Are you an SEO strategist or content marketer managing a team of writers?
Disappointed by your writer’s weak first drafts?
The issue might not be your writers. It might be your content briefs.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to create content briefs that’ll help your writers create better SEO content. Minus needless revisions.
Here’s what this guide will cover:
- What is an SEO Content Brief?
- Why create an SEO Content Brief?
- How to create Content Briefs?
- 3 Tools to Speed up SEO Brief Creation
- Final Thoughts
Bonus: We’ve also included a free plug-and-play content brief template at the end.
If you want to create better SEO content faster, you’ll love this guide.
Let’s dive right in.
What is an SEO Content Brief?
A content brief is a document that helps you and your writer understand what you want from your content and how you want it done.
To create content aimed at ranking for a specific query on Google, you’ll have to write an SEO-focused content brief.
The best content briefs generally include:
- Target keyword
- Word count
- Target personas
- Brand’s voice and tone
- Questions to answer
If you use Topic, here’s what the content brief creation process looks like:
Before you create any kind of content, it’s best to start by writing a brief.
What Are The Benefits of SEO Content Briefs?
If the goal is to streamline your content process, why overcomplicate it?
With a content brief you save time, money, and improve content quality.
Still not convinced? Here are four reasons:
Reduce Content Production Costs
Let’s say you send a topic to your freelance writer without a content brief. What if they come back with an underwhelming first draft?
That’s more time and money spent on fixing a weak draft.
The same way a blueprint saves time while building a house, a content brief reduces needless revisions and ensures your content is in-depth.
Increase Consistency Among Writers
To build trust with your clients and audience, you have to consistently deliver good content.
But managing a large content team = working with writers of varying skills and expertise.
Using a content brief helps less experienced writers create content at a higher level, keep brand voice constant, and set a consistent standard for your brand.
Improve Content’s Search Rankings
SEO content is a long-term investment. It’s expensive, sure, but it yields long-term results.
What if those returns don’t materialize?
A content brief can reduce this risk. With it, you can create content that caters to your audience as well as Google.
If you’re scaling content by working with many writers, you can’t rely on them to research or understand complex SEO requirements. Especially if they’re new and lack expertise.
Initially, I recommend doing this research yourself. Once your writer ramps up, delegate it. Always review their outline before they start writing content.
Hit Delivery Deadlines
Content briefing can reduce errors and improve your content creation process.
In 2020, it took writers ~4 hours to write a blog post:
By adding content briefs to your content workflow, your writers will be able to turn around drafts faster. The result: better SEO content at scale.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scheduling your content promotion campaigns faster and hitting your business objectives earlier.
What Does an SEO Content Brief Include?
An SEO content brief covers more than just the topic, research, and key points. It also outlines SEO information needed to create content that solves your audience’s problems.
Here’s what a good content brief should cover:
The main goal of SEO content is to rank on search engines and drive organic traffic. If you do not have a target keyword yet, check out this keyword research guide.
Topic offers a keyword research tool. Here’s how to pick the right primary keyword:
The kicker: we offer this keyword research tool for free with every plan.
In addition to a primary keyword, you should also pick a few secondary long-tail keywords.
These keywords are closely tied to your primary keyword. They help you rank for a variety of search terms. Here’s how to use secondary keywords in your article.
Caveat: Don’t obsess over secondary keywords. The BERT update allows Google to understand the semantics behind any search query. This means it can still deliver relevant results even if there isn’t a perfect match.
Bottom line: pick one primary keyword and a few variants.
Who are you creating content for? You might have this information from your buyer persona, website analytics, or by using a content analysis tool.
I also suggest googling your primary keyword to see who the search results target.
Let’s say you’re writing an article on ‘SEO content’.
A quick google search will show you that most content is aimed at beginners who want to learn about creating SEO-friendly content:
Now, let me look up ‘SEO content briefs’. The audience is experienced and may comprise SEO strategists to marketing managers looking to kick off their SEO content program:
Identifying the target audience will help your writer understand their pain points. This in turn will ensure they create content that resonates and drives clicks.
Further Reading: 8 Best SEO Content Analysis Tools
What type of content do you want to create? Different formats like a listicle or white paper require different approaches.
The most common types of content are:
- Listicles (list-type pages)
- Pillar pages
- How-to articles
- Tool or resource round ups
- Case studies
To identify the format, type in your keyword in Google. Check out the top-ranking pages.
If the SERPs are dominated by listicles, I’d create a list type blog post for my keyword:
If the results are a mix of how-to articles and guides, I’d create a pillar page article:
Note: this is a general recommendation. Test different content types to see what works best. Especially when the search results are a mixed bag.
In Topic, I can do this faster. Create a Brief > Enter Target Keyword > Create Brief:
Give it a few minutes. And voila:
For ‘content optimization’, 66% of the results are articles. The recommended word count is 1800. In this case, I’ll create a how-to blog post.
Brand Voice and Writing Style
Have you ever noticed that big brands always sound the same?
Even with dozens of content writers, you can recognize their writing based on their style, word choice, and whether they include funny memes or follow a professional style.
With a content brief, you can link to your brand’s style guide and add any editorial resources. This will ensure each piece of content matches your brand standards.
Pro Tip: Include examples of older content so writers can see your brand style in action.
A tool like Grammarly can make sticking to your brand style, easy:
Suggested Word Count
One of the age-old questions we get is, “How long should my blog post be?” Good question.
The answer is always “it depends.”
Per Hubspot, a ‘Pillar page’ should be ~4000 words. ‘Listicles’ should be ~2300 to 2600 words. ‘How-to’ blog posts ~1700 words. ‘What is’ blog posts ~1300 to 1700 words.
But these are ballpark estimates. Plus, word counts vary for every search query.
So how do you get the most accurate word count?
Hop over to our Blog Post Length calculator (it’s free). Enter your focus keyword > Hit Calculate:
Our tool calculates recommended word count based on the average word count of top-ranking articles on Google. This means pinpoint accuracy (not random guessing).
The slider helps you fine-tune your word count. In the example below, I’ll have to write >6,462 words to outrank Databox:
Do you use Topic? You’ll find a recommended word count for your target keyword right within the Content Research section.
Send a content brief along with this word count to your writers:
Word count helps you to accurately estimate article cost, which is helpful if you’re paying by the word. Do your research before you send a brief to your writer.
A content outline is hands down the most essential part of a content brief.
Why? With a great outline you can:
- Create in-depth content loved by readers and search engines.
- Dispel fear of blank pages by working from a skeleton.
- Organize your article so it’s easy to read and flows well.
What does a content outline include? Ideally:
- Working title, including the target keyword.
- Subheadings (H1, H2, H3, etc), that outline the topics the writer should cover and long-tail keywords to target.
- Takeaways under each heading to ensure that writers cover key information readers need to know. If a writer isn’t given this information and lacks expertise, there’s a high chance the resulting paragraphs will be off-topic or fluff.
Here’s what an outline for ‘content optimization’ looks like:
How do you create a content outline? Here’s a five-step checklist:
- Enter your primary keyword on google. Look at the SERPs.
- Identify the search intent behind the query.
- Closely examine the top ten pages.
- Find common headers, subtopics, and questions your competitors’ content answers. This will give you an idea of how to structure your outline.
- Use our free People Also Ask tool to find questions related to the keyword.
You now have a decent understanding of your competition. Time to brainstorm how your content will stand out.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have any unique insights about the topic via experience or product usage data?
- Can I create additional assets like an infographic or video to explain the topic better?
- Can I source quotes from experts and feature them?
Once you’ve done your research, put together an outline. Share it with your writer.
Short on time? Use Topic to create outlines in minutes (not hours):
Further Reading: How to Make a Content Outline (the Easy Way)
In a content brief, competitor examples refer to articles that already rank for your target keyword.
Include a few examples so your writer knows who they’re up against.
Here’s how I identify good competitor examples:
- Use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush to pull up articles ranking on the first page and their Domain Authority (DA).
- Then, find the articles with the lowest DA. Typically these outlier articles are more engaging, which is why Google has ranked them over other authoritative sites.
- Open each article to find out why they might be ranking higher. For example, it could be that they have a catchier title, or their content covers the topic in more detail. I note my findings down in the brief so that they can be incorporated into my own content.
Any articles with a high content grade also warrant a closer look. These articles cover a given topic well, which can make them a good reference point for your writers.
In Topic, you can find all this information in one place. After creating a brief, check out the competitive analysis section:
Also, take a look at any article tagged “interesting content”. These are outlier articles I talked about in step #2:
External links are links to other websites or resources.
You need to add external links when you mention any statistics or when discussing topics your readers may be unfamiliar with.
External links are important for two reasons:
- They establish trust; your facts are backed by hard evidence. For Google. external links establish credibility, especially if you use outside statistics or quotes.
- By sharing resources readers might find useful, you improve their experience.
So how do you find external links?
Start with the competitor articles. Identify interesting statistics or studies cited in your competitor’s content. Verify if these studies are from credible sources. Sites like .gov, .edu, or any research-related top-level domains are usually credible.
You can also look at their DA to get a sense of their credibility. Higher DA = more credible.
With Topic, finding external links is a cakewalk. In Content Research section, scroll down to commonly cited links:
Boom! These are the most commonly cited links by competing articles.
Don’t spend too much time finding external linking opportunities. Make a quick list and ask your writer to cite sources as they write the content.
Side note: Avoid linking to articles that compete for the same keywords. Instead, use them for your research.
In order to surface the best results, Google relies on an understanding of the web of relationships between any given topic and its related subtopics.
Let’s say you look up ‘home gym equipment’. Google can now identify different subtopics like budget equipment, small spaces, or premium prices.
If you want your content to rank high, ensure writers cover several subtopics in depth.
Identifying subtopics manually is tedious. You’ll have to sift through many articles and run some basic statistical analysis to find the most relevant subtopics.
Topic can automate this process. Once you create a brief for your target keyword, you’ll also see the most relevant subtopics for your keyword.
In the case of my ‘content optimization’ brief, here are the subtopics:
The kicker: Topic can group subtopics by semantic similarity. This makes it easy for you to turn subtopics into meaningful briefs.
3 Tools to Speed Up SEO Content Brief Creation
If you want to create a detailed content brief, prepare to spend at least an hour on it.
If you only create a few articles each month and have extensive knowledge of the topic, it makes sense to create content briefs manually.
But as you scale, this manual process can be a huge bottleneck.
Especially in terms of time.
Here are some content optimization tools that can help you create content at scale:
Topic is an SEO content tool that automates the research required to create high-quality content briefs. So you can create a brief in minutes (not hours).
Key features of Topic:
- Topic analyzes top results for a given keyword and generates a research document that includes headings, questions, and subtopics. Curate this research into a detailed outline with our outline builder.
- Topic integrates with GPT-3, an advanced AI system to auto-generate page titles, descriptions, and outlines for your blog post.
- Topic’s content optimizer grades your content so can you ensure your content is comprehensive before you hit publish.
- Our keyword research tool helps you infer search volume and intent for your target keyword.
Pricing: Flexible pricing. $6-$10/content brief. Every brief includes all the above features.
Best for: content teams and agencies who want to create high-quality content, faster.
Marketmuse is an enterprise content strategy and intelligence platform. Content briefs are one of many features they offer.
Key features of Marketmuse:
- Marketmuse surfaces headings, subtopics, questions to help you build your brief.
- Content Inventory to help you manage your content library. Quickly identify pages that need an optimization with their proprietary scoring algorithm.
- Content Scoring system grades your content before you hit publish
Pricing: $100/content brief. Content Inventory is only available on higher plans.
Best for: enterprise teams looking for help with end-to-end content marketing strategy.
Frase is a content answer engine platform. Their specialty lies in answering questions your visitors might have through their chatbot integration.
They also offer content brief generation to help you build content briefs quickly.
Key features of Frase:
- AI answer engine chatbot to help answer visitors’ questions. It uses your content library to find answers to questions your visitors have.
- Frase surfaces headings, subtopics, questions to help build your content brief.
- Content scoring system to grade content before publishing.
Caveat: Frase outputs a huge list of subtopics, sometimes 100+. You’ll need to manually sift through the list to ensure that they’re relevant.
If you don’t, your writer might end up jamming all of them in the article. Which means a bad reader experience and high writing costs.
Pricing: $45/month for 30 documents.
Best for: bloggers and freelancers on a tight budget and have time to curate the subtopics themselves.
With the strategies and tools above, you now have the power to not only manage your writers effectively but also create content that resonates with your readers (and Google!).
As promised, here’s the free plug-and-play content brief template. You can use this template to create your own content briefs.
Want to create better SEO content, faster? Give Topic a try today!