Writing great content at scale is hardly achievable by just winging it. Whether you are a solo content writer or a team, you need discipline, consistency and focus.
Things can easily go awry in the absence of a single set of guidelines to adhere to. For example:
- When you delegate the task of web copywriting to a freelance writer, agency or your staff, you are at risk that they may deliver something totally different from how you envisioned it.
- Even if you write all your content by yourself, you may not remember why or how you did something a certain way when writing a previous piece of content. So you may end up following some other approach in the new piece you’re working on.
- If you are a writer or agency creating content for a company, you may not have full clarity on what is expected from you, leading to waste of time and resources in several rewrites and fixes.
This compromises on efficiency and consistency. So when working on content creation for a business, what all stakeholders need is specific guidance to be able to understand the brand’s content strategy, mission and expectations.
This guidance is imparted in the form of two documents: style guide and content brief. The brand’s style guide and copywriting briefs together act as the glue that holds the team together and helps in accomplishing the intended content deliverables.
This guide is about the 2nd document: the content brief. I will go over everything you need to know about creating a proper content writing brief for each piece of content a business intends to produce.
You can also think of this as a content writing questionnaire for your client or manager when they want you to write a piece of content. So you have complete information on exactly what you need to write to meet their expectations.
What is a Content Brief?
As I mentioned, every business needs at least two documents for the content creation staff or contractors to be able to produce cohesive content.
When a set of guidelines is meant for the overall content produced by a company, it’s known as a style guide. It’s a set of high-level instructions to be followed by all the content produced by the brand.
However, each individual piece of content may also have its own set of specifications to be met. This is where a content brief comes in.
A content writing brief is the document that provides necessary direction and context for writing a single, specific piece of content.
In other words, each piece of content will have a unique content brief associated with it. The copywriting brief will tell everyone how the said piece is to be written and delivered.
Preparing A Content Brief
The above comic does a great job at conveying how most professionals go about creating a content brief. Trust me, you don’t want to risk winging it or not taking content writing briefs seriously.
In order to create a copywriting brief which can produce the desired outcome, you need to be familiar with all the components to be included, what details to add in each component and questions to ask before you start writing a piece of content. So here goes:
About The Company?
A content brief typically starts with a short company bio, with information about the business, their products and services, target niche market, positioning in the industry and the value proposition that separates them from the competition.
The idea is to explain clear terms who you are and what your brand stands for. If you have your company’s mission, vision and values statement, it won’t hurt to include that as well in your content writing brief. Here’s an example:
Company Bio: Lawson Corporation
- Business Name: Lawson Corporation
- Business Address: 153 James Street, Boston, USA
- Email: Info@lawsoncorp.com
- Tel: 555-777-9999
General Business Activities - Lawson Corporation is a real estate company in Massachusetts. Lawson Corporation conducts real estate marketing and consulting. We also undertake all maintenance duties for our properties, along with the security and surveillance.
Purpose - To be a national leader in the real estate industry by providing enhanced service experience, customer relationships and profitability.
Mission - To build long term, profitable relationships with our clients via exceptional customer service, innovation and technology.
Target Audience Needs?
Another major factor impacting the direction your content will take is the people it is being written for. Your content brief must include adequate relevant information about your target readers.
Each piece of content is meant for a very specific segment of your audience, which should be clear from your content writing brief.
- Who do you want to reach?
- What’s their age and gender?
- What do they do and what’s a typical day like for them?
- What are their problems and pain points?
- What gives them happiness and satisfaction?
- Which stage they belong to in your sales and marketing funnel?
For example, let’s say if you’re delegating the writing of a guide on personal finance. And you fail to mention that the guide is meant for millennials.
Since the writer doesn’t have a clear idea on who the target audience is, the final piece may come out catering to the needs of baby boomers.
As you can imagine, the piece would be nothing like it was expected to be, as both these age groups have very different financial goals and preferences.
Another crucial part of a content writing questionnaire is what this piece of content will accomplish for the reader.
- What exact needs or pain points you are addressing for the reader?
- Will it help solve a problem, educate, inspire to take action, or entertain?
- Will the reader be in a better place after having read the article?
Without knowing exactly what goals the copy helps the readers achieve, there’s a high chance that content would not get written in a way to really help the audience.
The better you know your target audience, the better you’ll be able to serve them. In fact, you need to know them so intimately that when reading your content, they should feel like you’re reading their mind.
Note: If you intend to target more than one market segment, it’s better to create a separate piece of content for each of the segments.
A single piece of content should be written to target only one segment, so the writer can adapt and personalize to make it even more valuable to that segment.
Content Type, Topic & Focus Keywords?
There are different types of written content. Your content brief should clearly specify what is to be created: a blog post, newsletter email, whitepaper, sales copy, ebook, presentation, or something else.
Next, in your content writing questionnaire, ask for a clear and specific topic, instead of something general. A concrete benefit promised in the headline, makes people more likely to click and look for a solution to their problem.
A narrow topic not only helps you understand what exactly you need to cover, but also clarifies to the reader what they can expect to learn from the piece.
Bonus Tip: If you have a broad topic but need help narrowing it down, there are several tools which can be useful. The most prominent are:
If you care about SEO, then keyword research is a crucial component of your writing prep-work. Based on the topic of your content, pick one main keyword and 2-3 alternative keywords to include in your content writing brief.
My personal favorite is a premium tool known as KWFinder, for it’s great user experience, affordability and quality of data. But you can also go with one of the free tools that I mentioned above.
Input your main keyword in the tool of your choice and you’ll get hundreds of related keywords, and their associated data. You can also view how many searches happen for a keyword per month (also known as search volume).
If you’re using a premium tool, it will show another useful metric known as difficulty score. This score can give you a good general idea of how easy or difficult it is to rank for a keyword.
Ideally, you want to find and target keywords with high search volume and low difficulty score.
Bonus Tip: Keep in mind that by targeting long tail keywords (keywords with 3 or more words), you’ll have a better chance at ranking quickly and easily to the top of search engine results. Long-tail keywords are also more likely to turn into qualified leads.
Content Research & Analysis?
Whether you know your topic intimately, or only have a vague idea, proper research is essential to be able to cover it thoroughly, accurately and authoritatively.
For most of the things you claim in your content, you need to have a credible source: a research study, real data, statistics or an anecdote from real experience of a subject matter expert in your company to back it.
Numbers coming from data make your copywriting authoritative and trustworthy. Just imagine what could happen if the information you covered is found to be false or fake.
Your content is a reflection of your brand. A little sloppiness if not worth putting your reputation on the line.
So asking if your client or manager would want any specific research studies to be cited is crucial part of a content writing questionnaire.
There are a number of sources that can be mentioned in the content writing brief for the writer to get more information and data on a topic.
- If the writer is required to refer to and cite a particular research paper, or get more information from specific sources or SMEs (subject matter experts in your staff), mention them in the content brief.
- Get industry research from professional organizations, research companies or reputable publications. Find relevant studies from reference websites online. Refer websites like Forrester Research and Statista.
- Apart from using search engines, books, magazines, online courses, also consider running studies/tests on your own to analyze data.
Include these in the content brief to ensure that the writer cites them to support the claims made, wherever applicable.
Once the topic is ready to go, take some time to draft or ask for a scope and outline to be followed.
Think about the context, the key points that readers should know about the topic, what angles or mistakes most people overlook, and how you would organize it all.
Come up with a structure that makes the most sense, rather than scattering points here and there. Having an outline in your content writing brief will help make your content easy to read and follow.
Checking whether you’ll be provided with an outline via your content writing questionnaire is essential. It helps writers stick to the scope and not get carried away while writing.
Your headline and structure guides everyone involved like a map, letting them know which paths to take and which to ignore.
So you can be sure to get your readers to your intended destination in the best way possible.
You don’t want content that’s just a rehash of the same information already available online. It has to be 10X better than competitors.
You need to give information and value in a way that hasn’t been done before. So find the best content available on the internet on similar or related topics.
For example, the topic of this guide that you’re reading right now is a content writing brief. Before I started writing this guide, one of the things I did was to find the best content on this topic.
I opened up Google and DuckDuckGo, and searched for the term “content writing brief”. Then I went through many of the high ranking articles to see what is so good about them, and what could be improved.
You can do the same with your topic. Look at the search engine results, as well as competitor websites, for the keywords you’re targeting.
Include this information in the copywriting brief so whoever is writing the first draft can analyze things like format, length, tone, keywords, outline, information covered and any gaps or weaknesses to improve on.
In addition, related resources will help you find your unique angle and ways to make your piece of content stand out. You can then state your findings and recommendations also in the content brief.
The goal for your content writing questionnaire is to check if there is an opportunity to add something valuable to the conversation.
Content Strategy & Context?
If you are going directly to writing without clarifying your objectives and building a plan first, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Whatever topic you are going to write about, it should be in line with your content strategy and relevant to your target audience.
A custom made content strategy and calendar will tell you what kind of content you need to create, for whom, on what type of topics, how often and more.
So what does this have to do with your content writing brief?
When planning a piece of content and preparing a content brief, most people do share the topic on which to write. However, what they don’t share is the big picture.
- Why this topic, and why now?
- How does it fit into your mission and strategy?
- At which stage of marketing funnel will it engage the target audience?
- What kind of angle the content should focus on?
- Pointers on which sub-topics are within and outside the scope.
- Thoughts on the intro, body outline, and the conclusion.
Having a content strategy will help you answer these questions, and include those answers in your copywriting brief.
Without these important details, whoever is working on the piece of content will be forced to speculate and improvise. So this is the part of a content writing questionnaire to clearly explain your topic and the context surrounding it.
Objective/Role In Customer Journey?
Another crucial part of a content brief is the where in the buyer journey are you targeting your audience, and what action you want them to take.
Although content can help you accomplish multiple goals, you should pick one main goal for your content writing brief to make the writing process more focused.
In other words, there should be adequate information in the content brief on what your brand hopes to accomplish from this piece of content.
For example, is this piece of content:
- an SEO article to get more traffic and brand awareness?
- a guest post to get exposure from a partner site?
- a gated white paper to generate leads?
- a landing page copy to get more conversions?
- an update/documentation to educate customers on a new feature?
- a mix of these objectives or something else?
Your content will meet its desired objectives only when everyone on the team is clear on what those objectives are. So there’s no plausible excuse to not include or ask for these details in your content writing questionnaire.
This is something that many brands overlook, but it can really supercharge your copywriting and make all the parts even more effective.
Think about 3-5 core messages and takeaways you want the audience to remember about your brand and the content they just read.
- What will this piece convey about your brand?
- What messages will it embed in the minds of your audience?
- What lessons should they remember long after they read this piece?
- If a reader shares this content with someone else, what would they say?
For example, let’s say you plan to write about the different types of printers available in the market.
Through this piece you want to convey to the reader that laser printers are better than inkjet printers.
And although laser printers are more expensive, your company has figured out a way to make them at the same cost as inkjet printers. So you have the most affordable laser printers.
Then your content writing brief must mention these points as the takeaways of the piece for the reader. So whoever is writing can make sure this information is being communicated in subtle or explicit ways as applicable.
Workflow & Deadlines?
Some pieces of content are produced consistently according to a set schedule, while others are more specific and required urgently for an upcoming event or meeting.
Your content writing brief should clearly indicate what category this piece of content falls into, along with the expected timeframes.
I don’t need to stress on the importance of being on the same page about when a piece of content is to complete each stage of the content life cycle.
In addition, your content brief would also mention one or more team members who will be responsible for owning and completing each of the milestones. For example, based on your content writing workflow, these stages may include:
At the very least, a content writing questionnaire should ask about the deadline for when the content is to be delivered.
Bonus Tip: Depending on the lags and bottlenecks in your workflow, you may want to aim for getting the first draft at least two weeks before publication. Otherwise, you’ll make the copywriting project prone to delays on occasion, when a roadblock gets in the way.
Boy, if I had a nickel for everytime I have seen content creators and marketers treat images like an after-thought. It’s no secret that visual content performs better than non-visual content, regardless of the performance metric you pick.
You can also gauge the same from the fact that all the social media networks which have exploded in popularity in recent years are inclined towards visual content.
Think about Instagram, YoutTube, TikTok or Pinterest. What is the type of content people are sharing, consuming and engaging with the most? It’s either images/graphics or motion videos.
Needless to say, your content writing brief must have a strategy and specifications for how to embed visuals in your piece of content.
As humans, we are highly visual and easily notice discrepancies in such areas. If your images are low quality or irrelevant to your topic and brand, it will turn the readers off.
All the aspects of design, including colors used in images and typography of your content, should be consistent with your brand assets. Your content questionnaire will include questions such as:
- Who will be responsible for embedding visuals?
- How will he/she determine which parts need a visual component?
- What type of visuals can or cannot be used?
- Will you use free stock images/videos, buy premium, or create in-house?
- How will the images/videos be sourced/created?
- If an image requires citing the source, where/how will it be mentioned?
- What will be the acceptable file types, size and dimensions?
- Do you have/need graphic design/editing expertise?
- How will you take and annotate screenshots, if needed?
- Which parts of content will absolutely need a visual?
In addition, also consider adding examples showing the type and placement of visuals in a piece of content. This will go a long way in making everyone understand better.
The look and feel of your content should match that of the rest of the website. Keep all the elements of your content aligned to your brand’s theme, audience and personality.
Bonus Tip: A great way to ensure this is to create some image templates with consistent fonts, colors and overall design. Then use them to create new designs when needed. This will not just ensure copywriting consistency but also save time.
Voice, Tone & Writing Style?
Similar to design, your brand’s voice should also be consistent throughout. Every brand has a unique personality and target audience. And this uniqueness should reflect in all its content and communication.
For example, an entertainment publication for teens and young adults like BuzzFeed would be more inclined towards writing copy in a fun, casual and youthful way.
On the other hand, an enterprise software giant like Adobe would want to sound more professional, mature and credible.
If you don’t have a consistent tone, voice and style reflecting through your content, you are making your brand easy to forget.
So before beginning to write content brief, it’s crucial for your brand to have a properly defined voice, tone and style of writing. All these things together create a unique experience that makes your brand memorable.
Bonus Tip: A brand should develop and deliver such a unique experience deliberately that anyone reading its content for the third or fourth time would be able to tell it’s from the brand, even if they don’t see a name or logo.
And these specifications should be clearly addressed in the content writing brief. This part is usually taken care of when developing a style guide for your brand.
Once there are specific guidelines pertaining to your brand’s voice, all your copywriting should be done according to these standards. MailChimp’s style guide is a great example of describing parameters associated with your brand tone and voice.
So if your organization already has a style guide, you can just borrow this information from there. If not, it’s not too late to build one from scratch.
Note: Stop any content creation activities that are happening to do this first. It’s that important. Schedule meetings with whoever you need to discuss and agree upon a brand identity, voice and tone.
Your brand character should be clear to everyone involved in content creation. Only then it will reflect in the content writing questionnaire and reach the readers.
To sum up, a content writing brief or questionnaire is an essential document which should precede writing any piece of content.
This document should have all the information I discussed above and more based on your specific situation.
A proper copywriting brief will significantly reduce the need for the writer and other stakeholders to have to further investigate aspects. So they can focus on what they do best and deliver the content exactly as expected.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these tips? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.