So you’ve decided to ramp up your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts by outsourcing your content creation to freelance writers.
Congratulations! We know from experience that this can be an extremely effective way to execute a successful content marketing strategy.
But now that you’ve spent some time working with freelancers, you’ve noticed a recurring problem…
After going through the effort of writing content instructions, ordering articles from writers, and waiting for drafts to be delivered, the work you receive just seems to be way off the mark.
This leaves you with two options. You can request significant amendments from your writers or take it upon yourself to reshape the work to what you’d envisioned. Of course, either outcome is a huge drain on your time and resources.
The solution to this problem is to master the art of creating detailed content briefs – creative briefs so clear that it’s harder for writers to get them wrong than right.
In this post, we want to teach you how to create the perfect creative brief for SEO-focused content, from picking keywords and setting word counts to providing style and structure guidelines.
But first, what is a content brief?
What is a Content Brief?
A content brief is a document that gives writers instructions about what to write about and how to write about it. It bridges the gap between content planning and content creation.
Whether created for a blog post, whitepaper, ebook, or any other type of written content, a brief will contain information about the topic in question, the intended audience, and details about the content’s due date and target word count.
But when it comes to SEO content writing specifically, the goal is to produce a post that ranks well on search engine results pages (SERPs). As a result, an SEO content brief will also include instructions about which keyword(s) to target, how to optimize the on-page elements, and tips for helping the article out-rank competitor content.
How Content Briefs Benefit Content Marketing Strategy
So why should you care about content briefs?
Well, the fact is that they make the entire content creation process more efficient, whether you create the content briefs in-house or delegate the work to a content marketing agency.
Here are some of the main advantages of creating content briefs:
There are no two ways about it: content briefs save time.
You significantly reduce your chances of receiving a disappointing first draft by providing writers with a clear direction about what the content should include, how it should be structured, and what the style requirements are.
This saves you from wasting valuable time and resources engaging in multiple rounds of edits and rewrites. Even for experienced writers with advanced SEO knowledge, a well-defined brief makes it much easier to nail the assignment the first time around.
Ensures No Critical Information Is Left Out
One of the main roles of a content brief is to specify what type of information the end product should contain.
This includes details about the central topic at hand, related sub-topics, specific facts and figures, multimedia assets, and calls-to-action (CTAs).
The more detailed the content brief in this regard, the more likely you’ll end up with a piece of comprehensive content that readers (and search engines) will value.
An effective content brief makes it abundantly clear what’s expected of the writer.
This limits the potential for misunderstanding and frustration on all sides since the brief lays out in black and white what the writer is responsible for.
It’s important to remember that a vague brief doesn’t just cause problems for the content team in general. It can also dishearten conscientious writers who, having delivered their best attempt at a first draft based on the information they were provided, are then asked to make drastic changes to their work.
This outcome is easily avoided by clearly defining the content requirements before production begins.
Improves Content Consistency
Another significant benefit of adopting a standardized briefing process is that it helps ensure that each piece of content you create is aligned with your overall content strategy.
It’s essential for factors like the tone of voice (TOV), article structure, linking practices, and target audience to remain consistent throughout your content ecosystem.
If you routinely leave these considerations up to the discretion of individual writers, your content inventory can quickly become a jumbled mess of overlapping, contradictory, and disjointed posts.
Remember, no piece of content is an island when it comes to SEO. Inconsistent content comes across as unprofessional and is confusing to readers. Needless to say, this leads to a poor user experience and can seriously harm your content’s ability to rank.
A detailed content brief, however, keeps everyone on the same page and ensures that each new piece you create fits in seamlessly with the rest of your content.
Keeps the Editorial Calendar on Track
Lastly, content briefs are critical for ensuring that content planning, production, and publication don’t fall behind schedule.
Businesses that take content marketing seriously tend to have pretty busy editorial calendars involving multiple moving parts. When preventable setbacks arise due to repeated content revisions or rewrites, deadlines get missed, causing further delays to other projects.
Content briefs keep your content engine running smoothly, providing clear delivery timelines and reflecting a pre-planned publishing schedule.
With that in mind, here’s the process for creating content briefs.
The Content Brief Process
So how do you create an effective content brief for a freelance writer?
The truth is there’s no single, definitive way to create the perfect brief. What you choose to include will largely depend on factors such as the type of content you’re creating, the level of research required, and whether your writer is already familiar with your client or brand.
That said, here are some essential elements you should cover when you write a content brief for SEO.
Goals and Objectives
Before a writer starts drafting a new piece of content, they’ll need to know what you (or your client) want to achieve with it.
Of course, the overall goal of any SEO-focused content is to rank well on Google and drive organic traffic. But beyond that, what specific purpose do you have in mind for this particular piece of content?
For example, what type of article should the writer create? A listicle? A blog post? A how-to guide?
Likewise, what action do you want to encourage the reader to take? Subscribe to your newsletter? Download a case study? Visit your online store? This information is essential for helping the content writer craft an appropriate CTA.
Be sure to give your writer an overview of the topic you want them to cover and explain how you foresee the piece fitting into your broader content strategy.
Next, you’ll need to provide your writers with a clear description of the intended audience for the piece.
In order to create a high-impact article, writers need to understand their target reader’s mindset and pain points.
Chances are you’ll already have a clear sense of your primary target audience. Still, it’s a good idea to develop a detailed buyer persona so that your writer can quickly put themselves in the shoes of your target customer.
A buyer persona is essentially a representation of your ideal customer’s preferences and motivations. You can create one by interviewing a few of your top customers and asking them to elaborate on their ambitions, any relevant challenges they encounter in their daily lives, and what kind of content they find most valuable.
In other words, try to build a picture of what matters most to your customers and prospects so that your writer can produce content that genuinely solves their problems.
Your content brief should also specify how long the article needs to be to cover the topic in sufficient detail.
However, you shouldn’t set a target word count based on guesswork alone. A better approach is to take the average word count of the top ten results for your target keyword and use that figure as your guideline.
After all, Google preferentially ranks results that best satisfy the user’s search query. So if each result on page one exceeds the 2,000-word mark, it’s safe to assume your content will need to cover the topic in equivalent depth to be competitive.
To pick an appropriate keyword for your chosen topic, you’ll first need to conduct some keyword research. The goal here is to identify a term that isn’t so competitive that you can’t rank for it but also has enough search demand to drive good levels of traffic to your page.
The main keyword research tool we recommend using for this task is Google’s Keyword Planner.
(Note that this is a free tool, but you’ll need to create a Google Ads account to use it and set up a Google Ads campaign to receive more granular data.)
Click “Discover new keywords” and enter your seed term (describing your main topic) into the search bar. Keyword Planner will then churn out an extensive list of related keywords along with their associated monthly search volumes.
When it comes to figuring out the ranking potential of individual keywords, we recommend using either the free or premium versions of Ahrefs or SEMrush. These keyword research tools provide difficulty scores that indicate how challenging it will be to achieve a good ranking for different terms. The higher the score, the harder it will be to rank for that keyword.
In addition to selecting a term with significant search volume and a relatively low difficulty score, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t pick a keyword you already rank for. Keyword cannibalization occurs when two pages on the same site target the same keyword. This can make it difficult for Google to discern which page to prioritize in its rankings, which may lead to the ‘wrong’ page ranking highest.
Target Keyword Search Intent
Once you’ve defined your primary keyword, you’ll also need to explain the search intent behind it to your writers.
Search intent refers to the goal a user wants to achieve when searching a specific query. To create high-value, relevant content, you must ensure your post matches the expectations your readers had when they Googled your target keyword.
For example, suppose you’ve searched for the term “how to buy a house for the first time.” The top result you find provides an in-depth guide on what first-time buyers should do to maximize their chances of getting their foot on the property ladder. Your search intent has been met since this is exactly the kind of content you were looking for.
But suppose you then return to the search results and click through to another page. This time you end up on an article that provides general-purpose advice for people looking to buy property – irrespective of whether they already own a home. Unlike the first result, this content doesn’t really solve the problem you had in mind!
The more accurately your content satisfies the search intent behind your target keyword, the likelier it is you’ll rank well for it.
Your content briefs need to specify both the primary and secondary keywords that writers should incorporate throughout their posts.
Secondary keywords (also known as ‘related keywords’ or ‘Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords’) are terms closely associated with your main keyword. Google relies on these thematically-related terms to determine how relevant a piece of content is for a given search query.
Take a look through your list of SEO keywords and pick out any secondary terms that you think would be relevant for the piece. For better results, you can use various SEO tools to specify how many times your writer should use each keyword.
Top Ranking Articles
One of the best ways to give writers a good sense of the level of depth and quality they should be aiming for is to ask that they closely examine the top 3 to 5 results for your target keyword.
Studying the top performers on the search results page will draw their attention to effective ways of presenting the topic at hand and emphasize the search intent they should be aiming to satisfy.
Resources for Research
Gathering illuminating facts, data, and quotes is integral to creating high-quality content.
Be sure to provide a short list of online resources that your writer can use to find information that will help bring their piece to life.
These may include third-party websites your competitors have linked to, well-vetted Wikipedia entries, or even relevant clinical studies and scholarly articles.
Internal linking is another crucial aspect of creating a well-optimized site, making it easier for users to discover related content and for search engines to crawl and index your pages.
Accordingly, your content brief should make it clear which other pages on your site you want the content to link to.
Finally, make sure to specify the anchor text you want your writer to use when they include both internal and external links.
Images, Video, and Other Media
Integrating visuals, charts, and audio into your content is a great way to reinforce your message and gives readers a welcome break from processing multiple lines of text.
If you intend to use multimedia assets within your post, be sure to give your writer specific instructions regarding the quantity and type of videos or images to be used, as well as any attribution rules.
You should also let writers know where they can source these media assets (along with login details if necessary) and clearly state how they should be formatted (file sizes, naming conventions, etc.).
No piece of SEO content is complete without a compelling meta description.
We suggest instructing your writers to create meta descriptions after completing their first draft. At this point, they’ll have a clear understanding of what readers will find most valuable about the content, which they can then use to craft a click-worthy description.
For an in-depth guide on this topic, check out our guide to writing meta descriptions for SEO.
Writing Style Guidelines
Your content brief should provide writers with pointers on how to adhere to the appropriate TOV (e.g., formal or informal, funny or serious), and specify which variety of English to use (e.g., American English or British English).
Similarly, it’s important that you give clear instructions about how the content should be formatted. For example, when should writers use H1, H2, and H3 headings, and how often should they include line breaks?
Ideally, you’ll have a separate, in-depth style guide that all your freelance writers can refer to when creating their articles.
Now to the most important part of the content brief – the outline!
Providing your writers with a comprehensive outline for the content you want them to create will ensure their drafts remain focused and touch on all the necessary sub-topics.
Each outline should include a suggested title, keyword-rich headings and subheadings, and some bullet points describing what sort of information you want to see in each section.
You can find more tips on creating outlines in our blog post outline guide.
How To Format a Content Brief
How you format your own brief is entirely up to you, provided you make sure it’s clear, coherent, and comprehensive.
That said, we recommend that you split the brief into three sections.
Start by presenting all the top-level information, such as the word count, your primary keyword, and a description of the keyword search intent.
In the second section, lay out all the information that will help your writer piece the article together, such as competitor sites, external links to third-party resources, and secondary keywords.
Finally, place your content outline at the bottom of the brief.
Content Brief Template
If you’re planning to create multiple pieces of content that follow a similar style and format, creating a brief template is a great idea. Of course, if you regularly create different types of content, you can create a separate template for each one.
This will make the briefing process even more efficient, allowing you to simply modify different sections of the brief as needed.
Create Effective Content Briefs Today
Content briefs are central to implementing a successful SEO and content marketing strategy.
Without them, your content production process will encounter repeated setbacks and inefficiencies, ultimately jeopardizing your ability to achieve better rankings, more traffic, and higher revenue. Accordingly, content briefs must be a mainstay in the working lives of all serious content marketers and SEO managers.
It’s now time to incorporate what you’ve learned today into your content briefing process!