building content briefs
Updated: | SEO vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Now that we have our topical map sorted, it’s time to get rolling with content production.

We need to start publishing content by the end of February 2023 to have any chance of hitting our goals for this case study.

The first part of the content production process is to create comprehensive content briefs for our writers.

I’ve shared my SEO content brief creation process in the past.

For this case study, I’m taking that process and diving deeper than ever before to ensure our articles will address search intent correctly and provide the value that our readers will expect. 

Selecting Articles from the Topical Map

The first step in my brief creation process is to select a target topic and keyword from our topical map.

This ties into what we discussed in our last update about working on a topic cluster that we can complete in full considering our goals and resources. 

We decided to tackle a cluster that includes 21 total articles. This way, we will have a “completed” cluster when we index the site for the first time. I’ve never done that before and I’m excited to see how Google responds.

As far as selecting the article topic for the first briefs, we simply started with the “easiest” topics and target keywords, and worked our way up to the more difficult topics in the cluster.

There are a few reasons for this logic: 

  • Publishing the lowest competition articles first will (theoretically) get us traffic faster
  • If we make a mistake on the first few briefs, it won’t be too big of a deal because these initial articles are low value
  • We have time to refine our brief creating process before we get to work on some of the higher value topics that we want to “win”

Article-Level Keyword Research

I’m mainly doing additional article-level keyword research because I’m OCD. Might as well just throw that out there…

The topical map we received from TopicalMap.com is impressive.

But, I did notice that the target keywords that were provided were there to help the site reach topical authority. They conflicted with the target (parent) keywords that our competitors targeted for the same topic.

So, I booted up our Ahrefs.com account and started digging.

Here’s what I did: 

  1. Identified the competitors for the target keyword provided by TopicalMap.com
  2. Identified which target keywords each competitor used for their article on the same topic
  3. Checked the SERPs for each competitor target keyword against the SERP for the topical map target keyword

Lo-and-behold… TopicalMap.com came through in a big way. Each competitor target keyword SERP matched the SERP for the topical map target keyword.

I went through this process for a few briefs already and had consistent results. The provided keyword in the topical map matched the SERPs of all competitor target keywords.

So, now I know I can target the topical map target keyword to obtain rankings, traffic, and topical authority rather quickly.

The competitor target keywords have almost become “secondary.” I made sure to include them all in our keyword lists and outline so we can start ranking for them over time.

This gave me A LOT of confidence in trusting this map going forward. 

Identify Competitors

This was kind of done for me as part of the previous step.

I did a Google search in incognito mode to confirm that the SERP matched what I saw for the keyword in Ahrefs.

There were 8 total websites in the organic listings. 

I omitted a Reddit thread and a forum post, leaving me with 6 competitors on the first page for the target keyword. 

Identify Search Intent

The search intent for every target keyword and topic was included in our topical map.

So, all I had to do was confirm it.

This initial brief was easy. Each competitor article is nearly identical; they all covered the same sub-topics.

The article topic exhibited informational search intent, which confirmed what was listed in the topical map.

Identify Content Type

While all of the competitors shared informational search intent, the content types used were fractured.

I see this as an opportunity because the competitor articles did not consider content type too deeply.

Some competitors were using a listicle format, some using a “how-to” format, and others that kind of used a hybrid of the two.

Further analysis showed me that, not only did they mess up in selecting a clear content type, but they were also mashing-together multiple topics in the cluster in a poor way.

My goal is to use a content type that allows me to stay hyper-focused on the topic without straying into other topics that will be covered elsewhere in our topic cluster.

The topical map identified the content type as a “What is” article. If you follow the AuthorityHacker course, they call this type of content a “question-based post.”

In this case, the topical map was correct. The new article will be a “What is” / “Question-based” post. 

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Setting Up a SurferSEO Content Editor

Before I could start building an outline for the new article, I had to get a “Content Editor” for the target keyword setup and optimized in SurferSEO

surferseo content editor

Here’s how I do that: 

  1. Navigate to the content editor screen and enter the target keyword into the appropriate field
  2. Choose a local server location
  3. Set crawler type to “mobile”
  4. Click the “Create Content Editor” button

It takes Surfer a minute or two to process the request. When it’s done, I go ahead and open the new content editor for our target keyword. 

At this point, I typically open up the content editor settings by clicking on the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner. 

In the settings screen, I select all of the competitor pages that I identified previously and deselect any irrelevant pages. 

Next, I review the “Terms to Use” section and omit any terms that are irrelevant to the topic or nonsensical in nature. 

Finally, I view the “People Also Ask” questions and compare them to what I see in Google’s search results to ensure they match.

When I’m done, I click the “Let’s Go” button to lock in the settings for the content editor. 

Determining Word Length 

I needed to wait until I had SurferSEO set up before I could determine the target word length for the new article. 

Here’s how I derive the target word length:

  1. Average together the length of all competitor articles. WordCounter.net makes this easy.
  2. Average together the word length range provided by SurferSEO.
  3. Average together the averages from WordCounter.net and SurferSEO. 

This is a SUPER arbitrary process. It’s simple and works for me, so I stick with it.

Essentially, all we’re doing is ensuring we’re matching and exceeding the competition when it comes to article length. 

Creating the Article Outline

I like to build out the article outline in SurferSEO to ensure I’m using as many terms in headings as I can.

Of course, I’m doing this in a natural way. It’s a bit of an art form.

Here’s the process I go through to build out the article outline:

  1. Use SEO Meta in 1 Click to quickly scrape the headers from our competitors
  2. Identify headers about the same sub-topic that exist in multiple competitor articles
  3. Include a heading about those same subtopics in my new outline
  4. View all the remaining “unique” headers from the competitor articles and decide if I should have a similar heading, or if it’s irrelevant to the topic
  5. Include the relevant unique headings into my outline
  6. View the “Terms to Use” list in the Surfer content editor and see if there are any terms that require a unique subsection
  7. Add new headings to my outline for terms that require their own subsection
  8. Organize all headings into a logical flow
  9. Tweak all headings so they’re unique from competitors while still including necessary terms

Again, I’m taking a match-and-exceed approach to our outline creation process.

Following this process ensures that I have sections for all the most important sub-topics around the main topic and avoid including any irrelevant information.

When I add new sections based on the “terms to use” list, I’m usually adding relevant information that our competitors failed to cover.

After I’m done, I typically have a really solid SurferSEO score before one word of body content is produced. 

surferseo content score

The very last part of the outline creation process is to provide notes for the writer underneath each heading. This is a great opportunity to let the writer know exactly what you want to see in each subsection, as well as any information they should avoid talking about. 

Tweaking the Title

I would say that the titles that were provided in the topical map are about 95% of the way “there.”

I took the provided title and ensured it worked with the search intent and content type for the new article. Sometimes this required swapping out a word or two… nothing extravagant. 

If the provided title was under 60 characters in length, I tried to see if I could integrate a secondary keyword or two to maximize that real estate. 

Tying It All Together in a Brief Format 

Now, I think we can all agree that it would be fantastic to just slap our outline directly in SurferSEO and hand the content editor link to our writer.

Life isn’t that easy. 

You need to provide context to your writer on expectations for the article and how to use the outline.

So, I like to spin up a Google document that has everything a writer would need.

At the very top of the document I included the following info:

  • Title/H1: enter title here
  • Target Keyword: enter the keyword here
  • Search Intent: search intent type goes here
  • Content Type: content type goes here
  • Word Length: enter desired word length here
  • SurferSEO Editor Link: include content editor link here
  • Document Link: include a blank Google doc link for the writer to paste the completed article

After sharing that basic information, I have a few sections with descriptions of goals and expectations: 

  • About the Audience - Let the writer know who will read the article and how to connect to them
  • Article Goal - Tell the writer what you want the reader to take away from the article
  • Competition - Give the writer the competitor list
  • Links - Provide rules for internal and external links
  • How to Use the SurferSEO and Document Links - Basic info on using surfer and instructions to paste the completed article into the document link
  • The Article Outline - I include the article outline in the brief document just in case it accidentally gets deleted from the Surfer content editor. 

The last thing I do to finalize the brief document is setting the Google Doc permissions to “anyone with link can view.” 

This way, the writer won’t accidentally edit the brief. 

How Do You Build Content Briefs?

Am I crazy for spending all this time building out a brief?

Do you do it differently? Let us know in the comments…

And, hey, if you don’t want to mess with this briefing stuff at all, you can always use the WordAgents Content Brief Service

vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of WordAgents.com. I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!


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