Sometimes, content projects don’t turn out the way you wanted.
Maybe the strategist wanted simple tips on container gardening for a beginner, but the content writer went off on a long tangent about the intricacies of soil testing. The result is everyone’s least favorite kind of revision: a total rewrite.
How do you prevent content creation from going so far off track?
With a content brief.
Providing a clear and complete content brief is the not-so-secret key to keeping content projects on the right track and avoiding frustrating rewrites.
What is a content brief?
A content brief is a set of requirements and recommendations that guides the writer as they create a piece of content. It typically includes basic requirements like word count, topic, title, and keywords to use. It can also provide in-depth information on the content’s goals, audience, and a rough outline.
One critical part of what makes a content brief is that it is documented. A meeting is not a content brief – and neither are your jumbled meeting notes. A content brief provides a written record of what is expected from the content.
You can use content briefs for any kind of content – blog posts, case studies, long-form articles, product pages, ebooks – but it’s especially important when you're producing SEO content that needs to rank in search results.
What information belongs in a content brief?
Anything that a writer might need to create the content should be in the brief. It’s better to go slightly overboard than to leave out necessary information.
Although different types of content may call for different brief templates, you can’t go wrong by covering:
- Suggested title and headings
- Primary keyword, an overview of subtopics or long-tail keywords
- Questions the content should answer
- Rough outline of the content and sections
- Goals for the content
- How the writer should match search intent
- Recommended word count
- Deadlines and milestones
- Requirements for internal and external links
- Background research
- Links to resources like a style guide
- Details about the target audience or customer
- Brand’s point of view on the topic
- Notes on the style, format, and tone of the content
- Next steps or CTAs for the reader
- Guidance on visual elements like graphics and illustrations
- Meta descriptions for search results and social media previews
One of the most important rules for writing briefs is that they should be structured. Even if your content brief starts as a brain dump, take the time to go back and organize your thoughts into sections and bullet points.
Want to build the best brief possible? Check out our free template.
Why are content briefs important?
Jumping into a content project without a content brief is a bit like asking a contractor to build you a house with no sketch and no blueprint. You’ll end up with a house, just not the house you want. It’s best to check out a blueprint before anyone starts pouring concrete.
Prevent rewrites and reduce revisions
Content briefs make it possible for the content team (clients, strategists, marketing managers, content creators, and editors) to align. Miscommunications happen all the time over questions like:
- Who is the intended audience or buyer persona for this content?
- What questions should the content answer?
- How in-depth does the content need to be?
- What’s the brand’s point of view on this topic?
With a great content brief, everyone has a clear understanding of what the writer will produce – critical for avoiding massive rewrites and multiple rounds of revisions.
Don’t miss any critical information
Ever tried to grocery shop without a list? It’s not great. Content briefs can function as a checklist for content. By highlighting the subtopics, facts, and questions that you want included in the content, you can help writers produce the kind of comprehensive content that search engines love. This prevents writers from omitting critical requirements in the content, such as up-to-date statistics, reference tables, graphs, and whatever else you feel is necessary.
Content Harmony makes it easy to review outlines for competitor content to be sure that you’re covering all relevant subtopics.
Provide a single source of truth for team communications
When you have a half-dozen different ways to communicate information – meetings, Google Docs, email, Slack, Trello – finding a specific piece of information is rough.
Collecting everything in the content brief eliminates the scavenger hunt. Everyone involved in the project knows exactly where to find information, which is even more important if your project has lots of stakeholders.
Get clear direction and approval
Whether you’re a freelance writer or run an agency, you can attest to the fact that it’s key to get external approval for the content before you create it. No one wants to spend hours ideating, researching, and writing content only to be told by your client that it’s not a fit for their business.
A content brief helps all stakeholders stay aligned. An initial back and forth helps set clear expectations on aspects such as word length, keywords, tone of voice, delivery timelines, publishing schedules, and more.
Every writer has a story of a client who changed direction midway through a project. Although a content brief can’t stop anyone from changing their mind, it does provide a milestone for checking in and ensuring that everyone is committed to a specific direction.
And if there are questions later? Anyone can refer back to the content brief as a record of what they decided on.
Who uses content briefs?
Anyone who works with content will benefit from content briefs, but here are two roles that typically create them.
Marketing and SEO strategists are pros at keyword research, content strategy, and planning. Detailed content briefs give them a way to communicate their insights to writers, beyond basic requirements like primary keyword and word count.
For writers, one of the hardest parts of producing good content is knowing how their piece fits into a broader strategy. With a quality content brief, writers can produce content that aligns with the content marketing strategy, performs better, and requires less back-and-forth with an editor.
Not all content projects have a dedicated strategist. In those cases, the writer typically creates the content brief. Sharing this content brief gives them a way to get client buy-in on the content before they finish drafting. It’s not uncommon for clients to provide only high-level instruction, so an effective content brief lets the writer confirm that their plan matches the client’s.
Using the brief as a milestone for client review is particularly useful for a freelance writer working with a new client, since neither person has a firm understanding of the other’s expectations.
When should I use a content brief?
You should absolutely use a content brief with any content project that involves more than a single person. The more people are involved, the more you’ll need an awesome content brief. It’s the best way to keep everyone aligned and deliver content that achieves its goals.
Remember, though – a very large team doesn’t make for great content, even with a perfect brief. Too many stakeholders can confuse the piece’s core message.
A brief can also be a useful tool when working on content alone. It helps you organize your ideas, research, and keywords to make sure you don’t miss anything or waste time writing the wrong content. When working alone, you can often skip much of the structure of a larger brief and focus on critical research and the content outline itself.
Should I use templates for content briefs?
Yes, you definitely should. Drafting briefs from scratch for every piece of content is a waste of time – and creating great content briefs can already be time-consuming. (It’s way quicker with Content Harmony, though!)
A template helps you remember everything that you need to explain. When you’re creating a brief without a template, it’s easy to forget background information that’s important to guide the content – things like the buyer persona, sales funnel stage, or required internal links. Templates prevent that and provide a structure to keep your content brief organized and easy to follow.
To get started, you can download the Content Harmony content brief template.
Are content briefs different from creative briefs?
While they are similar, creative briefs are used on a broad variety of marketing projects, and content briefs are typically used for long-form written content. Creative briefs are more commonly used for ad campaigns, creative design projects, web design projects, and other design or copywriting focused projects. Content briefs are more commonly used for projects like blog posts or whitepapers.
Content briefs get you better content, faster
If you aren’t creating content briefs already (or are sometimes skipping them), it’s time to make them part of your content creation process. Spending time on an effective content brief saves frustration by helping you to get the best content possible the first time around.
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