Warning: may cause an increase in writer efficiency and quality of work.
Your site needs quality articles. And you want a quality writer to write ‘em.
You don’t, however, want to spend endless eyeball-glazing hours editing said articles.
Enter the content brief.
Assembled correctly, the content brief will provide clarity and direction for the writer. Not to mention better articles and working relationships.
Let’s get cooking.
The What’s and Why’s of the Content Brief
What is a content brief, you ask?
For content marketers, project managers, or anyone in charge of assigning articles, it’s a game-changer.
It’s a document that includes all the elements you want to see in an article. This is given to the writer, whose job becomes immediately easier.
You see, the brief eliminates the need for mind-reading and creative interpretation often associated with writing an article based on broad topics and vague directions.
Instead, a well-developed brief will:
- Guide the writer and ensure they hit all the topics and page elements expected in the final draft
- Make it harder for the writer to under-deliver, as you’ve given them very direct and concrete goals
- Make the editing process 3 thousand times easier*
- Ensure each article is keyword optimized and linked appropriately
- Increase the likelihood that your article will thoroughly cover a subject and therefore, be more appealing to search engines
*based on personal experience, not hard facts.
Content Brief Recipe
- Your favorite web browser
- A good keyword research tool (for the purpose of this article, I’ve decided to call these Keyword-Aids. Like KitchenAid – get it?)
- 1 Primary Keyword
- 1-3 Secondary Keywords
- 5+ Semantic Keywords
- 1 word count range
- Internal links to related content, amount will vary depending on content length
- External links to related content, amount will vary depending on content length
Open up at least 4 tabs in your browser. Or, if you’re like me, open 47 and spread the 4 you need as far apart as possible.
In a Google Doc or word processor of your choice, enter in as follows:
- Suggested Word Count
- Primary Keyword
- Secondary Keywords
- Semantic Keywords
- Internal Links
- External Links
- Optional: Tone
*I like these in bold, but all stylistic flourishes may be used at your own discretion.
Before you assemble your content brief, research the subject to ensure proper keyword targeting and article formatting.
Fire up your favorite KeywordAid. I prefer SEMRush, though there are several free and paid tools to help you.
Select a primary and secondary keyword for the topic you’ve chosen.
Next, plug those keywords into Google search.
Click through the top results to see what kind of format is ranking for that keyword: listicles? How-tos? Ultimate guides? You’ll want to imitate the format that performs best.
As you skim through the articles, you should also begin assembling a rough outline as you uncover common patterns and themes.
Steps for Building Your Content Brief
Step 1: Title
Add your primary keyword and connect to a major benefit, descriptor, or search intent to create your title.
Take in point, this title: How to Write a Content Brief (keyword): The Complete Recipe for Killer Content (benefit/descriptor)
Try to come up with as many of these as possible. 10-15 minimum. Then, choose the one that’s clear enough to express the topic and catchy enough to get clicked on.
Note: these may be adjusted later.
Step 2: Suggested Word Count
Rule of thumb? Use enough words to clearly explain a topic. Any more puts your article at risk of fluff.
With time, you’ll be able to eyeball the word count based on the articles you researched in the prep stage. Until then, I like to call on SEMRush.
With the paid plan, you’ll get access to the Content Marketing Dashboard. Use the SEO Template to help you decide how many words to include in the mix.
Don’t have SEMRush? Sign up for a free MarketMuse account to use a limited amount of its tools – one of which will tell you suggested word count.
Step 3: Primary and Secondary Keywords
Assembled in prep work.
A word of caution here: go for intent over keyword volume.
Don’t choose a high-volume keyword for the sake of volume. Intent is more critical than ever, and you should ensure that any keywords you choose mirror the intent of the searcher.
For an exact breakdown of how to find the right keywords for your content, check out our guide to SEO keywords here.
Step 4: Semantic Keywords
Identify and include semantic keywords in your content brief to create SEO juice.
Semantic keywords are themes related to your topic. While “kitchen essentials” may be your primary keyword, “cast iron,” “chefs knife,” and “dutch oven” are all semantically related keywords that help search engines read and recommend content to fellow searchers.
To find these keywords, you’ll once again need to use your Keyword-Aid. If using SEMRush, consult the SEO Template for suggested semantic keywords.
You can also do this with some old-fashioned elbow grease. While researching related articles, take note of common themes and subtopics. If the majority of articles on content repurposing mention white papers and social media, that’s a good place to start.
Instruct the writer to add a generous sprinkle of these to your copy; use at least 1x each.
Step 5: Audience
Your audience is your baking sheet, if you will.
But wait. You might need a casserole dish. Or a muffin tin. Or perhaps even a bundt pan.
The way you shape an article will depend on the audience you’re trying to reach.
First, decide how educated they are on your topic – is it for total beginners? Do they have some exposure to the topic? Are they already pros?
Their level of awareness of a topic will tell you the kind of information to include. For example, you may need to define acronyms or include more detailed background information on a topic if it’s geared towards a beginner audience.
Step 6: Internal Links
Search your existing blog or article base for topics related to the one you’re currently assigning. Instruct the writer to include internal links to those pages.
Equally important: make sure they include appropriate anchor text. The link text should describe the page you’re linking to. So don’t link how to write a blog post to your content pricing page. It’s misleading and could cause readers to distrust you.
Step 7: External Links
Along with your internal links, you’ll want to sprinkle in a generous portion of external links.
Caution: these should only point to high-quality sites.
Including a lower quality link is the equivalent of using Log Cabin instead 100% Vermont Maple syrup. Or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter instead of, you know, actual butter.
If it’s not a site you want to be associated with, don’t link to it.
Do instruct the writer link to sites and studies that support your arguments or that you cite in your article, and include them in your content brief.
Step 8: Competitors
Depending on your business, you may have a list of competitors you don’t want to reference or link to in your article. Be sure to include these in your brief.
In some cases, you may include an article from your competitor as a strong resource. Meaning, the writer should read and familiarize themselves with the content, but be sure not to include any direct quotes, thoughts, or opinions taken from the article.
Pro tip: your competitors can be a goldmine of untapped keywords. Here’s how to steal their keywords in under 2 minutes.
Step 9: Outline
Outline the H2s (or subtopics) the writer will need to include in the final product.
You should already have a rough outline in mind from your research. If an article is already ranking in Google, it’s a good sign that it includes the content that Google – and searchers – want to see about the subject. So, you’ll want to hit on those topics in your article as well.
But you’ll also need to take it a step further.
What’s missing from the top articles? Is there an area you have expertise in that you can expand on? Are they missing something key entirely? Can you break down a subtopic into more digestible pieces for an audience?
Always look for ways to improve on what’s already available. That, my friend, is how you 10x content and give yourself the best possible chance to knock those pages off the top of the SERPs.
You’ve Created a Content Brief! Now What?
Cue the sigh of relief – for now, the hard part’s over.
It’s in the writer’s hands, and you can rest knowing you gave them all the ingredients they need to cook up something truly exceptional.