Skip to content
February 29, 2024

How to Create an Effective Content Brief [Free Template]

Table of Contents

Put your keyword into an AI tool, review the headers, and you have a brief, right? Not quite.

With tools that can spit out a rough outline in seconds and Google cracking down on “content only created for SEO,” it’s more important than ever to start with a thoughtful content brief, whether that is earmarking opportunities for expert quotes or injecting a point of view at the outline phase.

A functional content brief goes beyond a wireframe with headings and one sentence descriptions. It is the foundation on which a thorough and thoughtful piece of content is built.

By including information like internal links, brand guidelines, target audience, keywords, and authoritative sources, everyone is on the same page from the get-go. This streamlines your process by eliminating several rounds of draft revisions and helps the whole team understand not just SEO-optimization, but client preferences and voice. 

Follow along for instructions on how to use our free content brief template and tips on content optimization.

download content brief button

What Is a Content Brief Template?

A content brief is a document containing all the information your writer needs to create a thoughtful, SEO-optimized piece of content. From research notes and the article structure to content management information, such as internal links, keywords, and metadata, a brief keeps your team working seamlessly toward the same goal.

Whether you’re a business or content marketing agency, creating content takes a lot of work, even with a brief, so using a template helps to refine the process. That way, you’re not reinventing the wheel with each new piece of content or facing rounds of revisions that waste precious production time.

Our brief template lays out a targeted process, used for all topics and industries, to efficiently guide the research and writing to optimize content and meet the intended goal. It balances SEO and editorial needs in a seamless process and serves as a single connection point between your business or client’s needs and your content’s goals.

14 Elements to Include in a Content Brief

After you’ve downloaded our template, you can start digging into the details. Each section below represents a different part of the brief, and the sections follow the order of our template, taking you step-by-step through the process. We even include content brief examples for many elements so you can see them in action.

1. Metadata

You know that metadata helps search engines understand your post — but most writers don’t. So including this information in the brief communicates the topic and target direction to the writer and ensures that the strategist is building the foundation for optimization.

Crafting effective title tags, URLs, and meta descriptions can tell search engines a lot about your post and help display it effectively to users. In the same way, you’re telling writers how you’re framing the post before they dive into more granular details. With the strategist creating the proper platform for optimization, writers can use that information to springboard into the text.

Do the following so that your brief includes all necessary metadata:

  • Write a relevant, unique meta title. The first item readers will see to help them decide whether to clink on your post is the meta title.
    • Consider what will set your title tag apart and increase the click through rate.
    • Use the exact keyword in the title tag.
    • Be descriptive so you can show you’re relevant to their intent.
    • Be brief — use just 50 to 60 characters.
  • Make sure the URL slug is the exact keyword. If the keyword is long, remove stop words like “and” and “to.”
  • Hone your meta description. Summarize your content and show how it’s relevant to your audience.
    • Be sure to include the primary keyword.
    • Keep your description to 150 to 160 characters.

2. At-a-glance details

You have a lot of people collaborating from one document — the content brief — so including a snapshot of administrative details at the top keeps all the stakeholders on the same page. Ease and efficiency go hand-in-hand, so use this section to increase productivity so the team isn’t looking in multiple spots for pertinent information. That way, they can spend more time on what matters most.

When including your at-a-glance administrative details keep these tips in mind:

  • Include, at the very least, a link to the specific brand guidelines or style guide to be used, the target audience, and the due date. If you’ve received the same type of feedback from a client multiple times, this is a good place to note it so the information is front and center.
  • Make this information obvious, accessible, and brief. One look should be all someone needs to find this information — no scrolling or dense reading should be necessary. 
  • Use links for detailed information. Some elements, like the brand guidelines, may have additional details included in their own sections in the brief. If more information is needed from a separate document, like a style guide, link to it in this at-a-glance section so that all basic administrative details are easy to locate.

3. Word count

Forget everything you thought you knew about word count. 

You will probably add word count to your at-a-glance section, but determining word count is such an important discussion, we detail it here so you get the process right.

You need to establish a target word count because it gives writers a perspective. For example, if someone asks you to go for a run, your first question would be, “How far?” Writers feel the same way when asked to write a post. A target word count allows them to budget their time and energy because writers know approximately how many words they can write per hour.

But content creators often make the mistake of adding a target word count based on some sort of SEO tool rather than necessary editorial coverage. So consider how much depth you want for each section so that you cover the topic thoroughly and compete with the depth of other posts.

When determining page count, think of it as a comparative study against competing posts while considering these factors:

  • Competing posts: Consider whether you find the competing posts’ content light or heavy. Adjust your page count based on that analysis.
  • Intent: Adjust word count up or down based on your post’s intent. Informational posts may have less transactional information and vice versa. You may be framing the topic a bit differently than competing posts, which would also impact your page count.
  • Specific sections: Consider how you plan to cover specific sections. For example, you may want to dive deeper in a particular area than competing posts did, which would increase page count, or you may think some competing posts had too much detail, which would decrease your page count. 
  • Writer freedom: Encourage writers to use word count as a guide. Focus on giving the writer the foundation they need to create engaging quality content that doesn’t add fluff. Then you can evaluate their work for the content and quality it brings rather than whether they matched word count exactly.

After the at-a-glance section, you dive into the meat of the brief, where all the details are laid out.

4. Audience

You or your client likely has an established audience in a broad sense, but for each post, you should be targeting a specific sub-audience that might be interested in your client’s product or service. After all, if you’re creating content for a home services site, you won’t want to speak to an audience that tries to DIY their problems away.

audience content topic formula

Understanding your specific target audience allows you to better speak to a customer who may be interested in your client’s product or service and emphasize the brand proposition throughout the article.

Just follow this formula: [client’s customer] + [content topic] = content’s target audience

The following table offers some examples.

Table Example
Client’s customer Content topic Content’s target audience
People looking for hair stylists Types of perms People interested in a new, low-maintenance hairstyle who may need to find a stylist
People who need help with credit Does paying rent build credit? People looking for simple ways to build credit that fit into their lifestyle
People interested in renting machinery Dumpster rental cost People budgeting for a construction, renovation, or cleanup project who need a convenient disposal option

5. Search intent

If you want your content to rank, you need to match users’ search intent. We’re not talking about informational, transactional, and navigational intent. 

We mean active, passive, and latent intent, which not only gives readers what they’re looking for, but also helps push them through the conversion funnel. The following chart gives you an overview of these three types of search intent based on the query, “how to make espresso.”

Table Example
Search intent Definition Example
Active intent Exactly what the user is searching for The methods and steps to make an espresso using an espresso machine
Passive intent Implied or connected to what the user is searching for How long an espresso pull should take
Latent intent The unwritten query you know the user is really searching for Making espresso from tools other than an espresso machine

You can see that by thinking more deeply about intent, it opens the door to tie in your client’s products or services in a natural way. In this example, maybe you’re promoting different types of espresso making tools.

6. Brand guidelines or style guide

Brand guidelines may tell you one thing, while client feedback can tell you another. That’s why it’s important to create a living brand guidelines document so that all team members are updated about new and changing client preferences.

It’s also helpful to link to exemplary content on their site for reference. 

Because you provide a link to the style guide in the at-a-glance section, use this section to add extra details you need the team to keep top of mind:

  • Point out pertinent feedback from the client.
  • List any deviations from the style guide the team should follow.
  • Highlight new or recently adjusted guidelines — this can be even more important when the client has no established style guide.
  • Link to content on their site as a reference for specific style points if the client has no guidelines.

7. Keywords

Before you start your brief, you should have already identified a target keyword using a tool like AHREFs or Semrush. At this stage, you’re determining which related keywords you can target too. After all, targeting multiple keywords on a single page (assuming they have similar intent) gives clients the best bang for their buck and drives traffic through long-tail search.

To identify related keywords, put the top ranking posts into the keyword research tool and note what terms they’re ranking for. This will help you capture additional longtail terms and keyword variations. You can also evaluate the PAA box and question queries for more ideas.

8. SERP features

Take a look at the SERP features for your primary keyword. This can give you clues as to what information or imagery your post should include. From featured snippets to image packs, you can use SERP features to better customize your post since the elements included offer clues to your audience’s intent as well as what Google is rewarding. Then you can optimize your content to rank for a SERP feature and generate more traffic to your post.

Be sure to:

  • Check out the featured snippets. Pay special attention to the format being pulled into featured snippets because it can clue you in on what formats, such as numbered lists, Google is rewarding. Certain featured snippets, like rich answers, may indicate that the query is a “zero click search,” meaning that people want to know the answer, but won’t click on any results. If this is the case, consider if this term will drive significant traffic and value to your site.
  • Review the PAA. This feature helps you see what Google determines to be applicable to the primary search term. You can use this information for long-tail keywords.
  • Check out the related searches. Similar to the PAA, you can find keywords related to your search and learn more about what users are looking for.
  • Examine the image pack. If your search query comes back with an image, make sure you include the same types of images in your posts. That way, you can aim to rank for the image pack as well.
  • Consider the discussions and forums section. If your SERP includes this section, you can use the questions asked to further inform what your post will cover. You can even scan the forums and the comments in them for context and even more information from people who may represent your audience.

Also weigh how SERP features impact the mobile results. The more features, the more the ten blue links are pushed down and potentially buried, reducing click potential.

9. Top ranking posts

Don’t look at the top ranking posts to replicate them. Look at them as a critic – what’s missing and how can you fill in the gaps? By analyzing their content to see what they’re including or not including, you can determine how best to meet the needs of users.

evaluating top ranking posts content brief template

While you assess the competition, start thinking about how you can be different from what the competition brings. You might decide to add content, frame the topic differently, or edit out extraneous information.

For this section:

  • List the top three competing posts with their links. 
  • Include a brief overview that assesses how the post approaches the topic.
  • Determine what the post does well and what it may be missing.

Remember, top posts aren’t always factually accurate or could be dated. If you see conflicting information in the top posts or certain sections don’t make sense, flag these things for further research.

10. Point of view and originality

For each topic, your client will have a specific perspective, position, or point of view, and it’s important to verbalize this so that you can frame your post properly. In addition, balancing this perspective with originality can help your post stand out from the competition.

how to incorporate point of view into content

For this section, consider questions, such as:

  • What position does my client take on this idea?
  • Does my client’s perspective already align with competing posts? If so, how can I frame the post differently?
  • Can I add unique elements or ideas?
  • Does my client have a unique idea or approach that should be highlighted?

11. Possible images to include

Visually, images help to break up text and offer something “glossy” for users to look at, but if not used properly, images won’t help your content or the user. Although we fill out a separate creative brief for designers to understand the details of what you want to include, this section offers the budding ideas of what you may include, using the context of the brief details for a reference.

While this section is typically some basic bulleted information, consider these factors when assessing what you may include for images:

  • Use images that add value. Whether they’re fact boxes or detailed schematics, use images to add value. The image should summarize main ideas or help illustrate a process. They should simply repeat information in your headings.
  • Understand when you should show, not tell. Sometimes, words can’t do a topic justice. If you’re showcasing examples of hairstyles for medium-length hair, close-up images of layered looks and bobs will provide the readers with inspiration.
  • Optimize with alt text. Associating keywords with images helps your images and content rank.

12. Internal links and anchor text

Content shouldn’t exist on an island. We don’t pitch clients a string of unrelated posts. Instead, we think about how we can thoroughly build topical authority in their focus area, then interlink related pieces. By linking from one page to another with descriptive anchor text, we’re sending a sign to Google telling it what the linked to page is about and reaffirming that it’s important. 

Our content briefs evaluate two different opportunities for internal links:

  1. Internal links from the new piece of content to existing pages
  2. Internal links to the new piece of content from existing pages

Internal links should never feel forced or random and their anchor text should describe what the linked content is about, ideally using the content’s primary keyword or a variation of its primary keyword.

To find contextual internal link opportunities, you can conduct a site: search and look for web pages related to your primary keyword. For example, if we’re creating a post about forklift safety for BigRentz, we might search “forklift.” Then, we’ll choose other articles that mention forklift safety and add an internal link. Not all forklift-related posts will be a candidate. 

Make sure to keep in mind your client’s priority pages — revenue-driving pages that you want to rank better. These are essential to link to, especially if you’re building links to the article, which will pass link equity and boost rankings over time.

13. Research notes and sources

High-authority sources enhance the integrity of every post. If anyone has a question about the information, the sources offer a platform of support as well as a path to your thought process and direction.

Regardless of which step of the SEO content brief process you’re in, proper sources give stakeholders a resource to fall back on if they have questions. They also provide writers with a link to accurate information. 

Follow these best practices for sources:

  • Include links to sources. Insert links immediately after the information it supports so the connection is clear. 
  • Use authoritative sources. Sources with authority include .gov, .edu, and .org sites. 
  • Never use sources from competitors. If you link back to competing posts, Google will see those backlinks and boost the competitions’ rankings even more. So you’re better off sourcing your information from authoritative primary sources instead of the competition.
  • Create a list of all sources. Having a list of sources with a quick overview of the information. Not only do you have a backup of source links in case you embedded the wrong link — it happens — you also have a scannable list of information you can reference for the current post and future content.

Just remember that authoritative sources can depend on context. For example, if you’re exploring how an event affected people at a certain time, newspaper editorials would be a primary source. If exploring the event itself, then an opinion piece responding to the event would be considered a secondary source.

14. Content structure

Content structure provides a roadmap for the content creator. Whether you use in-house or freelance writers, adding comprehensive details to the content structure ensures your instructions are explicit so that you avoid rewrites.

building an effective content structure

Within the structure, you should solidify important elements, such as the headings, subheadings, and content guidance. Many briefs stop short of adding comprehensive content guidance, leaving writers too much liberty. If you’ve ever sent out a brief and the post came back in a completely different direction than you envisioned, you’ll understand the importance of content guidance.

We offer writers a complete path for their writing efforts. That way, writers don’t miss essential information and frame the content in the way we intended. Our specific directives for content include pertinent information, such as:

  • Specific content to include in each section
  • Format to frame information, such as bullets, numbered lists, or narratives
  • Links to authoritative sources for vital information 
  • Suggested sentence count to reflect the depth of coverage
  • Relevant internal links and anchor text

With your structure and authoritative sources provided, the writer can confidently fill in the content with few or no additional questions. 

When you do a final review of your outline, make sure that the outline checks the following boxes:

  • Includes important sections covered by competitors
  • Puts the information that addresses the primary intent near the top
  • Contains related information
  • Connects to the sources provided
  • Connects back to your brands product or service where possible

Tips for Using a Content Brief Template

While using a template may seem straightforward, once you dig in, you may have questions. So we added some tips for using our template in the sections below to help you understand the process and the template even better.

Use the content brief template every time you begin creating content

Regardless of the type of content, after your primary keyword has been selected, you can bridge the gap between ideation and content production with the information in the brief. The more you use the template, the smoother your workflow will become and the more finesse you can add to each piece of content.

Create an efficient content brief process

To create the most efficient process, you must first determine who the internal stakeholders are and assess what they need to do their jobs efficiently and successfully. Then download our free template and adjust it to your needs.

You should use something to schedule your content creation process. You don’t have to get fancy either — a simple spreadsheet will do or you can enhance the process and communication by using a content management tool, such as Asana.

When building out the time needed for each step, you have to determine how much time every person needs along each step of the way. You’re not accounting just for specific tasks like research or writing but also for approval steps as you move through the process.

Give yourself time to figure out how to best schedule your specific process and take time to work through the template until it suits your needs. Be flexible with what you include in the template and find the “sweet spot” — include enough to create content but not so much that you bog down the process.

Spend more time on the brief than the writer does writing the post

Our content creation process is led by content strategists who are trained in SEO and client preferences. Thorough outlines mean that writers can quickly and easily bring our vision for quality content to life. 

This reduces the time spent on revisions and frustration sending the piece back and forth. If you spend ample time on the content brief, you will need less time to get the post in its final form. Because you’re offering the writer complete instructions, they can produce quality content with few edits and no revisions.

Establish a content brief creation team

The completion of the content brief requires a team effort between SEO and editorial teams and their respective managers. 

Each business has a different set of team members, so each business will differ in how they create content and assign tasks. For North Star Inbound, we employ a tight-knit team comprised of content marketing specialists and editors, who work together in tandem with management. 

Content marketing strategists research and build out the content structure. Managers review the content brief and offer substantive feedback on the research and structure so that the content strategist can finalize the brief before it’s sent to the writer. 

This process puts multiple eyes on the brief from an early stage, while still allowing us to scale our efforts.

Remember the limitations of AI

Like any other SEO tool you use, AI might be used as a tool in your process, but don’t disregard its limitations. AI might come up with an outline based on your primary keyword, but it likely won’t cover all the bases. Since AI can’t internalize information or read nuances or context as effectively as a human, it may include extraneous information or incorrect information based on the way some posts are framed.

It also can’t help you determine whether including certain information reaches your audience and client goals. You still need to do the research to ensure information is accurate and provide a unique perspective.

Benefits of Using a Content Brief Template

Using our content brief template helps to automate your content creation process so you can reap these benefits:

benefits of using a content brief template
  • Produces quality content: The collaboration on the brief helps all team members bring their best to the table to create consistent, quality content.
  • Ensures all steps target the goal: With each step broken out, no steps are insignificant or get overlooked. Because of the team collaboration, everyone involved has a stake in ensuring that anything included supports the end goal.
  • Streamlines the process: The brief is like a roadmap that guides the content writing process with clarity and focus. The research and writing can get done with fewer questions and less revisions, if any.
  • Sets clear expectations: Detailed content briefs provide information for each step is clearly laid out in the brief so there is no confusion about the content or process. So the effectiveness of the process is reflected in the clarity of the content.
  • Offers complete instructions for the writer: A content brief with detailed structure, authoritative sources, and clear guidelines leaves nothing for the writer to question. Your writer can confidently assess the information and fill out the content with quality, original writing.
  • Delegates effectively: The content brief process allows experts on your team to weigh in at the right times. You’ll discover who on your team is the best fit for specific steps of the process. From content managers to writers and editors, you’ll be able to equip each task with the right talent every step of the way.
  • Scales content creation easily: With a template, you can better automate your creation process. As your workflow becomes smoother, you can easily schedule additional content without overwhelming the team.
  • Provides consistency in content production: Following the template and the process helps ensure that you’ve covered all your bases and included all elements in each post.
  • Allows you to focus more on strategy: The brief should support your existing content marketing strategy. By creating an effective brief strategy, your streamlined process gives you more time to focus on actionable items that build and refine your content strategy.
content brief template download

Reach Your SEO Goals with North Star Inbound

Creating content is a process that takes time and talent. If you want the confidence you’ll complete your SEO deliverables, you can work with a content marketing agency, like North Star Inbound. Our content marketing services can help you reach your intended audience, increase organic traffic to your website, and create original, high-level content efficiently and effectively to meet your SEO needs.