Content Briefs – Contents, Tools & Templates

For editorial teams and content publishers, content briefs are important documents that describe the specific requirements that the writing and editing team must fulfil for a specific piece of content (blog post, ebook, etc).

  • On 26/11/2018 by @lazharichir
Content Briefs – Contents, Tools & Templates

Table of Contents

Content briefs are becoming a prominent piece of the editorial workflow in many companies. Indeed, content marketing is key for most brand blogs to increase their topical authority and consequently, their organic inbound traffic. Most content teams add a lot of SEO data to their content marketing briefs in order to create blog posts that rank higher, faster.

A company’s editorial calendar is designed to serve business and marketing goals. The content calendar is built and planned around focus topics that are then broken down into focus keywords. The content team is in charge of planning blog posts to cover these keywords, and pillar pages to cover these topics.

In order to assist content writers in crafting relevant and pertinent content, the editorial team designs a content brief for each blog post with a comprehensive set of directions for the writers to follow.

What is a content brief?

A content marketing brief is a document designed by an editorial marketer to instruct a content writer on how to create a blog post, article, or any piece of content. Content marketing briefs vary a lot from one company to the next. As a minimum, a content brief includes an article’s title, its outline, style, focus keywords, and some details about the readership.

Each editorial team has its own article creation workflow and has access to different resources and team members: SEO tools, writers, editors, illustrators, etc. Depending on how important your blog posts are in your overall marketing strategy, you will add more or less instructions to your content briefs.

Low quality blogs or inexperienced content strategists generally use a short email to order an article. It generally includes the title, desired word count, SEO keywords, and a deadline. Often, the writers are in charge of researching the article and coming up with the outline themselves. In more staffed up editorial teams, content strategists decide on high level topics, editors on keywords and article titles, while writers execute on a clear and lengthy content brief.

The important sections you should have on your copywriting briefs.

What are the benefits of using content briefs for content writers?

Content briefs allow your editorial team members to each have their own expertise. Strategists decide on this year’s core high-level topics. SEO experts enrich briefs with focus keywords and questions to answers to appear in featured snippets. Editors create an outline, decide on an ideal word count, and find helpful resources for the writer’s research stage. And finally, content writers execute on these clear instructions from core ideas to convey, keywords to use, tone to adopt, and content length to reach.

Leaving too much room for interpretation results in uninformative blog posts filled with fluff writing. At each step and for each team member, the content brief allows for a time to think. A comprehensive content brief gives the writing team every piece of data they need to craft the perfect article.

Content marketing briefs also help with accountability. Because every instruction and whoever instructed it are written black on white, the team can quickly see what went wrong and why:

  • Was the writing style not respected?
  • Was the writer not good enough?
  • Was the outline badly designed?
  • Were the keywords and their placement at fault?
  • Was the message poorly conveyed at a higher level?

As a company founder or head of marketing, your role is to clearly establish what truly matters when your need a blog post written. Make a list of what writers want to know when starting to work on a new article. Merge everything into a content brief template that will need to be filled and approved by the content manager before it is sent to the writing team.

Whether your article tries to outperform a competitor on their own keywords or tries to simply establish your brand as an authority, your writers need clear directions to follow before writing a single word.

Who has access to content briefs?

Content marketing briefs should be accessible by the entire editorial team: content strategists, marketers, editors, illustrators, writers and SEO experts. However, not every team member should be able to alter the content writing brief. Content writers, generally, should only allowed to view the document.

What should be included in a content brief?

A comprehensive content brief should include these key sections:

  • Details – title, description, outline, word count, audience
  • Competition – competing pages, similar content already published
  • Research – helpful resources, links, studies, your related blog posts
  • SEO – focus topic, keyword universe, density, placement, internal links
  • Visuals – article’s illustrations, featured image recommendations
  • Promotional – short texts to use on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms

Of course, pillar pages will require a lot more details than a quick 1,200-word blog post. Yet, I am of the opinion that every blog post you will ask a writer to create should be based on a comprehensive article brief.

The important sections you should have on your copywriting briefs.

Article titles

Nowadays, blog posts have several titles: the blog post’s H1 title, the Facebook OpenGraph title, the Medium article title, and so on. These should be carefully chosen and can be altered for optimization reasons right before publishing the blog post.

Honestly, there is nothing better than a title to convey the key message of your future blog post to the rest of the team. For example, “5 Ways to Increase your Conversions using a Free Ebook” is different to “Comprehensive Guide to Content Upgrades to Increase Transactional Conversions”.

As a rule of thumb, use titles that demonstrate the type of content you are going to deliver within the article body. Make it obvious that the blog post will be a listicle, 10x article, guide, roundup, etc. It will help your writers adapt their writing style, too.

Description

In a content brief, the description could either be the message to convey in the article, or simply the article’s introduction or conclusion. Offering a paragraph of introduction, you will hook your writing team and help them be in the reader’s shoes.

The description of the article in question should explain the problematic the blog post intends to solve. Obviously, there are some SEO considerations to consider when crafting a blog post introduction but in the end, it should explicit the goals of what is to come.

The introduction could also be a direct message to the writer. For example, “I want the readers to come out of the article knowing what are five most underutilized on-page SEO signals, with a real-life example for each”.

Outline

Perhaps the most obvious section of a content brief is the article outline the writer must follow. By outline I mean the headings, subheadings and various sections of the blog post along with section-specific instructions.

Depending on how much freedom you want the writing team to have, you can stick to only headings and subheadings. For more specific content requirements, you can add keywords required in each sections, or questions to answer specifically in order to appear in search engine featured snippets and rich results.

A basic outline could take the form of a table of contents for the piece of content at hand. A more comprehensive outline will have a note or comment for each section about how the writer should tackle this part. By adopting clearer directions, you may triple the time you spend designing content briefs.

Avoid spending hours on an outline of a short article (1,000 words or so). Keep clearer and more concise instructions and directions for much longer pieces of cornerstone content. Otherwise, you might as well write the article yourself and save yourself some precious time.

User intent and persona

Content briefs should clearly describe who is the article targeting, and what is the user intent. Equipped with such information, the writer can use a suitable tone and writing style when creating the article.

Describing the target audience for a blog post includes:

  • user intent (wants to buy, wants to learn, wants a quick answer, etc)
  • pipeline stage (lead generation, customer retention, conversion, activation)
  • demographics (men, women, young, old),
  • expertise level (newbie, expert)

During the research phase, most content writers will try to put themselves in the target audience’s shoes to find the most effective way to put your message across.

Tone and writing style

Any blog writer needs to know what style do you want the blog post to be written in. Conversational? Wikipedia-like? Technical? Narrative? Listicle?

Tone and style of writing are present in most content writing briefs. And obviously, the tone of an article mainly depends on:

  • your brand tone,
  • the topic at hand, and
  • the target audience.

You do not write a weekly fashion roundup the same way you write a pillar page about picking the right ad platform.

However, you can order different articles discussing the very same keywords but using different tones and writing styles. This is a great way to target very different audiences.

Keep in mind that content writers cannot excel in every single writing style. Some are better suited for long-form technical writing based off study papers, while others do great at opinion-based conversational writing. When picking a specific writer for a blog post, the desired writing style matters enormously.

Length

While obvious to most, I have seen too many content briefs without clear word count requirements. A content writer will find it hard to spread content over all sections without a final word count to reach.

Some content editors provide a final ideal word count while others, like me, go as far as giving a break down of the word count for each section of the article’s outline. Indeed, some sections are much fatter than others and it should be reflected in their lengths.

Telling a writer that a given content brief is for a “pillar page” won’t mean much in terms of word count. Be clear and if you offer some wiggle room, precise it.

Focus topic and key phrases

Focus keywords are important to consider to get a general idea of what the article is about. And providing a writer with a set of key phrases and a focus topic is a must. Every content brief ever created should include these core topics and phrases. They allow the editorial team to understand what search queries are targeted by the blog post.

Do not be too literal by listing every single inflection of every key phrase (e.g. “coffee bean”, “coffee beans”, “beans of coffee” as this would be redundant). Instead, give a sorted list of your top priority keywords and topics for the article such as “arabica coffee beans”, “arabica caffeine content”, etc. If you can attach these to their dedicated section, it is even better and easier for the writer to execute upon.

Keyword universe

The keyword universe is the important part for any SEO keyword-driven data including semantically-related phrases and supporting co-occurring terms. You can add search volumes and competition level next to each keyword mentioned so the writer can place them accordingly in the body of the article.

The keyword universe is crucial in a content brief so the editor can improve the article right before publication. Some writers underestimate the power of on-page SEO signals. Therefore, using the article’s keyword universe, the final editing can make sure the prioritized keywords are emphasized in the article and clearly promoted.

A keyword universe is not a list of keyword you try to rank for, it is a keyword clustering method. Instead, a keyword universe groups list of words and phrases that should obviously be used in the article due to their semantic relationship with the focus topic and keywords.

Let’s illustrate this with a simplified example in which the focus keywords we try to rank for are supported by terms that “make sense”. Yet, we are not trying to rank for all terms in the keyword universe – they are present to show depth of coverage for our focus topic.

  • Article’s focus topic and keywords: mobile marketing, mobile ads
  • Keyword universe: mobile advertising, smartphone, digital marketing strategy, text marketing, facebook ads, android, iphone, etc.

A keyword universe is similar to the lingo and technical vocabulary that would be used in a particular domain. They show that the author knows what he or she is talking about, and speaks the same language as the target audience.

Keyword density and placement

When you know the few keywords you really want your blog post to rank for, indicate how often you want them to appear in the blog post. Do not be surgical in your figures, give a ballpark.

Do not forget that your writer should write the article for human readers, not robots or algorithms. I do not know about you, but I do not appreciate reading the word “content brief” at every two sentences in a blog post even if it is about that, precisely.

You could also skip this section and allow total freedom to the writer. You can always adjust keyword placement and frequency when you edit the blog post prior to scheduling. If you have an SEO expert in your team, they can handle that task during the final edit.

Deadline and deliverables

Use the project brief to be undeniably clear on due dates, budgets, milestones, deliverables, and stakeholders. Each content brief should explain:

  • what documents are expected and in what format
  • when are the deliverables expected to be received
  • who should the deliverables be sent to and reviewed by
  • which milestones are set and whose attention they require
  • what is the budget for this piece of content
  • when and how will it be paid

Any other terms and conditions should be added to the content brief so everybody is on the same page. Obviously, if you intend to make your writer sign a legal release at each article, you may do so once and for all so you avoid bloating the content briefs with non content-related points.

What are the best content brief softwares and tools?

The best content brief tools and softwares are collaborative document editing tools like Google Docs or even Asana, or content brief-specific tools like topicseed. Regardless of the tool you choose, it is important to consistently use it as the single source of truth for anything content related.

Google Docs

Using Google Docs, you can very easily create a content brief template for your company’s editorial team. Create a section for each details you want to appear on every brief you will create. Then, create a brief by copying from the template for each article you plan to craft.

Google Docs, and G Suite as a whole, allow editorial teams to swiftly collaborate:

  • Share to every team member with write access
  • Allow guests (e.g. clients, outsourced writers) to only read
  • Interactively comment on specific parts
  • Work together live on the same document

If you have a whole bunch of people that need to have a direct access to your content writing briefs, you may really benefit from using a collaborative word processor.

Topicseed’s Briefs

Preview of the Content Briefs tool from topicseed.

Our very own content brief application within our suite of topical SEO tools is a lot simpler than Google Docs. However, it is very much specific to creating and updating content briefs dedicated to textual content creation.

If you already are a user of topicseed’s features (gap analyses, content analyzer, questions, topicgraph), you can quickly add phrases and topics to a specific content writing brief from most screens. It is a super intuitive way to outline future articles while analyzing your competition’s key phrases and topic coverage.

Additionally, you can use topicseed’s content brief tool to refresh existing pieces of content. While collaboration is not yet implemented, we have this upgrade in mind for the future.

Wiki Browser

The Wiki Browser is our free tool for content straetgists and editors to visalize any Wikipedia article in a very structured way. Forget all the text and focus on the Wikipedia topic outline, the its related topics, and what pages are present in each section of a Wiki entry.

This tool has already helped thousands articles to be outlined in order to favor topic depth. It's a great starting point for any pillar page that you want to ensure is covering all facets of the focus topic.

*For now, this is only available for the English-version of Wikipedia. *

Content Brief Templates

The web is full of content brief examples and templates you can download, edit, and adapt to your own editorial needs. These can be Word documents, Google Docs templates, or even email scripts. They allow you to get started quickly.

A basic sample is the Digital Balance’s PDF content brief example. Make sure you alter it to display data and details you care for the most.