How To Write SEO Content Briefs and Outlines (Video + Template)
For many in-house marketing teams, partnering with an expert SEO writer or digital agency for content production can help you achieve and maintain a competitive edge with organic traffic.
Whether you hire external writers or create content in-house, using a creative brief helps you delegate tasks and ensure everyone’s on the same page.
That being said, outsourcing your content doesn’t mean you should be hands-off.
Google has continued to update its algorithm to identify spammy sales practices and better understand the context of written pieces. These improvements have made keyword-stuffing an outdated and ineffective practice.
Instead, SEO success requires a more thoughtful approach to your content marketing strategy, even if you’re hiring someone else to write the final draft.
And that thoughtful approach?
It starts at the beginning of the creation process, with your content brief.
SEO content outline basics
Before we dive into the steps you can take to create a better SEO content brief, let’s look at what a content brief is and the role it plays in your process:
What is a content brief?
A content brief is an instructional document that outlines the purpose and direction of a piece of content. You can create a brief for all content types, including SEO blog posts, social media posts, videos, case studies, and landing pages.
According to Maddy Osman, “it’s the single point of truth for anybody on the team that’s working on this piece of content.”
What are the goals of a brief?
Ultimately, your content brief should align your team, delegate tasks, and help drive the results you’re looking for when you create a piece of content. In other words, it helps managers, content creators, and creative agencies get on the same page so that your final deliverable matches your initial intent.
A good content brief also helps hold your team accountable. In terms of SEO, your content brief can include a checklist of critical on-page SEO elements that you can use to ensure the final deliverable meets your standards. For example, an SEO content brief might include required SEO elements like a meta title, URL slug, and meta description.
What are the benefits of a brief?
A content brief helps create clarity, improve content quality, and save everyone on your team time. But how does it do that?
Let’s say you’re working with a digital agency to create SEO content. Instead of providing a content brief, you might say, “We need an article for the keyword ‘how to use Facebook marketing.’”
That’s a great start, but there are so many different ways to interpret that keyword, such as:
A step-by-step tutorial for creating a Facebook ad
10 reasons why you should use Facebook marketing
Digital marketing tips for your business on Facebook
Everything you need to know about Facebook for business
5 ways you can use Facebook for business
If you imagined a step-by-step tutorial, but your agency comes back to you with “10 reasons to use Facebook marketing,” that’s a lot of wasted time. As Marijana Kay says, “Good writers are not cheap. So doing this kind of work upfront is so valuable for both parties.”
So, a content brief saves you time and money by aligning everyone on what you want to achieve and how the content will achieve it.
Creating a comprehensive brief gives your team the chance to validate your ideas and test out whether or not your content idea will really achieve the goals you want.
On the other hand, a good brief provides your content creation partner with clear instructions on what the final deliverable should include.
We sat down with 3 SEO content marketing experts and got some insight on how to create an SEO content brief.
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Important aspects to consider before starting
Before you dive in and start creating content briefs, you want to have a strong “why” for each piece of content. In other words, you don’t want to create content simply to have more content. Instead, you need specific strategic objectives attached to each deliverable.
Here are a few content strategy steps to work through before making a creative brief:
One of the challenges with creating SEO content is that you technically have two audiences: the search engine algorithm and the actual person who reads the piece.
While it’s essential to take the Google search algorithm into consideration, you should start off every content project with a specific human audience in mind. After all, the algorithm is designed to serve the people who are searching. And the algorithm can’t buy your product — but a person can.
Marijana Kay describes the goal of this stage as “understanding where the mindset of the target reader is.” For example, are they aware of the pain point or the problem yet?
When defining your target audience, look at demographics as well as qualities such as:
What pain points is this reader dealing with?
Why are they searching for particular terms?
What level of knowledge do they already have?
What goals or outcomes do they want to achieve?
You can get a lot of this information from your existing buyer personas. And, if you have multiple separate personas, make sure you know which one you’re going to target with each individual piece of content.
Your content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s going to be competing with hundreds of thousands of other indexed pages.
Organic search is effective, which also makes it competitive.
A study by Ahrefs found that over 90% of indexed pages get zero traffic from Google. If you want SEO to drive results, you need to be aiming for the first page of results — which means you need to be better than the competition.
Before you get started, take stock of your competition. In particular, ask yourself:
“What does our content need to have to match and improve on the quality level of our competitors?”
“Are there information gaps in our competitors’ content?”
“What does our competition do well, and what do they do not so well?”
There’s no shortage of great content available via Google search. So, if you’re going to add something new, make sure you’re improving upon what’s already there.
Customer journey stage
From a big-picture standpoint, it’s important to create pieces of SEO content that serve all stages of your buyers’ journey, not just the top of the funnel.
Knowing your customer journey well helps you understand your readers’ mindset. Doing this at the beginning will help you choose the most effective internal links and calls to action (CTAs) during the brief stage.
Writers and agencies work with various clients, and each one has a different brand voice and objectives.
Providing brand-specific information to your content creator enables them to give you deliverables that match your brand and meet your standards.
Remember, when you outsource, your partner isn’t in the office with you every day. You can’t assume they know everything about your company.
So, make sure your content brief includes information like your style guide, description of your customers and products, and media preferences. You don’t have to write this out every time, but make sure you include enough links and references to set your partner up for success.
Key elements of a content brief
Each business has its own content creation process, so your content brief will likely be unique to your team. Here are some of the core elements we recommend including in yours:
Primary and secondary keywords
Headings and subheadings
Primary and secondary keywords
At the very least, your SEO content brief needs a primary keyword. That’s what your content partner will use to optimize the content and other SEO elements like image captions, URL slug, and meta description.
Adding a few secondary keywords to your content brief can help clarify the primary keyword’s search intent. Secondary keywords will also help steer your content creator in the right direction.
Headings and subheadings
The final SEO outline for an article will include headings and subheadings in this stage that break down the main idea into subtopics. When you outsource content creation, you can decide if you want to provide the heading structure or if that’s something you want your writer to do.
Providing headings and subheadings can be helpful when you’re working with a new client or agency.
Alternatively, if you don’t have people on your team familiar with SEO best practices, then your writer can take your keyword research and present you with a suggested SEO-optimized outline.
Internal links are an essential part of your SEO strategy. Not to mention they’re a good way to build topic clusters that keep readers on your domain once they’ve clicked on an article.
If you have specific internal links that you want your writer to include, list them in the content brief. You can also define the anchor text you want writers to use.
Another approach would be to let your content writer know how many internal links you want for each piece. For example, you may require that they add 2 internal links for every 500 words of text.
This is also an opportunity to define the call to action you want for the article based on your target audience and their customer journey stage.
In addition to adding internal links, linking to high-quality, relevant pages in your content can improve your SEO. When done well, adding external links improves your credibility and helps Google understand the context of your content.
Most writers and agencies can find external links for you and add them to your content. But you may want to provide some guidance on the type of links you do or don’t want.
We recommend creating a list of competitor websites that you don’t want to be included in your content or even providing your preferred sources for definitions and statistics.
This is also the place to state how old external links can be. For example, you might say that external links should always go to a page published within the last year.
When you outsource content creation, you’re either paying by the word or the hour (sometimes expressed as a flat rate project fee). Either way, word count factors into the final cost of your deliverable and should be defined in your brief.
You can provide a word count range or an ideal number. Both work fine.
As for selecting the ideal word count, that will come from your keyword research and competitive analysis. You can also use an SEO optimization platform like Clearscope to automatically generate a target word count for your primary keyword.
Step-by-step SEO content brief process
Once you’ve gone through the planning process, it’s time to create your SEO content brief. Following a standard content brief template will help you make more consistent quality pieces over time.
Here are the steps you should follow when creating an SEO content brief and outline:
Analyze search intent
Omid Ghiam explains that “search intent is really important — it’s the root of our ideation process.” So, once you’ve identified a primary keyword, the next step is understanding the intent behind that search query.
In other words, ask yourself, “What is the searcher’s goal? And why are they looking for this keyword?What’s the goal of the person who's searching for this keyword?”
Google’s search algorithm is built around providing relevant and high-quality content. Figuring out user intent is the key to the relevance part of the SEO equation.
You have to know what someone is looking for if you want to have any chance at providing the best content solution. As Omid Ghiam describes it, “We can think of search intent as the level of awareness someone has when they search for a term.”
Search intent is also a useful tool for figuring out what type of content to write, such as a listicle, product review, tutorial, or informational.
Perform keyword research
After covering search intent, it’s time to go on to the rest of the keyword research. In addition to your primary target keyword, it’s ideal to have secondary-related keywords.
Specifically, related keywords help Google’s algorithm see that you’ve covered a topic as thoroughly (or more comprehensively) than the other pages out there.
In this stage, you need a keyword research tool that provides search volume and keyword difficulty. You want to find a good balance between terms that receive a lot of searches and those that aren’t super competitive.
Find a unique angle
Before you craft the final outline, it’s useful to come up with a unique angle for your blog post or article.
Maddy Osman describes your unique angle as, “What are we going to do to make this topic interesting to read instead of a reiteration of what’s already out there?” Defining what makes you different prevents you from creating copycat content.
Let’s face it.
There’s a lot of repetitive information online. People often write SEO content that says the same thing as the top-ranking articles without creating additional value for readers.
Here are some items to include to set your content apart while adding value for your readers:
Expert interviews (even if it’s someone on your team)
A new solution or approach to an existing problem
Studies, reports, and surveys
You can opt to include the unique angle as part of the brief that you provide content creators. Or, you can include it on your SEO outline template and request that your strategist comes up with the angle for each piece.
Create the final outline
At this stage, you have all of the ingredients for a successful content brief. With the information you’ve gathered, there’s enough to create the actual outline.
You may hear the terms “content brief” and “content outline” used interchangeably, but they’re two different things.
A content brief explains the goals for a piece of content and lists the requirements that a final deliverable must meet. A content outline, on the other hand, contains the headings/headers, subheadings, and supporting information for the final draft.
Typically, you’ll provide your content partner with the brief, and then they’ll create an outline. Or, you can create the outline, call out the key points, and include it as part of your brief.
Creating the outline internally makes sense if you have a large team, very specific content standards, or you’ve just started working with a new writer.
If you choose to include the outline along with your content brief, let your content partner know if they should follow your outline exactly or if you want them to make adjustments based on their expertise.
Add on-page SEO elements
In addition to providing structure and supporting information to your outline, you can also add on-page SEO elements.
Here are some on-page SEO elements you can include:
Page title tag
Links to suggested media
Internal and external links/source links
Having those elements on the outline ensures everyone is on the same page regarding what additional types of information need to be included on the draft.
Content outline examples
Watch our SEO content brief webinar for walkthroughs of expert outline examples.
Content brief software
Make the most of your content with Clearscope content brief software.
What is the role of a content brief?
The content brief provides instructions for a piece of content, and it serves as the central source of information for the content team. A good content brief cuts down on the number of revisions during the writing phase.
What is a content brief in SEO?
An SEO-focused content brief is the set of instructions used to create a piece of SEO-friendly content, and it usually includes information from your keyword research.
Why is doing keyword research alone not enough?
SEO content has two audiences: search algorithms and human readers. Ultimately, the human readers are the ones that can become customers, so your content needs to resonate with them.
What does a good content brief template look like?
A good content brief template should include sections that provide context for content creation and details about its execution. For context, you want to provide your objectives for creating the content, how it will be used, and examples of competitor content.
As for execution, your brief should outline details about the deliverable such as content length and requirements. In an SEO content brief, the outline should include keyword research and on-page SEO elements.
Final Thoughts: How to Write a Better SEO Content Brief
It’s worth taking the time upfront to define your project, even if you outsource content creation. Writing better creative briefs for your SEO content gets everyone on the same page, streamlines your workflow, and results in better quality deliverables. With all the other web pages out there, you must put your best foot forward right from the first step.
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