How to Create a Content Brief and Best Practices (With Free Template!)

Articles and guides are a great way to drive organic traffic and build topic authority.
Whether you are writing a new post or updating an existing page, having a strategy ensures your content is optimized for search engines and is useful and relevant to your target audience.

This is where having a solid content brief template comes in handy. In this post, I’ll dive into what a content brief is, why it’s important, and what goes into making a brief that delivers successful content.

What Is a Content Brief and How Is It Used?

A content brief—also referred to as a copy brief or copywriting brief—is a document that includes all of the information a writer needs to produce any given article or piece of content. Essentially, the brief is the plan for the creation and success of the article.

A good content brief provides a thorough description of the article strategy and goals, as well as guidelines for what the article should cover, such as SEO requirements, questions to answer, internal links, and imagery.

In other words, if you handed a content brief to any writer, no matter how familiar they are with the brand or subject matter, the writer should have everything they need within the brief to produce an article that is ready for search engines and users alike.

So, what goes into a copy brief? Keep reading to learn more.

Project Summary

First, you want to provide the writer with a high-level summary of the project. Including a high-level summary ensures the writer is aligned with the purpose and goals of the article, and most importantly, how this article fits into your larger content strategy and business goals.

This is especially important when there are multiple writers working on various pieces of content that feed into the same campaign or strategy. Here’s what to include in your project summary.

What Is Your Goal?

This is the place to let your content goals shine. Are you trying to rank in the SERPs in order to increase your brand awareness? Or maybe you want to answer frequent questions to help reduce customer service calls?

Knowing what your goals are will set your content up for success. Additionally, having clear content goals helps establish your content KPIs and track performance.

Who Are You Writing This For?

The more information you can provide about whom the content is intended for, the easier it’ll be for the writer to craft the messaging directly to your audiences’ needs. This is a great place to include any persona or user archetype information that highlights your users’ pain points, motivations, demographics, and any insights you have about their online behavior.

Consider answering the following questions:

  • What stage of the customer journey is the reader in?
  • Why would someone want to read this article?
  • What do you know about this audience based on search trends?

Example:

Based on search trends and questions we’ve received from our clients, this is the audience description for this post:

The audience is entry-level marketers and content managers looking to learn how to improve their blog’s content strategy. They want specific information on what to include in a content brief, best practices, and tips for producing their own content brief template.

What Action Do You Want Users to Take?

Before you decide on a call-to-action, think about what you want your users to do after reading your article. Maybe you want readers to visit another article, sign up for your newsletter, or watch a product demo. Take into consideration where your user is in their journey.

For example, a CTA for an educational article might be to continue learning about the topic, while a case study might be to view a service page.

SEO Research

Following on-page SEO best practices ensures your article is optimized for search engines. This is especially important if your content goal is to drive organic traffic to your website and rank in the SERPs.

User Intent and SERP Analysis

Search intent is the “why” behind a search query. The best way to identify search intent is by looking at content ranking on the first page of the SERPs. Search intent can be split into three categories:

  • Do – user intends to buy, sign-up, or interact with a piece of content
  • Know – user intends to learn or get an answer to a question
  • Go – user intends to navigate to a specific website or page

Google is continuously updating its algorithms and search results to best aid users, so we know that whatever is currently ranking in the top results is likely the most beneficial content. Here is what to look for in your SERP analysis.

Content Type

What type of content is showing up in the SERPs? This can be a recent news article, an evergreen guide, video, or product page. If you want to rank for a keyword, you need to understand what the user is trying to accomplish when they enter the query: are they trying to learn, watch, or purchase?

For example, if you search “content brief,” the ranking content is articles. This tells you that users searching for content briefs are looking to learn about content briefs.

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Screenshot of SERP for “content brief”

However, sometimes the SERPs are a mish-mash of content types. For example, the term “cleaning products” shows a mix of product pages and articles. While most users are looking to shop for cleaning products, some are looking for product reviews.

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Screenshot of SERP for “cleaning products”

When this happens, align your topic with a more specific query, such as “the best cleaning products for pets.” Although your target keyword may have a lower search volume, you’ll be able to focus your content to answer more specific user questions and help increase ranking.

Content Format and Word Count

Articles have multiple formats; the most popular are news articles, how-to guides, listicles, case studies, and product reviews. Understanding the format of the articles that are ranking on the first page of the SERPs will help shape the structure and title of your post.

Additionally, looking at the average word count for ranking articles helps gauge how in-depth your content should be. At Portent, we use the tool Content Harmony, which aggregates the average word count for individual search queries. However, if you don’t have access to a fancy tool, we recommend adding a free Chrome Extension such as Word Counter Plus and calculating the average word count of the top three to five ranking pages.

Target Keywords

To ensure your content is SEO-ready, you’ll need to do some SEO research to find keyword opportunities with ranking potential. For this part, you’ll want to use a tool such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz to identify primary and secondary keywords.

If you don’t have access to an SEO tool, you can use Google Autocomplete to discover common search queries. Another way you can research popular search queries is through Google Trends’ “Related Queries.”

For example, if you are writing an article about cleaning supplies and don’t know where to start, you might want to identify what topics are on the rise.

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Google Trends search query of “cleaning supplies”

You’ll also want to include a few secondary keywords for your writer. These are typically keywords with less search volume that are still relevant to your topic. These keywords can also be different variations of your primary keyword, which will help the writer include a wider variety of words.

For example, for this article, the primary keyword is content brief, with 250 monthly searches, and the secondary keyword is copywriting brief, with 40 monthly searches. While I’ve primarily used “content brief” in the title and headings, I’ve sprinkled “copywriting brief” throughout the article.

User Questions

If a user starts reading your article and doesn’t find the answer or information they’re looking for, they’ll likely bounce and visit a different site. Providing your writer with a list of questions will help ensure users find what they’re looking for, spend more time on your website, and increase their trust in your brand.

To find what questions users are asking, you can use SEO tools such as Ahrefs, which allows you to segment search queries that are questions.

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Ahref’s questions related to “cleaning supplies”

Another way to find questions is to look at the People Also Ask (PAA) rich snippets in the SERPs, which showcase common user questions.

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Screenshot of PAA rich snippet for “content brief”

Tip:

Look at various sources for questions to answer, including what questions competitors have in their articles. This will help you find overlapping questions you should prioritize as well as outliers you can add to your article to make it more informative for your readers.

Title and Meta Description

Not all writers are familiar with title tag and meta description best practices. That’s why you want to include these in your content brief strategy. Additionally, crafting the metadata will ensure your article is optimized for search results.

Title Tag Best Practices

  • 50-60 characters (545-650 pixels) in length
  • Must be written for all indexed pages
  • Must be unique to the landing page
  • Includes target keyword(s), preferable at the beginning
  • Written with searchers in mind (descriptive enough to entice users to visit the page)
  • Ends with the name of the brand

Meta Description Best Practices

  • Between 150-160 characters in length
  • Must be written for all indexed pages
  • Must be unique to the landing page
  • Should include the primary CTA or the goal of the page
  • Explains the value of the content on the page

Article Outline

Once you have your project summary and SEO research complete, you are ready to write the outline. This is where all of your awesome research comes into play.

Headings

Headings are <h1> to <h6> HTML tags that are used to establish content hierarchy. They help users understand what the page is about and find information with ease. Think of them as a table of contents.

Additionally, headings make your content more accessible for users utilizing assistive technologies to navigate to various sections of the page.

Headers should be ordered by importance, with <h1> being the most important and <h6> being the least important.

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Heading Beset Practices

  • Use one <h1> tag per page.
  • Use <h2>-<h6> tags to separate ideas and break up heavy copy.
  • Ensure that header tags flow well when read on their own.
  • Incorporate target keywords within the headers.
  • Avoid using header tags for styling.

Voice and Tone Guides

Every brand voice has a unique personality. If your organization has voice and tone guidelines, you’ll want to include these in your content brief. This is especially helpful when working with a freelancer who is not familiar with your brand’s style.

However, if you don’t have access to voice and tone guidelines, include specific instructions to the writer regarding the voice of the article. Is the subject more light-hearted and silly, or is it more serious and educational? The more specific information you provide, the better chances the writing will align with your brand’s voice and strategy.

Check out Portent’s Tone of Voice generator to uncover your brand’s personality.

Tips for Producing a Great Copywriting Brief

I have a few copy briefs under my belt (OK, more like dozens), and I’ve picked up a few things along the way. Here are some tips to help your content briefs be more effective.

1. Look For Ways to Stand Out From the Competition

At Portent, we like to include three to five competitor examples for the writer to reference and get inspiration. We’ll also point out any outliers from competitors, such as expert interviews, organization of headings, or imagery.

Always ask yourself: How can this content do better than what already exists? How can this content provide additional value to what users are looking for?

2. Provide Context for the Writer Where Necessary

Are there any images in competing articles that help describe or visualize the content? Are competitors using tables and examples to break down complex data and information? When you find opportunities to do better than competitors, make sure to include this in your copy brief by giving the writer specific examples.

3. Include Internal Links With Descriptive Anchor Text

Adding internal links ensures your internal linking strategy is set up for success and also helps the writer familiarize themselves with other pieces of content on your site. Whenever possible, recommend anchor text to ensure the link is descriptive and lets readers know what to expect before interacting with the link.

4. Content Brief Template

Last but not least, use a copywriting template to ensure nothing is ever missing from your brief. Additionally, having a consistent template allows your writers to know what to expect every time. Templates make everyone’s life a bit easier; that’s why we’re sharing a simple copy brief template you can download today!

Download Portent’s Content Brief Template

Final Thoughts

Content briefs are integral to your content’s success. Whether you are working with an in-house writer, an agency, or a freelancer, providing a thoughtful and thorough content brief ensures you get the results you want.

Remember, good content takes time and effort. The more effort you put in, the more useful and relevant your content will be for your users.

Naomi Thalenberg

Content Strategist
Content Strategist

As a content strategist, Naomi specializes in creating thoughtful user experiences through meaningful content. She has a Master of Communication in digital media and has applied her passion and expertise to a variety of industries, from big tech, startups, to a global health nonprofit. No matter where she's working, she brings deep empathy for users and a data-driven approach to help clients create accessible and inclusive digital content. Outside of work, you may find her backpacking in the Pacific Northwest or chasing the best taco in town.

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