to be everything to everyone. Just like you tailor content to specific, long-tail keywords, you should also tailor it to who will benefit most.”
As a solution, Mark Lennon of Espresso B2B Marketing shares they add “a link to the persona document that this new content piece will be written for.”
Lennon explains, “Our clients are all B2B companies. They tend to have complex sales and there are often multiple personas involved in the buying process. By including a link to the persona definition, we remind our copywriters about who they are writing for and what their challenges, pain points, and hot buttons are. This helps to keep the content focused on the right things.”
Editor’s note: Struggling to identify your audience? This Google Analytics Audience Overview Dashboard gives you a top-level overview of your website users for insights on visitor location, engagement and common devices.
That is “what part of the funnel this content is for” in GrowthHackers’ Jonathan Aufray’s words. “Many companies create content for the sake of it without thinking about the readers and at what stage that reader is.
What I suggest is to brainstorm with your marketing and sales team the kind of content they need and at what stage of the journey the users, prospects, or leads are.
Then, either by putting yourself in their shoes or by creating a buyer persona, you will find the questions and problems your persona is facing during that stage of the funnel. By knowing this, you will easily create a content brief and the main pain points you need to answer.”
“From my experience, the most important thing to include in a content brief is the primary keyword,” notes Classic Blinds’ Beverly Fidler.
Why? “Because it has a cascading effect in that it directs everything else for the writer… Your primary keyword will direct the writer’s keyword research to find related keywords and phrases, it will be in headline and URL, it will determine the external and internal links that are used, and the search intent of your primary keyword will guide what kind of call-to-action to use.”
In short, “The primary keyword is the most important piece of information in a content brief because it guides the rest of the content creation process,” Fidler writes.
At Kinsta, Matteo Duò tells, “We work with an ever-growing pool of talented writers on a day-to-day basis. The content brief I create for them is our shared tool for keeping both parties always on the same page.
On top of all things you already expect to find in a content brief, you should always make sure to add the angle from which the piece of content should be developed from.
Everyone can talk about a single topic, but it’s your approach to that topic that differentiates you from your competitors.”
“We struggled in the past with misaligned expectations,” admits Convert’s Trina Moitra. “What’s obvious to the SEO team in terms of hitting the nail with being comprehensive, may not be obvious to the writer.”
However, the team learned that an SEO outline is a great addition to any content brief. “The MOST important thing to include in a content brief has to be the outline. A clean breakdown of (H2) and (H3) [and] A list of long-tails as the [H3]s has helped our work.
The writer is free to inject their personality and add to the brief. But the basics are always given to them through the content brief.”
It’s as Tony Mastri of MARION Integrated Marketing puts it, “Briefing a writer with a winning high-level outline will allow them to draft a well-written, fluid, and high-performing article without leaning heavily on awkward keyword inclusion.”
Nathaniel Rodriguez of LIFTOFF Digital comments, “the most important thing I include in my content briefs is 2-3 examples of similar articles,”
This not only gives the writer clarity as to what type of article I am looking for but it aligns both of us to what the end result will look like.”
Referral Rock’s Katrina Dalao also adds another pointer to add to the content brief: “Reference articles.” Explaining them, Dalao writes, “This could be a post you’ve published that has the format you want or a top-ranking article that serves as a guide for the writer. While keywords and technical info are useful, it’s always good to have an example that shows what you’re looking for.”
Marissa Smith of The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine observes, “It seems obvious – but dates!
Without critical dates included in the content brief, the content creator will feel rushed, or the manager will feel like they’re waiting around for content. I recommend including four dates:
Editor’s note: If you use Asana to collaborate with writers, you’ll find this free Asana (Team overview) dashboard helpful as it gives you a complete picture of tasks due, tasks in progress, completed tasks, and much more.
“For a content brief, especially one created for a new writer or freelancer, you should always include internal resources to link to,” suggests Jakub Rudnik of Shortlister.
“When content planning, you should already be thinking of how to organize your content into clusters and what the conversion goal of each piece should be. These internal links should be pretty natural after that work is done.
Systematically building an internal linking structure is so important because it has been repeatedly proven to help your content get crawled by Google, and it helps improve search rankings, both to the new content and the content it links to. Internal links are not as powerful as external links, but you control which pages you link to, the anchor text, and the frequency of the pages you link to. Done correctly, it can be quite valuable, and it starts with the content brief.”
Storm McManus from Storm Marketing Consultancy opines, “The call to action is critical and needs to be included in every content assignment brief. This is because it links to a wider content strategy, which may not be available to your content writer.
When you know the action that you want your reader to take (because you’ve ideally mapped this out in your strategy), your content writer can take them on a journey from the start of the piece right to the end.
With no CTA provided in the content brief, how can the content writer be expected to take your reader on a journey to engage with your business in some way?”
Genbook’s Taru Bhargava adds to this: “While most content marketers focus a great deal on providing detailed information around keywords, internal links, external links, and other key aspects, very often content briefs lack relevant information around CTAs especially in-line CTAs—a link within your blog post that provides more information on a given topic.
If your company is constantly rolling out gated resources, it’s important they are referenced in the body of the article as much and whenever possible. You shouldn’t just stop yourself with an image that stands out at the end of your blog post! That’s a wasted opportunity.”
This one’s a hat tip to Kinga Edwards of Brainy Bees who explains:
“I always add a small MoSCoW matrix to my content brief:
Works wonders – even if it wasn’t supposed to be a part of the content matrix, I reckon.”
We aren’t done yet! Here are three tips for perfecting your content briefs.
“There are some obvious things to include in a content brief,” Omniscient Digital’s Alex Birkett points out. “For example, if you’re attempting to rank in search, then having the focus keyword is crucial.
However, an underrated component is a section to describe ‘why does this article need to be written,’ and to follow up, ‘how will this article be different than those that already rank?’”
“Unless you’re writing for an incredibly authoritative website, those questions are going to be key in standing out from the crowd and getting attention (which will help it outrank the existing competition). It also forces the writer to consider those questions before beginning the article itself, which results in a better piece of content,” Birkett continues
“Be very clear about your brand voice and how your audience should be spoken to,” advises Darren Litt from Hiya Health.
“Writers are skilled at tailoring the copy for different purposes and audiences. The more detail you can provide, the better you enable them to create content that supports your brand in the long run.”
Voices’ David Ciccarelli echoes the same: “While you may want to avoid being too prescriptive, providing direction at the outset of the content brief. To do so, describe a tone of voice that matches the nature of the article.
For instance, a couple of common examples are; step-by-step tutorials in a teacher-like manner or thought leadership interviews in a casual friendly, and inquisitive manner.
This informs the writer of the style and format in a succinct manner resulting in the outcome you originally envisioned.”
Short on time? Make sure you share your brand voice guidelines and the style guide with the writer.
Energy Drink Hub’s Jenny Jacobs highlights, “Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and the like, now it’s about creating the most helpful resource that you can that addresses all of the readers’ questions in a concise and helpful manner.
As such, I tell my content creators to understand the intent and semantics of the target keyword and go from there. Everything else should be rooted in the goal of trying to help the user to get as much information as possible about a particular keyword.”
The target audience, the funnel stage the piece is intended for, the goal, angle, call to action as well as the recommended outline – you have the list of what to add to the content brief now.
Don’t forget to add links to examples, any reference material, and your brand and style guides for creating the perfect content brief that keeps you aligned with your writers.
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