How to build useful content briefs

From time-consuming templates to understanding the nuances of structure versus copy, creating a truly useful content brief is an SEO professional’s achilles heel. Here’s some top tips for a smoother, collaborative process between SEO and content.

Working closely with content marketing teams is an inevitable part of the SEO professional’s daily life – with most interaction happening through managing the creation of content. 

SEO professionals, for better or worse, put their watchful gaze on each stage of the production process but the initial ‘kick’ often comes with the production of a content brief. 

Rasa Sosnovskytė, Head of SEO and Growth Marketing at Oxylabs, offers top tips on the steps to great content brief production, and where SEO professionals can make the odd concession.

Creating a great content brief is tricky. Far too often, SEO professionals think only within the confines of the field. Content writers, however, have their own understanding of the process. Not aligning the two can cause unnecessary friction and conflict.

  1. Swap the ‘old way’ of brief building with software and automation

Many SEO professionals still build content briefs the old way – through Google Docs or Microsoft Word. These methods work, but they’ve become highly inefficient for several reasons.

Developing detailed content briefs is already a time consuming activity. Using any sort of word processor means that each part – even the smallest bit – has to be recreated manually. Templates and tables can only get you so far.

Luckily, SEO is a field where software crops up left and right. Many content brief tools have been created, each of which comes with a variety of benefits. The tools in question will often have better visual displays for the content writer. Some will provide keywords in an easy-to-grasp list, while others might offer suggestions for the amount of them that’s necessary.

In the end, however, any brief production software is an add-on. It shouldn't be relied upon as a crutch, but should be primarily used to help optimise workflow.

  1. Structure the content – without overpowering the writer

Often where junior writers will be led astray is the desire to produce much more content in a single piece than is necessary. It’s a perfectly understandable issue, as structuring an article before it’s even written is tough. Add keywords into the mix, something they can’t predict ahead of time, and the process becomes even more difficult.

There are several reasons why SEO professionals should focus on proposing a structure, at least, to articles. For one, they understand content through a bigger picture, closer to the sense of what is absolutely necessary. Writers have to fill in the gaps around the necessary bits to create the article.

The structure of the article can often get lost while writers wrestle with combining all the SEO requirements into a neat package. SEO professionals have none of that; additionally, they skim over competitor articles to get a sense of what the reader might be looking for.

SEO professionals have a better understanding of the underlying structure of an article than writers. It’s often best to think of headings and subheadings as mini topics and communicate it to the content production team. Providing these in the brief will essentially build shutters for the writer, making it less likely that they will produce something that’s not necessary for SEO.

A word of caution here – writing should be left to writers. Forcing yourself to do extensive proofreading and editing is likely to only cause frustration. Comment and provide suggestions for the bigger picture but leave the details to editors.

  1. Guide writers to take inspiration from competitors

As we know, ranking in search engines is a constant tug-of-war against competitors. All else being equal, the better content wins, but getting to such a state takes time. As content can be improved over time to beat out everyone else, starting with something of good quality is usually enough.

While it has been standard practice for some time, collecting a list of URLs with the best competitor content for each brief should be reiterated. SE professionals will be going through these articles and landing pages either way, so adding the best ones is a question of mere seconds.

Additionally, content writers should be briefed to shamelessly take inspiration from the provided articles and landing pages. The desire to produce something truly original may too often be a source of pride, causing writers to forego anything that might detract from that goal.

As such, there should exist clear communication and guidelines about adopting ideas and content from competitors. Coupled with the other pointers in the brief, competitors will ease the transition of going from a blank page to building the skeleton for a piece of content.

  1. Make concessions

While not technically part of the brief, conceding some points or initial visions of how the article should look and read should be part of the course. Such concessions may even include the number of keywords or proposed structure.

Be prepared for minor deviations from the ‘expectation’. Sometimes keyword counts might not match the requested numbers, or some of them might be missing entirely.

This is potentially fine, especially due to the complicated nature of SEO. After all, all keyword suggestions are merely qualified and calculated predictions derived from various data extracted from search engine results pages and other sources.

In the end, SEO professionals should accept their strength in understanding the big picture of content production. Leave the stylistic and other choices to the writer. Writers will then not only have an easier time doing their work, but will be thankful for the opportunity.