Whether you work with in-house content strategists, content agencies like Omniscient Digital, or freelance writers, most of your job likely involves communicating content ideas to those who can bring them to life.
Surely there are a number of ways to do this, right? Hold a Zoom meeting! Email over your entire content strategy! Heck, just record your stream-of-consciousness thoughts!
Wrong, wrong, and (very) wrong.
If you’ve ever reviewed a piece of content from another writer and thought, “It would’ve been easier if I did this myself,” you need a content brief.
What is a content brief, and why is it important?
A content brief is a document that outlines instructions for how and why to create a piece of content—a blog post, landing page, e-book, or any other content-based project. In this post, I’m going to unpack the SEO content brief and how to leverage it for blog-based content.
An SEO content brief is a bit different from a general content brief in that it details instructions for targeting a specific keyword with the goal of driving organic traffic.
When I was a freelance writer, I didn’t use content briefs, nor was I provided any from my clients. Looking back, briefs would’ve solved 99% of my frustrations with freelancing, but what’s done is done.
By the way, if you’re a freelance writer, we’d love to partner with you. Sign up to become a writer for Omniscient.
Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I understand the importance of providing writers with strategic guardrails that don’t eliminate space to exercise creative and editorial judgement.
It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s possible with a content brief.
Content briefs equip writers to do their best work. They can transform your writing operations process for the better, especially when creating content to rank and convert.
Content briefs are especially important for the work we do with clients, given that our writers don’t always have a direct line. It’s my job as Head of Content to understand what our client wants, digest and translate it, and confirm our writer has everything they need.
“To me, content briefs are like how Neo, from The Matrix movie, downloads information and instantly learns a skill and gains knowledge. I may not have a zero gauge needle probing my brain to gain this knowledge, but content briefs are the next best thing. I appreciate receiving them, and I recommend them whole-heartedly.”Antonio Banda, freelance writer
Content briefs also help writers understand where they can say no. Depending on the goal of a piece, who it’s targeting, and what story you want it to tell, the lack of an SEO content brief can make an article seem like an open-ended deliverable.
How does the writer know when to stop? At what point do they know it’s what you’re looking for?
A content brief can help them answer these questions. (This especially applies to freelance writers who don’t have a direct line to your broader marketing strategy and likely want to avoid too many rounds of edits.)
Content briefs lay out expectations from the get-go. I find they help reduce the time-consuming back-and-forth of trying to nail down details after an outline or draft has been written. They basically make it a much smoother process for both sides!Lizzie Davey, freelance writer
Lastly, content briefs are wonderful additions to your content marketing operation. They aggregate everything you need for each content deliverable so it’s in one place when it’s time to upload and publish. Below, you’ll see some of the administrative benefits of content briefs.
What if you don’t use a content brief?
I’ve spoken to a number of content managers and strategists who have mentioned that content briefs seem like an unnecessary step in the process. While it does require extra time to prepare briefs for your writers, it can significantly decrease the post-production back-and-forth.
A well-written content brief has the potential to eliminate multiple rounds of edits, large swaths of feedback, or returning a piece for a full rewrite. It also answers important questions that your writer will likely ask as they write, which saves time for both parties.
I’ve also heard it said that content briefs are the same as outlines. You need both. Outlines dig deeper into important research points, headers, specific arcs, and calls to action. While some of these might be reflected in a content brief, an outline is what pulls them together and builds the foundation for a piece of content.
Lastly, I’ve received pushback from managers who don’t want content briefs to limit their content projects. I understand this, but it’s equally important to note that content briefs are living documents. In fact, Omniscient has had six different versions of content briefs; I’ve updated and improved each one based on feedback from writers and new ideas I’ve had about our production process
I look back at our first one and laugh at how much I didn’t realize was missing. Now, our content brief fills an average length of two pages.
SEO content briefs should always be subject to feedback from those who are using them. Every time I work with a new writer, I make sure to chat about their creative and strategic needs, how I can make their lives easier, and how I can create briefs that help them jump right into what they love and do best—writing.
How to Create a Content Brief
What should you include in your SEO content brief? Let’s discuss how to craft one that satisfies both your content strategy and your writers.
As you’ll see in our content brief template, I like to structure my briefs with a table. My writers have shared that this format helps them visually separate the assignment information from the body content.
While formatting shouldn’t be something you spend significant time on, it’s important to consider how you communicate your strategic and creative ideas (as we discussed in the introduction). This is especially true for those who aren’t privy to your brainstorm sessions.
Let’s walk through each section of the brief.
1. Assigning the Basics
This section is as administrative as it is informative. Content briefs should aid your entire content operations—from assigning work to equipping your writer to publishing their final draft.
- Writer: Who’s writing this piece? If you have a large team and/or work with freelance writers, this helps you keep each assignment organized.
- Deadline: When is the first draft due? Communicate this date early and often so your writer knows when they should be finished.
- Target keyword: What’s the target query for the article? In an SEO content brief, you should include one target keyword to set the stage and provide context for the remainder of the brief.
- URL slug: What’s the URL path for this piece? Your writer probably won’t care about this, but it helps streamline the process of uploading the article directly to your CMS.
- Post objective: What should the reader know and have learned after reading the article?
2. Turning Content Into Marketing
This section transforms a simple content assignment into a living content marketing asset. It also helps your writer know how to wield their writing to encourage a certain behavior or action from your reader.
- Target audience: Who are you writing for, what do they already know, and what are a few key pain points the article needs to address? Align this information with your buyer personas if possible (which is information your writer should already have).
- Search motivation and intent: What is the motivation of the person searching for the keyword and reading the piece? In what part of your funnel do they fall? Here, I apply one of three content lanes: educational (to educate), thought leadership (to inspire and create buzz), and product-led (to convert). Sometimes, I also designate intent—which may or may not align with the chosen motivation: low (problem-aware), medium (solution-aware), and high (solution-ready).
- Specific points to cover: How can your product or service solve these pain points, and what are a few relevant features and benefits to frame the solution? This section depends on your search motivation and intent. For example, if you’re writing for a low intent query, I would leave this section blank and instruct your writer to focus more on the educational and inspirational aspects of the content. Regardless of how familiar your writers are with your business and products, calling out this section helps them jump right in instead of spending time browsing your site for relevant takeaways (or shoving some in after-the-fact).
3. Structuring the Content
This section unpacks the sections of the content assignment. It resembles the outline—although it shouldn’t replace it.
- Topic/title: What’s the title of your piece? Sometimes, I’ll add a vague topic here and let my writer brainstorm the titles. Other times, I’ll assign a specific title based on my preliminary research, although I always encourage my writers to contribute their own title ideas (as you’ll see below).
- Suggested H2s: Are there any headers or long-tail keywords to include in the article? I often locate certain long-tail keywords in my SEO research that can help the blog post rank. However, I tell my writers that this shouldn’t replace their own research or their sense of editorial judgment. “Rankability” shouldn’t take priority over readability.
- Snippet opportunities: When you search for your target keyword, do any featured snippets pop up on the SERP? If so, you should note that here. It may influence how your writer formats their information. For example, if your query returns a snippet list, your writer should include a list in their article to help your article rank for that snippet.
- Link to these products/offers: Is the blog post part of a larger strategy or being written to promote a certain product or offer? If so, include a link to the product or landing page so your writer knows to work it in as a call-to-action.
- Link to these blog posts: Is the blog post part of a larger cluster of content on your blog? If so, include relevant blog posts to which your writer can link. Internal linking for the win!
- Content to beat: What’s performing well on the SERPs for your query? Give your writer a taste of what content you admire and would like to emulate and beat. This also gives them a jumpstart on any external research they may need to do. To avoid copycat content, encourage your writers to incorporate any unique POV, data, experts, and graphics and to use this section as inspiration.
4. Ensuring SEO Consistency
Your SEO content brief should be a one-stop-shop for each content assignment. I like to include some extra reminders and information so that when writers open their brief, they have everything they need (sans research) to do their best work.
To avoid any retroactive editing, I include a brief SEO checklist in my SEO content brief. This includes reminders like:
- Titles should be between 50-60 characters.
- Meta descriptions should be between 150-160 characters.
- Format your title as an H1, any subtopics as H2s, H3s, etc.
Writers have varying degrees of SEO writing expertise, so customize this checklist based on their needs.
5. Capturing Promotion During Content Production
My years of being a writer have taught me that, once I’m in the “bubble” of a topic, it’s much easier to explain and promote it. Sure, I can always reread finished posts and write social promotion copy, but in an effort to streamline some of our projects, I’ve started to have our writers write distribution copy while creating the post.
At this time, I’ve included two networks as these have worked best for Omniscient thus far.
- Quora: I locate 3 questions relevant to the blog post and include them in the brief with space for the writer to answer them.
- Twitter: I ask the writer to write 3-4 Tweets or 1 Twitter thread that summarizes or “tees up” the blog post.
Omniscient is also active on LinkedIn, although we tend to repurpose either the Quora answers or Twitter threads to post on LinkedIn.
I organize the social promotion copy in this way to minimize work for our writers. Ideally, they can simply copy and paste and tweek the answers to fit each respective channel. This prevents either me or the writer from having to return to the topic to write social copy down the road.
Note: This works well for our small, agile team as we don’t have a person dedicated to social media. If your company has a separate social media function, I encourage you to collaborate with them to determine how to get some social promotion for your content. Some teams may appreciate pre-written promo; some may prefer to write it themselves.
6. Writing the Content
Finally, I include a few prompts for the title, meta description, and body of the blog post.
- Title options: I include a space for five title suggestions, one being the title or topic that I brainstormed. The title and angle can change as your writers write, so give them space to suggest a few other titles.
- Meta description: If there’s one piece of the content production process that gets overlooked more than any other, it’s the meta description—yet this is often the first thing that organic searchers see when deciding whether to click on your site. For this reason, I have my writers write this alongside the content because they know the best angle and argument to entice organic traffic to land on your blog.
- Body: Instruct your writers to write within the content brief (or at least paste their draft in there) to keep things consistent and organized on your end.
Over to You
It’s hard to communicate creative ideas, especially when they involve so many components and measures of success. Content briefs solve this issue and help your writers elevate the content beyond what only you can conceive.
According to one of our writers, Kayla Voigt, “Successful content marketing comes down to three main elements: action, story, and keywords. The best briefs help me understand the overall goal of the piece (the action), why readers should care and what’s important (the story), and the right language to use for SEO (keywords). That way I can deliver exactly what the client needs the first time, and create something I’m proud of in the process.”
Download our content brief template, and work with your team of writers and editors to figure out what fields work best for your goals. The beauty of content briefs is that they’re fully customizable—all you need to do is get started.