How to Write a Content Brief: A Comprehensive Guide for Effective Content Planning

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Publishing content without a clear plan is like heading into the woods and leaving your compass at home. Sure, you might have a sense of the direction you need to go in, but there’s a good chance you’ll miss the mark. Knowing how to write a content brief can help you find your way in the digital wilderness, zeroing in on your audience and crushing your marketing goals. 

What exactly is this essential tool? A content brief is a set of instructions that lays out what your team needs to accomplish with a piece of content. It outlines details such as objective, word count, keyword placement, formatting, and tone, all backed by solid audience research and data. Follow along as we show you how to create an effective brief to maximize the impact of your content strategy. We’ll also share a downloadable content brief template that you can customize for your own needs.

How to Write a Content Brief to Guide Content Creation

A content brief is like an instruction manual, summarizing the requirements for building each piece of content. Everyone on your team, including writers, editors, subject matter experts, SEO specialists, and designers, should be using this reference document to guide them in the content-production process.

It might feel like a time-consuming and unnecessary step; after all, can’t you just give your writer a topic and some keywords and call it a day? In our experience, the time spent building a content brief pays off handsomely down the line. You’ll get closer to your goals on the first draft while also ensuring your content strategy is properly implemented.

A thorough content brief:

  • Establishes the goal of a piece
  • Defines the target audience
  • Ensures your content stays on brand
  • Reduces uncertainty and time spent clarifying issues
  • Summarizes important points to be covered
  • Boosts productivity by allowing writers to focus on execution
  • Reduces editing and the need for rewrites
  • Speeds up approvals, because stakeholders have signed off on the brief
  • Supports content outsourcing, allowing anyone to step in and immediately understand project requirements

Tools for content brief creation

You can accelerate the creation of your content briefs by leveraging some of the AI-powered tools on the market. These platforms automate tasks like keyword research, audience analysis, and ideation, freeing up your time to focus on storytelling, creativity, and ways to make your content stand out.

A few different tools are worth having at your fingertips:

  • Content creation tools: AI content creation tools can help generate ideas for blog posts, develop outlines, and lay the groundwork for content briefs. The key to these platforms, however, is to use them as a launching pad. To make your final product unique, you’ll still need to take the time to customize your brief for your particular audience and business goals.
  • SEO tools: Keyword research tools are critical for creating the content your audience is searching for. Use these platforms to generate keyword ideas, analyze competitor strategies, and clarify user intent. Some tools can also generate outlines and recommend target keywords, word count, and readability scores based on top-ranking pages.
  • Audience analytics: Segment your audience to tailor your content more precisely. Google Analytics provides aggregate information on who’s visiting your website, where they’re located, and what their interests are. You can also see which pages they’re engaging with on your site — and which ones they’re not — to help you better address your audience’s needs and preferences. 
  • Content brief generators: Platforms such as Thruuu and Keyword Insights analyze search result pages to generate briefs for your content. Use these to get a head start on your brief and supplement them with your own expertise and knowledge to ensure your content is valuable and unique and meets Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines.

Step 1: Define Your Project Goals

Now it’s time to write a content brief. The first stage of the process is to set your content marketing goals, which should be guided by the needs of your business.

HubSpot infographic outlining the SMART goals framework with colorful icons.

Many brands use the SMART framework to clarify what they need to accomplish when setting goals. SMART stands for: 

  • Specific: What do you want the content to achieve? Why does it matter?
  • Measurable: What does success look like? Make sure it’s quantifiable.
  • Attainable: Do you have the resources available to meet the goal?
  • Relevant: Does the goal matter? Is it aligned with your brand’s priorities?
  • Time-bound: What’s the time frame for achieving the goal?

You might decide your objective is to increase website traffic. Use the SMART framework to break down the goal and give yourself a clear sense of direction: 

  • The specific goal is to increase website traffic by 20%.
  • It will be measured through metrics such as keyword position, click-through rates, and traffic.
  • It will be achieved by scaling the production of helpful, optimized blog content.
  • The goal is relevant because it supports lead generation and revenue.
  • The time frame for the goal is six months.

Realizing your goals through purpose-driven content

With your objectives in hand, determine the type of content needed to achieve them. Each piece of content should have a clear role in your overall strategy. 

Many businesses focus on blog posts, but you can use a variety of formats, depending on what you want to convey. We’ve highlighted some common content types below, organized by why you might use them for audience engagement.

Generating leads

  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Blog posts
  • Landing pages

Establishing authority

  • Thought leadership
  • Guest blogs

Building brand awareness

  • Social media posts
  • Informational blog posts
  • Infographics

Retaining customers

  • Product tips
  • How-to guides
  • Tutorials
  • Email newsletters

Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience 

Your audience is at the heart of your content strategy — they’re the reason you craft and share content. They influence the type of content you create, the way you express your message, and the content distribution channels you use. Your content must be authentic and engaging. The more insight you have into your audience’s motivations and preferences, the better you can tailor your content.

Audiences aren’t uniform, so begin by segmenting them according to shared characteristics such as age, gender, location, or interests. You can then use these segments to customize their user experience. For example, some customers may prefer shopping directly on social platforms while others like product recommendations in their inbox. Make sure you’re marketing in the right places with content that speaks directly to your customers’ interests.

Incorporating audience personas into your content brief

Audience personas are extremely powerful tools for guiding your content marketing strategy. When it comes to content briefs, however, the challenge is making this information useful for writers. Rick Leach, our VP of Content Operations, elaborated on this in a Crowd Content podcast. He notes that vague audience demographics don’t help writers tailor their content in an impactful way: 

“What I’ve started to do in the briefs we create is to give audience insights rather than a persona,” he says. “What are our audience’s pain points … What resonates with this audience as it relates to this content? That type of information in the hands of a writer is very valuable.”

He goes on to say that pain points change, depending on the topic, so you should revise this section in every content brief to sufficiently equip your writers. “Now it’s informing how they write that article,” he explains. “It helps [the writer] empathize with the audience’s specific pain points on the subject matter and present solutions that should resonate.”

Advanced techniques for audience research

So how do you go about gathering these insights about your customers? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Communicate directly. Use surveys, interviews, and focus groups to understand their priorities, frustrations, and concerns.
  • Listen in on social networks. Learn what customers are saying about your industry, brand, and competitors in online communities and on blogs and social platforms.
  • Leverage market research tools. Build in-depth profiles of your customers using audience intelligence platforms such as SparkToro or Audiense.
  • Conduct behavioral analytics. Understand how your customers engage with your marketing channels through web analytics tools, heatmaps, and session recordings. You can see where your content successfully engages them and where you may need to improve.

Step 3: Outline Content Specifications 

When you’ve determined the type of content you want to create, it’s time to drill down to the details. Your team will need certain information to execute the content, so use the list below as a checklist for your content brief. The more precise you can be in the brief the better, so include any additional resources or notes you think may be helpful. 

  • Content type: Specify the type of content you’re creating, such as a blog post, white paper, landing page, or case study. 
  • Summary: Describe in a few sentences what the content should cover to guide the piece and ensure it stays on track. For example, the summary for the article you’re reading right now might be “Explain how to write a content brief, covering steps such as audience research and SEO.”
  • Objective: Explain what the piece should accomplish and the key takeaways.  
  • Content outline: Detail the topics to cover, including suggested section headers.
  • Target audience: Provide insights about audience pain points and the type of problems they want to solve.
  • Style: Establish stylistic requirements such as formatting, point of view, abbreviations, and comma usage. These should be consistent across your content inventory.
  • Voice and tone: Elaborate on how the writer should communicate to your readers. Voice and tone affect how audiences perceive and relate to your brand. 
LinkedIn post by Areti Vassou on tailoring content tone to audience demographics and interests.

Defining your content’s voice and tone

Let’s talk a little more about voice and tone, because the way you express your message is critical to how audiences react to your content. Two elements come into play here — your brand voice and the content’s tone.

  • Brand voice is the overall personality of your business. It’s tied to your organization’s mission and values and helps distinguish your brand from others. For example, your voice might be sophisticated, humorous, socially conscious, or bold. Voice should be consistent throughout your content so audiences know what to expect and can begin to build a relationship with your brand.
  • Tone is the mood or feeling you set within a specific piece. Tone often changes, depending on the purpose of the piece or distribution channel. You might use a playful tone on social media to capture attention and a formal tone in a white paper to establish authority.

Writers need to know your voice and tone because it affects:  

  • Word choice
  • Sentence structure
  • Point of view 
  • Vocabulary level
  • Descriptiveness or storytelling techniques

For example, to achieve a professional tone, a writer might use third-person point of view, longer sentences, and a formal vocabulary. Conversely, acasual tone usually consists of shorter sentences, colloquialisms, and rhetorical questions. You can also specify these requirements in your content brief.

Step 4: Structure Your Content 

You can give writers the freedom to create content as they see fit, but the more structure you provide, the more likely the final product will satisfy your goals and audience needs. 

Research your topic and add value

The key to ranking well is to tackle a topic better than your competitors. Review the pages that are ranking for your keyword — not to copy your competitors’ content but to find ways to improve on the content. A content gap analysis can help you gain ground on the competitors. During your research, gather ideas, statistics, examples, and case studies that will help you create a useful, valuable piece. 

Crafting an engaging and coherent outline

Organize your ideas into sections. Use your main points as headers and add supporting points in the relevant sections. Try to build a logical structure for your content.

Inverted pyramid infographic explaining the hierarchy of information importance.

Use an inverted pyramid style of writing to present the most important information first, working your way to the details. This approach works well for the overall structure of a piece as well as for individual sections. It helps create a logical flow so you can lead your reader through the content seamlessly.

Each section should tie back to the purpose of your article. If it’s not relevant, it should probably be removed to ensure your article is cohesive. For example, if the purpose of your article is to explain how to make the perfect cup of coffee, a recipe for coffee cake likely isn’t relevant — no matter how delicious it sounds.

Integrating UX design principles into content structure

Consider implementing a user-friendly structure for each type of content on your website. You might have one structure for blog posts, for example, and another for service pages. Writers will know right away how to structure the relevant piece of content.

Browse through the Poppy & Peonies website, and you’ll see that they use the same structure for all of their product descriptions — a descriptive paragraph, followed by bullet points. This structure is easy for readers to consume. 

Product description for a versatile travel bag from the website Poppy & Peonies with detailed features and color options.

MoneyTips, which writes on complex financial topics, structures each article with an introduction followed by a three-bullet summary. “The Short Version” helps surface key information right at the top of the article.

Article on mortgage rates with a brief explanation and tips for locking in low rates.

Step 5: Incorporate SEO and Keywords 

Your content marketing strategy should be guided by keywords to ensure audiences can discover your content in search engines. List your target keywords in your content brief so your writer can incorporate them according to SEO best practices. 

Typically, you’ll focus on a primary keyword and a few secondary keywords that are variations of the primary keyword. According to best practices, you should use your primary keyword in:

  • The title
  • Introductory paragraph
  • One H2 header
  • URL slug
  • Meta title and description

Secondary keywords can be used once in the body copy, but use keywords only if they fit easily into your copy. You can adjust awkward keywords to make them sound more natural.

Keywords should just be a guide for your content. Writers should focus on creating helpful content that engages readers, not on search engines. That’s where you’ll find the most success. For example, while there are tools that check your content for keyword density, relying on them often means you’re writing to satisfy Google and not your human readers. Search engines are sophisticated enough to understand your content if you address a topic comprehensively. There’s no need to stuff it with keywords.

Mastering the art of keyword research

Keyword research tools help you find search terms related to your product or service, along with data such as the number of times users search for it and how hard it is to compete for the top spots in the SERPs. Strike a balance between search volume and keyword difficulty when choosing keywords to target.

Start your research with a broad keyword related to your product or service and then sift through to find other relevant terms. You might use “backpack” as a starting point and then discover audiences are also searching for “work backpack” and “best backpack for hiking.” Decide which keywords are relevant to your business and use these to guide your content creation.

Remember that search volume usually drops as keywords get more specific, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Customers further along in their research usually use more precise keywords and are easier to convert.

Step 6: Finalize and Provide Feedback

Before finalizing your brief, invite your stakeholders to share their thoughts. Depending on your company’s organizational structure, you may want input from:

  • Content strategists
  • Editorial directors
  • Marketing directors
  • Product managers
  • SEO specialists
  • Subject matter experts
  • Senior leadership
  • Creative team (for design elements)

You can draw on your colleagues’ expertise to refine your outline and enhance the value of your piece. This step also helps manage expectations: If your stakeholders sign off at the beginning of the content production phase, there should be fewer revisions during editing and approvals.

Revise the document based on the feedback and then put the brief into the hands of your content creation team for implementation.

Embracing agile feedback loops in content strategy

Publishing your content and sending it into the world can feel like the conclusion of your content strategy, but it’s just one part of an ongoing process. To maximize your content’s impact, you need to gather feedback and data, adjusting your tactics over time to improve performance and respond to shifts in audience behaviors.

  • Ask your content creation team for feedback on the brief. Was it helpful? What additional information do they need to do their jobs better in the future?
  • Invite your stakeholders to share thoughts on the final product. Did it meet their expectations? How would they improve on it?
  • Determine how audiences engaged with your content. Analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics such as page views, time on page, bounce rate, social shares, and conversions.
  • Adjust your strategy. Based on the insights, refine your content strategy. Experiment with messaging, format, and content distribution channels, or perform testing to see how audiences respond to variations of headlines and other elements. Then use your findings to inform your next set of content briefs.
X post by Joseph J. Master discussing the importance of a circular strategy with feedback.

From Blueprint to Breakthrough: Download Our Content Brief Template

An effective content strategy can help convert audiences, but each piece of content you publish needs to pull its weight. A content brief helps you keep each piece tightly focused, summarizing details about content goals, audience, keywords, messaging, tone, and style. Backed by solid research and analytics, this document is a valuable reference for everyone on a content team and will ensure your final product aligns with your target audience and business goals.

Are you ready to elevate your content strategy to engage audiences and drive results more effectively? Discover how this essential tool streamlines your workflow, ensures consistency, and improves outcomes. Download Crowd Content’s expertly designed content brief template and get started today.

Rick Leach

Article by

Rick Leach, the Vice President of Content Operations at Crowd Content, is a seasoned professional in orchestrating large-scale content initiatives. At the helm of a dynamic team of content managers, QA specialists, and production assistants, he oversees the team’s production of high-quality content for businesses around the globe. Rick's expertise extends beyond operations management to providing strategic insights on scaling and producing outstanding content, making him a respected voice in the content creation industry.

Rick's journey in the content industry is preceded by more than five years as an Advertising Sales Manager at The Tampa Tribune, where he refined his skills in media sales and advertising. And his entrepreneurial spirit is evident in his successful 17-year venture as the proprietor of an e-commerce business.

On a personal front, Rick's life is as fulfilling as his professional endeavors. A proud U.S. Navy veteran, he enjoys a blissful family life, married with four children and a grandchild. Originally from New England but now residing on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Rick is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

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