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How to Write an Effective Content Brief for Writers

Are you staffed with the responsibility of creating content briefs for writers? Do you often struggle to provide writers with the direction necessary to create quality content based on your specifications?

Rather than continue your uphill battle, it’s time to learn how to write an effective content brief. Once you understand the basics, you can create a content brief template that serves as the basis for every one you create in the future.

Let’s start with a basic definition:

A content brief is a document designed to instruct a writer on how to create a piece of content.

Even with a template in place, content briefs vary from one project to the next based on details such as:

  • Type of content (blog post, article, whitepaper, etc.)
  • Who the content is being created for (in-house or for a client)
  • The purpose of the content (inform, lead the reader to take action, share news, etc.)

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that no two individuals, companies, or editorial teams will take the exact same approach to creating content briefs. Focus on what’s best for you and your writers and everything else will fall into place.

The 5 Elements of a Content Brief

A content brief should include all the information a writer needs to create high quality content that “checks all the boxes.”

Before we provide a detailed look at the most important elements of a content brief, let’s review a full example:


Overview (example)

Title: Top Social Media Marketing Tips for 2020

Description: Share information on how social media in 2020 will differ from 2019, with a focus on actionable tips and strategies. Organize the content in a listicle format, utilizing short descriptions for easily digestible content.

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • What Does Social Look Like in 2020?
  • Tip #1:
  • Tip #2:
  • Tip #3:
  • Tip #4:
  • Tip #5
  • Conclusion

Word count: 2,000+ words

Target audience: Small business owners and marketing professionals who are in the process of creating a social media strategy for 2020.

Competition:

  • Social Media: What to Expect in 2020 - Word Count: 1,590 - Google Rank: position 1
  • How Social Media has Changed Over the Past Year - Word Count: 1,788 - Google Rank: position 2
  • The Best Social Media Tactics for the New Year - Word Count: 2,001 - Google Rank: position 3

Statistics:

  • https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics
  • https://www.oberlo.com/blog/social-media-marketing-statistics
  • https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/amazing-social-media-statistics-and-facts/
  • https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-statistics/
  • https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-statistics-for-social-media-managers/

SEO:

  • Primary keyword: social media marketing
  • Secondary keywords: social media marketing tips, social media tips, social media 2020
  • Keyword placement: primary keyword once in the intro, body, and conclusion; secondary keywords in subheadings and used naturally throughout
  • Content structure: introduction, minimum of five subheadings, and conclusion
  • Internal links: minimum of five internal links to blog posts
  • External links: minimum of three external links to reputable industry sources and studies

Visuals:

  • Type: featured image, screenshots, and tables
  • Number of visuals: include one featured image, three screenshots, and two tables
  • Placement: featured image before the introduction, screenshots and tables throughout based on the content

Now that you know what a content brief looks like, it’s time to dig into the five most important elements:

1. The Details (Overview)

Think of this as a high level overview of the content. Upon reading it, the writer should gain a basic understanding of what the piece should entail and the approach they need to take.

These five points should always be part of this section:

  • Title (or several title ideas)
  • Two to three line description of the direction the writer should take
  • Outline, including headings and subheadings
  • Word count
  • Target audience

In the example above, you’ll see that this section kicks things off by providing the knowledge necessary to help the writer formulate an idea of what’s being asked of them.

Be as clear and concise as possible, while understanding that there are other sections where you can share additional information.

2. Competition

In a perfect world, there’d be no competition for the topic you assign. But in the real world, you know this is never (or very rarely) the case.

Even if you’re tackling a relatively unknown angle in a less than popular niche, you’ll still have competition. After all, there are more than 6.33 billion indexed pages on the internet.

So, that’s why you should include a competition section in your content brief. Here’s what you should do:

  • Run a search for the keywords you’re targeting
  • Make note of the top 10 to 20 search results
  • Find similar content already published on the top competing websites

For this example, let’s take a look at what Google returns for the keyword string how to write a content brief.

content brief search

At the top, you see that there are approximately 296 million results. There are other factors at play to ranking for this keyword, but that alone tells you it's decently competitive.

From there, a review of the first page provides a clear idea of top competitors, the approach they’ve taken, and the type of content they’ve shared on the subject.

You should then review three to five of these pages to help guide the details you share with your writer. For example, if you find that the average word count of the top results is 1,500 words, you can request that the writer reaches 2,000 or more.

Another idea to consider is employing a competitive analysis tool, such as Clearscope. This does a lot of the work for you, thus saving you time and ensuring you don’t overlook something of importance.

Here’s what you get when you run a search for content brief:

clearscope search

You can use this information to guide the creation of your content brief, while also sharing it with the writer so they have a better understanding of what it will take for their content to perform alongside the top players.

3. Research

Even if you expect the writer to perform a lot of research on their own, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help. By providing research, it’s easier for you to guide the manner in which the writer creates the content, thus improving the likelihood of it aligning with your requirements.

This section can include but is not necessarily limited to:

  • Competitor links
  • Resources to find content ideas
  • Recent studies
  • Recent statistics
  • Related blog posts

You can’t (and don’t want to) include every piece of research in your brief, but it never hurts to give the writer a jumping off point.

4. SEO

The importance of this section depends largely on the plans for the content, but if it makes sense to include you’ll want to share as much information as possible.

For example, when writing a blog post, the SEO section of a content brief is critical, as you want to give it the best chance possible of ranking at the top of the search engines.

The most important points include:

  • Topic focus
  • Primary and secondary keywords
  • Keyword density
  • Keyword placement
  • Content structure, including the use of subheadings
  • Internal links
  • External links

While most of these details will vary from one brief to the next, some will have guidelines that always remain in place.

For instance, you may have strict rules about the type of external links to include, the number of internal links, and how often the primary and secondary keywords appear.

You can speed up the process and improve efficiency by using one of the many available SEO tools.

An example of this is Ahrefs for keyword research (and more). A search for content brief returns the following results:

Ahrefs results

Upon conducting a thorough review of the keyword, you’re able to better answer questions such as:

  • Is the keyword worth chasing from a volume perspective?
  • Are there other keywords that are better to target? Other keywords to target in the same piece of content?
  • How difficult will it be to reach the top of the search results?

Top search engine rankings don’t happen by mistake. It all starts with providing the necessary information in the content brief you share with your writers.

5. Visuals

Who wants to read a giant block of text?

The answer is simple: no one!

And that’s why every content brief should include a section on visuals.

Tip: this is only important if you request that the writer provides visuals. If you plan on doing this in-house, after reviewing the content, you don’t have to include it in the brief.

Some of the points to include:

  • The types of visuals you want to include in the article (photos, infographics, charts, screenshots, etc.)
  • Number of visuals
  • Preferred placement of visuals

Maybe you want the writer to recommend a feature image, along with three to five others to include in a blog post. You can share this direction, along with a list of sites for finding images:

Since choosing images is often subjective, it’s best to share as many details as you can.

For example, you could ask the writer to do one of the following:

  • Share five images related to social media
  • Share five images related to social media, with three of them logos of specific platforms and the other two screenshots from popular profiles

Which one sounds better to you? (Hint, it’s #2)

Ask for Feedback

Even if you’re impressed by the depth and clarity of your content briefs, it doesn’t necessarily mean your writers agree. And that’s why you need to ask for feedback. Ask questions such as:

  • Are your content briefs clear and concise?
  • Do they help you understand what is being asked of you?
  • What is your favorite part of the briefs?
  • What is one (or two) thing you would change in future briefs?

Maybe you find that your briefs are hitting home with every writer. Or maybe you find a few holes that you can patch up to share better briefs in the future. You’ll never know until you ask.

Final Thoughts

Assuming a writer doesn’t need a content brief is a mistake. Just the same, providing a shoddy brief that includes no real direction doesn’t do anyone any good.

With the guidance above, you’re in a better position than ever to create effective content briefs for writers.

From there, you can sit back, track the results of your content creation efforts, and prepare your next brief!

Written by Chris Bibey

Chris Bibey is a freelance writer and content marketing consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. For 10+ years, Chris has provided content creation and marketing services to entrepreneurs, companies, and agencies spanning a variety of industries.