Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:
As an SEO manager, you are responsible for increasing your company's organic search traffic. You are working on some technical improvements with your development team, but you realize that a large part of the opportunity lies in the content. Your company has a content team, but you find they don't use keyword research to educate their articles. You tried to send them keyword ideas but so far they have not been receptive to your suggestions.
Or how about this scenario?
You are the head of marketing at a startup. You know you need content, but you don't have the expertise or time to do it yourself. You ask your network for recommendations and find a freelance writer. The only problem is that you are not always sure what to assign to them. With little guidance, they produce content that falls short of the mark.
The solution in both scenarios is a content description. However, not all content descriptions are created equal.
As someone who has one foot in content and the other in SEO, I can shed some light on how you can make your content briefs both comprehensive and loved by your content team.
Let's start with some terminology.
What is a content report?
A content letter is a series of instructions that help an author create content. This content can be a blog post, landing page, white paper, or any number of other initiatives that require content.
Without a content description, you run the risk of recovering content that doesn't meet your expectations. Not only will this frustrate your writer, but it will also require further revisions, which will cost more time and money.
Typically, content briefs are written by someone in an adjacent area – such as B. Demand generation, product marketing or SEO – if he needs something specific. However, content teams typically don't just work with briefs. They will likely have their own calendar and initiatives (content is one of those weird roles that support just about every other department while creating and doing their own work at the same time).
What makes content "SEO-focused" in short?
An SEO focused content brief is one of many types of content briefs. It is unique in that the goal is to direct the writer to create content for a specific search query in order to generate traffic through the organic search channel.
What to include in your content description
Now that we have theoretically understood the SEO-related content descriptions, let's focus on the essentials. What information should we include in them?
1. Primary query goal and intent
It is not an SEO-related content description without a query target!
With a keyword research tool like Moz Keyword Explorer, you can pull up thousands of keyword ideas that could be relevant to your business.
For example, in my current job, I focus on creating content for retail business owners and others in brick and mortar retail. After hearing a few sales and support calls at Gong (many teams use these to record customer and prospect calls), I may find that "merchandising" is a big focus.
So I type "Merchandising" into the Keyword Explorer, add a few more helpful filters, and boom! Tons of keyword suggestions.
Pick a keyword (check your existing content to make sure your team hasn't written on the topic yet) and use that as a "North Star" query for your content description.
I think it's helpful to include some intent information here as well. In other words, what might the searcher entering this query into Google want? It is a good idea to search the query in google itself to see how google interprets the intent.
For example, if my keyword is "types of visual merchandising" I can see from the SERP that Google is assuming an informational intent based on the fact that the URL rankings are mostly informational articles.
Intentional swallowtail is format. In other words, how should we structure the content to give it the best chance of ranking for our target query?
To use the same keyword example, when I use Google's "Types of Visual Merchandising", the top ranked items contain lists.
You may find that your target query returns results with lots of images (often with queries like "Inspiration" or "Examples").
This will help the writer better understand which content format is likely to work best.
3. Topics to be dealt with and questions to be answered
Selecting the target query helps the writer understand the "big idea" of the piece. However, if you stop there, you risk writing something that doesn't fully answer the query intent.
It is for this reason that I would like to include a "Topics to Address / Related Questions to Answer" section in my pleadings. Here I am listing all of the subtopics that I have found that someone searching this query is likely to want to know.
To find these I like to use methods like:
- Use a keyword research tool to show you questions about your main keyword that are questions.
- If you look at the "People also ask" field, your target query will be triggered on the SERP
- Find websites that are at the top of your target query, run them through a keyword research tool, and see what other keywords they are ranked for as well
- And while this isn't specifically search-related, I sometimes like to use a tool called FAQ Fox to search forums for threads mentioning my target query
You can also create the outline yourself by doing your research with all the H2s / H3s you have already written. While this can work well for freelance writers, I've found that some writers (especially in-house content marketers) feel that this is too strict. Every author and every content team is different. So all I can say is that you use your best judgment.
4th funnel stage
This is pretty similar in intent, but I think it helps to include them as a separate line item. To fill in this part of the content, ask yourself, “Is someone looking for this term just looking for information? Inspiration? Would you like to evaluate your options? Or want to buy something? "
And this is how you can mark your answer:
- Top-of-funnel (TOFU or “problem-conscious”) is an appropriate term when the query is intended to be informative / instructive / inspiring.
- The center of the funnel (MOFU or "solution aware") is an appropriate term when the query is intended to compare, rank, or otherwise indicate that the searcher already knows your solution.
- Bottom-of-Funnel (BOFU or "Solution Ready") is an appropriate label when the query intends to make a purchase or otherwise convert.
5. Audience segment
Who are you writing this for?
It seems like such a basic question, but in my experience it's easy to forget!
When it comes to SEO-oriented content briefs, it's easy to assume that the answer to this question is "Anyone looking for that keyword!" Reads. What cannot be answered, however, is who these seekers are and how they fit into your company's personas / ideal customer profile (ICP).
If you don't know these people, ask your marketing team! You should have audience segments available to you.
Not only will this help your writers better understand what to write, but it will also help you align with the rest of the marketing department and understand the connection of SEO to their goals (this is also an important component of buy-in ). which we will talk about a little later).
6. The target action you want your readers to take
SEO is a means to an end. It's not just enough to keep your content ranking or even get clicks / traffic. For it to have an impact on your business, you want it to contribute to your bottom line.
Because of this, when creating your content description, you need to think not only about how readers will access it, but also what to do afterwards.
This is a great opportunity to work with your content marketing and a larger marketing team to understand what actions they are trying to get visitors to take.
Here are some examples of call-to-actions (CTAs) you can include in your briefs:
- Newsletter registrations
- Downloaded asset downloads (e.g. free templates, white papers, and e-books)
- Case studies
- Free trials
- Request a demo
- Product lists
In general, it's best to use a CTA that is a natural next step based on the intent of the article. For example, if the piece is on top of the funnel, try a CTA that moves it to the center of the funnel like a case study.
7. Length of the ballpark
I strongly believe that the length of an article should be determined by the topic, not arbitrary words. However, offering a ballpark can help to avoid bringing a 500 word blog post into a 2,000 word battle.
One tool that can make it easier to create a standard word count is Frase, which shows you, among other things, the average word count of the pages that rank for your target query.
8. Possibilities for internal and external links
Since you are reading the Moz blog, you are probably already very familiar with the meaning of links. However, this information is often not included in content information.
It's as simple as inserting these two line items:
- Relevant content that we should link to. List all URLs, especially on your own website, that can of course be referenced in this article.
- Existing content that could link to this new piece. List all the urls on your website that mention your topic so that after you start your new article you can come back and add links to your new article.
The second point is especially important as adding links to your new post can help it get indexed and start ranking faster. A quick way to find internal link options is to use the "site:" operator in Google.
For example, the following search shows me all the posts on the Moz blog that mention "Content Brief". These could be great sources for links to this blog post.
9. Competitor content
Search your target query and subtract the top three URLs for that section of your content description. These are the sides to beat.
There is a risk of creating copycat content (content that is essentially a re-spun version of the highest ranking articles) and it is a good idea to instruct your writer on how best to use it .
I want questions like:
- What is our unique perspective on this issue?
- Do we have any clear data that we can get on this subject?
- Which experts (internal or external) can we ask for offers on this topic?
- Which graphics would make this visually more convincing than those of our competitors?
You have the idea!
10. On-Page SEO Cheat Sheet
One thing I always like to include in my letters is some sort of “SEO cheat sheet” – tips and resources to help your writers with important on-page SEO elements.
Here is an example of one that I've used in the past:
One important caveat: Authors have different levels of SEO knowledge. Some content teams are very optimistic about SEO (companies like G2 and HubSpot come to mind) so writers may not need much help in this area. SEO is pretty new to others. Determine what is required for your particular situation so that you can avoid overwriting or underwriting this area.
What should be avoided when writing brief information?
Unfortunately, "SEO" has become a dirty word for many authors. By understanding why, we can avoid the major pitfalls that can lead to ignored tasks and cross-departmental tension.
Don't make suggestions after this asset is written
When we write for search, we create the output. The keyword is input. In other words, target queries are questions that need to be answered, not something that needs to be crammed into an already written copy.
Google wants to rate content that answers the query and not just repeat it on the page.
Because of this, I would avoid an optimization step after your writing step. If you don't, you run the risk of the content mismatching the intent of the query, which means the likelihood of ranking is slim or nonexistent, and you're likely to annoy your writers too who don't want to discount their editorial changes Great content by inserting keywords.
Do not favor high volume keywords over high intent matches
I saw a letter once where the SEO manager asked the author to use a certain phrase in place of another phrase because he had a search volume while the other didn't.
The problem? Although the keywords appeared to be similar, they actually had completely different intentions.
Do not do that.
In the best case scenario, keyword targeting can result in vanity traffic that is never converted for just volume reasons. In the worst case scenario, you will be trying to stick a square pin into a round hole and the intent match is likely to be completely absent.
Don't blindly follow keyword tools
Keyword tools are helpful, but they don't perfectly reflect search demand. For example, since they are not always updated incredibly often, you might mistakenly think that a query has no demand when it actually has a ton.
A good example of this is COVID-19 related keywords. As a new hot topic earlier this year, many keyword research tools failed to register that they had search volume when in fact they did. If you had followed the tool blindly, you might have missed the opportunity.
To solve this problem, you can use tools like Google Trends or even the Google Search Console (if you already have content on a trending topic or a similar topic on your website you should be able to get impressions / interest spikes within a few days see).
Do not instruct the authors to "include these keywords" (especially a certain number of times).
When listing the target query (or target queries) in your content letter, it is important that we instruct our writers that this is the main question to answer, and not the word you need to spread throughout the content.
There is no magical number of times you can paste a keyword into your copy for it to apply to that term. Instead, instruct your writers to focus on fully answering the intent of the finder's question.
Do not try to put keywords in articles that are not intended for search identification
Organic search isn't the only channel for content discovery. As someone with an SEO background, it took me a while to learn.
This means that you are adding search content to your content calendar and not trying to put keywords into every element of the calendar.
While getting the on-page SEO basics (title tag, heading tags, links, etc.) right for every piece is important, not every piece does well with organic search.
For example, if we only created content based on keywords that a tool told us would be crawled a certain number of times per month, we would never write about new concepts. It takes a lot of thought leadership off the table, as do case studies and interview / feature story pieces.
Organic search is powerful, but not everything.
Tips for Buying Your Content Team
Even the best of content information doesn't work if your content team isn't using it – and I've heard of many situations where this happens.
As an SEO, it can be mind-boggling that your content team won't want to use this: "Don't you want traffic ?!" But as someone leading a content team, I understand why he's often turned down.
Fortunately, in many cases this can be avoided by taking the following measures.
Include them in the planning process
Nobody likes micromanaging, and thorough content information can sometimes feel like micromanaging. A great way to avoid this is to bring them with you for the process. Make content briefs a joint effort between SEO and content.
For example, connect with the content lead and see if they're ready to sit down with you to collaborate on creating the content template. When each of you brings your unique expertise to the table, it feels less like dictation than collaboration (and that way, you'll likely get a better quick reference).
Make it clear that not all content has to be search content
SEO managers live and breathe the organic search channel, but content teams have a more varied diet. They take a multi-channel approach to content and sometimes even write content to support teams after conversion such as customer success.
As you work with your content team, make sure this is a new type of content to add to editorial planning. Not something that has to replace or change the type of content they are already writing.
Respect their expertise
Writing is difficult. It takes immense skill and practice to do it well, but unfortunately, I've heard many SEOs talk about writers like they don't know just because they don't know SEO.
As an SEO, you can go a long way with your content department by simply respecting their expertise. Just as many SEO managers aren't writers, it's unfair to expect writers to have the SEO knowledge of a full-time SEO professional.
Before implementing a brief content process, sit down with the content leader and content team members to measure their search maturity. What do they actually need your help with? Then entrust them with the rest.
One of the best ways to get and maintain a buy-in is to view results. Show your content team how much traffic is coming from organic search and how, unlike many other content discovery channels, that traffic remains constant over time. Give the author a greeting when you notice the article ranking on page one.
The results are a great incentive to keep going.
Teamwork makes the dream come true
There's a lot of talk in the SEO world about building strong relationships between SEOs and developers. It's just as important to forge the same bonds with your content team and writers.
Remember, we are on the same team and stronger together than apart.