May 21, 2020

How to Create a Wildly Effective Content Brief For Your Writers

How to Create a Wildly Effective Content Brief For Your Writers

“But how can I be sure the writer will know exactly what I had in mind?”

This is one of the most common fears I hear from marketers when it comes to hiring content writers, be it in-house or freelance. If this is you, I feel you.

Right now, you may think you’re better off writing your content yourself. That feels easier than hiring a writer and then fixing their work.

Sometime during the first year of my freelancing journey, I noticed I was becoming burned out as every writing assignment took me way longer than I thought it would. I realized I had very little guidance for the specifics of each blog post, so my research would branch into a million directions every time.

Since none of my clients at the time used a writing brief for blog posts they hired me for, I developed my own.

I tweaked and improved it over time, and the more I used it with clients, the more I realized they needed a document like that, too. If you crave peace of mind when assigning blog posts to writers, this guide is for you.

I’ll show you not only what makes an effective content brief, but also exactly how to fill it out for maximum results.

Jump to these sections if you want to learn more about content briefing:

Or head straight to all the parts that make a solid content brief:

  1. Blog post summary
  2. Blog post headline suggestions
  3. Suggestions for sections and building blocks
  4. Target audience
  5. Focus keyword(s)
  6. Stage of the customer journey
  7. Product features/capabilities to spotlight
  8. Internal resources to mention and link to
  9. Competitor articles
  10. Other external links to mention
  11. Content upgrade
  12. Call to action (CTA)
  13. Target word count
  14. Key project dates
  15. Useful company-related resources

What is a content brief?

A content brief is a simple document with all relevant information about a blog post. The idea is that once you hand off your content brief to your writer, it will have the answer to pretty much any question a writer may have about the blog post.

It can be as simple as a Google Doc. In most cases, it won’t be more than one or two pages long.

Why should you use a content brief? A practical example

The short answer: with a blog post brief, you will streamline the process of working with a writer.

The long version of the answer is just the short answer broken into its pieces. The brief will help you:

  • Align the final version of the blog post with your content marketing goals
  • Reduce the number of back-and-forth emails/messages between you and your writer as they start working on the blog post
  • Give clear, actionable feedback to your writer so that revisions and edits are seamless

A content brief will create focus across the board.

Let’s compare what a blog post assignment might look like without a brief and with a brief.

Example 1: Blog post assignment without a brief

A simple example would be an email marketing software company. They want to get more awareness of their expertise in the field and of their product. To achieve that, they ask their newly hired writer to write a blog post about the benefits of email marketing. That’s all the initial direction they gave the writer.

At first glance, this may seem specific enough. But the writer begins their research and starts having many questions:

  • Is the target reader a total beginner? What do they know about online marketing already?
  • Should I focus on newsletters specifically? What about product and transactional emails?
  • Should I talk about things like segmentation and automation?
  • How many benefits should I list? A few? 10? 25?
  • Should I include examples for each? How many?
  • What about recommendations for software and integrations?

You can see how this can take many different directions fast—and create a huge gap between what you had in mind and what your writer comes up with.

Example 2: Blog post assignment with a brief

Here’s how our same fictional email marketing company could approach this situation with a brief.

They realized that, if the writer was to cover all benefits of email marketing, the guide would be really long and probably not too actionable, since the benefits would cover a wide range of use cases and expertise.

To make it more precise, they decided to focus on benefits specific to customer retention.

But they don’t leave it at that. In the brief, they outline some more details, such as:

  • Target readers are email marketers in medium-sized companies
  • Focus keyword is “retention email marketing,” which has a keyword difficulty score 14
  • The post should cover types of retention emails, examples and screenshots, templates for subject lines, and expert quotes from up to three people
  • Target readers are likely at the top of the funnel, looking for practical advice for their retention efforts

You can see how a content brief tackles many of those questions from the writer right away.

Let’s dive into all the parts of a great content brief.

If you want to follow along, open a blank Google Doc and create each section as you go. You can then turn this into a template and work from it every time you’re briefing a writer (I show you how at the end of this guide).

Related: Blog Post Checklist: 25 Steps For High-Performance Content

1. Blog post summary

This is the main guiding point for the entire brief and the blog post. You can consider this a WIIFM—what’s in it for me—section that briefly explains why your reader should pay attention to your post.

Action: In one or two sentences, explain the main outcome of the blog post.

For example:

This post should explain how email marketers can create retention emails that drive repeat purchases, maximize customer lifetime value, and turn customers into brand advocates.

Bonus note: Want to learn more about WIIFM? I talk more about it in this guide on writing blog posts that convert.

2. Blog post headline suggestions

What are some potential headlines for this blog post? They will help set the tone for the first draft, as well as spark some more ideas from your writer.

Action: In bullet points, list two to four suggestions for headlines. Think back to headline structures that have worked well for your blog in the past.

For example:

  • Retention email marketing: an intermediate guide
  • How to write emails that drive retention and fuel your bottom line
  • The anatomy of a retention email marketing strategy

3. Suggestions for sections and building blocks

This is the space for what I like to call a braindump. When you think of the summary/main outcome of this blog post (from the first part), what are some building blocks that come to mind that will make that outcome happen?

Action: In bullet points, list potential blog post sections, questions that should be answered, steps included, and anything else that supports the blog post summary and outcome.

For example:

  • Some recent data on overall customer retention
  • Why does email marketing as a marketing channel work well for retention?
  • Common mistakes in retention emails
  • Types of retention emails
  • Screenshots of examples of those emails
  • If possible, support these tips with one or two case studies, briefly summarized

4. Target audience

The same topic could be shaped for many different audiences and their pain points, so this is the section where you clarify who your blog post is speaking to.

Some questions you can ask yourself to get specific about the target audience:

  • Are we targeting beginner, intermediate, or advanced practitioners?
  • How big is their company and/or their team?
  • What are their big picture goals in their role?

Action: In a few words, define the target reader for this blog post—someone your reader can vividly picture as they research and write.

For example:

Email marketers in medium-sized companies. Their main goal is to maximize revenue from the email channel. Their main pain point is integrating their segmentation efforts with other channels that marketers on their team manage.

5. Focus keyword(s)

Focus keywords are particularly helpful if the blog post has an organic ranking goal. But even if it doesn’t (for example, the aim of the blog post is to win press coverage), keywords make the blog post topic immediately clear.

Its headline, social media posts to promote it, emails, and all other content about your blog post is laser-focused thanks to the focus keyword.

Action: Define a focus keyword phrase. If applicable, define secondary keywords, too. If you can, list the search volume and keyword difficulty for each keyword phrase. Check out tools like Keywords Everywhere and Ahrefs to fetch that data.

For example:

  • Retention email marketing (volume 50, difficulty 14)
  • Lost customer email template (volume 50, difficulty n/a)
  • Retention email subject lines (volume 30, difficulty n/a)

6. Stage of the customer journey

This step is much simpler than it sounds. Instead of overthinking about how customer journey isn’t a linear process (and how there’s no way to know where exactly your target reader will be when reading it), I encourage you to simply find which one of these applies to your blog post.

Is my target reader…

  • Trying to understand a pain point they’re experiencing?
  • Searching for potential solutions (because they understand their pain)?
  • Looking for products inside the best solution that will solve their pain point?

When you choose one of these three cases, you can serve your reader with the right outcome they came to you for.

Action: Define if this blog post is in the awareness (pain-aware), consideration (solution-aware), or decision (product-aware) stage.

For example:

Consideration. Our target reader knows they can get better at their email personalization based on past behavior, but they’re looking at all possible ways to do that.

7. Product features/capabilities to spotlight

This is where you decide whether any of your own solutions to the pain point should be mentioned in the blog post.

Products and capabilities you choose to mention must align with the customer journey stage.

If you’re aiming for the awareness stage, your blog post won’t be a full-blown product walkthrough. And if you’re going for the decision stage, you can’t get away without mentioning your product at all.

By providing details to your writer, they’ll be able to work your product into the blog post in a way that will feel natural for the reader, instead of too pushy or useless.

Action: In bullet points, list any products or their features and capabilities you want your blog post to mention. Add details and supporting links whenever possible.

For example:

  • Cart abandonment [link to documentation, link to case study]
  • Trigger events [link to demo video]

8. Internal resources to mention and link to

In this section, include any of your own resources you want your writer to mention and link to. This simply saves you time to go through the piece later on and add the links yourself

These can be other blog posts, free downloads, videos, original research, and so on.

Action: In bullet points, list internal links you want to include in the blog post.

For example:

  • State of email marketing report [link to the report]
  • Cart abandonment guide [link to the blog post]

9. Competitor articles

Use this section as the opportunity to point out what you like and don’t like about existing competitor content about this topic. This will help your writer pick up ideas and inspiration, as well as to improve what’s already out there and fill any gaps in competitor content.

You can point out the level of details, quality of tips or examples, formatting, or anything else you like or dislike.

Action: In bullet points, list competitor articles and add details on what the writer should pay attention to.

For example:

  • Example #1 [link]: Great tips, but screenshots of examples are 3+ years old. Let’s feature newer ones.
  • Example #2 [link]: Structure is great. Tips are quite lightweight, let’s go deeper than that.

10. Other external links to mention

Are there any links from non-competing sites you want to link to? This is your space to list them. Think industry publications, relevant third-party research, guides on related strategies, and more.

Action: In bullet points, list external links that can support certain points in your blog post.

For example:

11. Content upgrade

Do you want to offer a free content upgrade for your reader? If so, this is where you can add details about it for your writer. If not, feel free to remove this section.

Action: In one or two sentences, describe the content upgrade you want your writer to create. Clarify the format, length, and purpose of this download.

For example:

Downloadable Word document with email copy templates for welcome, cart abandonment, reengagement, and review request emails. Format it as one email per page with clear subheaders and a table of contents at the beginning.

12. Call to action (CTA)

What should be your reader’s next action? This should align with the goal of this blog post. Although your content brief up to this point made the outcome of the blog post for your reader clear, the CTA helps you specify a way this can benefit you. Make sure it aligns with the blog post summary (from part 1) and the stage of the customer journey.

Defining a call to action is also helpful to your writer when they’re writing the final, outro section of this blog post.

Action: In a short sentence, specify the call to action for this blog post. It could be sharing the post on social media, clicking through to another resource, signing up for a newsletter, registering for a free trial, buying a product, and so on.

For example:

Download our fill-in-the-blanks retention email templates.

13. Target word count

Specifying a word count has two objectives:

  • It helps writers set boundaries on a project, set appropriate rates, and avoid scope creep.
  • It helps you plan for your marketing budget.

Word counts are useful. However, they shouldn’t take priority over the usefulness of the blog post and the experience for its end user—the reader.

So if you set a target word count at 1,000, but it takes at least 1,500 to get deep enough into the topic, the blog post may miss the mark. Same goes for the opposite: if you ask for 5,000 words and the topic can be comprehensively covered in 2,000, you’ll end up with a lot of fluff.

Be open to your writer’s suggestions and feedback on this. Remember—this is their zone of genius!

Action: Define a target word count. Ranges work best.

For example:

1,500 to 2,000 words.

14. Key project dates

When is the first draft due? What about revisions? Is your writer providing you with an outline before they start writing? When do you both need to complete your portion of work so that the other person isn’t falling behind schedule?

Make sure to work with the writer to agree on these dates and add them to your project/task management tool. This will help you coordinate with other team members, like graphic designers or social media managers.

Action: Specify all relevant dates for this blog post, both for you and the writer.

For example:

  • First draft (writer): June 5th
  • Feedback (client): June 10th
  • Final draft (writer): June 15th

15. Useful company-related resources

When you work with a writer on a recurring basis, this part of the content brief will become less relevant as they’ll already have access to these resources.

But for writers working with you for the first time, you’ll save lots of time (theirs and yours!) if you share resources such as:

  • A style guide (with directions on capitalization, writing style, grammar, formatting, etc.)
  • Your product documentation for better understanding of how you help your customers
  • Writing or editing tools you find useful
  • Your best-performing blog post for reference
  • Feedback from your past readers (comments, tweets, etc.)

Action: Gather all useful resources for a writer that’s never worked with you before so they can get a big picture overview of your product, marketing, and audience.

For example:

  • Style guide [link]
  • Customer reviews on G2 [link]
  • Blog post with best reader-to-subscriber conversion rate [link]
  • Blog post that won featured snippet in SERP [link]

You now have a rock-solid content brief

The best thing about this process is that once you’ve built your template, you can fill out a brief for your writer in 10-20 minutes. You win back hours of your time, and your writer can get focused and work on the blog post efficiently.

To make things better, you can turn your content brief template into a native template inside Google Docs, so every time you create a new brief, you can simply go New > Google Docs > From a template.

Just create a template from the Template gallery option beforehand:

Short walkthrough of a Google Doc template upload.

You’re all set! If you need more time-saving tips for content creation, you’ll love this guide, too.

Thank you for reading! If you know anyone that would find this guide useful, please share it with them—it means the world. ✨

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