Free template: SEO content brief (downloadable)

Updated on 13th February 2022

A good SEO content brief can make or break the success of your content. Its primary goal is to guide a writer towards topping search results for a specific search query, earning long-term organic search traffic.

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If you’ve decided to invest in SEO content, you’ll find yourself regularly briefing freelance writers.

Sure you can write it yourself, but with SEO blog writing a very “outsourceable” task, your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

The brief can make or break the success of your content. However, so few people get this right.

To help you find a repeatable formula for creating high quality, high ranking articles, we’ve created a one-pager template your freelance writers will love.

Whereas a standard copywriting brief will give them the info they need to fulfill the task, a great one will enable you to scale up your SEO content with the confidence that each piece is achieving its full potential.

This article takes you through the entire process of briefing a SEO writer, or you can jump to the free download below.

Download our free SEO Content Brief template → Use a tool such as Surfer SEO to AI-generate outlines

(if the brief template proves useful, please consider sharing and linking to it so others can find it too)

What is an SEO content brief?

A content brief is a succinct PDF or Google doc that outlines the purpose, expectations and instructions for an item of content. It paints a picture of what you’re trying to achieve and precisely how to get there.

A SEO-focused content brief has another layer to it. Its primary goal is to guide a writer towards topping search results for a specific search query, earning long-term organic search traffic.

The benefits of an SEO content brief

In short, a good content brief will transform content quality, and save you time and money. It does so in the following ways:

1. More efficient content creation

Bloggers spent 67% more time per post in 2021 than in 2014 - on average almost 4 hours!

Average blog post length

Thankfully, the time it takes to prepare a strong brief will be repaid many times over.

The most time-consuming parts of the process - validating and mapping out content ideas - will be taken care of.

Your writers will carry a clearer idea of what excellent looks like, eliminating the need for multiple rounds of editing or large scale rewrites. High quality content briefs answer all of the writer’s questions upfront, giving them total clarity to do what they do best. The ultimate result being higher quality and higher volume output.

2. Reduces your per-article cost

The side benefit of a well-oiled SEO content machine is it actually costs less to run. A good brief is like creating a brief with a picture of the end result, the ingredients prebought, the relevant equipment looked out, the oven preheated and a clear recipe to follow.

It optimizes the writer’s time and shows respect for their talent. On that front…

3. It helps you keep great writers

People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.

Giving your writers the clarity and tools they need to do their job also helps you to keep the best ones for longer. Long-term contributors stay because they find the work enjoyable, meaningful and rewarding. Simple tactics such as clear seo content briefs, on-the-job training and bonuses for hitting ranking targets can go a long way to keeping them motivated and dependable.

4. Ensures greater consistency on your site

If you’re managing multiple freelancers or a big content team, a content brief is a great way to set expectations and making sure every piece of content adheres to the same high standards.

It also benefits your brand, ensuring your unique voice and personality is the same wherever a visitor lands on your site. This is important if you’re going to develop an emotional connection with readers, keeping them on your site for longer and tempting them to subscribe to newsletters, or take another desired action. I call it “moreish content”.

Examples of possible house styles include:

  • Formal vs. conversational
  • Funny vs. serious
  • Humorous vs. matter-of-fact
  • Activist vs. balanced

5. Improves your content’s rankings

SEO is a long-term investment and mitigation of the rising cost of paid advertising.

It keeps you present whenever a customer is searching for answers to a particular problem.

A detailed content brief has all of the raw ingredients to rank well, using a proven and repeatable formula. It translates detailed SEO requirements into a format any freelance writer will understand, so there’s consistent and compounding returns in search engine results.

And as inputs and outputs become predictable, so to their return on investment.

Whilst most of this might seem simple, even commonsense, a great brief forces you to remember the reader and result when writing.

How to speed up your content briefing

  • Download our free SEO Content Brief template
  • Use a tool such as Surfer SEO to AI-generate outlines
  • Study the content that’s already ranking high in SERPs… …again using Surfer SEO’s ‘Competitors’ tab, a plugin such as SEOquake or tool such as Semrush, Ahrefs or Serpstat will provide inspiration and clues on how to outwrite and outrank them
Surfer SEO   competitors tab

Key ingredients of good content briefs

  1. Title: Attractive page title for search engines and readers
  2. The big idea: Summarize the article in a few sentences
  3. Target keyword: Primary keyword and search volume
  4. Target reader: Who are you writing for?
  5. Purpose: What are you hoping to achieve? For you and the reader.
  6. Type of content: answer search intent, whether informational, navigational, investigative or transactional
  7. Content length: Optimal word count as advised by SEO tools
  8. Content outline: Subheadings and subtopics forming a well-structured article
  9. External links: Boost your E-A-T with credible sources and data
  10. Call-to-action: What action do you want readers to take?
  11. Competitor examples: Links to articles dominating SERPs currently
  12. Imagery: Style and suggested copyright-free sources
  13. Internal links: Maximise link juice via other relevant content on your site
  14. Brand voice and tone: casual, formal, witty? Keep everyone on brand
  15. About: yourself, your company and your website

Now let’s tackle each of those in turn to really ace your content production process.

1. Working title, including target keyword

We’ve said before that every blog post needs a magnetic title.

Something to reel readers in but also appeal to search engines, usually containing your seed keyword.

The correct introduction makes the reader immediately realize that they are in the right place to read.

The title tag and meta description are also prime real estate in your post and can differ to your H1. As such, they absolutely must contain your target keyword and not compete with other pages on your website.

However, for now, your SEO content writer just needs clear direction on what they’re writing and a hook or angle to go after.

2. The Big Idea - overview of the project

Is it a product explainer? A blog post? Answering a burning question? A lead generation piece?

In short, state what you are trying to achieve with the content.

Explain what kind of copy you need, what it will be used for and how you will improve on what already exists.

3. Target primary keyword or intent

The number one goal of SEO content is to drive relevant organic traffic.

You’re looking for a low-competition, highly-relevant keyword that has the potential attract the right type of audience to your website. To do so, you’ll need to understand:

  • What are people searching for
  • How many people are searching for it
  • In what format do they want that information
  • How competitive the keyword or phrase is

In addition to a primary keyword, you should also pick a few variants for secondary keywords.

Top tip: A keyword research tool such as Surfer can assist with your keyword research, finding topic clusters, and optimize your blot post as your write.

4. Target audience - who you’re writing for

You want your freelancer to start with the clearest possible picture of the reader, and keep that picture firmly in mind as they write.

For example, their characteristics:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Social class
  • Education
  • Location
  • Profession
  • Lifestyle and interests

And their circumstances:

  • What is their level of interest and knowledge of the subject?
  • What are their motivations?
  • Where are they in the buying journey?
  • How price sensitive are they?

You can get this information from your marketing team’s buyer personas. Or, if not, via Google Analytics, a bio search tool, or a quick search on the topic. You’re unlikely to know for sure but you should try to make reasonable assumptions about not just who they are but the circumstances in which they’ll be reading.

Painting a picture of your target reader will help your writer to really understand their pain points and soothe them with your solution. It enables them to find an opening that resonates, to pitch the content at the right level, build rapport and encourage them to take action.

You must avoid the temptation to skip this section and appeal to everyone.

Remember you’re vying for top spot of Google and trying to stay their for a long time, so your content must really speak to the individual to hit the mark. So, who is your audience of one?

5. Purpose - what you’re hoping to achieve

Beyond clicks, how will this content contribute to your marketing strategy?

Sometimes a SEO content brief can take this for granted, however it’s important to keep your writer’s eyes on the prize. This way they can correctly position the piece and gently nudge a reader towards the desired action.

Possible objectives include:

  • generating qualified sales leads
  • selling a product or service
  • earning affiliate income from referrals
  • growing newsletter subscriber numbers
  • improve your website’s traffic
  • secure valuable backlinks

The risk of proceeding without purpose is you’re left with a fluff piece that any old AI writing software could have produced.

6. Type of content - what’s the best format?

Another essential element in any brief. Different formats (e.g. listicles, case studies, recipes, round-ups) demand different outputs. As a reader, if I’m looking for skimmable content or quickfire answers I don’t want your life story on a page.

The most common types of content are:

  • Lists
  • How-to articles
  • Resource round-ups
  • Guides
  • Infographics
  • Recipes
  • Case studies
  • Whitepaper
  • Blog posts
  • Landing pages

The top SEO tools will tell you the most appropriate format for any target keyword. Alternatively, drop it into the search bar to see what’s working best for others.

SEO content SERP results   SEO brief template

7. Content length - suggested word count

More words equals more traffic, right? Not quite.

You need sufficient words to satisfy reader intent and help search engines to understand what your content is about, but not a word more. Too wordy and you’ll end up with a fluff piece that only succeeds in frustrating readers, plus overpay for the article if your writers charge on a per-thousand word basis. Quality first!

On-page SEO tools such as Surfer and Yoast can advise on minimum and optimum SEO word count for different types of content, based on the average word count of top-ranking articles on Google.

As a guide, Yoast suggest:

  • Taxonomy page >250 words
  • Regular post or page >300 words
  • Cornerstone content page >900 words
  • Product page or description >200 words

Meanwhile HubSpot suggest:

  • Pillar page >4000 words
  • Listicles >2300 words
  • ‘How-to’ guides >1700 words
  • ‘What is’ blog posts >1300

But these are all ballpark estimates. Every search query and its competition will be different.

8. Content outline and headings

Headers add much-needed structure to your content.

They tell search engines and readers what the most important and keyword-rich information is in your content - so each sub-section should also be a topic or keyword. At a glance, the reader will understand your article will answer their search intent and that they’ve arrived in the correct place.

Benefits of a detailed outline:

  • Break up in-depth content for readers and search engines
  • Combat writer’s block with a head-start skeleton
  • Cover all the main points and questions head-on
  • 5x more people read headlines than read body copy!

What does a content outline include?

  • A single H1
  • Key constructs or questions in H2
  • Supporting evidence or key points in H3 and beyond
  • Important info they need to include, especially if your writer isn’t a subject matter expert

Again, an on-page optimization tool such as Surfer SEO or Semrush can guide you through this entire process and critique your efforts as you write. Or you can use the free People Also Ask tool or Google Autocomplete to find questions related to the keyword.

Top tip: to be extra user-friendly, put outline at the top of your article in the form of an index with jump links. As the name suggests, this enables a reader to quickly jump to the to specific parts of a page - something that’s particularly helpful if you’ve published thousands of word

Jump links for SEO example   SEO content brief template

9. External links: credible sources and data

This section lists external links that add credibility to your content.

These links could be to third-party studies, statistics, expert analysis or suggested further reading.

External links are important because:

  • They build trust - facts must be cited and clearly link to credible sources
  • They improve the reader experience - by pointing to genuinely useful information
  • They invite new viewpoints - contributing more to the overall conversation
  • Help to keep content up-to-date - assuming it’s not an ad hoc source

In the spirit of external links, I suggest reading up on Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines - the bible on qualifying the quality of Google’s search results. You’ll learn about E‑A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) that needs to be baked into your site and every article you write. In Google’s own words:

“High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism – they should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. High E-A-T news sources typically have published established editorial policies and robust review processes.”

Top tip: A shortcut for determining authority is to look at Domain Authority. Higher DA = Higher authority

10. Call-to-action: Next step for the reader

You’re attracted traffic to your content, now what?

Cast your mind back to its underlying purpose. Your brief has helped your writer to correctly position the piece and gently nudge a reader towards the desired action. Now it’s time for your content marketing to spell it out and move them to the next stage in your funnel via a call-to-action (CTA).

Possible objectives and CTA combos include:

  • generating qualified sales leads > request a demo
  • selling a product or service > free 30-day trial
  • earning affiliate income from referrals > buy now
  • growing newsletter subscriber numbers > subscribe
  • drive incremental traffic > share this article

11. Competitor examples: Who’s doing it well?

Even with the best outline in the world, your content writers are likely to still benefit from some inspiration from articles covering a given topic well.

Links to articles currently dominating SERPs for your target query or excelling in a particular format make an excellent reference point.

It doesn’t need to be more complicated than this.

12. Eye-catching imagery - style and possible sources

The right graphics and imagery can add so much to a post, especially with alt tags for SEO.

Enormous directories of copyright-free professionally-taken photos, such as Unsplash, Pexels, Nappy and Burst means the perfect photo is never far away.

Unsplash free stock imagery for your seo brief

Simply give a few pointers of what you’re after and your writer should be able to do the rest.

Similar directories for illustrations include DrawKit and unDraw.

13. Internal links - signal its importance

Internal links are links that go from one page on a website to a different page on the same site.

These contextual links are the quickest and easiest way to boost your page authority.

Signposting search engines to related content on your website, it also works in the other direction, as your new page benefits from any link juice on the pages pointing to it.

Tools such as Surfer SEO and Link Whisper will automatically detect and suggest possible pages to link to/from, saving you an otherwise manual task. If your writer is also publishing content directing in the CMS you’ll want them to do this too.

14. Brand voice - speak as one

One of the most important elements of building a strong brand is cultivating a strong, unique voice that is instantly recognizable and unmistakably yours. It also gives new visitors an indication of who you are and whether they want to hear from you more often.

Consider your voice your personality. So if your brand were a person, what kind of person would it be? Chatty? Serious? A storyteller? Or more matter of fact?

They key here is consistency. Help your writer bend their writing style to yours by giving examples of how - and how not to - write a typical sentence in your brand voice. All other things being equal, the content that is written most engagingly in clear brand voice will have the edge.

15. Introduce yourself and your company

No writer is an island.

Introduce yourself, your company and its backstory. Share your website’s greatest hit articles and what’s currently driving your traffic.

For their writing to really thrive the relationship needs to be more than transactional.

There’s also great benefit in letting them know how their article is performing, once live. A shout out for hitting targets can go do wonders for motivation.

So, there you have it. My tips for writing winning SEO content briefs that your writers will love.

Do let me know if you find this guide useful and feel free to share it if you do!

Download our free SEO Content Brief template → Use Surfer SEO to AI-generate outlines and optimize your content How to hire SEO writers – the best websites for SEO copywriters

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