17 Ingredients of a Killer Content Brief

how to write content brief

There’s nothing worse as an editor or content manager than having to review a piece of content that misses the mark, especially when you have a hard deadline coming up quickly.

But what if I told you there was a sure-fire way to avoid bummers like this by just putting in a little bit of extra thought and time at the beginning of your project?

“Taking the time to create a thorough but concise brief is probably the single greatest investment you can make in both your work efficiency and your sanity,” writes Dan Hatch of the Content Marketing Institute.

I couldn’t agree more. Back when I used to manage a corporate content team, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as our briefs became more and more detailed, our content workflow became more streamlined and we saw a lift in web traffic. Writers didn’t have as many questions, editors didn’t have to spend as much time editing, and our content became some of the best content out there in our industry. 

After all, this is what a well-prepared brief can get you:

  • It sets the expectations clearly for everyone.
  • It signals to the writer that you care about quality.
  • It results in better content.
  • It can save you HOURS of editing.
  • Depending on the scope of your project, it can save you hundreds to thousands on a project.

So today I’m going to share with you the content brief that got us such great results. As a note, the content brief I’m going to be talking about integrates SEO best practices, which makes it perfect for organic content like blog articles and product and service landing pages. While you don’t have to follow it line by line, it serves as a helpful starting point for the development of your own briefs.

What should be included in a content brief?

A good content brief should include the following. While this may look like a lot at first glance, I promise it’s not that much work. Once you get the hang of it, you can have one completed in 20 to 30 minutes. And it’s a thousand percent worth your time to provide clear direction upfront, especially if you’re looking to dominate search rankings and you only have so much budget and time to spend on content development.

Read on to learn more about each item in detail. 

  1. Title
  2. Client
  3. Audience 
  4. Deadline
  5. Fee
  6. Purpose
  7. Topic summary
  8. Word count range
  9. Outline
  10. Featured Snippets
  11. Primary, secondary, and LSI keywords
  12. Competitor examples
  13. People Also Ask questions
  14. Related searches
  15. Links to include
  16. Resources
  17. Contact and submission info 

1. Title

Start with a working title that summarizes the gist of the article or project. (You can ask your content writer to suggest a few titles or headlines.)

2. Client

Who is it for and what do they do? Include links to information about the brand, their products and services, and the audience they serve.

3. Audience 

Describe the readers of your content, and be sure to include as many audience insights as you can, which will be especially helpful for agency partners or freelancers who are unfamiliar with your industry.

4. Deadline

When is the content due?

5. Fee

This is optional, but you may choose to include the flat fee of the article content directly in the brief.

6. Purpose

If you have a special purpose for the article such as to generate interest in a particular product, exhibit your expertise in a particular area, or drive traffic to a specific landing page, this is the place to say that.

7. Topic summary

A topic summary, which could be as short as just a sentence or two, should tell your content writer the angle you want to take on the topic as well as any messages you want to incorporate.

8. Word count range

According to HubSpot, the ideal word count for SEO ranges anywhere from 2,100 to 2,400. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? I think so too. Personally, I’ve found the best way to determine the word count of your SEO content is to review the top-ranking content for the keyword you’re targeting. Aim for just a bit more than your top rankers — to add just a bit more value. Don’t be surprised if that’s a lot of words. Depending on the industry, you might have to get into the 1500-2000 word range to rank competitively. But usually, I find the sweet spot to be around 900-1100 words.

9. Outline

While your average content writer should be able to sketch out their own outline based on the rest of the details of your content brief, sometimes you want to make sure to touch on specific points or messaging. In a case like that, a simple outline can be helpful for writers.

According to Semrush, “A featured snippet is a small excerpt of content that appears at the top of an organic Google SERP. It provides a quick resource for users and shows up before the first result for a user’s query — often referred to as ‘Position #0.’”

There are four types of Featured Snippets:

  1. Paragraphs
  2. Tables
  3. Lists
  4. Videos

Depending on your search query, there may or may not be Featured Snippets available for you to win. If there are, take a screenshot to show what has grabbed position #0 and try to go after the same spot by providing the same information in the same format, but make sure you take it to the next level in terms of quality — perhaps by including some additional details, for example, or by wording the answer more concisely.

11. Primary, secondary, and LSI keywords

Your keywords will likely come from your SEO agency or in-house team. Be careful not to overwhelm writers with too many keywords or your content will lose its focus in the eyes of Google’s algorithm. 

I like to choose 1 or 2 primary keywords and 3 or 4 secondary keywords.

It’s also a good idea to include in this section how you prefer writers to use these keywords. Here are a couple of best practices:

  • Include the primary keyword in the H1, the first sentence or opening paragraph, and at least one of the H2s
  • Secondary keywords should make their way into the H2s and H3s and be sprinkled throughout the body copy
  • Tertiary aka LSI keywords should be appear in the body copy
What are LSI keywords? 
LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing, which are terms related to the main keyword that search engines use to understand the content on a page more deeply. (Fun fact: the suggested searches that populate the drop-down menu when you search for a phrase are actually LSI keywords.) 

I often call these “tertiary” keywords in content briefs so as not to confuse the writers.
Personally, I’ve always been skeptical about overemphasizing LSI keywords. I’m fully confident that if your writer does a thorough job tackling the subject, it’s likely they’ll cover all the major LSI keywords for your primary keyword. 

Personally, I like to include them to spark ideas for content. The main thing to keep in mind is the purpose behind them — to give Google’s algorithm more context around your topic so they understand that you’re covering it thoroughly.

12. Competitor examples

Under competitor examples you should include about 5-10 links to competing articles that deal with the same or similar topic. 

This is a particularly juicy section for SEO strategists and writers because it tells you:

  • What’s ranking the highest
  • The approximate word count you should shoot for

Not only that, it will spark ideas for how to outrank what’s already performing well. 

For example, if one of the competitor examples is titled “8 Tips for Writing a Content Brief,” you know that “5 Tips for Writing a Content Brief” isn’t going to sound as enticing — so you should shoot for at least 7 tips if you can. Or, if all the competitor articles offer “Tips for” or “Best Practices” in their titles, you can pivot slightly and produce a “Complete Guide to Writing an SEO Content Brief.”

As you review the competitor articles, make a quick note of what makes them successful as well as opportunities for higher quality. Or, if you’re pressed for time or you’re working with experienced writers, you could just leave it up to your writers to do that for you. This might include:

  • Adding more illustrations
  • Including an expert interview or too
  • Telling the stories of real people who have slayed your topic
  • Adding more words

If you’re pressed for time or working with experienced writers, you could leave it to your writers to analyze these.

13. People Also Ask questions

At the top of the SERP results you’ll often find questions users ask related to your search query. Not only is this information great for inspiring content ideas for your article or web page, but you should actively go after as many of them as you can. Note: You don’t need to use a question-and-answer format to capture these spots — just answer the question in a complete sentence.

At the bottom of the SERP results you’ll find searches related to the query you entered in Google. This information is great for inspiring ideas on how to add value to your article by addressing search-adjacent topics. 

By including a screenshot of this section, you can inspire the writer to talk about the things that should be on the minds of your readers, resulting in a higher-quality article that answers as many questions as it can on the topic.

This is one of those elements that I leave to the writer’s discretion, although every now and then I might want to make a note under the topic summary to discuss something mentioned under this section.

As you can see under Related Searches, people are looking for a content brief template. So that tells me, if I really want to add some value, I could add a content brief template to my article. 

Oh, hey, what’s this? Looks like somebody did their homework …

Download C-POP’s Killer Content Template Brief

For SEO purposes and to boost engagement with your site, include a list of internal links to blog content, downloadable goodies, and products and services pages. Ideally, an article 2,000 words in length should have about 3 to 5 internal links.

16. Resources

Include links to your style guide, examples of successful similar content, and any other resources you can think of that will be helpful to writers.

17. Contact and submission info 

To ensure your content workflow stays smooth and streamlined, it’s helpful to include instructions on how to submit the draft and the appropriate contact for writers to reach out to should they have any questions.

Who should write content briefs?

In many organizations content marketing managers and specialists are responsible for writing content briefs. Ideally, they should be an experienced writer or editor, which will help them provide the right kind of details that a writer is looking for in a brief.

Content Brief Tips

Here are a few tips for writing faster, better content briefs:

  • Create your own content brief template for each type of article (how-to guide, listicle, thought leadership piece, etc.) you produce 
  • Delegate SEO tasks including keyword research, word count recommendations, competitor article research, and collecting screenshots of Featured Snippets and Related Searches to junior associates or interns
  • (For you overachievers out there) Include a link to an already created article template in Google Docs for your writers to submit their article, which will help them stick to your format requirements.

A good content brief serves as the bridge between strategy and content. The more thoughtful your brief is with regard to your brand’s goals and SEO strategies, the easier it is to execute your strategy.

A good content writer, regardless of whether or not you provide a content brief, will take the time to do thoughtful research as they tackle your article or landing page, but even the best writers aren’t mind readers. If you want to make things easier for everyone and ensure your content hits out of the park, it’s all about that brief.

Looking for a partner to help you create hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark content? Contact us today and we’ll be glad to lend a helping hand.

Jesse Relkin

Jesse Relkin is the founder and CEO of C-POP. She has been a freelance writer and content marketing professional for more than a decade, with experience in content strategy, SEO, social media, PR, and more. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.