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  • Writer's pictureSarah Colley

Content Brief Template: What Writers Actually Need

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

"What do you need from me to get started?"


I get it. When writing content isn't your sole role and livelihood, it's hard to know what good content is or how to make it. It's not your focus.


Unfortunately, that means you either:


A) Don't know how to hire a good writer

B) Don't know what a writer needs to succeed

C) Don't really know what quality content looks like, so even when you have a good writer, you have the wrong expectations for the content and let them go.


(C often happens when you view blogs as solely SEO pieces needing tons of traffic to be successful, or you see your blog as a sales driver and want to mention your product throughout)


I've already covered A in a post on how to hire a truly good freelance content writer, and I'll likely cover that again with some useful methodologies soon. For this article, we're tackling B-- creating an effective content brief that'll give your freelance content writers everything they need to write successful, lead generating content.


(Want to short cut everything and use my template?? Here it is!!)


Before you can create a brief, you have to create a few resources


It sounds like extra work (ew), but creating these resources and processes actually saves you time (and money) (and frustration) (and energy).


If you want to keep spending hours of your time looking for really good writers that you don't have to coach, or give much direction to... be my guest.


But even the best writers need resources.


If, instead, you want to find a writer, and give them every tool they need to succeed, you need a few additional resources.


Give your writers the following:

  • A content library

  • Branding documents

  • An example article

  • Audience insights

  • Demo

  • Content matrix


A content library


This is a repository of ebooks, video recordings with clients and subject matter experts (SMEs), previously published studies or original research you've done.


Basically, it's all of the content you've created in the past, as well as insights from your in-house experts.


It's very likely that, on your blog, you're only speaking on a few topics. Honestly, if that's not the case, it should be.


Because you're only speaking on a few topics, you can create a few videos of your internal experts speaking on these topics. Just... do a few interviews, using your content schedule as a guide on questions, and have them speak on the subjects.


Having videos and transcripts your writers can dig into gives them the most valuable resource they can get-- your expertise, first hand.


Would you rather them Google the info?


This way, you're the real expert, and they can show this. Bonus that you don't have to do interviews again and again if you have enough videos (just make sure you have transcripts too so they can easily search for the info they need).


Branding documents


Do I really need to explain why they need this?


Really, if you haven't figured out what voice you want to use, and how you want to be perceived by your audience, go back to the drawing board.


A simple slideshow will do.


You should already have something like this for your full-time, in-house hires, anyway.


An example article


Just give them an example of one of your best articles. An article that has the right voice and tone, length, paragraph spacing...


It should be the embodiment of all things perfect in your content mind.


If you don't have one on your own site, then perhaps you've read an article that has made you a follower of the writer or brand... or has made you convert into a customer... or just gives you the warm fuzzies.


Providing your writer with this shows that you have expectations, and what those expectations are.


Can't tell you how many times I haven't had this, and my point of contact had something different in mind. We just weren't aligned.


This helps.


Oh, and for those that don't really know what good content looks like... you still have to show your expectations for the content somehow. My suggestion is to spend some time reading a few articles in your space to figure out what you want. Or, at least what you don't want.


Audience insights


This one isn't necessarily required, but it's a good to have. In the very least, you should tell your writers who they're targeting "content marketing managers", "freelance writers"... or even specific companies you're hoping to bring on as customers.


You get brownie points if you have actual audience research and insights such as:

  • reviews

  • videos with customers

  • intake forms ("where did you hear about us?")

Demo


It's soooo hard to write on a product that you don't know how it works or how people use it. Having even a video that walks you through features is super handy-dandy.


Content matrix


This is a list of all the articles you've published in the past, the publish date, link to the article, and the focus keyword used for the article.


This also isn't a requirement, but it's really for everyone's benefit.


For the writer, this makes internal linking extra easy. If they're writing for you regularly, they should be able to use the list to find articles to link to while writing.


You wouldn't believe how many times a company gives me a couple of articles to link to, but while writing I know I've written another article for them that I can link to as well.


For you, it's a great way to make sure you don't cannibalize your content.


Now onto the content brief template-- what should it have?


I'll make this simple...


Every good content brief template should have the following:

  • Audience (unless this is well established in the writers' knowledge)

  • Position within the funnel (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU)

  • Focus keyword/ semantic keywords (if your writer isn't doing the keyword research)

  • Search intent/ audience pain (that the article is trying to solve)

  • Any key points you want to make

  • Any resources the writer can use to create the article

  • Internal links you want them to add to the article

  • A call to action/ link/ resource/ downloadable

content brief template

This is specifically for the writer. There are other parts of the brief template that you can add for the writer, and others you should add for yourself.


For the writer: If you're working with a lower-budget freelance writer that isn't fully skilled at determining what should go in the article, then you should add an outline that at least includes the headers.


In a notes column, you can add any resources or points they might want to make or use in each section.

content brief template outline

For you and your internal team: Add a section on where and how you'll distribute and/or repurpose the article.

content brief template outline

I put the content brief on a spreadsheet instead of a Google doc because of the tabs.


I create detailed content briefs for all articles in a content strategy at the same time (I actually set up my brief template this way, with multiple tabs), so I'm not scrambling when the time comes to start the article.


It also means I can see the entire month or quarter of content at a time. It's just... easier.


(Shout out to Stratabeat, an agency I used to write for, and who's brief is the basis I built on. Theirs was very near perfect, but didn't include a lot of the planning details I include on the bottom of the brief)


What could the brief do without?

You honestly don't need the outline portion of my template.


Heck, if you hire a good writer, you probably don't even need the keywords on there either.


You can either figure out which keywords to use with your own research or have the creative freedom to write a post with authority (meaning you don't need to focus on keywords).


I'll save an explanation on the latter for another article.


The distribution section of the brief is also more of an internal resource, but it's great to keep on the brief for organization and ease of implementation.


Most content briefs suck because they focus too much on keywords and article structure


Market Muse charges $12,000 a year for the tier that lets you create content briefs.


$12,000!!!


A YEAR


I'd like to be the first person to point out how utterly wasteful that is, and entirely unnecessary.


I totally, and completely, understand why a company would jump at a tool like this. Just plug in the keyword and it creates the outline for an article for you. It gives a writer supposedly everything they need to create a great article and compete with what's ranking.

  • headers

  • keywords

  • semantic keywords

  • length necessary to compete

Even bullet points on what should be in the article (at least an outline).


It's practically written for you. All the writer needs is to Google to fill in the blanks (each section in the outline)...


Do you see a problem there? Because I do.


If it's not this super formulaic, created by AI kind of brief, it's none at all. Most brands I come across that don't have a brief structure in place either have to figure out how to put a brief together on the fly or I just ask for certain basic information and put one together myself.


This isn't necessarily a bad thing, either.


I'd actually prefer no brief over an AI brief. That sounds rather backwards, but it's the truth.


Why?


Well, those that use an AI brief typically don't create the kind of content I like to create-- in the sense that I interview SMEs and create content off of that. Many companies using these content briefs are creating for SEO purposes, and the content strategy is built around that.


Some say that's not a bad thing, and sure, it doesn't have to be all that bad. It's just not the kind of content I'm really into, and not the kind that really develops a brand voice or any topical authority.


If you don't have a brief in place, it's likely because you're used to working with in-house writers rather than freelancers.


You're used to just giving them a topic and letting them run with it.


That's cool with me, because it means the writer has strong SEO knowledge and creates strong content and that's what you're used to working with-- and that's exactly how I like to work (as if I'm part of your team).


The problem is that you don't have a clear vision on the purpose of that content.


What is the intent behind the search?


What are you trying to say?


Where along the buying journey is the reader?


Have you used the focus keyword before?


These are all questions you need to answer, whether you're working with a freelancer or not.


The other issue:


The brief doesn't contribute to any other part of your plan. You're creating it simply for the writer, and that's it.


Which is why it's often neglected.


If you have a strong content brief, with information instrumental to your overall content strategy, it's no longer just a throwaway task on your to do list. It's essential to your entire team.



content brief template with a content strategy

















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