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What Is a Content Brief?

12 min read

In an uncertain economy or when sales goals aren’t being met, marketing budgets are often first looked at for expense cutting. The good news is, forward thinking marketing management typically sees the long-term value of a blog post – and views content as assets. The challenging news is, management often requires a lean content team to do more with contract writers. 

Doing more with less (or the same amount of internal content creators) can be difficult. Since a freelance writer doesn’t always understand your value proposition and key differentiators, the draft blog post that comes in can look like it was created by ChatGPT. Abysmally generic copy will turn off both your prospects as well as the search engines.  

One way around having to minimize the likelihood of blah copy is to create a content brief  – that is layered with an SEO brief. Here’s how you can accomplish both, at scale.

What Is a Content Brief

A content brief is a document that creates an outline of the key topics (and subtopics) you want covered – and that a content creator needs in order to produce quality content. Think of content briefs as a way to help your content team scale content while maintaining a focus on your target audience. 

 The best content briefs seamlessly combine editorial direction and content strategy to ensure every piece of content is both well-written and primed to drive SEO results. 

You know it’s time to start using content briefs when:

  • Your team is getting bogged down in processing too many rewrites.
  • Producing quality content consistently is a major challenge.
  • You’re having trouble scaling content production.

Challenges of Building Content Briefs

Building an effective content brief can be challenging. It has historically been a manual process for the content strategist. Even with a content brief template, however, content briefs can take anywhere from 1-4 hours to complete properly. 

The process generally involves using tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to find “focus” keywords and secondary keywords to be incorporated in some form in the piece of content. From there, the content marketer needs to determine the audience or buyer personas, the objectives of the content, the style guide, the desired content length, external and internal links, and anything else pertinent for successful deliverables. 

Focusing solely on keywords is now considered passe. MarketMuse stresses topic modeling over just keywords, because it allows a writer to discover abstract topics that occur in a collection of documents (corpus) using a probabilistic model. It’s frequently used as a text mining tool to reveal semantic structures within a body of text. That’s one part of what makes it an AI content brief.

The Benefits of Topic Modeling

Search engines in general and Google in particular, rewards content that is created around topic models. It shows a deeper understanding of the subjects – because you aren’t just stuffing the document with keywords. Instead you are using words that a person who knows a subject well might use. For example, if I am doing a piece on topic modeling – I would include other words (topics) like “model,” “algorithm,” “text,” “data,” and “analysis.”

When you type in your topic, MarketMuse crawls the web to find articles that compete for that topic – and then analyzes the topics and creates a virtual knowledge graph of related topics. This methodology is proven effective in optimizing content for SEO. 

A secondary benefit to using topic models – which I have found to be really enlightening, is that it provides access to a semantic corpus that we (as marketers) had not considered. The corpus is the sum of what your audience is learning about. As marketers we tend to get stuck on our own messaging. This widens our understanding of what the market knows. By the way, this is ideal for product marketers too. They need to know the outside-in messaging – in order to better deliver the inside-out messaging. 

Content Brief vs Creative Brief

It’s important to note that a content brief has some notable similarities – and difference from what is known as a “creative brief.” Creative briefs have many of the same content goals as content briefs, but the former is much broader in its application than the latter. As NewsCred noted, a creative brief does not apply to one specific deliverable. It can lay out the creative and brand requirements for anything from landing page copy and social media posts to video production and graphics and beyond, including colors, fonts, and specific messaging. 

A content brief can certainly include some of those elements. Still, in most cases, it is specific to written content that typically takes the form of a blog post, long-form article, product/category page, product review, and so on.

What Is an SEO Content Brief

Part of your content strategy should be to create an SEO content brief on any outline. The content team should be the ones to determine which key phrases/topics should be targeted. MarketMuse makes this step easy by indicating the amount of traffic to various topics – and how easy it would be for your brand to win that term. 

I usually like to indicate at the top of the brief: 

  • Primary keyword
  • URL
  • Title tag
  • Target Optimization score

Now I can look through my AI generated outline, and fill in any subheads that ought to be included (based on research showing the types of questions people ask. 

Combining the SEO Brief With Your Content Brief

A genuinely great content brief will seamlessly combine editorial/brand guidelines, your vision for a specific piece of content, and a roadmap for the comprehensive topical coverage that search engines are looking for in the world of semantic search.

Every company has its own way of creating content briefs, and there are many valid approaches. However, we’ve noticed that many content briefs fail to hit the sweet spot between providing solid editorial guidance and correct SEO requirements. This is because you need to layer on an SEO content brief. 

Throughout the rest of this article the term “content brief” assumes the hybrid approach of combining the SEO content brief into your content brief template. 

How Content Briefs Improve Content Marketing Efforts

Most content strategists have felt the frustration of seeing a piece of writing come back from a writer or editor and finding that it doesn’t align with the big picture. From the writer’s perspective, the frustration comes when rewrites are requested due to insufficient direction from the start. 

The content brief, when done correctly, can alleviate – if not eliminate – these miscommunications and the constant back-and-forth that often comes with content creation.

Content briefs improve content marketing efforts by ensuring that whoever is executing a piece of written content is fully aligned with the goals of the specific campaign and content marketing strategy at a high level. This is crucially important if you are trying to scale up your content production and have several writers and content creators working on different projects. Briefs give content strategists and leaders a way to get quality output at scale, which is how you build a foundation for consistent results. 

Content is an investment. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your time and budget, you can’t afford to leave the entire direction of even a single piece of content to the discretion of individual content creators. They may not grasp the “why” behind what they’re doing. 

A good brief should give writers everything they need to understand the following:

  • The target audience and buyer persona
  • The brand messaging, tone, and voice 
  • Where the content fits in the marketing funnel
  • The questions the piece of content should answer
  • Internal and external linking guidance
  • The related topics that must be covered for comprehensiveness
  • Title and subheading suggestions based on the primary keyword

By aligning these data points to your content strategy, you can confidently publish a piece of content, knowing how it maps to your goals.

Read: 5 Elements of a Highly Successful Content Brief

How Content Briefs Fit Into Content Marketing Workflows

We see the content marketing workflow as cyclical:

Content marketers and SEO experts conduct research to determine the content strategy and how editorial content fits into that big picture. Following the research phase, specific content items are mapped out into content plans and scheduled out on a content calendar. From there, writers can start executing on the content. This is where briefing comes in

Each content item on your content calendar should have a brief associated with it to ensure that it is executed in accordance with your strategy and is primed to drive results – organic traffic, social reach, and better performance throughout the content funnel.

In short, the content brief is the critical link between your research and planning and the actual content creation. This holds true whether or content is created in-house or with the help of a freelance writer.

Getting the content briefs right will make everything that comes after much easier and more impactful. Better briefs give writers everything they need to knock a piece of content out of the park while spending less time doing supplemental research. That means less time spent editing and optimizing copy. It results in higher quality content that can fuel promotion and grow your reach. 

Briefing is arguably the most critical step in the workflow, and the briefs are a vital tool that gives SEO, content strategy, and creative teams a way to work together effectively and efficiently.

Manual vs. AI-Generated Content Brief Templates

We noted above that a single brief can take one to four hours to create one piece of content. 

As you might imagine, this does not scale very well when you try to ramp up content production. Even if you outsource this process to an SEO or content marketing agency, you’re still on the hook for ensuring that all of your content briefs are up to the standard you’ve set.

Contrast this approach with what you would get with AI-generated content briefs. With an AI-generated content brief, all of the pertinent information is automatically gathered and organized in a repeatable, reliable way. Rather than spending hours each week building briefs by hand, you can spend more time on research that drives the strategy, finding optimization opportunities, and reporting on growth. 

AI tool can help you create an outline on any subject to meet the needs of any persona. You can then tailor the outline to tackle key problem areas that your offering addresses. Consider adding reference materials that cite internal thought leaders, analysts, or customers that a writer can source to add color to the creative work.

AI-generated content briefs will provide everything a writer needs in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare a brief by hand. More importantly, they take the guesswork and human judgment out of the essential parts of a brief.

For example, a MarketMuse Content Brief contains the following data points generated by our AI:

  • Title and subtitle suggestions
  • User intent of the specific piece of content relative to the topic
  • The audiences the content needs to speak to
  • Recommended content length
  • Semantically related topics that give writers a roadmap to be comprehensive without stuffing keywords into content.
  • Internal and external linking suggestions that are topically relevant but not competitive with your content.
  • The questions that should be answered in a piece of content – especially important now that Google is focused on answering user questions
Partial screenshot of a MarketMuse content brief.
Click to see this MarketMuse Content Brief.

In addition to being a potent mix of editorial and SEO guidance, a MarketMuse Content Brief can be produced at scale to match your current and aspirational content cadence. Once they are created, you can provide access to your writers or send them a shareable link if they are outside your organization. 

MarketMuse content briefs also facilitate execution. Each brief has a built-in version of our Optimize application, which allows a writer to track progress as they create and include important related topics in the content piece.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Content Brief showing optimize application.

Read: What is a MarketMuse Content Brief


Some content briefs are full of important editorial guidelines, with little in the way of SEO insights. Others give the content writer title tags and meta descriptions, linking recommendations and anchor text, and of course, the dreaded keyword list, but fail to provide useful editorial direction. 

Going too far in either direction will hamper your content marketing efforts. Well-written content is crucial, but without an eye on how it fits into the wider SEO and content marketing strategy, it will not drive the results your stakeholders need to see. Go too heavy on the SEO, and you have content that reads like “SEO content,” which will not serve your user experience or, increasingly, the search engines themselves. Understanding the importance of content briefs is the first step to using them effectively in your content marketing efforts. If you’re looking to ramp up production without sacrificing quality or gambling on the ability of your content to rank well and gain traffic, AI-generated content briefs are an indispensable asset.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Camden is the Content Marketing Manager at MarketMuse. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.