I bet you a content brief never crosses your mind when you think of a smart content marketing strategy.
But here’s the thing.
Content briefs are the unsung heroes of successful content pieces.
They never make it to the plenary sessions of star B2B marketing conferences. They’re seldom discussed in popular podcasts. Nor are there a dozen ultimate guides on them.
Writing content without a solid brief is catastrophic. Everything and everyone in the content chain suffers.
Writers are stymied by the lack of direction. Readers aren’t engaged or motivated enough to take the next step in the customer journey. Content managers and editors are furious because writers don’t meet their high expectations.
You fall short of the campaign goals.
By learning how to write a magnificent content brief, you turn things around. You increase the odds of creating successful SEO content.
With B2B decision-makers spending over 70% of the purchase cycle engaging with content before getting in touch with sales reps, you can’t afford to wing your content writing process anymore.
In this article, I will show you how to write a winning content brief that speeds up your B2B content production and supercharges content marketing results.
What Is A Content Brief?
A content brief is a short, informative one or two-page editorial document that outlines the objectives, scope, and requirements of a piece of content to guide writers when they write it.
These concise specifications help the writer to create an excellent piece that lines up with a brand’s specific campaign goals.Like a flight plan, a content brief keeps writers fiercely focused on the right path so the piece reaches its content marketing destination.Click To Tweet
Content managers, managing editors, or content strategists craft briefs.
4 Classic Signs You Are Getting Your Content Brief Wrong
I’m amazed at the number of B2B brands that give writers one-line instructions when they commission a piece of writing. Whatever success you get is down to luck. But luck isn’t a long-term business strategy. For those that use content briefs, the quality is often poor.
Substandard briefs are a bottleneck that hinders the growth of many B2B brands and curtails inbound marketing leads.
How do you know you must improve your content briefs?
Here are 4 telltale signs you need to relook your content briefs.
#1. You start many projects from scratch.
Does this describe you?
You get posts that aren’t remotely close to what you wanted. And they’re so bad you want to pull your hair out if you have any left that is. 😀
So the solution is to redo the whole damn thing.
You waste precious time, overshoot deadlines, and pressurize other departments whose work depends on the completed piece.
The cause of all this misery?
You didn’t spell out all your goals and expectations in the content brief.
#2. You do a ton of editing.
Yes, great writing is rewriting. But it doesn’t mean you must rewrite the entire piece. That’s why you hired a writer in the first place, right?
So if you often do long unending back-and-forths with your writer to fix a piece, the content brief may be the culprit, not the writer.
Your instructions are:
Consequently, your writers have to guess what you want.
A messed up piece that takes forever to clean up.
#3. You have a high writer turnover.
If you always have to fire writers every other month because they don’t get it, the problem may be closer to home than you think.
Your editorial process is the culprit, not writers.
Your brief is weak and leaves too much to the imagination.
Because you don’t give writers clear direction, they produce what they think will do and end up missing the mark by a long way.
#4. You always clash with writers.
Without a strong brief charting the way, even your best writers flounder.
Their style is off. They miss key details. They stumble on industry nuances.
So you go through endless tussles with them to get the article into decent publishable shape.
Writers for their part think you are a difficult client to work with. You keep on bringing up issues you didn’t ask for in the beginning. In fact, they dread your next communication because they know you are likely to point them in a new direction—again and again.
If you regularly clash with your writers, you are the problem, not the writers.
Here’s the thing.
You don’t stumble upon content marketing success. You can’t wing it and win. You must be intentional with content creation. A content brief crystalizes your intentions and expectations.
6 Benefits Of A Strong Freelance Content Brief
A detailed content brief with meticulous instructions for a writer has six advantages:
1. Your content creator will hit all the right notes
Because your writer has an outline, key takeaways, success criteria, and more on hand, she’ll craft a tight piece that touches on all the points that matter.
2. Your content creator won’t stray from your objectives.
Because the goals of the post are spelled out, your writer is more likely to hit them.
3. Your copywriter (and editor) will work 2x faster.
Your writer won’t waste precious time cracking her head about the angle, basic competitor research, or coming up with an outline. The editor will save time because writers will get things right in the first (or second) draft.
4. You will have a piece that covers all the key points.
No unwanted surprises of a post that goes off on a tangent barely touching the points you wanted to be the crux of the piece.
5. You have a tool to facilitate editing.
A content brief acts as a focal point for editing. It’s an editing benchmark for the writer and editor.
6. You work better with writers.
Because you’ve set clear project expectations for writers, they’re more likely to do their best work that meets your desires. Plus, you’ll preempt most of their questions.
No doubt with a rock-solid content brief driving your content writing strategy, you work:
Better. Faster. Smarter.
You set up your writers for success.
Let’s now move on to the big question.
How Do You Write A Content Brief? A 15-Point Checklist For Better Content
First, let’s get the basics out of the way.
- Working title.
- Word count range.
- Due date.
- Name and contact details of the commissioning editor.
- Note about the company and its positioning.
That said, let’s dig into other sections of a rock-solid creative content brief.
#1: The angle of the piece
Let’s admit it.
You and your competitors draw from the same sources. You use the same tools. You attend the same conferences. You follow the same influencers. As a result, if you don’t find a way to differentiate your piece, you’ll be swallowed up by the sea of sameness.
Find a unique take on the topic. You can distinguish your post through:
- Data– point out that the piece must be supported with fresh data from high-authority sources instead of tapping from dated numbers that have been quoted a bazillion times by everyone.
- Drama– sometimes all it takes to stand out is to present your points more spectacularly than everybody else. For instance, you could ask your writer to present a contrarian view on the topic.
- Detail– note that the post must cover every conceivable part of the topic. It must be the best resource on the topic found online by its sheer depth.
To outrank your rivals, approach your piece from a new angle.
Unlike most posts on the subject, this article will delve deep into the topic and explore finer details to help users…
#2: Customer journey stage
Undeniably, different content types are suited to different stages of the customer journey.
To begin with, clarify which part of the funnel you are targeting so your piece is laser-focused, not general.
- Top Of The Funnel (TOFU)
- Middle Of The Funnel (MOFU)
- Bottom Of The Funnel (BOFU)
Prospects at the top of the funnel aren’t aware of the problem your product solves. They may not even be aware they have a problem. So TOFU content generates awareness. MOFU content nurtures the prospect-turned-lead by educating them more about the problems you solve. Finally, BOFU content clinches the conversion because the lead can make an informed decision.
Here’s a graphic from Shopify that sums it up nicely.
Put another way:
- TOFU content starts a conversation.
- MOFU content deepens the conversation.
- BOFU content closes the conversation with a conversion.
Once your writer understands which part of the buyer’s journey the piece is targeting, they can produce a focused piece that is likely to serve its purpose.
State which type of content you want otherwise a giant list post will land in your inbox when you want a case study instead.
Is it a(n):
- Ultimate guide.
- Comparison post.
- Case study.
- List post.
- A review post.
Your writer can write a humdinger of a post, but if it’s the wrong content type, it won’t rank. Your piece must match the type of posts that are ranking for the keyword you are targeting.
See a sample from the excerpt below.
It’s crystal clear that this post is a no-holds-barred in-depth review.
#3: Level of awareness
Also, your brief must address the key issue of awareness.
How aware is the target audience of the topic under discussion? Good content meets people where they are and takes them to the next level of awareness. It moves prospects from the known to the unknown.
These are the 3 basic levels of awareness:
- At the top of the funnel, prospects are unaware of your solution and the problems you solve.
- In the middle of the funnel, leads are aware of the problems you solve but need education about the solution.
- At the bottom of the funnel, leads are aware of the solution/product and are weighing their options.
Plus, they won’t rehash stuff your audience already knows and thus fail to engage them.
This is a TOFU post that aims to make the audience aware of the problem our solution solves.
While people who will read this post know about the widget, they are not sure what exactly it does. The post must explore all the common uses of the widget. It must show how the widget solves problems a, b, and c.
#4: Target audience
Without a doubt, the target audience is at the heart of the piece.
Give your writer enough info about your target audience so she writes relevant content that addresses their needs. This is a great time to revisit your buyer persona.
Touch on 3 aspects:
Basic surface-level facts like age, gender, marital status, education level, occupation, annual income, etc.
Deeper emotional and social factors that influence behavior. Psychographics include values, beliefs, interests, social class, challenges, dreams, etc.
How much do the readers know about the topic? Identify the gaps in their knowledge that the piece of content must fill.
#5: User intent
Unquestionably, Google is all about serving up results that best meet the users’ needs. They reward pages that satisfy the reader’s intention.
People click on a page for at least three reasons.
- Do they want to know something? (Informational)
- Are they looking for reviews or comparisons? (Commercial investigation)
- Do they want to buy something? (Transactional)
Here’s how you can phrase it:
Based on the results returned by Google, user intent when searching for [main keyword] is [informational/Transactional/Investigational]. Readers want to: learn how to…, find out…, discover…, etc.
#6: Primary Keyword
Your article must have a focal keyword around which the piece revolves.
This is straightforward so we won’t belabor the point.
However, the days of ranking posts by stuffing the main keyword throughout a post are long gone. To move the Google algorithm, you must also target secondary keywords—lots of them. LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords help Google pick expressions naturally connected to the main keyword.
Give your writer a list of secondary keywords as shown below.
Urge your copywriter to use them as subheads and sprinkle them generously throughout the post wherever naturally possible.
#7: Outline and main takeaways
Next, what are the main takeaways you want the piece to communicate?
Your outline should cover:
- working headline.
- main takeaways.
Admittedly, creating a detailed outline takes time. But it’s a worthwhile time investment for a bang on post that’s aligned to your goals. If you don’t have the time to write one, ask your writer to create one for you and submit it for review before she writes the rest of the piece.
The case in point is this freelance content brief.
Clearly, such intricate details help your writer stay on course and say exactly what you want to communicate.
#8: Competitor posts
In this section, show your writer what they are up against.
Highlight particular details of rival posts.
Note the good/bad, and what you want to do instead.
- Length– how long are the top-ranking posts? Do you want your writer to match that or make your resource bigger, richer?
- Examples– what sort of illustrations do they use? Are they current or old?
- Visuals– what type of visuals do they use? Screenshots, stock photos, GIFs, infographics, or maps? How can yours be better?
- Detail– are the points shallow? Do you want the writer to go deeper or make complex points simpler?
- Subtopics– identify subtopics covered by most competitors. Make sure your writers touch on them and then some. Which new subtopics do you want to include?
The idea is to beat what’s already out there.
#9: Tone, Style, And Formatting
It’s crucial for your content producer not only to know what to write but also how to write it.In a sense, the content itself is the product, the brand voice, tone, and style are the packaging.Click To Tweet
Is your language and style:
- Casual-laid back, friendly, warm, inspirational, personal. Supportive and eager to interact and engage.
- Formal– serious, straightforward, and focuses on facts.
- Quirky– unconventional, cheeky, bold, fascinating, and willing to push boundaries and challenge the status quo. Direct and free to use unusual examples.
- Humorous– playful, cheerful.
Your piece should be written in one consistent style and your writer must know from the get-go the style you are gunning for. Embrace emotion, even for B2B content. Let your brand personality shine through your copy.
Cover formatting guidelines as well e.g.
- H2 for topic headings. H3 for subtopic headings.
- Use sub-headers often to break-down large blocks of content.
- Minimum of five subheadings, and conclusion.
Here’s a sample writing style portion.
- Writing on [Brand X] is friendly, conversational, and entertaining. Content is broken down into small digestible sentences so no long blocks of paragraphs, please.
- The tone is aimed at being honest, candid, and refreshing—giving readers the value without any of the fluff.
- Try not to exceed 300 words per sub-heading (once is fine but try to keep it below 300 as a general rule of thumb)
- Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your writing! 😃😎😋
- Use the active voice and do not exceed the 10% of the writing limit shown in Yoast WordPress for passive voice (shown at bottom of page when you craft your post).
Better still, include examples of content that uses the style you are looking for.
#10: Linking Instructions
Smart links are an integral part of high-performing SEO content. Any savvy freelance SEO copywriter and marketer has a proven linking strategy.
In your brief, spell out your linking procedures.
- Internal links– point out the inhouse posts you want to link to and the minimum required per post.
- Outgoing links– say how many outgoing links you want. Provide specific studies you want to be referenced.
- Anchor text-state the phrases to be used when linking to internal posts.
- Keyword placement– state where you want the main keyword and secondary keywords to be placed.
#11. Product features and benefits
If your piece involves discussing your tool or product, supply the details.
List the features and benefits you want to highlight.
However, tell your writer to be balanced. If all they do is sing your product’s praises, you’ll lose authenticity.
For SaaS tools, give the writer full access so they get a feel of what it’s like to use it. This first-hand experience will be invaluable. It’ll help the writer communicate accurately and naturally because they have insider knowledge. The writing will be real, not forced.
Plus, they’ll also discover hidden benefits to showcase.
#12: Success Criteria
Every content piece must have one, clear, overriding goal—only one goal.
That goal must be clearly articulated.
What are you aiming for? What do you want to see to deem the post successful?
- Brand awareness?
- Higher rankings?
- More shares?
- Free trials?
Come up with realistic goals that take into account niche trends, competition, site DA, and how much you want to invest in the campaign.
Your goal determines how your writer approaches the piece. For instance, if you want to spark a conversation and engagement, your post will be provocative. On the other hand, if you desire sign-ups you use a more level headed approach.An article without a goal is just stuff floating around the web. It doesn’t contribute one bit to your content marketing growth. It won’t increase ROI or boost ROAS.Click To Tweet
A clear goal inspires, guides, and challenges your writer to do their best to achieve it.
#13: Call to action
Your article serves a purpose, right?
You don’t want your reader to read down to the end of your piece and leave without taking the next step. Results-getting content has a goal.
What do you want readers to do next after reading your piece? That step must fit seamlessly into your conclusion.
Do you want them to:
- Comment on your post?
- Download a resource?
- Book a consultation?
- Register for a free call?
- Signup for a free trial?
- Watch a demo video?
- Visit your product page?
Whatever the desired action is, state it so your writer weaves it into the conclusion.
#14. Editing and submission
Tell your writer how you typically edit and submit content.
- How many rounds of editing should the writer expect?
- What’s your preferred editing and Grammar software?
- How do you want them to submit the post? E.g. via Google Docs, Word file, or a PDF?
This guarantees you a polished piece submitted in your favorite format.
#15: Additional Notes
In this part, put any other tidbits to help your writer craft a rock-solid piece.
- Extra reading material.
- Favorite data sources.
- Partner quotes you want to include.
- Related blog posts.
- Links to resources like image library.
- Words and expressions you never use.
- Style Guide/Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
Throw in anything that’ll ensure your content connects, convinces, and converts.
What Should Be Included In A Content Brief?
Having said all this, there is no one-size-fits-all article brief.
Every brand is unique.
Niches are different. Campaign goals are poles apart. Plus, editorial teams approach things in particular ways.
Still, vitals cut across every sector. Get the basics right and tweak the rest to suit your context. Pick sections that make sense to you. Merge others. Experiment until you find the perfect mix of content brief elements that empower your team of writers to produce high-performing content for your brand.
Content Brief Software For Faster And Smarter Briefs
I’m sure you’ll agree with me that crafting a brief is a laborious process.
There’s so much to cover, so little time.
That’s where AI-based software comes in to save the day.
With a content brief software, you whip up briefs faster and save hours of research time. Here are two software to try:
This software covers:
- Search intent insights– know exactly what searchers are looking for so you produce content that meets their needs.
- Topic modeling– gives you crucial terms and keywords to massage into your content.
- Keyword difficulty– get Content Difficulty, Link Difficulty, and Domain Difficulty scores to quickly grasp why a keyword is easy or difficult.
- Questions– quickly understand common questions people are asking about your topic based on sources like People Also Ask, top Quora threads, and more.
- Visual content analysis– Content Harmony shows you what types of images competitors are using in their content.
- Video content analysis– find video content worth mentioning, and learn more about your topic.
Starts at $99 per month.
The brief template includes:
- Overview– average word count, sources, prominent title topics, and must-include topics.
- Links– an analysis of all links referenced by posts in the top results.
- Topics– a list of the 20 topmost topics around the topic you are writing about.
- Suggested H2/Subsections– Frase pulls together all H2s/H3s subsections of content from other top-ranking articles for your topic and focus keyword(s).
- Statistics– the software picks sentences that mention facts and statistics across search results.
- Summaries– Frase gives you a bulleted summary of competitor content so you get a high-level understanding of your contenders
Starts at $39,99 per month.
The best part of the content brief software?
They automate repetitive time-consuming tasks.Improve productivity and shave off hours of research by using AI-driven software to complement your content brief creation process.Click To Tweet
Overall, superb content briefs improve your writing team’s efficiency and make your editorial workflow smoother.
Content Brief: Your Reliable Content Compass
Undoubtedly, meaty content briefs are the missing link in most misfiring B2B content. Get them right and you’ll see your content make headway.
A sound well-researched brief is a compass.
It charts the course and keeps everything aligned to the true north of your content goals. With a detailed brief on hand to guide content writers, everyone wins.
Your content creators will work with precision and hit the mark always.
Your readers will be engrossed and take the desired next step in the customer journey.
Your editors will be delighted and spend far less time editing, thus freeing up time for other tasks.
Ultimately, your on-point content will convert and achieve all the campaign’s goals.
P.S. While a superb content brief gives you a headstart, it’s not everything. You still need a talented copywriter to execute its contents to achieve results with your content. Check out my SEO copywriting page for details.