If you’ve ever experienced the stomach-sinking feeling of reviewing a piece of content you’ve commissioned that doesn’t meet your expectations – this article is for you. While on the odd occasion a content creator will fail to nail a brief, more often than not the fault lays with a poorly written content brief. To help you get the best from your in-house content team, your freelance content creators or even your Nan (if you’ve got her picking up your slack), we’ve shared our tried-and-tested recipe for brief writing. Read on for our top brief writing tips.
It’s embarrassing to ask but what actually is a content brief?
It’s surprising how often we get thrown into the deep end at a new job and someone fails to explain the basics, like what a content brief actually is. So, to answer the question you’ve been too afraid to ask, a content brief outlines exactly what a particular piece of content should do. Whether you need a blog post, website content or a social media post, the brief is your one chance to communicate what you need for a specific type of content. Sounds simple enough, but there is a bit of a knack to writing content briefs that we’ll go into in more detail.
What makes a good content brief?
It’s a sad truth, but we’ve written enough content briefs to write a whole textbook on the subject. We won’t bore you with that level of detail but, in a nutshell, a good content brief will:
- Clearly explain your vision
- Leave no doubt about your meaning
- Contain helpful details that guide the content creator
- Provide enough context on why the content is important
- Allow enough flexibility for creative execution
What makes a bad content brief?
Arguably a more important checklist when assessing if your content brief is laying the groundwork for high-quality content. Ask yourself if you’ve avoided these common errors:
- Long-winded, rambling or overwhelming in length (I won’t put a word count on it, but if you think it might too long, it definitely is)
- Leaves out vital information that would alter the content creation process
- Unclear and leaves things open to interpretation that shouldn’t be
- Too prescriptive and lacks room for creative flair
11 steps to nailing a content brief
Here at Position Digital, we’ve crafted and perfected our unique 11-step process to successful content brief writing. Read on for a step-by-step guide to writing your best content brief yet.
Step 1: Outline the goal
Like with any project, outlining the goal is crucial to ensure the content stays on track and everyone is working towards the same end. If your content needs to inform and educate, say that. If the aim is to drive people to buy a product from your shop, be explicit about that. Being shy or vague about your real goal will harm the creative output.
Step 2: Provide relevant background information
While it might not be necessary to go way back and dig up every conversation that’s been had about a particular piece of content, providing some helpful context will help put your content creator on the same page as you. For example, if a blog post is part of a wider SEO project to drive traffic and generate backlinks, be clear about that. Or if a website needs repositioning to push a different element of a business due to COVID, say so. Background gives context and gets buy-in. Don’t overdo it though, just include the most salient and enlightening points.
Step 3: Get deep and meaningful about your target audience
This is such a key part of the brief. Give your content creator a hand by detailing who they’re creating this content for. It’ll help them get into the right mind frame and ensure the content speaks to your audience on their level. Content that fails to immediately hook your audience will lose them, leaving room for your competitors to swoop in and win market share. If you’ve identified market segments, then be clear about which segment this content is targeting and share the insights you’ve learned about them.
Step 4: Leave no doubt about who you are and what you stand for
A successful brand will have a clear idea of who they are, their personality, values and how they speak to their audience. Capture this tone of voice for your content creator. Think about it this way, a bank will have a very different way of speaking than a fashion brand. While a bank may be more formal and reassuring, a fashion brand may be more inspiring and progressive. Don’t leave it up to the content creator to create your tone of voice. The communication you put out to the world should have a consistent, recognisable personality to help your brand stand out.
Step 5: Whack in a few keywords
SEO is one of those acronyms that gets thrown around a lot but optimising your content for search engines is one of the best things you can do to help your website get seen. Keywords are core to this. Do some research using a tool like Semrush to see what keywords people are searching for around a certain topic. Include a list of these keywords in the brief for your content creator to include, with a note to prioritise your primary keyword in headlines. Doing keyword research will help you make sure you’re speaking in the language your target audience is searching for.
Step 6: Keep an eye on your competition
While it’s never a good idea to copy the competition, keeping an eye on what others are doing can help give you a sense of the opportunities out there. If you know you want your content to blow your competitors out of the water, link your content creator to the competition and show this as the benchmark to exceed. If you’ve done some competitor research and you see a content gap you could address, then share this insight in the brief.
Step 7: Share your linking strategy
A good piece of content should include relevant links to help your audience explore a topic more fully. Whether you want your content to include internal links or external links, make this expectation crystal clear. Citing how many and which types of links you need helps.
Spend time nailing down your linking strategy, based on your key priorities. If you want to boost the length of time people spend on your website and lower bounce rates, including links to other pages on your website is a good idea. Internal linking is also good because it helps search engines understand your topic profile more fully, ranking you higher for target topic areas. So, don’t skip over this step.
Step 8: Explain what research is required
While your content creator may be an expert in a particular niche, it’s likely they’ll still need to do some research. Be clear when you expect a content creator to conduct research into a topic to ensure you get the level of depth on a topic you expect.
Step 9: Provide some structure
This is particularly important for SEO. If you’re writing a blog, for example, your content needs to be SEO friendly so search engines and humans can easily digest it. Content is more digestible when headlines, subheaders, bullet points and images are used. Not only does it help our brains take things in, but it also helps search engines read what’s on the page. Who knew humans and computers were so alike? Outline the structure the content should follow to provide an easy framework for content creators to use.
Step 10: Outline what you expect to be delivered
This is the most practical part of the brief. It briefly outlines what you need the content creator to provide. Make sure your brief covers things like:
- The content needed (i.e. 1 x blog post)
- The word count
- The deadline
- Where to save content
- Who to send content to for approval
- Any format specifications
If in doubt, think about a takeaway order and list out what you need as though it was a burger, chips and a drink.
Step 11: Communicate your call to action
Every piece of content needs to lead somewhere otherwise it’s not working hard enough for you. Be frank and upfront about what action you want people to take after engaging with your content. Maybe it’s booking a consultation or subscribing to your YouTube channel. Don’t leave any doubt in the mind of the content creator what this action is.