As someone who both works as a freelance writer and who has hired other writers, I will never stop stressing the importance of a great content brief when it comes to a happy working relationship.
Sometimes you can give a writer a topic or keyword and let them loose, but more often than not, this isn’t the case. If you have something specific in mind, especially if you’re handling the strategy on your end, it’s crucial to effectively communicate exactly what you want and expect.
Carefully written and thorough content briefs are the ultimate best practice when you’re outsourcing content writing of any kind and you’ve got an image in mind for what that final end product will be like. Creating these briefs, however, is something that seems to stump many.
In this post, we’re going to go over how to write a brief for content that will consistently get you the blog post you want the first time.
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Table of Contents
What is a content brief?
A content brief is a document you share with a writer that outlines core information that’s vital to a project while setting your expectations.
It’s common for companies outsourcing work to freelancers to send their own briefs so that they can increase the likelihood of getting the content written how they wanted, but it’s also common for agencies to distribute briefs to their internal writers, too.
Briefs can be concise or in-depth, depending on how much freedom you want to give the writer. If you just want to include an approximate title, a keyword, and a word count, that’s fine. You can also include H2s and H3s with external links you want included and a full breakdown of the strategy.
While in many cases it is clients or agencies who are creating briefs to hand to writers, in some cases the client or agency may request that the writer submit the brief to them for approval. In these cases, you absolutely need to be as detailed as possible to increase client satisfaction rates.
How to write a brief that gets results
When you want to write a brief that gets you the exact results that you want, there are six simple steps that you’ll want to follow. Let’s take a look at each one.
Assume the writer knows nothing about what you want
This sounds patronizing, but it’s really not. Writers are not mind readers, despite what some clients think, and you shouldn’t assume that they automatically can just somehow telepathically understand what you’re looking for.
Saying “I want a blog post about social media statistics, 1000 words” could mean that you want an in-depth look at 10 statistics about social media in general. It could also mean you want 45 statistics, listed back to back, that are relevant specifically to agencies, to marketers, or to small businesses.
When you approach the brief writing from this perspective, as opposed to putting together some information that you would need to write an article, you’re much more likely to get off to a good start.
Start with simple formatting
As you’re putting together the brief, you want to stick to simple formatting. This makes it easier for the writer to fully take in and comprehend the information, as opposed to sending the information all in one or two blocks of text where things become easier to miss.
Every criteria you include in the brief should have a label of some sort, like:
- Word count: 1000-1300
- Stage of the funnel: Low
- Primary keyword: Content brief
Speaking from experience, it’s much easier for writers to digest the information when it’s presented like this.
Nothing is missed, and it’s easy for us to input that information into our own documents while writing (I use comments on Google Drive to remind myself of key information) or to refer back to the brief as needed.
Share the topic, keywords, & word count
This is the most important information a brief should contain if you’re sending a full assignment to a writer with all the details of what you expect.
The keyword section is easy enough; if you’re sending the writer a keyword as opposed to having them knock out the research, send any primary and secondary keywords you want to rank for.
Word count is also self-explanatory. List the target word count range. This can be formatted like:
- 1000-1500 words
- 1500 word count minimum
- 2000 words or under (this one isn’t as common, but clients sometimes send me this to keep the post within a certain budget)
Your “topic” section could include any or all of the following:
- A general idea you want the writer to run with, like “why not to use fabric softener on athletic clothes”
- A headline, like “Why Never to Use Fabric Softener on Athleticwear (& How to Fix It If You Do)”
- An explanation of what you want and why it’s important, like “Fabric softener can clog moisture-wicking properties on athleticwear, which can trap sweat and bacteria. Write an article explaining this, along with sharing how to fix this including with our product.”
When it comes to a topic brief, if you have an idea of what you want for each of the above, go ahead and take the time to include it. If you’re flexible (like having a topic but wanting the writer to generate the headline on their own, or you have a target idea but aren’t too fussed about how it unfolds in the article) then it’s fine to just include what you care about.
Mention the content’s goals
Writers and clients should always be on the exact same page about what each individual blog post and lead magnet should accomplish.
Here are a few examples of goals you might be considering:
- Optimizing for SEO
- Thought leadership posts about breaking topics and industry news
- Promoting the product or service
- Sending users to a lead magnet, which will capture their information
- Promoting a past webinar
Each piece of content can take multiple goals into account, but there should be a primary goal for each one. You don’t want to be promoting a product tutorial while pushing users to check out a lead magnet, too, because it’s encouraging users to take too many actions; you need to pick one.
Include core information you want included in the piece
If your team has put together a strategy for this post, there’s something you want included in it that you absolutely need to see.
Again: Trust me, writers aren’t mind readers. Even if they’re incredibly familiar with their product and brand, you need to tell them if you want something in there.
If you want statistical data in the post, make sure you ask for it. And if you want it from a certain source, ask for that, too; the writer won’t be a huge fan of doing detailed stat research only to have you say “Oh, I only want it from this person.”
This also means including any of the following:
- Quotes from your team you want included
- Links to products, posts, or lead magnets
- Mentions to products or services, and any specific features you want highlighted
- Any sections or H2s that are of particular importance
- Information about the types of images you want them to use
Competitor content to beat
Does your competition have a stellar blog post on a similar topic? Using the skyscraper method to make sure that you include everything they do and more (thus providing a more valuable resource) is a good move.
Again: Writers should be doing research on their own, but it’s easy to miss competitor blog posts if they don’t know where to look. Include links to any competitors that you want to beat.
Information about what not to include
There’s some things we definitely don’t want our writers to do, like link to competitors or use certain language. This information is typically included in your brand style guide (which is another post for another day).
That being said, sometimes it’s relevant to share information of what you don’t want a writer to do with a certain post.
Let’s go back to our don’t-use-fabric-softener-on-lululemon example.
You might really not want a writer to add an H3 that scientifically explains the makeup of the moisture-wicking fabric, because your audience will tune out.
Or you might really not want them to list types of athleisure clothes that are okay to use fabric softener with. You want it to be simple for your readers, and you want them to use your product on all their workout clothing.
You can also say “keep the section about solutions to a few sentences, and link to this post.”
The last content brief template you’ll ever need
Want to get started with high-quality content briefs that get results, but still feeling unsure about how to write a brief exactly?
This example can be used for any content brief, which you can adjust to your needs as you see fit.
- Title: Why You Should Never Use Fabric Softener on Moisture-Wicking Clothes
- Topic: Fabric softener can clog moisture-wicking properties on athleticwear, which can trap sweat and bacteria. Write an article explaining this, along with sharing how to fix this including with our product.
- Word count: 1000-1300
- Primary keyword: fabric softener on moisture-wicking clothes
- Links to include: these three blog posts (links here, here, and here)
- Products to mention: www.stinkbegone.com
- Content goal: Promote product as solution to problem
- Stage of the funnel: Bottom
- Additional instructions: Don’t go too far into detail about the chemistry; just link to this post here.
- Competitor content to beat: www.athleisurewear.com/no-fabric-softener
Want to make it simple? Access a customizable blog post brief template here.
When writing a brief, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you aren’t jotting down notes so that you can write a blog post later; it’s so that you can write high-value, resourceful, and detailed instructions so that you get a high-value, resourceful, and detailed blog post back.
Content can be expensive and time-consuming to create, so everyone wants to get it right the first time!
Looking for more tips to streamline your content marketing efforts? See how to streamline your content creation process here.