Have you ever played charades?
If you have, you know how important it is to communicate your clues clearly. If the other person fails to guess the word, it’s usually because of a communication gap. And that’s your fault, not theirs.
That’s how a content brief is, too.
Like clues in charades, a content brief sets clear expectations for a writing project. Without a content brief, no matter how basic, you leave your writer in the dark and your content open to misinterpretation.
There’s a free Notion content brief template in this article, along with 17 important components of effective briefs and how to provide context for your writers with every single one.
But first, let’s see why content writing briefs are absolutely necessary.
Why content briefs are important
Direction. That’s why.
If you’re hiring a freelancer to write your content, no matter their experience, you would typically know more about the subject than they do.
So, a content brief is a structured idea dump that gives writers a blueprint of your expectations.
Content briefs give writers a headstart and save time on trial and error. If you have to see a draft before you give feedback, you’re burning time on revisions that you could have saved if you just wrote a brief in the first place.
Content briefs also consolidate information in one place for quick approvals.
Say it takes a team of five people to sign off an article before it goes live. Investing in a brief streamlines the approval process and ensures all stakeholders have a say before the article is written.
Briefs are not just for articles. Any content that requires direction and clarity benefits from a well-structured brief. Case studies, email campaigns, ads, social media posts, webinars, and even downloadable digital products. Later in this article, I share the exact content brief template I used to write this article.
What should a content brief contain?
The answer to this looks different for every content strategist, but here’s my 17-point checklist of the must-haves.
1. Article title
A content brief should contain an SEO title or headline under 60 characters. Preferably, optimize the title (H1) for SEO and capture the article’s key message. This gives your writer a clear picture of the article’s focus.
2. Meta description
A meta description is an under-150-character snippet of your article on search engine result pages. When well-written, it grabs attention and improves click-through rates (CTRs). Add one to your content brief to help your writer stay on topic.
If you’ve not fleshed out your meta description, write a one-sentence summary of the article.
3. URL slug
The slug is derived from the SEO title and is the URL part that identifies the article on your site after publishing. It should be concise and contain your primary keyword.
For context, the URL slug of this article is “/content-brief-template”.
4. Content goal
Every content should meet a marketing goal: awareness, driving engagement, generating leads, or conversions. Include this in the brief.
5. Audience profile
Who should the ideal reader be? Writing to all is writing to none. Add an audience persona to your content briefs. At the very least, it should contain target audience demographics, pain points and how your product or service will solve their problems.
6. Word count
Here’s why adding word count to your content brief is so important. If you’re trying to take rank on the first SERP for a keyword, it’s good practice to find the average word count the top ten results are dominating with. Use this as a baseline for your article.
Another reason is so you can invoice accordingly if you’re paid or paying by the word.
7. Main keywords and semantic entities
Keyword research is an integral part of SEO content writing. If your writer’s purview does not cover SEO research, add main and semantically related keywords to your brief.
Keywords serve as anchor points that shape the article and ensure it is focused on a core topic.
8. Search intent
Search intent is either informational, transactional, commercial or navigational.
When content matches search intent, it prompts the reader to take a desired action and stop their search, which signals user satisfaction to search engines.
Determine search intent with a good keyword research tool or manually analyse the top search engine results for that keyword.
9. Unique angle or POV
Chances are, there’s already a ton of content on the internet about the topic you’re planning.
Add your unique perspective to the brief. What content gaps have you spotted and are trying to close? How will the article be different from already existing content? If it’s part of a cluster to build topical authority, highlight how it will differ from the others.
10. Tone and style guide
Your writer should be familiar with your brand voice and editorial guidelines after a while. Still, specify tones in each brief, especially if your writer serves many unique clients.
11. Heading structure or scope
The first heading in your article should be the one that answers the search query. The rest give the article structure and cover all other key points.
Provide a tentative table of contents or header hierarchy, give context and let your writer do their thing.
12. Subject-matter expert insights
For credibility, draw from unique experiences to give your content an edge.
Provide your writer with reviews, transcripts, quotes, and case studies, or leverage Help A Writer for insights.
I have asked subject-matter experts on Twitter for help and gotten invaluable responses.
I wrote for an agency whose content brief contained websites to reference and those not to reference or link to.
If you don’t want your writer to give credit to your competitors or source statistics from certain websites, spell it out in the content brief.
14. Internal links
Internal links distribute page authority and help readers navigate your site.
Internal links are particularly important for cluster articles. Add them to your content briefs to make it easy to structure content that naturally introduces the cluster pages and respective keywords.
15. Visuals or suggestions
Images and videos are added to articles to explain or reinforce concepts. Writers usually suggest where they should go in the first draft.
Still, a content brief can contain visual suggestions for concurrent work if your design team share the same brief.
If you’ve instructed your writer to keep to a certain character limit, writing style or keyword density, add a few tools to help them stay on track.
You can also share tools for image sourcing, image compression, plagiarism and grammar checking.
As a writer, I have been granted Pro access to many valuable SEO and content management tools by direct clients and agencies.
17. Call-to-Action (CTA)
What action do you want readers to take during or after reading?
For this article, my CTAs were to download my free Notion content brief template halfway through the article and hire me to write detailed content briefs or articles at the end.
How long should a content brief be?
The length of a content brief is not as important as its details. I’ve seen content briefs longer than the articles they guided for and wondered why the content strategist didn’t just write the article themselves, but I eventually got it. You should rather have too much than too little information.
The more detailed a content brief is, the better the article will be.
Then again, too much information can be overwhelming for the content writer. Remember charades? Only the most important clues that quickly convey the entire message are acted out. Don’t sacrifice clarity for length.
SEO Content Brief Template for Writers
Time is money and the best part of using content brief templates is the time saved on ideation. Download my customizable content brief template on Notion to put some extra time in your wallet.
If you’re too busy to create SEO content briefs for your writers or fill templates, I’m here to help. Fill out my contact form, and I will gladly take any content writing and strategy task off your hands.