Creating SEO-Focused Content Briefs

Content creation can be like a game of telephone.

As the subjects are chosen, specific intent is assigned to each one. As the piece moves through the development pipeline, that initial intent can be distorted, and even lost entirely by the time of the final draft.

A well-structured and informative content brief can prevent this bottleneck, and even improve your process altogether.

Why bother with briefs? (What it achieves if done well)

Content briefs provide tremendous value relative to the time and effort it takes to make them. This is achieved through aligning the different contributors on the context and goals of the piece.

Something as simple as unanimous agreement on a piece can provide clarity on what the piece is doing, and ensure that it is doing what is intended. This way, you avoid grueling rewriting sessions and all the headaches they bring.

So what is this “intent” we keep mentioning?

The intent of a piece is critical context needed by the writer in order to create an asset that achieves a goal, in the case of SEO, ranking on page one of Google.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, but content briefs strive to distill it down to a few core considerations, such as:

  • Target audience
  • Goal of the piece
  • Product/service/internal information to include
  • What to avoid
  • Examples of similar work

Benefits of great briefs

Briefs add a ton of value to your content creation process.

They can be produced relatively quickly, they’re seldom longer than a single page, and are written in plain language. This simplicity allows for easy sharing with stakeholders, who are then able to easily understand what they are seeing, what the final product should look like, and what the expected SEO results will be.

Content briefs are able to present a lot of important information in a quick and digestible manner. Some of the key data communicated by briefs include; search intent, funnel stage of the reader, editorial intent, and brand angle.

Overall, briefs are a great way of maintaining a big-picture view of your content, while still allowing for pit-crew style editing and specificity.

As you create the brief and ideate each section, roadblocks, gaps, and other problems will become apparent to you, and you can address them as needed.

What problems do briefs avoid?

Maybe you write incredible blogs, and they rank highly, and are shared widely.

How long did that take? How many people were involved? How many revisions did the piece go through?

One of the overarching philosophies behind content briefs is that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

This is most apparent in the review stage of a blog or article. Semantic and technical disagreements can lead to hours of pointless changes, which may just move the piece even further from where it needs to be.

Sometimes, content is created that diverges from the original intent almost immediately, and so the final product is unrecognizable, leading to complete overhauls and restarts.

Pre-mortem: What is going to go wrong?

  • Gaps
  • Open Questions that will come up…/that we have
  • Capture all the depressing questions that require answers to move forward
  • Some of the questions you can work through incrementally, some need to be answered right away

One of the most common issues that arise when creating briefs is gaps within the content.

You may have chosen a great, relevant topic, but now you need to tie all your information together, while still maintaining a narrative flow for the sake of the reader.

Briefs will allow you to see how each section will flow into the next, and it is easy to determine high-friction points this way, and also easy to shift them around within the brief if necessary.

Another common problem is the requirement of answers to key questions. It’s no good trying to answer queries without the actual answer,

What about outlines?

  • Outlines should be created either as part of, or after the brief is created
  • How do you know what you are outlining if you aren’t clear on the objective and audience of the piece?
  • Without a solid brief, outlines may not match original intent
  • Outlines can take too long to review and can often be too prescriptive for a writer
  • Depending on your content creator, and how well your brief is prepared, they may not even need an outline, or can create their own

Honestly, we used to use outlines.

It made sense at the time; gather all of our links, keywords, headings, and other info all in one place, and build our draft from that.

It quickly became apparent that something was missing, however, and often, outlines would require revisions before final drafting could begin.

We realized that we were running into the same problems; our revisions took too long, the outlines became too prescriptive, and the original intent was lost.

Our outlines had great technical SEO information, but these issues were causing serious blockages to our development process.

With our new content brief workflow, we were able to pack in all the necessary information for our pieces in a manner that was fast to review and correct. The simplified outline suggestions allowed more autonomy for the final writer, and the Content Summary and Content Goal sections of the brief make clear the expectations for every asset.

How to make a great brief: Must-have items

  • Define the objective: Why are you writing it? What the value is to readers? To your business?
  • Define the audience - who are we talking to?
  • Define the next step for the reader:
    What do we want people to do after they consume the piece?

Include quote from Dave:

“This is the power of expectation setting. People are working from the same context. We fundamentally believe that there are a gazillion micro decisions that people make. The more context people have driving towards the end destination gets you better output”

Other great things to include

  • a list headline ideas (this can help define the piece on it’s own)
  • Internal and external links. What other blogs or downloads do we want to highlight or link to
  • Keywords: If doing SEO, what are you trying to target?
  • Context: Where will the piece sit, what do we expect people to know already? What articles can we link as next reading?
  • Word count
  • Stage of sales funnel: Is this for brand new people (awareness) people considering a purchase
  • Search Intent
  • Brand angle
  • Internal resources
  • Competitive articles
  • Subject matter experts to get quotes from