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Anatomy of an Effective Content Brief [Template Included!]


September 6, 2023


September 6, 2023

Most writers and creators see the value of content briefs, though it can be tricky to create a template that’s both used and useful.

But if you’re regularly using freelance or outsourced writers to execute your content strategy, thoughtful, clear, and specific content briefs can be a key component of your success. Let’s start with some basics to make the most of your content briefs.

What is a Content Brief?

A content brief is a comprehensive and strategic document that outlines exactly what a piece of content should include—and not include. They have become standard practice for many content marketing teams and agencies to ensure consistency, alignment, and efficiency in the content creation process.

Note: Content briefs are primarily used for written content. A creative brief, which covers more of the style and design of a marketing project, is different.

A content brief guides writers as they create, resulting in more clarity and fewer edits or revisions. With a brief, it’s more likely that the content will meet or exceed your expectations because writers know exactly what you expect. 

If you can clearly, concisely, and formulaically tell the writer what you want, or what you’re envisioning, it’s much easier for them to submit a great draft. If you leave things inconclusive or unclear, you don’t really know what you’re going to get and risk receiving a draft that eats up your time with multiple rounds of edits.

In this article, we’ll break down the core components of an effective content brief, including key information to include, pros and cons of using briefs, and tips for incorporating briefs into your content culture. Finally, we’ll provide a content brief template to take the guesswork out of creating your own.

Key Components of an Effective Content Brief

What you include in your content brief template depends on your organization, team structure, and content strategy, but here are some common elements:

key components of an effective written content brief

Topic, background, and overview details

  • Title: The working title of the content piece. This can be refined later, but it's good to have a starting point.
  • Objective/goal: Clearly state the purpose of the content. Is it to inform, entertain, educate, persuade, or something else? What do you want the content to do?
  • Audience: Who is this for? Be specific about the target audience’s demographics, interests, pain points, and preferences. 
  • Description/purpose/topic/background: What is this project? What is the topic? Why now? Why us? Use this as the high-level paragraph about what you’re doing and why.
  • Key message/value proposition: What is the core message you want to convey? What value does the content offer to the audience? This is your topic sentence.
  • Outline: Include a brief outline or headlines. You can either define what the outline should be, or highlight what needs to be included at a minimum. But give structural expectations if you have them.

Logistical parameters

  • Timeline/deadline: Set a clear timeline for content creation, review, and publishing. Include dates for every stage of the process.
  • Content type/format: Specify the type of content you plan to create, such as a blog post, infographic, video, podcast, white paper, etc.
  • Length: Provide an approximate word count, video duration, or any other relevant length or size specifications.
  • Call-to-action (CTA): Specify the desired action you want the audience to take after consuming the content, and how it should be worked into the content (CTA button, standard outro language, etc.).
  • Sources/references/stats: If the content requires research or data, provide a list of trusted sources or references to be used. This could be people to interview, data points to include, or similar competitor articles to reference.
  • Feedback/approval process: Outline the process for feedback, revisions, and final approval, with deadlines.

SEO requirements

  • Internal links: Mention other articles from your directory that you want referenced (or linked to) from the piece of content. If this is part of a pillar project, outline how you want interlinking to work to satisfy those goals.
  • Optimization: Include targeted keywords, meta description, URL, and other SEO guidelines to help the writer optimize the content for search engines. Bonus: include a checklist for writers to track against with every content submission.

Brand specifics

  • Tone/style: Describe the desired tone and writing style for your brand. This can be formal, informal, conversational, technical, humorous, etc. Link to a written style guide if you have one so writers can always reference it.
  • Visuals/design: If visuals are part of the content (e.g., infographics, images, videos), mention any specific requirements or ideas. Link to your brand's visual guidelines to ensure correct use of colors, fonts, logos, etc.

This is already a long list, but depending on your content program, you may also need to include additional components in your content brief, including:

Details about what happens post-publish

  • A/B testing: If any portion of the content will be part of an A/B test (like headlines or visuals), mention the testing strategy in your brief.
  • Metrics/success criteria: Define how you'll measure the success of the content. This could include metrics like page views, engagement, conversions, etc.
  • Promotion/distribution: Mention the channels, platforms, or tactics for promoting this content (e.g., website, social media, email newsletters).
  • Maintenance/updates: If the content requires periodic updates or maintenance, provide details on how it’ll be managed over time. Deicide that now and build it into the team process to actually make those updates when necessary.

Additional copy needs

  • Social media copy: Provide guidelines for how the content should be shared on social platforms, perhaps even including suggested copy, creative, and/or hashtags.
  • Content repurposing: If you plan to repurpose this content into different formats or for different platforms, mention those plans in the brief. Be explicit about whether the writer of the content will be responsible for those additional pieces.

Industry, product, or location-specific information

  • Localization/translation: If your content will be translated into other languages, include relevant details or requests of the writer.
  • Legal/privacy requirements: If your industry or company has legal, data, or privacy considerations or requirements, overtly mention them so writers can adhere to them.
  • Product/features: If applicable, writers may need to know details about your products or services that relate to the topic. Give them applicable details to include.
  • Competitor analysis: Include an overview of how your competitors are addressing the topic and how your content will be different.

Collaboration or influencer relationships

  • Influencer/partner involvement: If other outside sources will be involved in creating and/or promoting the content, outline roles, responsibilities, and timelines.
  • Collaborators: If you have a large team and/or complicated creation process, list the team members involved in creating the content and their respective roles.

Remember, what you choose to include in your content marketing brief template is entirely up to you. Find the perfect space between too simplistic and too detailed and only include information that will help your writers create great content.

As you can see, it takes a bit of time to put all this information together. And it could be limiting your writers’ creativity. Let’s discuss a few specific pros and cons of using content briefs.

Pros and Cons of Using a Content Brief 

Using content briefs in your content marketing program can offer several advantages, but there are also potential drawbacks.

Pros of using content briefs

  • Clear direction: Content briefs provide a clear direction, expectation, and purpose for each piece of content, ensuring that everyone involved is aligned on the goals and messaging. This saves time, money, and headache.
  • Efficient content creation: With a well-structured brief, content creators spend less time guessing what to produce, resulting in more efficient content creation processes. Providing guardrails makes the whole process smoother. Plus, outlining critical details of the content will ensure nothing gets missed.
  • Reduced revisions: Being clear with expectations up front can limit the number of revisions later. This means you can publish faster and offer a better experience for your writers.
  • Consistency: Content briefs help maintain consistency in brand voice, style, and messaging across different content pieces. Use your brief template to create this consistency where you need it most, like SEO, tone/voice, etc.
  • Higher quality: Briefs help you get past the fluff and create content for your brand that is thoughtful, thorough, and valuable to your target audience. Taking the time to guide writers with your brief means overall better content.
  • Targeted audience: By defining the target audience in the brief, content creators can tailor the content to resonate with specific segments, increasing its relevance and impact.
  • SEO optimization: Including SEO considerations in the brief helps writers create content that is more likely to rank well in search engines. 
  • Better collaboration: Content briefs facilitate better collaboration among team members, as everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. It also formalizes deadlines and expectations.
benefits of content briefs for writers

Cons of using content briefs

  • Time-consuming: Developing detailed content briefs can take time, especially when the content strategy is complex or when many stakeholders are involved. You’ll first need to create a content brief template, then fill out that template for each individual piece of content. It takes time to research, prepare, and document this information every time; this is resource-intensive, especially for small teams.
  • Rigid structure: In some cases, a rigid content brief may stifle creativity and flexibility, making it challenging to explore new ideas. Some writers might think your guardrails are too limiting, and thus inhibit creativity and content quality.
  • Potential oversights: If not carefully written, content briefs might miss important details or assumptions, leading to misunderstandings among team members. 
  • Changing requirements: Content marketing is dynamic, and requirements might change quickly. A detailed brief could become outdated, requiring constant updates.
  • Limitations for freelancers/contributors: External freelancers or contributors may not have access to or be familiar with your brief, which could affect content quality. You’ll need to train your writers how to read and use your brief.

Overall, content briefs can be highly beneficial for organizing and streamlining content creation efforts. However, it's essential to find the right level of detail and flexibility in your briefs to avoid potential pitfalls and ensure they serve as valuable tools rather than hindrances to creativity and productivity.

Tips for Making Content Briefs Part of your Content Culture

With all that said, if you’re team content brief (like we are!), here are a few tips for getting started.

The main tip is to just start. Get a template together and start using it. You’ll quickly notice what works (or doesn’t), which team members are willing (or resistant), and what changes you need to make.

You will need to refine your brief over time to fit your needs. Perhaps you start with a comprehensive brief and later realize you only need a few fields. Adjust to make it easy to use, while still covering all the vital components. And continue to revisit the brief periodically to make sure it’s still working as expected.

Don’t forget to get user buy-in. Requiring a brief with a team who hates them probably won’t be successful. Involve your team from the beginning and listen to their concerns and suggestions. If your team is resistant, keep the brief as simple as possible.

The biggest mistake marketers make with content briefs is not using them. If you’re going to create a brief, build out a process for when and how it’s used. Then require your team to use it every time. 

Perhaps you only use briefs for long-form content, or just for your blog. Defining when to use your content brief is just as important as how you use it.

Content Brief Template

Now that you understand the why and how of content briefs, it’s time to get started. Get a copy of our content marketing brief for written content here. Just “make a copy” of the document, and update or refine based on your team needs.

Don’t forget to get buy-in from your core team and start putting your content brief to use!

Download now! Content brief template
Need help implementing your content strategy and working with writers? Email us at growth@rightsideup.co to get connected with talented content marketers who can support your strategy.

It all started with a journalism degree from Boise State University, but no desire to work in a newsroom. The year was 2006. Magazines were the only real freelance path, but incredibly hard to break into. So Amber did what anyone would do...take an administrative job. Then get an unusable master’s degree in holistic health studies that ignited a love for research. Then take a sabbatical. Do yoga teacher training. And finally, actually be a writer. A decade later, one adtech giant, three tech startups (two in cannabis), and several large career progressions including head of content and head of marketing, she now serves as a fractional content strategist and writer. Amber lives in the UP of Michigan, and spends as much time as possible outdoors.

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