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The key aspects of writing a brief for your website content

The key aspects of writing a brief for your website content

As much as I hate to admit it, I’d be lost without good content briefing. In fact, if this article about briefs wasn’t so well briefed, it wouldn’t have a chance of ranking, meaning you probably wouldn’t be reading it.

This is no chicken and egg conundrum: The brief has to come first.

Not only does the brief have to come first, it also has to be on point – and this is what we’re going to cover today. Read on to find answers to the questions:

  • What is a content brief?
  • What must you include in a content brief for writers, designers and video producers?
  • Why are briefs important? 

Let’s go – I’ll try to keep this brief. 

What is a content brief?

A content brief lays out the whos, whats, whens, whys and hows for a piece of content. This could be anything from a blog article or ebook to an infographic or webinar. When done correctly, a brief should be a set of instructions a producer can follow to create an asset that exactly meets your marketing goals.

Who writes content briefs?

We’ve written before about the role of content strategists. These data-driven individuals are perfectly placed to turn insights gleaned from their close relationship with your website content into actionable briefs for producers to execute. 

In other words, the person writing content briefs in your organisation needs to be someone with a complete grasp of your marketing goals, combined with a fluent understanding of the role content can play in meeting them.

Top tip: Whoever ends up as the brief boss in your company, we advise they create a template for these documents. Many of the vital details producers need will often remain broadly similar from piece to piece, so having a template (which you can tweak as necessary) will be a real time-saver.

What to include in a content brief

Every content brief you produce should incorporate:

1. The target audience

This article would read very differently if it was aimed at older CEOs as opposed to hip, young marketers (stop blushing). Not only might I need to explain more about digital marketing to provide context, but turns of phrase such as ‘on point’ would be less appropriate.

See what I’m getting at? Your producer needs to know exactly who will view their content if they’re to nail tone, style and subject matter.

So, where do you get the information on your target audience? Two words: User personas. These are essential documents your strategist should compile containing details such as:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Income
  • Interests and education
  • Values and beliefs
  • Common pain points

Ideally, you’ll use this information to create specific personas for each campaign. For example, if you’re a real estate company you may be specifically targeting first-time buyers, or families wishing to upgrade. You need to include this audience information in your brief.

2. The content’s goal(s)

Whether you’re briefing up a whitepaper on generating ROI from SMART technology, or a custom graphic showing how curtain materials impact lighting in a room, every single piece of content you create should fulfil a specific mission.

This is another area where your strategy team plays a key role. They should already be analysing all aspects of your website content to establish:

  • What content has performed well in the past.
  • What hasn’t.
  • What gaps currently exist in your content.
  • What types of content would best achieve this.

The content marketing funnel is a good way to set goals for individual pieces:

1. The top: This is where you have content aimed at thought leadership. You won’t namedrop individual products or services, and your Call To Action (CTA) might encourage people to simply read more about a subject on your blog page.

Top-of-funnel content is great for raising brand awareness, positioning yourself as thought leaders in your industry and answering common audience queries. Note: With the right SEO tactics, thought leadership content can be great for boosting your organic search rankings.

2. The middle: Production aimed at mid-funnel objectives will retain some thought leadership elements, but is for searchers who’ve gone passed basic questions. Now, they want more information on solutions to a pain point. 

The idea here is to guide prospects towards the bottom of the funnel, without scaring them off with a hard sell. You can start to introduce your offering, perhaps as the best among a group of alternatives, but aim to keep an educational tone.

A mid-funnel CTA might be downloading a higher value asset, for example an eBook, that will entrench your knowledgeable status further in their minds. 

3. The bottom: This is where the magic (hopefully) happens. Following careful nurturing, your leads should by now recognise your brand as an authority in a given area, and you can present them with an offering that will meet their needs. 

A CTA with bottom-funnel goals could be a link to a specific product landing page or booking a meeting with a sales representative. 

For your producer, knowing where in the funnel a piece is supposed to sit will help them find the right tone, and will also guide their research. For example, should they be reading up on product specs for a bottom-funnel piece, or delving into reputable sources to use in thought leadership?

Finally, the brief should also allow them to choose a suitable CTA to drive desirable reader actions.

3. Deadlines

The other element that all content briefs must contain is a deadline. 

This is particularly important for time-sensitive pieces – for example, content aimed at supporting a product launch – but applies to every asset you create.

The reason is simple: You want your marketing campaign to stay on track, right?

Specifics to include for a content writer’s brief

A content writer’s brief should include all the above, and:

1. Word count allocations

While this may feel like an editorial decision, it’s vital you set word count allocations at a strategic level.

This is because word counts can impact SEO. One of the criteria Google’s algorithm uses to rank written content is how informative it is – the more information you provide to your readers the better. The idea is to be as comprehensive as possible. Of course, this is generally easier to achieve if you give your writers more words to play with.

However, don’t take this to mean:

  • That longer is always better – Your content also needs to be full of value takeaways and well written. Rambling, unfocussed articles that lack purpose won’t do you any favours in Google’s eyes.
  • That you can never write shorter copy – It really depends on the competing content. If you’re up against an article that’s sitting on 1,800 words, and you only plan to write 600, you’ll likely struggle to beat it. However, if your content is really unique then this isn’t as important. 

Wondering where to begin in calculating appropriate word counts? MarketMuse can give you topic specific suggestions to help you outrank your competitors.

2. Necessary collateral 

If your writer requires particular collateral to complete their work, this needs to go in the brief.

Common examples include:

  • Contact information for internal external experts writers might reach out to for quotes or insights.
  • Access to reports or statistics they will use for writing.
  • Custom images created by the graphics team to exemplify points in the article.

Do not push work into your production system if you’re yet to finalise this sort of collateral in the brief – you’ll only have yourself to blame when it causes bottlenecks down the track! 

Specifics to include in a design brief

Ideally, you’ll already have a company style guide that your designers follow religiously. However, it’s still important to properly brief each piece of content your in-house team creates. 

The vital elements are:

1. Image specifications:

The most important details here are the size and resolution of the image. If you’re creating something to use as a website banner, the specs will be radically different to a small thumbnail that you might include as part of a clickable CTA.

2. Any deviations from brand guidelines

Your brand guidelines should include precise requirements in terms of fonts, colours and logos that your designers will use in the vast majority of their content.

However, if you want a particular piece to diverge from these in anyway, this info has to go into your design brief, otherwise your team will go on autopilot!

You can also instruct your designers here on the specific tone you want a given piece to convey, and what mood you aim to inspire in viewers.

 3. Specifics to include in a video brief

In 2019, you need to be using video marketing. Why? Because it works. In fact, according to a 2018 survey from Brightcove, 53% of respondents reported engaging with a brand after viewing one of its videos on social media.

What’s more. 83% of marketers last year told Demand Metric that they thought this medium is going to become more important in future.

However, you’re only going to see ROI on your video content if you brief it correctly in the first place. Here’s how Spielberg would do it:

1. Length

The videographer’s equivalent of a word count, the length will dictate how much detail the content can go into. 

So, what’s the perfect duration? According to Wistia, videos up to two minutes long get a lot of engagement, but if you get more towards the three minute mark, you’re likely to experience a drop off in attention spans.

However long you decide to make it, just make sure that information is in the brief.

2. Participants

If you want the video to contain interviews with experts, product managers or members of the public, you need to tell your producers who these people are and how to contact them.

For content requiring a narrator, define any stylistic requirements – i.e. do you need a particular accent if your customers are based overseas? Similarly, are you going to seek someone to read a script in a foreign language, or provide subtitles?

3. Location

If it’s important to the target audience or video’s purpose, specify where the shoot should take place. 

Think about the message you’ll send – B2B companies will likely want to highlight professionalism by shooting in an office environment, while B2Cs may wish to show off their fun side by going somewhere a little off the wall.

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Al Hall
Al Hall About the author