The critical elements of a good content brief
It can be frustrating receiving a piece of content that isn’t aligned with your goals, campaign, or brand. What comes next can become time-consuming – lots of emails sent back and forth, Slack messages, and calls, to make sure everyone is on the same page, before the inevitable slew of reworks. The missing ingredient here? A good content brief.
We’ve all been there, we know what it feels like to sit in front of our screens sighing, thinking to ourselves “it would have been easier if I’d just done it myself.” But taking the time to create a detailed but concise content brief is perhaps the single greatest investment you can make to maximise content marketing efficiency.
The contrast in emotions when a perfectly curated piece of content lands in your inbox could not be starker. Arming content writers with a thorough brief gives them the best possible chance of creating a piece of work that’s fit for purpose.
In this post, we’re going to dive into what content briefs actually are, why you need them, and what you should include in them to maximise efficiency as well as scale content effectively.
What is a content brief?
Let’s start with a basic definition – a content brief is a document that has been designed to guide content writers on how to go about creating a piece of content. It collects and organises all of the information a content writer needs.
Of course, content briefs will differ depending on what type of content is needed. For example, a content brief for a blog will differ from a content brief for a category page. Regardless though, whatever type of content is to be created, the basic concepts behind a content brief remain the same.
A good content brief paints a clear picture for the content writer of exactly what’s expected from them, leaving them with no questions or doubt. But creating a useful content brief is a talent in itself. Finding the right balance is crucial.
On one hand, the content writer may become overwhelmed if you put too much information in the brief. On the other hand, if the brief you create lacks detail, the final product runs the risk of becoming misaligned with your goals and objectives for the piece. If you can strike the right balance where you’re able to provide the writer with a good content brief, you’re going to get back a piece that will very closely resemble what you would have liked to have written yourself.
Who creates a content brief?
In digital marketing, content briefs are normally created by a content strategist, an editor, an SEO expert, or some combination of the three. The input from each of these individuals is essential for a good brief.
Every team will do things a little differently, but the most successful ones know how to provide writers with the right level of detail to feed into the overall content strategy, campaign goals, editorial direction, and SEO considerations.
The Importance of a content brief
A content brief is the link between content strategy and content creation. It ensures – to some extent – that the content you receive will be in line with the content strategy you have in place. How? Well to start with, your content and SEO teams will do a lot of research around what topics will reach and appeal to consumers. They work with your clients to understand their business goals and figure out how to use content as a means of achieving them.
This insight is then translated into a content brief, so that content writers have all of the information required to produce copy that moves the needle on business objectives. This could be SEO keywords, tone of voice, word count, internal links, and more.
Here are the benefits of incorporating a content brief as a standard process:
- Allows you to set expectations from the start
- Ensures the finished piece has no major information gaps
- Gives content writers direction on the most important areas
- Supports content writers to do a thorough job rather than an “it’ll do” job
- Sets the foundations for creating content that aligns with your strategy
- Saves time and stress in the reviewing process
- Provides a single source of reference for your team
- Creates a standardised process which also leads to consistency
What does a good content brief include?
One of the most common questions people have when they start using content briefs is “what should we provide our content writers in each brief?” Every team and business is going to have their own needs and objectives, however the elements below should give you a strong baseline:
Think of this part as a high-level overview of the piece of content you require producing. When a content writer reads this section, they should understand what the piece needs to entail and the approach they need to take. The following details should always be included:
- Title (H1) – to help the writer remain focused on the concept of the piece and not sway away from its intent.
- Overview of the direction the content writer should take – to remove the headache for both you and the writers as you’ve clearly outlined the content you want – and don’t want – them to write.
- Word count – to help the writer plan out subtopics and how in-depth they’re going to go into each one. If you don’t know what word count to set for a piece, look at the word count for the best-ranking articles for your keyword. You could take the top three, add their wordcounts together and then divide them by three to give you a rough guideline.
- Target audience – to help the writer understand who they’re writing for so they can better tailor the message of the piece and language to that specific audience.
- Tone of voice guidelines – each client is different, so you need to specify tone, writing style and spelling conventions, so the writer can cater to the target audience at a granular level.
Even if you expect a content writer to do their own research independently, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a helping hand. In fact, by providing things such as research links on the topic of the piece of content, it’ll be easier for you to guide how the writer creates the copy. This will increase the likelihood of it aligning with your goals and objectives.
This section can include, but isn’t limited to:
- Example articles from competitors
- Recent studies and statistics surrounding the topic
- Related blog posts
This section will be even more important if the content topic was inspired by a recent industry trend, research report, or external analysis. In this case, make sure to provide the content writer with information on what inspired the idea in the first place.
Of course, you can’t include every piece of research / existing example in your brief, but it never hurts to give the writer a jump start. This is also where you can set expectations for your agency’s external linking guidelines. For example, if you don’t reference or quote published sources older than two years, this would be the place to specify that.
Whether you’re writing a blog or category page, the SEO section of the content brief is crucial, as you want to give it the best chance of ranking in the search engines.
Of course, the importance of the search engine optimisation section depends largely on your content marketing plans. But if it makes sense, you’ll want to share as much information with the writer as possible, such as:
- Topic focus
- Primary and secondary keywords
- Content structure, including the use of subheadings (H1, H2s, and H3s)
- Internal links
- External links
No one wants to read a giant block of text – you would lose the attention of your target audience. Plus, including compelling visuals into content is a great way to generate quality backlinks.
Some of the points to add into a content brief on multimedia include:
- The type of visuals you want (photos, infographics, charts, videos etc)
- The number of visuals
- The preferred placement of visuals
- Naming conversion for the visuals
As choosing the right visual is often subjective, sharing as many details as possible is always a safe bet.
Even if you think you’ve added enough depth and clarity into your content briefs, it doesn’t necessarily mean the writers agree. And that’s why you need to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself the following:
- Are your content briefs clear and complete?
- Do they help the writer understand what is being asked of them?
You can also ask the content writers themselves for their feedback on the briefs you create. Maybe they’re hitting home with every writer. Or maybe there are a couple of holes that need addressing so you can fine-tune your briefs in the future. You never know until you ask.
Assuming a content writer doesn’t need a brief is a mistake. Even the best ones need one to be able to hit all SEO goals and align with clients’ needs. Whilst it can take some time and practice, the guidance above puts you and your agency in a better position to produce effective content briefs for writers.
Plus, as your content team scales in both headcount and ambition, you’ll need to count on time-saving and transparent processes which allow your content writers to work more efficiently and effectively.
By making this an integral part of your content production process, you can increase understanding and the probability that your content will add to your overall targets.
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