SEO Content Briefs: The Definitive Guide

Let’s face it.

Getting your business noticed in search engines like Google or Bing can seem nearly impossible without the right guidance. 

It’s time to stop the frustration and feelings of anxiety when competitors are outranking you because you’re wasting money on poorly written or unstructured content that misses the mark.

In order to have a fighting chance, you’ll need to take a research-first approach so that your content team has all the info they need to write articles that search engines and people love.

This definitive guide on SEO content briefs covers both basic and advanced content brief creation methods, which a content manager or content strategist can implement immediately to ensure your content gets seen more often.

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What the heck is an SEO content brief? 

An SEO content brief gets everyone on the same page (pun intended).

It provides writers with instructions on how to write a piece of content that’s a high-quality first draft, and it keeps editors from making too many wild changes that will negatively affect an SEO-optimized article.

To create better content, you should:

  • Provide unique perspectives
  • Be personable
  • Have personality
  • Be helpful and actually solve a problem
  • Specify content goals, objectives, and search intent
  • SEO foundation

Writing and editing content by following brief guidelines is how writers and editors can put it all together without the guesswork, even if they have zero SEO experience.

The people who benefit the most from using SEO content briefs are content marketing managers, marketing strategists, SEO strategists, SEO managers, SEO consultants, writers, editors, web developers, and graphic and media designers.

Why companies use SEO content briefs

image source

Aside from providing better writing guidance, using SEO content briefs can organize and scale your content production while following your overall content strategy previously laid out.

Sharing content briefs via Google Docs, PDFs, or other content management platforms saves everyone time by setting clear instructions before the content is written. This prevents back-and-forth between writers and editors with clients or an onslaught of reviewers (one from each department).

Another prime reason is that before the writing assignment begins, the topic is well researched to aim for a competitive edge backed by search engine data and analysis.

Unexpected use cases for SEO content briefs

Many marketing professionals know that an SEO content brief helps with planning for blog articles so that you can strive for better search visibility. But did you realize that there are several other types of content worth pursuing?

Medium and LinkedIn articles

People choose to write on sites like Medium and LinkedIn because they can bring additional traffic and attention to their content since these sites generally land on the first page of Google more often than not. 

It’s an especially popular method among affiliate marketers, creators, and consultants, especially since Medium has an email newsletter that shares its most popular content from the categories you’ve subscribed to.

Reddit and Quora content

In the March 2024 helpful content update, Google has begun prioritizing other sites like Reddit or Quora and moving Medium and LinkedIn further down the search results.

That’s because people post duplicate content on their sites and on a “content mill” site with a variety of topics if they have high domain authority. 

Not many people know that Quora is more than a user-generated question-and-answer site. With Quora Blogs, people can publish their own articles, too!

Reddit is meant to be a discussion platform and not a place to share long-form content. People try to add it in the subreddits, but you might get banned if it’s against their community rules. 

Press releases

Sending out press releases without being optimized for search is a missed opportunity to increase visibility and drive traffic to your site.

I used to resell press releases, so I know that companies pay $100 – $600 per release, so you might as well squeeze as much value as you can out of it.

While sending out news announcements gets the most attention at (4 am) the morning of its release, it can be found still by:

  • Identifying relevant keywords
  • Sprinkling keywords naturally within the headline, meta description, and body of text without keyword stuffing
  • Making sure your article is newsworthy, relevant, and well-written
  • Adding videos, images, infographics, and charts
  • Adding appropriate backlinks to your site. Some news sites will have do-follow links, which could increase your domain rating, and even if they are no-follow (it could increase site traffic to a landing page).

Guides and Tutorials

Tutorials and briefs like this are super shareable because of the detailed instructions, explanations, and insights from a subject matter expert. 

Proper on-page SEO research will increase the success of your content marketing efforts, allowing more people to find your work and benefit from your knowledge.

Whitepapers and Ebooks

These assets can be excellent lead generation tools for the “top of funnel” or even “middle of funnel” to get people to opt-in to your communications and sales emails. 

If you place them on your site as un-gated content and utilize an SEO-focused content brief, you could see an uplift in attention to your brand and offer. 

While people are reading the insightful content, you can provide them with an irresistible offer that brings them one step closer to solving their problems or questions they have. 

Anatomy of a search-optimized content brief

Most SEO content brief templates I’ve seen don’t have the right mix of instructions and deep research required to systematically rank articles.

Plus, writers and editors are demotivated to use them because some of them are too complicated.

Writers just wanna write, and editors just wanna edit without getting too technical with SEO stuff. 

That’s why it’s important to focus on the most impactful areas of a content brief that can improve lead generation, such as opt-ins, form fills, and conversions. Each piece of content should have a defined purpose based on the person’s current stage of the customer journey.

In this section, I’ll identify what is commonly included and what’s missing that you really shouldn’t leave out.

The basics

It’s shocking to see how little effort some agencies put into their clients’ briefs even though they’re paying a considerable amount of money per brief (e.g., $350 for a basic one). Here’s what they typically provide you: 

Page details

The page details include the title tag, meta description, and estimated word count based on SERP data.

This is simply not enough information because it should also include the draft and publish due dates, page type, preferred URL, content tactic, and content type examples to help guide the content writer on the overall article structure. 

Brand details

Surprisingly, many companies or agencies that provide content briefs leave out a critical piece of the content equation: branding info.

  • Writing and content style guidelines should be established and shared for reference
  • Established brand tone, e.g., “first person, friendly, and very conversational” and “Use “I” or “we” throughout the article”
  • Audience persona(s) refers to the people the content aims to educate or persuade. This information can include demographic and psychographic data, plus what I like to call “workographic” data, aka what they do for a living.

If you don’t establish and enforce your branding, then the tone, look, and feel of your content will be different every time.

This will confuse potential customers and lead them to run the other way.

Primary Keywords

This is in every search-optimized content brief, and it doesn’t have to be one main focus keyword if it has synonyms.

Internal links

The forgotten art of interconnecting multiple pages with relevant links creates a topical authority web for your site. 

It lets Google or Bing know where to crawl on your site.

That means search engine algorithms will be more likely to view you as a trusted source on certain topics, and you’ll potentially get a higher domain authority, too.

Proper planning of content from both the micro and macro level will help you prioritize and be consistent with this SEO best practice.

External links

Suggesting to writers and editors which “do follow” or “no follow” links to include can be invaluable since search engines pay attention to whether or not your cited/linked sources are from reputable and relevant sources.

Setting a standard for what is acceptable based on domain authority is important because it will affect your site’s reputation.

For example, you could tell your editor to only approve links with a domain authority greater than 50.

To check this, you can use Ahrefs Domain Authority Checker for free as much as you need. 

Content Outline

When you create an SEO content outline, it gives your article a “backbone,” while each section is kinda like the “vertebrae.” 

Its structure supports readability for both humans and search engine bots that try to figure out how your content should be categorized.

[H1] article title
[H2] main section or chapter
[H3] subtopics
[H4] supporting points

An ideal outline shouldn’t only reflect themes of what others on the first page of Google have written about. 

It should act as a guide on what unique insights and perspectives should be included in each “H tag” because people crave more than the beginner-level or copycat content many sites publish.

Let’s give people some credit by not treating everyone like a newbie! Right?

If you want to be seen as an expert, I suggest putting out “middle-of-funnel” content because most people have already read articles or watched YouTube videos on the topic before searching for a product or service.

Another ideal way to improve your outline is to include instructions (and a checklist) within the outline so the writer has a clear understanding of the flow when they sit (or) stand to write content.

This is a critical area where hiring an SEO strategist vs. using AI will help you level up your content.

The new standards to include that others leave out.

Framing keywords

Framing keywords (aka semantic or secondary keywords) are like building blocks that bring context, relevancy, and clarity about what to include in your content. 

Tools like Neuronwriter, SurferSEO, Outranking.io, Writesonic, Frase, and others reveal the most common words the SERP competition used in their articles and the suggested number of times to use them.

There’s a live content score based on how many of the words have already been added to your content.

I would include all of the suggested basic keywords.

Extended keywords should be used sparingly to keep your content original. If possible, I’d seek recommendations from an SEO professional on which ones to use and at what frequency.

The highest score doesn’t make you any more likely to rank on the first page because Google, Bing, and other search engines don’t utilize these scores in their algorithm.

It’s not a game.

You could have the most keyword-dense, technically sound article in the SERP, but if the article is:

  1. boring as hell 
  2. difficult to understand
  3. reads like a textbook (my biggest pet peeve)
  4. the same old, same old

No one is gonna read it — and so you’ll lose rankings anyway.

I only had a score of 59 (not the highest score of 72) on Neuronwriter, yet my article ranked for [cost of a landing page] on page one, position #8 in the SERPs, because of its depth, helpfulness, and originality. [and 0 backlinks]

Here’s my article: “How Much Does a Landing Page Cost in 2023?

Related searches

You can attract more people to your content who have searched for similar topics by performing thorough “related searches” research, which can add depth to your content based on search intent.

Normally, you’d find this at the bottom of the first search results page.

There’s a special way to do it so that you’re getting more variations in the search bar. Here’s how:

  1. Start with your main keyword or phrase
  2. Press the spacebar
  3. Start by typing “A” and see what alternatives show up
  4. Continue doing this till you’ve reached the letter “Z”

Depending on how strapped for ideas you are, this is an excellent manual research exercise.

People Also Ask

People Also Ask is available as you scroll through the search engine results page(s) to help you find the answer you’re looking for. 

This is one of the best ways to optimize your content for search intent because you already know the topic is in demand.

But don’t talk about these topics if they’re not aligned with the purpose of your content piece.

FAQs

Frequently asked questions are also a solid way to create the content that people are looking for about a product, service, or any other type of searched topic.

Additional sources of FAQs you can be inspired by:

  • AnswerThePublic
  • Reddit
  • YouTube (search bar)
  • TikTok (search bar)
  • Quora
  • Answerly
  • Funadvice
  • Answerbag
  • wikiHow
  • Answers.com
  • Yahoo Answers
  • competitor sites

If this research is done for you during the content brief creation process, it will make your writer’s job that much easier. You’ll also be able to inject how people feel into the content since people are very descriptive in their questioning and opinionated in their answers.

Content angles

Coming up with new content angles is a really awesome way to help you stand out from the rest of the noise, whether you’re supplying a supporting or contradictory point of view.

Think like a scientist, research like a reporter.

Some examples of possible content angles could include:

  • comparisons
  • tips
  • hidden costs
  • success stories
  • short and long-term benefits
  • trends
  • and more…

Content Objectives

Establishing the purpose of your content upfront will determine how your content is framed and written. Here are some examples:

Content style

If you don’t supply the right guidelines to the editor on what the style of the images should be like, you’re gonna get a mixed mess of images, videos, charts, infographics, etc. 

Not only that, but you’ll lack inconsistent brand style across all of your content, especially if you’re using very limited free media websites.

If you can supply the actual media within the content brief (or at least examples), that will simplify the writer’s or editor’s job.

Source examples

While it’s impossible to predict every single source that a writer will use to create a draft and back up their claims… if a section of the brief includes links to ideal sources, it’s a head start. 

This section can also provide rules for the types of sources that are allowed, preferred sources, or even a blacklist of which sites not to reference.

Premium research insights for the SEO team

SERP analysis

Having a “birds-eye view” of the top 10 on the search engine results page for your primary keywords already in your SEO content brief is important because…

Your SEO team can save time by viewing each competitor’s content score, word count, page authority, site authority, and number of backlinks in an easy-to-read chart.

SERP content gaps

Another premium SEO content brief feature that’s worth using is professionally analyzing each competitor’s piece of content, such as an article in the top 10-20 positions.

It takes time to go through each site with an expert eye and create a bulleted list of, i.e., what each competitor is doing right and wrong, what content angles they are using, the purpose of their content, and what call to action they use.

Backlink opportunities

Google won’t admit this publically, but…

If you’re in a somewhat competitive niche and the keywords you’re trying to rank for are being dominated by high-authority sites, backlinks are still a very important factor in the algorithm, as long as they’re relevant sites and not junk sites or link farms.

The SEO person who handles guest articles or the backlink specialist who sends outreach emails and builds relationships with editors can be given these instructions to go after and request to:

  • be featured in the same article as your competitor
  • add a chart or infographic to an existing article that leads to yours
  • write a related topic guest post, and link back to the article you want to rank higher
  • replace your competitor’s featured content with yours if you can prove a new angle, data, perspective, or updated info

How to improve your existing content brief process

Getting feedback from people involved in the content creation process who use the content briefs is a must.

Tip 1: Make it easier to use

Find out how you can make the briefs easier to use, such as removing any confusing info and adding any missing info.

Tip 2: Clarity

Ask content creators how you can make the briefs clearer with the right mixture of details included.

Tip 3: Ideas to make content better

Listening to writers and editors about how you could make the content more interesting or useful can go a long way toward making the content better fit the audience.

Tip 4:  Keep everyone on the same page

Getting feedback and communicating expectations provides open communication between everyone involved. 

This encourages teamwork, boosts morale, and builds trust while working toward the same end goal — business growth.

AI-assisted content briefs: Yay! or Nay!

It’s possible to create an SEO content brief in less than 5 minutes if you let AI do the thinking for you. 

I personally don’t recommend this because these shortcuts will make your content underperform and be too similar to what’s already out there.

Think quality because your readers deserve it.
Even if it takes 30 hours to finish one piece of content (like Brian Dean of Backlinko when he writes his definitive guides).

Content workflows like this tend to be rushed without enough research and planning.

It’s much better to get the assistance of an SEO strategist who can write an SEO content brief that will be more likely to land higher in the search results. 

Wrap up

I hope this SEO content brief guide has given you actionable ideas on how to turn a good content brief into an excellent one.

With comprehensive SEO briefs that act as content plans, you can create high-quality content that supports your overall content strategy.  

If your company is interested in taking advantage of my Align SEO content brief service on a monthly basis or needs personalized strategies through SEO consulting, I’ll be happy to assist you.

Please share this article with your network if you’ve gotten value out of it, and tell us what you want to implement ASAP.