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How to Write a Content Brief that Doesn’t Suck – Or That Gets Results

by Alyssa James | 26.02.2014

SEOs have heard it x million times: Content is King. And if I hear it again, my head is going to explode.

“Create content that people love and want to share!”

“A great idea means great content and even greater reach!”

I’m sick of hearing it because, well, it’s hardly true any more. Content has far surpassed being royalty – everyone and their mother is creating content and if you’re not, you basically don’t exist.

As a content writer, here’s what is King: the content brief. If content is the universe (and it is – it’s all around us), then the content brief is the creator, The Big Bang, the primordial ooze that is the beginning of kick-ass content.

I’m going to give you some pointers on how to write a content brief that will get you the results you’re looking for. At the very least, you won’t look like this every time you get your content back:

First of all, this is not a content brief:

Hi Alyssa,

Can you write a kick-ass article about the best places in New York to visit if you want to feel like a kid again? It’s to go along with this infographic [link]. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks!

Of course I have questions!

Even if you’re asking your in-house SEO copywriter for a blog post for outreach, they still deserve a little more effort than that. A weak content brief generally tells me the following:

Let’s have a look at what this brief is missing:

    1. Working Title   It doesn’t have to be exact, but it will give a clue to the angle you’re looking at and the style you’re trying to achieve.
    2. Client   Who has commissioned this piece and what do they do?
    3. Target Audience   Describe a real person, the types of things they like, do, want, need, and so on. This helps with determining the tone of voice.
    4. Objective   What’s the goal of this piece? To inform, persuade, inspire? Key points you would like the reader to take away with them.
    5. Context   This is key. A copywriter needs to know how this piece fits in with your wider SEO or content strategy. What is this piece going to be used for?
    6. Distribution Format   Let your copywriter know where this piece will be read: whitepaper or a blog post? Email marketing or print resource? They should adapt language and style (photos, footnotes) appropriately.
    7. Style   I would highlight this in yellow and quadruple underline it. I don’t even want to think about how many times for a freelance client I’ve written a fun, approachable (read: Buzzfeed style) piece for someone who actually wanted a formal style piece. These were in my novice days, of course… British or American English? Be aware that Canadian and Australian are all different too. How should this piece read? Give me three adjectives you would like someone to think of after reading the piece or how you would like the client perceived.
    8. Execution Guidelines   I also don’t want to think about how many times a freelance client didn’t specify word count and when I wrote 1000 words only wanted 750. What format would you like? Do you need photos? If there is a brand guidelines or style guide, send it to your copywriter – they will thank you. Include the deadline.
    9. Additional Information    Are there any similar pieces you thought were successful or that you would like this piece modelled after? Send it over. Rights – is the copywriter releasing the rights to their work?

Always KISS:

Keep It Simple Stupid

A brief is what is says it is: brief.

Keep it short, simple and to the point. Remember: It is the creative person’s job to take your raw (and kick-ass) idea and turn it into a tangible piece of (kick-ass) content. Not that you’re not creative, but if it was your area of expertise, you would be creating the content yourself, right?

Check out our latest content marketing guide to branded and unbranded content.