To create the kind of content your audience will respond to takes research and analysis. You’ve scrutinized your current content offering and found the gaps.
You’ve combed over topics covered by your competitors and trending topics on social media related to your brand. You’ve done your keyword research and you’ve come up with a solid content strategy.
Now it’s time to kick your content creation into gear.
You’ve determined the kind of content you need for your blog, for example. You know exactly how you want it written to create an in-depth, thoughtful and optimized library. But unless you’re writing the pieces yourself, you have to figure out how to get those ideas out of your head and clearly communicated to your writing staff.
Whether they are in-house or freelance, the best way to do that is with a writing brief.
Start With a Great Content Brief
Gone are the days of shooting off a general topic with a few keywords to a writer and hoping you’ll get back exactly what you want. Instead, put everything the writer needs to deliver great content into one document.
A great content brief is an essential part of your content creation process for three reasons:
1. It takes the guesswork out of writing: As a former managing editor, I admit that I’m guilty of throwing out generic topic ideas and keywords without much explanation. And almost always I got back a blog post that wasn’t exactly what I expected.
As a writer, I love it when a client gives me a content brief. I know exactly what they want and how to write it. No hassles.
Giving your writers detailed topic explanations, word counts, title suggestions, subheads (h2s), keywords and brief explanations of what each section should cover ensures you get an on-topic, on-brand piece aimed directly at your target audience.
It helps writers streamline their work, too, which means deadlines are less likely to be missed.
2. It saves you and your editor time: Since your writer knows exactly what they should be writing, you’re less likely to have to send anything back for revisions — or revise it yourself.
3. It ensures your writer delivers a fully optimized piece of content: This is probably the most important reason to write a good content brief. Through the brief, you can let the writer know which keywords, titles and subheadings, and internal links to related content to include. Give them a list of questions to answer in each section to ensure optimal topic coverage. You can even suggest external links to reliable sources to boost the piece’s credibility with search engines.
Everything the writer needs to make each piece the juiciest it can possibly be will be right there for them to pick up and run with.
What Should Be in Your Content Brief?
So you’re convinced, and you’re going to start writing content briefs for your creative team. Great!
But what goes into a content brief?
I talked about a few elements above, but let’s go over in detail what you should include. I’ll use an example from MarketMuse to help me illustrate. This one is for a detailed biography of professional golfer Jim Furyk.
Suggested Title and Subheads
In journalism school, you learn to create your headline before you even start writing the rest of your piece. That’s because the headline (or title) will set the tone and direction of what you write.
Include at least one suggested title with keywords. Make sure it captures the essence of what you’re trying to write. Notice in the Jim Furyk example, there are three suggested titles and all of them let the reader know that this will be an in-depth biography about him.
Do the same for each subhead you would like to see in the piece. Including subheads will serve two purposes. First, it will help the writer understand how the piece should be structured. Second, it will help you plan out the most optimized sub-headers for the article.
And don’t forget, Google is looking at both titles and h2s for ranking.
I made summaries plural because you’ll be writing more than one. First, write a summary of the entire article. Include tone, voice and any instructions you have for the writer. For instance, I’ll often get briefs that include comments like “feel free to break this up into different sections,” or “see if you can come up with a better subhead using the keyword.”
Do the same for each subhead. Write a description of what each one should cover, specifically.
MarketMuse analyzes content to ensure you’re including all relevant topics before, and even after, you write a piece. Include those topics in each subhead and at the beginning of the piece to help writers stay on track.
Note that the Jim Furyk brief includes subtopics at the beginning (tour championship, BMW championship), as well as topics to mention and their relevance for each subhead (FedEx Cup, golf, Presidents Cup).
Questions to Answer
The questions in the brief go hand-in-hand with your suggested topics. They help the writer address specific pain points or queries you are trying to answer for your audience. Answering these questions is a great way to ensure your article matches user intent.
Notice under “Jim Furyk – Nike Tour Career” the brief includes questions like “How much is Jim Furyk worth?” and “Will Tiger Woods win again?”.
These are questions your audience is searching for, but the writer may not have thought to include by simply reading the subhead or suggested topics.
Suggested Word Count
A word count for the entire piece and each section will help the writer plan out their work. The number of words you expect will signal how in-depth they should go and how long they should spend on research and outlining.
Keywords and Topics
Like I mentioned above, you’re going to include your most important related topics in your title and subheads. Those keywords should show up at least a few times in your text, in the natural course of discussing your topic.
But look back at the Jim Furyk brief. You’ll see a whole list of secondary topics to address within your page. Include those secondary related topics to ensure complete content coverage.
You’ll also notice, in this case, MarketMuse has included a relevance bar to help the writer understand which topics absolutely should be included and which are more nice-to-haves.
Rather than have your writer hunt for relevant links on your site (only to use links that in fact lack relevancy), include a list of related links (and appropriate anchor text) for each section of the article. All your writer has to do now is link them to keywords in the text.
Finally, include any external links to statistics, research or other sources that might help your reader flesh out the piece. Doing so will save your writer time researching and ensure you include quality sources that are non-competitive in the search results pages.
Start Using Content Briefs
A content brief may seem like a lot of upfront work for you or your creative team, but it really does pay off in the end. It saves you time and ensures that each piece you create is optimized, on-brand and completely in line with your content strategy.
Feature image vector designed by Newelement / Freepik
Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher College. Her work includes the development and execution of content strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including marketing and audience research, content calendar creation, hiring and managing writers and editors, and SEO optimization. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.