June 2, 2021

How To Create SEO Content Briefs That Deliver Better Content in Fewer Drafts

Derek Flint
Derek Flint

It’s the one resource that centers all of your content efforts. Content briefs are the asset SEO Strategists use to effectively communicate with everyone involved in the content creation process, especially with writers and editors.

If you've been receiving sub-par content from a writer, then this article and the linked SEO content brief template are for you. Open up the file and follow along. This is exactly how we as a SaaS content agency, align strategy and execution.

See the case study where we grew a SaaS company's organic traffic by 313% producing between 4 and 8 briefs per month.

Let’s start with what an SEO content brief is

An SEO content brief is a document that gives your writers, editors, and the SEO specialists everything they'll need in order to produce a high quality piece of content.

It provides insights into the keywords and search intent, who your competition is, the internal linking opportunities to your relevant articles and products, the unique POV the company wants to have about the topic, and an outline formatted for the best SEO results.

When done well, a content brief is a lot more than that. It’s not just for the writer, but for anyone invested in the success of the content program. It will likely include contextual CTA recommendations, thoroughness requirements, notes from subject matter experts, position in the funnel, who the target audience is, and more.

The biggest benefits of content briefs

Sometimes it’s easier to see the true benefits of an SEO-centric content brief if we walk through them.

1) Minimize the cost to produce content

Most of us are familiar with the old adage, “measure twice, cut once.”

A content brief provides the measurement notes that the SEO specialist found in order to minimize or reduce the number of times a draft must be revised, or worse, completely rewritten by content writers. 

Content costs a significant amount of money to create, and a great brief ensures that a writer knows exactly what they’re writing about and how to approach it. It also allows them a place to ask more questions as they explore the topic.

One additional cost savings often not mentioned in the context of good content brief creation is its role with writer and client retention. And this, of course, eliminates any additional financial and time-related costs associated with hiring and onboarding new writers or new clients.

2) Increase consistency across content and creators

Brand voice is very important for successful SaaS marketing. And a lot of content marketing departments are tasked with creating a cohesive and consistent feel. That doesn’t seem too challenging, right?

Well, actually, when it comes to producing content at scale, a lot of companies don’t have the good fortune or budget to hire an entire in-house team of writers to live, eat, and breathe your brand’s voice.

So what do you turn to if you’ll be outsourcing some or all of your writing to professionals that have multiple clients? How do you catch a new writer up on how your content should look and feel?

You’ll need a detailed content brief for each piece of content. By including all the important details associated with your brand, you’ll be able to create a more consistent experience even if you have multiple creators building your content.

3) Educate clients and writers on SEO best practices

For anyone who has had the experience of educating clients and writers on SEO best practices, you know that it is a labor of love that requires time and patience.

As a client or writer, you can’t be expected to learn everything in SEO as it relates to content. That’s why you’re hiring someone else to oversee optimization in the first place.

However, SEO professionals, writers, and clients will all benefit from creating an experience that provides built-in education over time. A content brief is the perfect medium to teach the importance of formatting your headers, placing keywords appropriately, explaining how word count is determined and how thoroughness is assessed.

Additionally, it provides writers a way to learn where they can exercise their creative freedoms and where they should stick to the script.

4) Create scalable formats for a similar type of content

If you're like us, you’re typically looking to find a way to create value while also reducing the amount of work and energy that everyone has to put into content creation.

A lot of times, in SEO content strategies, you’ll find a set of keywords that indicate multiple, repeatable pieces of content can be created with essentially the same exact format.

Example: Can dogs eat “x” in which x is grapes, oranges, strawberries, peanut butter, or almost any other food item you can imagine.

For this type of material, most writers could use one comprehensive content brief with a templatized format that would work for tens, hundreds, or even thousands of pieces of content. 

5) Build framework to consistently rank your content

SEO and content creation that produces repeatable results often comes down to formatting and adding value.

A content brief gives the framework and formatting for writers and clients that will produce SEO competitive results time and time again without expending the energy or effort required to focus on optimization.

Let the SEO do the optimization work, you can focus on incorporating the expertise and value adds.

6) Deliver completed content faster

Because content briefs built by SEO professionals set the expectations and provide detailed outlines and guide rails, you’ll often find that the content is able to be produced quicker and more efficiently than if you had opted to skip the brief creation process.

That means you and your writers can consistently meet, or even possibly exceed content production deadlines.

7) Increase buy-in for updating old or decayed content

We’ve talked about the importance of updating decaying content in the past. When your content team identifies underperforming traffic numbers, rankings, and conversions, it is helpful to increase buy-in to optimize that content again.

A brief is a great place to display screenshots and graphs related to performance for MoM or YoY metrics. Additionally, it will give the exact plan and analysis for what is missing and why it might now be underperforming.

Recommended Reading: What is Great Content? [+ How Marketers Create It, Consistently]

Where SEO content briefs fit into content marketing workflows

We’d like to briefly (ha!) touch on where a content brief fits into the content production process. Each agency or SEO might have a slightly different system but generally it will look something like this.

Step 1) Onboarding - SEO content agency or inhouse team work with the company executives, marketing leaders, and/or sales teams to get all the important goals, voice requirements, rate of production, and anything else squared away. This could be one long meeting or multiple meetings. 

Step 2: Build Content Strategy - Once all the initial questions have been answered, the content strategist will begin assembling a multi-month strategy aligned with the company goals.

This means answering the "how" and "why," content mapping and delivering a planned roadmap that considers keyword research, estimated search volume, search queries related to your products and services, funnel stages, goals, and ICP.

This will then be poked and prodded until the strategists and company agree on a set of content pieces to produce.

Step 3: Bring in the Subject Matter Experts - You might be the SME, someone on your marketing team might be the SME, or perhaps you'll need to schedule an interview with other team members within your company that have the most knowledge about a particular topic you're covering.

The team will then use the recording, transcription, and other notes left by the SME to inform your production team.

→ ***Step 4: Create the Content Briefs*** ← - Assuming that writers already exist on your team or on contract, we now enter the content brief stage. Your SEO specialists can get to work creating briefs for each piece of content, old or new. 

Company leaders, strategists, and SEO specialists should work together to insert important details as is necessary for the best outcome.

Tip: In our experience, the more a company owns and injects their expertise into the brief, the better it performs and the more likely it is to be shared outside of just the search engine results.

Step 5: Distribute to writers - After each brief is completed, it will be passed along to the assigned writers for them to conduct research and work their magical writing powers to create content so many of us look forward to reading.

This step requires some back and forth, writers should feel free to insert questions into the brief that teams can respond to. Once the final product comes back, it will be edited and polished for delivery.

Step 6: Delivery For Upload - Once delivered and scrutinized by whatever internal processes your team has, you can set it free on the internet.

Step 7: Analyze For Performance - The final part of what is a content cycle is to watch the data and performance of a piece. After a few months, you should feel free to modify as is necessary to get the desired results based on the data you have.

Looking for more highly tactical content marketing tips?

Creating an SEO content brief template - what to include:

The efficiency and flexibility of a custom content brief template built for your team will pay off as you continue to iterate on the writing process, work with different content creators, and figure out what gets you repeatable results.

Here is a content brief template that's completed filled out for you to dissect, modify, and use for your own team or clients. Feel free to make a copy!

We would, however, like to give you the starting outline to create your very own template with some of the parts that we have identified as useful.

Title tag and meta description recommendations

Providing the title tag and meta descriptions will tell you what the intent of the content is, what the main keyword is, and emphasize creating a clickable descriptor. 

It’s also the teams preview into how searchers will see it listed in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)

Searcher intent, target audience, and funnel stage

The search intent should communicate what type of interaction the user or reader is likely looking for. It will either be informational, navigational, transactional, or commercial in nature.

Similarly, this is a great place to interject anything you know about the target audience, demographics, or persona of the piece and which stage of the funnel they’re likely at (top, middle, bottom).

Competitor examples

A personal favorite, competitor examples are essential to a good content brief, especially those that we can tell have been optimized by another SEO. 

These will help determine length and section topics. It’s also the way in which a company and writers can ask themselves the most important question, “how can I make our piece of content more valuable or a better experience to consume?”

Suggested word count

This lets the writer and client know just how long or thorough the content will likely need to be. This is typically determined by evaluating average lengths of what is currently being valued by users and search engines. There is no need for a 3,000 word blog post if the competition is sitting in the top 3 spots with 650 words.

This part of the brief will also give everyone an idea of what the content will cost if you’re paying someone to produce content by the word.

Internal and external links

As a crucial part of the ranking and sorting of search engines and value add experience for users, it’s always helpful to include links in an SEO content brief.

Internal linking should focus on relevance to what a reader is currently reading about and try to ask the natural question of where or what topic they might want to read about next.

External links can function in the same way, but oftentimes it’s best to link out to authorities that can provide tools or data that you simply can’t produce but are highly valuable to your user. 

Formatted article or blog outline

The real “meat” of any brief is a detailed outline. This is where a person can feel free to insert header titles with keywords, header tag levels, notes about what a section should include, how it should be formatted, where links can be placed, and what the competition did that you liked.

Screenshot of formatted brief outline

Depending on a writer’s perceived talents, an outline can be as detailed as simply requiring them to fill in the gaps between headers and subheaders. For more experienced and trusted writers, you can modify to give them more freedom and space to elaborate and add value as they recommend.

Call To Action (CTA) recommendations

Putting CTA recommendations on a content brief is useful for a couple of reasons.

1. It forces you to think about what action you want a user to take.

2. It forces you to think about what action a user is actually going to be willing to make.

We all want a user to convert into a buyer based on some last-click model into a buyer customer. But by adding a CTA to the brief we can be more realistic about the likelihood of where the buyer is. Then we can strategically work in additional reading materials, newsletter sign-ups, and possibly a strong product sale where it feels appropriate.

Keywords and secondary queries:

Including the primary keyword is important for research purposes and to act as a historical reminder of what your target keyword was when you originally created a piece of content.

Pro Tip: We’ve found that including keywords and queries on content briefs can sometimes create more headaches than positive outcomes depending on the experience of the writer and editor with SEO. A thorough outline with specific headers included can often act as a necessary crutch to assist writers as they learn from you.

Content Brief Tools We Recommend Trying

The reason an SEO should be charged with developing briefs is that they’re often equipped with and have tried tools that provide the knowledge required to satisfy a writer's needs to create the best, quality content. 

What often feels like a complete mystery to non-marketers, or marketers not involved in SEO, is often nicely packaged in a software tool or stack of tools. Here are a few that we know of that aid in both writing of content and brief building.

1) Clearscope

Even while writing this, the Clearscope Google Doc add-on is open in my window. Clearscope does a really great job of generating reports based on an entered keyword. It will bring up who the competition is, where they rank, it grades their copy on length and ease of reading.

The plugin for Google Docs will also tell you exactly what words and phrases are used most often for the pieces that rank for the target keyword, how often they were used, and whether or not they were in the headings.

If you want it to grade an already created piece of content on your website, simply create a report by entering your target query and your content’s URL.

And the software is always being updated to include helpful insights and outline generation.

2) Content Harmony

Like Clearscope, but with a marketing focus targeted toward the workflow of content brief creation, Content Harmony is another tool option. 

You’ll get insights from a keyword report to help inform your brief, a simple entry form to allow you to create a brief, once generated, you can copy a link and distribute it to a writer.

Similar to Clearscope it will also attempt to grade your completed content.

3) Frase

Similar to the other tools on this list, Frase is attempting to be an all-in-one research, content brief creation, and optimization tool. Plenty of great content producers recommend them and we see them come up in LinkedIn posts regularly.

From grading content, taking in target queries, and providing recommendations by scraping Google’s SERPs, this can be another great option.

4) SurferSEO

SurferSEO helps autogenerate basic SEO content brief outlines based on the available SERP and intent data that it scrapes from the web. From there, you can modify the outline to your specific needs, tone, and language.

It provides helpful prompts and header information to let you know what the rest of the competition is talking about so you can be sure to fill your audience in what's likely most important to them.

5) Google Itself, Google Docs and Some Chrome Extensions

You can also be dangerous “enough” at building your own briefs if you’re in a pinch and have access to a couple free tools.

First, utilize the Google search bar itself to learn what other people are typing related to your keywords. This will give you a handful of content ideas. Choose one and see what results come up.

Google search bar automatically suggesting related queries to content brief examples

Second, review the top 3 results that are also articles or content pieces (not homepages or product pages) and any additional questions included in the people also ask box. 

Screenshot of Google "People also ask" search result

Install word counting chrome extensions like Word Counter Plus to get an idea of how long the competition's results are.

Third, use a free scraping tool like SEO Minion to download the headers of those three competitor’s posts.

If you lay all of the information out into a Google Doc, you’ll have a pretty simple idea of what needs to be included and what your competitors talked about in their content.

Closing Thoughts On Using Brief Creation Tools

Tools are important to helping marketers and non-marketers alike speed up the process of creating high quality content briefs especially when geared toward gaining organic traffic. 

That being said, it is common for an inexperienced user to enter their information into a tool and it spits back signals that they’ve included everything necessary to achieve SEO success. Naturally, the user is disappointed when the content flops despite what the tool indicated.

To quote something another SEO professional once said, “Owning a stove does not make you a chef.” Approach your use of any software tools related to SEO the same way.

That's it for SEO content briefs. Interested in more tactical content marketing advice?

Our team has been helping SaaS companies like your build entire content programs extending far past their SEO for years. For a monthly dose of tactical advice to take your program to the next level, check out our newsletter (free previews available on the newsletter page to make sure it's worth your time).

If you’d like to learn more about how Ten Speed can level up your team’s content production with content strategies and detailed briefs, Book a call with us.

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