How to Write a Content Brief (with Content Brief Template!)


notepad on multicoloured background


16 min read

It all begins with a content brief.

The statement above can be used to answer all kinds of questions relating to how you can create effective content that gets you and your business noticed by the relevant audiences.

But how do you write a content brief exactly? One that maps out what you hope to achieve and what it is you want exactly.

That’s the question.

Not to worry, Canny has you covered.

We’re going to be going over what to include in your content briefs amongst other key bits of info. Everything you should need when learning how to write a content brief of your own and then some!

We’ll start with a content brief 101.

Otherwise known as a definition.

What is a Content Brief Exactly?

A content brief is a document made to outline what it is you want, complete with information that steers writers (or other parties involved) in the right direction based on your own specifications.

Brief formats tend to do a lot of the same thing on paper, only content briefs tend to be a lot more specific — they aren’t as broad as you might expect.

SEO-led content marketing can’t work effectively without detailed foresight, that’s for sure. We know that from experience, having completed hours of keyword research ahead of putting together an effective content brief.

A content-optimised brief format is a lot more detailed than you might think.

And it needs to be, as content can have multiple interpretations depending on who’s reading your briefs.

It’s not a case of giving writers a bullet point list and telling them to have at it. You could totally do that, by the way. Just don’t expect the content you get back to be usable or anything…

There’s quite a lot to consider, and it’s all influenced by the ‘why’ behind your project.

The following will alter how one content brief is written to the next:

  • Type of content (blogs, ebooks, etc.)
  • Content audience (native copy or for client audiences)
  • The goal of said content (educate, persuade, inform, share, etc.)

It goes without saying, but you should always try to focus on what applies to you and your goals. Any brief examples we’ll touch on are simply there to provide a rough idea of what you might want to mention/include.

Basically, your briefs should be your own.

Remember that.
man searching on a laptop

Why is it Important to Write a Content Brief?

Knowing is half the battle, the other half belongs to your content writers and creators — anyone involved in the content creation process, basically.

Ideally, you should want to be giving these people all the information they could possibly need to go off on their own and get writing/creating. This not only gives you clarity, but it also grants peace of mind.

Knowing that your writers understand the brief allows them to complete batches without a massive amount of supervision or guidance.

Everything is right there in front of them, meaning there should be no issues. Or questions like “what does this mean?” And “why do we need this?”

Sure, they might have the odd question or two, but the bulk of the information will be gathered in the content brief — or, at least, it should if you’ve written it properly and covered all notable bases.

Not only does having a brief help your creators, it also helps you gain a deeper understanding of your brand and its journey too!

Think about it, your content is an extension of you, used to generate leads, or set you up as a thought leader in your respective field (motivations will vary).

How could going into such detail not provide a complete level of understanding?

Brief Formats Work Great for Freelancers

Internally, a content brief works to keep members of the team firmly within the loop. Externally, a content brief ensures that writers (especially freelancers) are on the right path.

As a former freelance writer myself, content briefs were very handy to have, given I was turning over thousands of words a week — covering multiple different topics and titles within set timeframes.

More so when they had the right amount of information on the page. Finding that sweet spot is ideal for all involved.

Most freelancers work over emails and phone calls too, meaning there’s a lot that can get lost in translation. So ensuring you lay out exactly what you want the first time is more than ideal.

It could cost you a fair amount of money otherwise.

Content Brief: What do you Include?

Now that we have a brief idea of what a content brief is, it’s time we looked at what should be included in one. Not every content brief is the same, so it’s important that you have an idea of what to expect.

Keep in mind that every inclusion has meaning. All the information you share is there to help your writers get started.

Brief formats might shift from brief to brief. However, most consist of the following:

  • Content Details
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Content Research
  • SEO Research
  • Visual Elements

How this information is displayed depends on you and your own preferences, although we will be going over a standard layout for you to use (so stay tuned for that).

Once you’ve written one content brief, the rest should be a total breeze. Trust us, we’ve written many a content brief in our time. We write content briefs for all of our clients before we even begin putting pen to paper — or digits to keyboards in this case.

Those of you with clients reading this, you’ll know where we’re coming from.
pink post notes on white wall

Content Details

Treat this section like an overview of sorts, a section that clearly defines your titles, word count, target keywords and more.

Is it the most important part of the content brief? We’d say so, yeah.

Here you’re outlining what you want — instructions that your writers should be able to follow quite easily, with them having a full idea on what you’re asking for right down to the headings!

A standard content brief overview for writers typically consists of the following:

  1. Title: Here you state the main heading for the post in question (including the main keyword).
  2. Post Description: A general 101 of the post itself — it should consist of no more than three sentences. This should consist of no more than three sentences.
  3. Headings: Break down all of your headings, from the introduction right down to the conclusion.
  4. Word Count: How many words would you like this piece of content to be total? Be as specific as you like here (e.g. 1,500-2,000 words or 3,000+).
  5. Keywords: Just as important as your word count are the keywords you want writers to use. Outline your main target keyword and the secondary keywords that should be used within the post.
  6. Target Audience: Mention a few key demographic that you’d like to pinpoint with these posts. Another option would be to simply list their interests if you’re struggling.

Some of you might want to include information on any visuals used. This is great for internal use, but for freelancers you might want to leave it off (unless it’s super necessary and could directly influence how they’d write the post).

How to Write a Content Brief Tip: Try to outline the correct tone of voice that your writers should follow within the post. Remember, the content must represent brand guidelines.

Brief formats of any kind won’t work without stating what it is you want. And with content details, you’re doing just that, essentially.

Competitor Analysis

Act like you don’t care what the competition is doing all you want, they’re still an important factor in how you should approach your content briefs, and the content you hope to produce, generally.

There’s a lot to learn from your competitors, including any relevant keywords for you to pull from if you’re stuck.

Performing competitor analysis through a program like Ahrefs will highlight any relevant keywords that others already rank for. Here you can see the keyword difficulty and volume of each keyword.

It’s all super helpful when sourcing keywords, and titles by proxy!

So, how does this apply to how you’d write a content brief? Well, outside of lending a helping hand keywords-wise, competitor analysis can also help your writers out.

If you find a blog post you like the look of — this can be from a content or formatting standpoint (anything that you like the look of, basically) — then feel free to copy and paste a link to this post and put it in your content brief.

Putting it in there will provide guidance to writers (just make sure they don’t copy it word for word).

In a perfect world, you have no competition. It’s just you at the tippy top of the mountain solo. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Still, there’s a lot to learn from how your competitors approach content.

How do you think most marketers/content strategists source their ideas?

Content Research

Content research and competitor analysis are pretty linked. After all, it’s your competitors that serve as the perfect reference point most of the time.

Some will expect writers to perform their own research on each brief.

In our experience, the quality of the content brief reflects that of the content itself. Meaning you should be as informative as possible in your briefs if you want the best work possible in return.

It takes seconds to link off to relevant statistics, studies and related blog posts. You probably have them bookmarked already!

Why wouldn’t you include them in your briefs to give writers a head start? Who knows, maybe they’ll finish the work ahead of schedule.

Let’s face it, some need all the help they can get.
red and yellow darts on a dartboard

SEO Research

From one type of research to the next.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) research will dictate the majority of how the post is titled and formatted. Most content marketing heads will use keywords to actually come up with post topics and titles.

That’s how important SEO is to content.

We’ve already covered Ahrefs so you should have an idea of how you can source keywords and see what ranks and what doesn’t. But that isn’t everything you need to consider when looking at how to write a brief that’s content-centric.

Always ask yourself if the keywords you’re looking at are worth pursuing. Ask, is the volume high enough and the keyword difficulty not too high.

For example, did you know that some ask writers to come up with meta descriptions tied to each brief?

Some might even take it a step further and mention the internal/external links they want to spread about the post once it’s been written. Details such as these will vary from one brief to the next, as mentioned.

You might not want to include them, but a bakery in Belfast wanting to create some internal synergy across their site might.

Visual Elements

This mostly applies to writers within an organisation, as you wouldn’t usually ask a freelancer to supply images to posts. A) because the quality could be naff, and B) the images might not be free to use.

One way around this would be to ask your writers to use sites like Pixabay, Unsplash and Pexels if you were to ask them to source images. But again, this isn’t a common request for freelancers.

You might ask them to give you some ideas for visuals that might work in line with what they’ve written, just not for the images themselves.

When writing your content brief, you should probably have an idea of the sorts of images you’d like to include anyway. Images that are relevant to your chosen topic.

We’d recommend you source these images after the content is written. It’s just easier, and you get a better idea of what the finished item will look like!

Do you feel confident in your content brief writing abilities now? If not, make sure you get a real good look at the content brief template we’ve included.

It’s a template we’ve created ourselves, complete with most of the inclusions seen above.

The template has everything you should ever need to get the content wheel in motion. But don’t take our word for it, see for yourself!
yellow posted note with light bulb

How to Write an Effective Content Brief

Everyone has the capacity to write a content brief, but there are still some things to consider. It’s why we’re dedicating this final section to cover some helpful tips to maximise the overall effectiveness of your plans.

And we know they’re helpful because we utilise them all the time when putting-together our own brief formats — be it content marketing-related or web design-orientated.

Let’s not waste anymore time, here are a range of tips to help you write an effective content brief.

Always Summarise

We’re starting with one of the most important tips to keep in mind when writing your own content brief. That being: keep it as tight as possible.

Keeping your content briefs as concise as possible — bitesize even — will go a long way in ensuring that your writers have enough wiggle room to be creative (if your content is of the informal variety, that is).

Remember, your content brief is there to help others create/write something for you. You shouldn’t be writing the equivalent of a 2,000 word blog post in the brief alone.

It’s a waste of time for you, and we can all but guarantee that most of this info is going straight over your writer’s head.

Sure, some content briefs might require a lot of information to ensure that those writing know what to cover, but you can let your links do most of the talking in that department, surely.

Try to summarise your points as often as possible. Short bursts of information are key. And as long as you cover all the main points (keywords, target audiences and titles) you should be sorted.
person holding white computer mouse

Remember to Mention Your CTAs

Your call to actions (CTAs) are how you turn readers into customers, at least from a content standpoint.

They’re crucial parts of the content you create. That being said, those in, say, the healthcare sector, might create content simply to offer something informative with no CTAs to show.

Electronic resources like ebooks are a fine example of this. Although we have seen a few CTAs appear in these resources in the past, usually to encourage students to enroll at certain universities.

So, what does this have to do with how to write a content brief?

Well, CTAs are one of, if not the most important part of the content you create. Which means you might want to mention them in your content briefs as they’re so intertwined with your wider content strategy.

Content should always follow some kind of journey — typically directed by the appropriate sales funnel. Think of your CTAs as the destination.

How can you expect a writer to create effective content for you without knowing the destination?

*Spoiler Alert* You can’t for the most part.

CTAs don’t always appear towards the end of the content you publish either. Dropping them in every now and then will ensure that your content is as relevant/helpful as possible, only with intent.

Use the MoSCoW Matrix

A MoSCoW matrix has multiple applications in the ever-expansive world of marketing and business. It’s also pretty helpful when putting together brief formats of a creative nature.

Adding a small MoSCoW matrix could work wonders for your content briefs, steering writers in the right direction. Here’s a quick rundown of what it might look like:

  • Must haves (what should be included overall)
  • Should haves (additional info/guidelines including links)
  • Could haves (potential inclusions that wouldn’t hurt)
  • Won’t haves (avoid X, Y and Z)

Using a MoSCoW matrix is a great way of reining in your content briefs as you’re leaving nothing to chance.

Of course, letting the writer put their own spin on things is warranted from time to time (depending on the intent of the post/your brand). But you should always have a rough idea of what the work should look like once complete.

Brief Formats Should Answer these Questions

When in doubt, ask yourself why does this article need to be written? Alongside how will it be any different to those that you call competition?

We couldn’t not mention these questions when talking about how to write a content brief as most skim them — or outright forget about the intent behind each post.

Don’t get it twisted, we understand the creative limitations of running an authoritative website. The questions we’ve just mentioned apply to the businesses with more leeway in how they approach/execute content.

Most brief examples we’ve seen online don’t make this clear enough, which sucks, and should give you even more of a reason to check out our content brief template.

Don’t Go Keyword Crazy

Try to limit how many target keywords you want writers to include. Overloading your content briefs with keywords is just asking for bad content in return.

It’s why you should focus on highlighting a main keyword alongside half a dozen secondary keywords. To be fair, you might not even need that many (this might vary depending on the topic/length of text).

A post with over 2,000 words does not need a ton of keywords. Plus, you need to think about the quality of the content if it’s all padding.

Are your readers going to be as engaged if they feel like they’re in a keyword pinball machine, bouncing from one to the next in rapid succession?

Keyword overload is also pretty harmful to the creativity of your writers. Again, we get it if you aren’t in the market to craft conversational-styled content.

Still, you could call keyword overload a wider problem. A calculated approach could work a lot better.

What if instead of cramming multiple keywords in the same post, you create individual posts based on set subtopics that you can internally link to?

That way, your content can breathe a little and encourage readers to spend more time with you and your brand.
Crumpled Paper Around A3 Pad

How to Write a Content Brief (with Content Brief Template!)

What’s that saying?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Yeah, that applies to content marketing and content generally, and content briefs simply by extension. Hopefully, thanks to our help you now understand what a content brief is and how beneficial they are.

Also, we hope our tips on how to write a content brief come in handy at some point — the same goes for the content brief template attached!

Quality content begins with a content brief.

But who said you had to write the brief, or create the content within the organisation to reap the rewards of effective content that gets you results?

This is where a creative agency enters the picture.

At Canny, we take your wants/needs, apply research relevant to your market, match you with the right keywords, and then form a content brief around it all. Regardless of which sector you work in, whether that’s recruitment and training, healthcare, or Tech and IT, our team are here to help.

Get in touch to find out more.