Content Brief
February 26th 2020

5 Elements of a Highly Successful Content Brief

I believe it was Shakespeare who said, “What in a good brief? A brief by any other name would be an outline.” Perhaps my modern interpretation of Shakespeare doesn’t translate well for the SEO and content inclined people of today, but you know what does?

An excellent content brief!

Crafting a quality blog post, or any content project is infinitely easier when there’s a brief to guide you.

But what makes for a highly successful content brief? Sorry to say it isn’t Shakespeare, but it definitely involves some key elements.

1. User Intent

One of the first things I learned when it came to using a content brief was how everything revolves around the target audience. Chances are that you already have well-developed buyer personas. Nows the time to use them.

It starts with understanding the reason why people search for the topic for which you are writing. The questions within the brief should help guide writers toward creating content that answers the search intent of your target audience. If you aren’t able to instill user intent into the brief, your writer will be hard-pressed to create content that aligns with it.

On that note, it does not hurt to add an area in your brief that specifically addresses the user intent. You’ll save the writer time on gleaning out user intent by doing so and it reduces the likelihood that the content created won’t match what the audience desires.

As many a company outsources their content creation to independent contractors, it is vital to communicate in detail the who, what, why, how, where, and when to their writers.

2. Focus Topics

Focus topics are the newer and better keywords. Where one used to create briefs around broad topics like, “Marketing” or “Content Optimization”, nowadays, you want to be choosing focus topics that center on what we talked about above–user intent.

Google cares about the topics you focus on and the content you create around them. If you want to be the authority on “marketing”, you’ll need to learn how to target the focus topics around it i.e. “how to market”, “what are marketing strategies”…etc.

When giving writers briefs, make sure you are including both the main focus topic as well as related topics. You want your writers to include the focus topic and good supporting related topics in their content.

Google will recognize your authority when you write continuously about a subject with in-depth material. Think of topical authority with focus topics like a family tree. You start off with two main people (pillar focus topics) at the beginning, and from there, people (topics) branch out, but they are all still related to where it all began.

3. It’s All in the detail

Detail matters. Be specific with your brief. Make it clear what you want the article to be about.  What’s your idea of how someone reading the article will progress in their journey? Do you have research, infographics, or other articles that will help your writer better understand how you envision the content?

The more you can give your writer to see the vision of the content you have in mind, the better. What’s in the brief matters as much as what goes along with it. You can add comments about why you want to see certain subheadings or titles.

If you want something done a certain way, make sure you put it in that brief.

On another note, if you spend a lot of time customizing every single brief, consider a brief template. One of the goals of using a content brief is to speed up production. If you can spend a lot of time creating a brief, you may as well be writing the article, and that isn’t the point.

4. Linking

It should go without saying if you are writing an article, you need to have links. It’s not just about the great content you create, but how you connect it too.

Make sure to include some excellent external links and internal links in your brief. It will help your writer continue to follow along with the subject material too when they see the content in those links.

Search engines place a high value on links and this can be an easy on-page SEO win. Just make sure you don’t link out to direct competitors in the SERP for your focus topic. A good SEO content brief should always include appropriate links.One of the objectives of linking is to create tightly themed topic clusters. If you’re not taking advantage of MarketMuse Content Briefs and need to manually source internal links, read Kevin Indig’s post on internal link optimization.

5. Questions and Word Count

There are times when I’ve been assigned to write an article about subjects I’m not really familiar with. The easiest time I had in writing those articles was when I received a brief that provided some of the top questions users would have about the article’s focus topic.

It helped me see the path to writing the article. Questions can range from something as simple as, “How do you make hamburgers” to “how did the hamburger come to America” depending on how you envision the article to look.

Sometimes, those articles also came with a word count limit whether for budget or just space reasons, and my briefs would only contain a few words for guidance.

It’s okay to have articles and briefs that aren’t meant to be long. This isn’t a wrong strategy, but you should consider that Google does put weight into well-informed, comprehensive content.

If you haven’t established your authority over a topic, and your competition is writing lengthy, quality pieces of content around you, you’ll need to step it up. As a content creator with experience in writing 500-word columns, I can tell you there isn’t a lot you can do in 500 words when you’re trying to explain a subject like engineering.

Here’s an extra tip:

6. Don’t Lose Your Creativity

Although technically not a key element, it nevertheless should be part of your goal. Remind your writers that using a content brief doesn’t mean they can’t be creative. This is a common mistake many a content marketing team forgets to tell their writers.

Writers want to deliver great content that hits the mark with everything in the brief, but they don’t always understand that means the content brief can also be a creative brief.

Good content has to be creative. It needs a voice. A content brief is an outline, a guide, for your writers. It shouldn’t impede creativity.

Giving writers clear direction with sufficient guidance is the recipe for content success. These five elements of a highly successful content brief will help your team create consistently better content faster; the type that resonates well with your audience and search engines.

Loren Bornstein

Written by Loren Bornstein lorenbornstein