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How to craft the perfect SEO content brief: The elements you need to include

an image of author Giuseppe Caltabiano, accompanied by various search-related iconography

In today’s saturated content marketing landscape, where generative AI is redefining the way we work, creating content that not only engages website visitors but also secures high search engine rankings is more critical than ever. 

This is where a great SEO-first content brief steps in. Distinct from traditional content briefs, an SEO-first content brief integrates essential SEO components, including target keywords, meta descriptions, and various optimization tactics to ensure superior visibility in search.

Functioning as a strategic instrument, your SEO-first content brief can help you achieve this dual objective of ensuring that the content you commission is not only compelling and relevant to the audience, but is also optimized for search, helping drive organic traffic to your website or business.

This comprehensive guide is designed to equip you with the necessary knowledge to craft the perfect content brief specifically tailored for SEO-first publications.

Table of contents:

What is an SEO-first content brief?

An SEO-first content brief is a document that provides specific instructions to content creators, outlining not only the topic, research, and key points to cover, but also the SEO elements needed to optimize the content for search engines. It is designed to help content rank higher in search engine results, thereby driving organic traffic to the website.

The value of an SEO-first content brief lies in its ability to align content creation with your company’s SEO strategy. This dual focus can lead to improved visibility in search engine results, increased website traffic, and ultimately, higher conversion rates.

Your content brief is crucial but, without SEO, you’re leaving traffic on the table

As mentioned, an SEO-first content brief differs from a regular content brief in its emphasis on SEO elements (in addition to the usual content elements). While a regular content brief focuses on the content’s topic, audience, tone, and structure, an SEO-first content brief goes a step further by including SEO-specific components such as target keywords, meta descriptions, and SEO-friendly titles. It also often includes guidance on internal and external linking, keyword density, and other SEO best practices.

We at Rock Content outsource most of our content creation so we certainly understand how an SEO-first content brief can improve internal workflows as well as content performance. After performing thorough keyword research and evaluating the search engine results page (SERP) to monitor competition, we use our own marketplace’s AI-powered tools to find the creators that best match our brand’s needs.

The recent revamping of our SEO content brief reflects our dedication to SEO results and quality content creation. A survey of freelancers conducted after presenting the updated brief revealed that 90% found briefing quality significantly improved and the writing process strongly impacted. A post-revamp analysis using Google Analytics showed a 23.73% increase in average time on page, a 3.94% drop in bounce rate, and a 7.84% extension in session duration, indicating improved user engagement. Although not all successful key performance indicators can be directly attributed to the new SEO-first content brief, it has undeniably impacted them.

In essence, an SEO-first content brief integrates SEO strategies into the content creation process from an early stage, ensuring that the content is designed to perform well in search results. This approach can lead to more effective and impactful content that not only resonates with the audience but also aligns with search engine algorithms.

How to create an SEO-first content brief

Crafting an SEO-first content brief requires a nuanced approach that combines strategic thinking with practical implementation. It involves careful planning and execution, which I'll break down into essential steps.

In fact, when assigning a piece of content to a freelancer or a junior employee, it’s important to provide clear and detailed instructions. This includes explaining the purpose of each SEO element and how it contributes to the overall quality and performance of the content. It encourages the content creator to familiarize themself with the brand and audience requirements—as well as the SEO requirements, enabling them to produce content that is valuable to the audience and ranks well on search engines.

Moreover, it’s crucial to provide them with the necessary training and support. You can accomplish this through online or on-the-job training, workshops, or mentorship programs. Regular feedback and communication are also essential to ensure that they are on the right track and to address concerns promptly. 

Let’s start from the (non-negotiable!) SEO components of the brief.

SEO components

List of suggested SEO Components of an SEO-first content brief

When creating an SEO-first content brief, there are several key elements to consider. Here is a comprehensive list:

Title tag: This is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. It is displayed on (SERPs), so it should be descriptive and concise, accurately reflecting the content of the page.

Example of how a descriptive and concise Title Tag will appear on SERPs

Remember to follow best practices when creating your title tags, as Google has been known to rewrite title tags in some cases.

Meta description: This is a brief summary of the page content, which appears under the title tag in SERPs. It should be compelling and include your target keywords.

Example of how a meta description including target keywords will appear on SERPs

Target keyword(s): These are the main keywords that your content should focus on. They should be relevant to the topic and have a reasonable search volume. 

Some freelancers might offer keyword research as well. If your decision is to outsource keyword research to freelancers, make sure to add your own keyword research guidelines to the brief. Those guidelines might include:

Word count: Long-form content tends to rank better and earn more backlinks over time, according to a study from HubSpot. You need to specify the desired length of the content; this can depend on the breadth of the topic and the type of content (listicle, article, etc). I’ve found that providing a word range based on what’s already on the SERPs works best.

Internal linking: Include suggestions for internal links to other relevant content on your website—you can even include preferred anchor text. This can help improve the site’s SEO and provide additional value to the reader.

Alt text: This is a description of an image used in the content, which helps search engines understand the image. It’s also important for website visitors that rely on screen readers.

Buyer journey stage and calls to actions: Let your writer know what the intended goal of the content is. A smart content manager or SEO strategist can include some notes on monetizing this traffic or driving a desired action with the right calls to action (CTAs). 

Understanding where your intended piece of content lies in the buyer’s journey can help your writer create more effective content (e.g., shall they include more conversion-focused messaging or adopt a more informational tone?). And, CTAs encourage the website visitor to take a specific action, such as subscribing to a newsletter or purchasing a product. They should be compelling and clearly communicate the benefit of the action to the reader.

In addition to all SEO components, it’s also important to consider “traditional” content components, like the brand voice and tone, the target audience, and the content goals (such as driving traffic to the website, increasing conversions, or building brand awareness). This is the topic of our next section.

Content components

List of suggested Content Components for an SEO-first Content Brief

Let’s remember that content isn’t just about keywords and structure. In addition to the SEO components, an SEO-first content brief should include the following content elements to guide writers.

Short description of the content: Provide a concise overview of what the content will cover. This should include the main topic, the angle or unique perspective the content will take, and the key message or takeaway for the reader. This helps the writer understand the scope and focus of the content piece.

Target audience/personas: Identify the specific audience segments or buyer personas the content is intended for. This includes: 

  • Demographic information

  • Interests

  • Pain points

  • Behavioral traits

  • Etc. 

Understanding the target audience helps tailor the content to their needs and preferences, increasing engagement and relevance.

Brand voice and style guide: Outline the brand voice and tone that the content should convey. You can provide a style guide (if you have one) that includes guidelines on language, grammar, and formatting. This ensures consistency across all content and reinforces your brand identity.

Benchmark articles: These are examples of high-performing content, either from your own brand or competitors, that the writer can use as a benchmark. These articles serve as a reference for the desired quality, tone, and structure of the new content piece. Analyzing successful content can also provide insights into what works well with the target audience and search engines.

By incorporating these content components into the brief, you ensure that the writer has a comprehensive understanding of not only the SEO requirements but also the content's purpose, audience, and brand alignment. This holistic approach to content creation can lead to more effective and impactful content.

Tips for optimizing

SEO and content optimization go hand-in-hand. Beyond a solid brief, instruct your writers to use some of these techniques throughout the content for extra impact:

  • Use headers that mirror user search queries and format text strategically after headers to increase the chances of earning the featured snippet. Instead of relying on text graphics, employ bold or quote formatting to highlight key information. For example, after headers that ask questions (e.g, “What is an SEO-first content brief?” in this article), use formatting (e.g., bold or quote formatting) to call attention to text.

  • Break-up dense content with bullet points and numbered lists for easy skimming. Not only does this enhance user experience, it also increases chances of appearing in featured snippets for list-based searches.

  • Maximize accessibility and image SEO by including all relevant content within the alt text (but make sure to avoid keyword stuffing). This not only takes advantage of potential keywords but also ensures that visually impaired users can access the information effectively.

  • Add multiple internal links to relevant, high-quality pages within your website. This signals topical relevance to search engines and helps users navigate deeper into your content.

  • Craft compelling title tags and meta descriptions that accurately reflect your content and entice users to click. Think of them as mini-advertisements in search results.

By implementing these simple yet impactful tips alongside your SEO-first content brief, you’ll be well on your way to publishing content that’s both search-engine friendly and engaging to visitors and potential customers.

It’s not just about SEO—it’s about better user experience and business outcomes

Crafting the perfect SEO-first content brief is an investment in both search engine ranking and audience engagement. By combining SEO best practices with clear instructions and brand alignment, you empower your writers to create content that attracts, informs, and converts. Think of it as the foundation for a successful content marketing strategy, one that attracts the right audience and delivers measurable results.

Remember, the impact of a well-crafted brief goes beyond search engines. It empowers your writers to tell compelling stories, share valuable insights, and ultimately build genuine connections with your audience. Behind every keyword and ranking is a potential reader seeking value and connection. With a meticulously designed content brief, even the most daunting SEO hurdles become surmountable. This, in turn, fosters trust, loyalty, and ultimately, conversions.

Ready to unlock the full potential of your content creation? Take the first step by investing in an SEO-first content brief that empowers your writers, engages your audience, and drives real results.


Giuseppe Caltabiano

Giuseppe is a global marketing leader with 20+ years' experience. He excels in crafting content and marketing strategies for SaaS enterprises. Recognized as 2-time influential European B2B marketer, he has an MBA from SDA Bocconi and is trained in M&A at London Business School. Twitter | Linkedin


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