This year (2022) alone, I have created 100+ content briefs for SaaS, B2B industry blogs, service businesses, affiliate sites, and more.
So, in this guide, I will share every detail that goes into making a content brief focused on improved UX, higher rankings, conversions (even for B2B businesses), and low time-to-value.
After reading this guide, you will have answers to the following questions:
- What headings should a blog article include?
- How to study SERP for creating a content outline?
- How to promote my business offerings in the article without being too promotional?
- What should be the average length of the article?, and MORE.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What does a content outline mean?
A content outline or brief document helps writers understand what to write about and how to structure the article’s information.
The content outline document includes guidelines regarding the following:
- What subheadings to cover
- Target audience
- Target and semantically related keywords
- What should be the angle of the article
- Which CTA to include, etc.
(More on real content brief examples are discussed later in the guide).
Steps of creating a content brief/outline
Let’s understand the content research process and plan your content briefs.
Note: We will not use any tool to create briefs automatically.
- I’m not satisfied with the results of any SEO tool that automatically creates the brief.
- Once you understand the research process, you can use any tools (if you want) to create outlines. So understanding the basics is important.
Let’s get started.
Step 1. Study the intent
Generally, there are three types of search intents, as per Google such as:
- Know queries (aka informational queries): e.g., What is productivity management?
- Do queries (aka transactional queries): e.g., Productivity management tools.
- Website/visit-in-person queries (aka navigational queries): e.g., Trello productivity management software
Knowing what the searcher wants to accomplish helps you classify your keywords in a better way.
If you observe the SERP closely, you will get a lot of hints regarding the following:
- What type of content does Google prefer
- Suggested content format and types
- Related sub-topics, and more
So always start your research process by looking at the SERP for your focus keyword.
For example, consider the focus keyword: ‘productivity management tools’
Here’s the SERP:
By looking at the SERP for the given keyword, we can understand the followings:
- Listicle blog post: Users and Google prefer a listicle guide (top XX productivity management apps), not a ‘How-to’ or ‘definitive guide’ (How to choose the right productivity management app).
- Time-sensitive: the majority of the top 10 results have 2022 in their title. That means all the apps should be updated for the current year.
- PAA and FAQs: indicates related questions highly related to your focus keyword
- Title of top-performing pages will tell you whether the results are review sites, blog articles, product listings, etc.
- Try to match the intent and create the content type that Google prefers (no need to reinvent the wheel)
- Make sure you mention the page type (listicle/how-to guide/review guide) for the focus keyword in the content brief.
Step 2. Extract entities and related sub-topics
This is a step where you can take help from SEO tools. Covering related entities in the content will improve the topical relevance of your article. Hence, it will make it easier for Google to understand the page context.
Here are different ways:
Method 1. Extracting entities using SEO tools
Many content optimization tools let you extract the top entities of the top 10/20 pages.
Let me use MarketMuse in this case (you may use any other tools such as Frase, Surfer SEO, etc.)
Type your focus keyword in MarketMuse’s ‘research’ feature.
Next, it will analyze the top 20 ranking pages for the query and show you a list of entities and their frequency.
Here’s the screenshot:
Method 2. Extracting entities using NLP
This is a completely free method. All you need to do is watch this video tutorial to analyze the SERP using Google colab (no code required)
Here’s the screenshot of the data you will get:
Method 3. Extracting entities from SERP/Google
Another simple method to find related entities and subtopics is by looking at the SERP.
- Google autocomplete data
- Related keywords (at the bottom of the SERP)
- Image tab for related entities
The goal of identifying related entities is to make your content more topically relevant for the keyword and include related ones as secondary keywords in the content brief.
Step 5. Information gain (ways to prevent your content from being a copy-cat content)
So far, we have researched based on the competitors (top running pages). But the common issue with this approach is that the content will look similar to other pages (if not the same).
Why is this a problem?
First, a Lack of content differentiation can lead to poor organic ranking. Imagine why Google would want to rank just another page in the SERP with the same information.
Second, this makes it difficult for brands to differentiate (your clients may not want to invest in content that just copy-pastes competitors’ pages).
Information gain, as described by Ryan Law of Animalz.
Information gain means your content will have more content depth as compared to other pages in the SERP. This makes your content more comprehensive and unique and adds an additional layer of information that others are not doing.
Note: Teaching your writers about the information gained is a must. Forget about the content words as a metric to understand the comprehensiveness of an article. Instead, use ‘content depth’ to measure the information gain from your article as compared to top-ranking pages.
Here are ways to improve information gain/ content depth:
1/ Going into more content depth
Consider covering all the important sub-topics and making the content more in-depth. Think of this like a user should get all the related information for the topic.
One way of adding content depth is by answering all related questions regarding your topic.
Problem driven approach is one of the easiest ways to increase the content depth in a meaningful way. For this, you need to identify the real questions and challenges people have regarding your topic.
You can get ideas from:
- Google PAA
An example from the Sistrix keyword tool:
Tip: Turn questions into H2s in your content if it suits the context of the page.
First, make a list of all important questions gathered from various platforms. Next, answer these questions to make the content really useful for the users.
3/ Ask for opinions, and expert insights (be it external or internal)
If you have the bandwidth, I’d highly recommend investing time in outreaching industry experts/influencers to share their insights on the topic.
For example, if you’re writing an article on the topic ‘productivity management tools for marketers,’ I would pitch marketing experts via LinkedIn, email, and Twitter to get their quote on the favourtie productivity management tools.
Even getting 5-10 quotes will make a huge difference in your content, as the page is now combined with expert opinions.
Likewise, if you have access to the technical team with subject matter expertise, interview them and get their opinion on the topic.
5/ Personal experience
Have any experience with a product? Or can you share your personal experience angle with the topic?
If so, turn it into a story to make the content useful and credible to the users.
6/ Original research
Performed primary research?
If so, you will get a lot of unique data and statistics. Turn them into content pieces.
For example, I did annual research on the ‘digital marketing jobs report of India.’
As a result, it helped me get many unique data and statistics.
You can follow any of the above strategies to differentiate your content.
Step 3. Structure the content (low time-to-value)
If you’re not giving enough importance to the structure of articles, then you should re-think.
Well-structured articles help readers to easily pull out the required information from the article (improves UX) and Google to understand the context and relevance of the page (higher ranking).
Now, let’s understand how you can structure your articles.
The goal should be to reduce the time-to-value as much as possible.
That means helping readers to pull out the important information as quickly as possible.
Here’s a content structure example of a ‘How-to’ informative article:
In the above example, the most important part of the content is the step-by-step process of performing the content audit.
So, readers shouldn’t waste time trying to find that step-by-step process.
Key lesson: When creating the content structure, think of the most important information section from the users’ perspective. Make that section closer to the beginning and easy to access.
Here’s another example by Siegemedia:
“These structures make it easy for users to pull out the answers they want instead of having to dig for them.
They also make it easy for a robot to confidently understand that your post satisfies the query.
Complex structures bury the lead, adding subheaders that distract from the core need for the user for the sake of building word count.” – Ross Hudgens (founder of Siege Media).
Step 4. Optimize for conversion (include CTAs)
The goal of blog posts is to solve users’ problems or help the users perform a task. Now, with the product-led approach, your product is a part of the solution.
Here’s an example from Shopify:
Shopify published an article about “How to Start Dropshipping in India.”
Users’ need: To learn the dropshipping process
But Shopify didn’t just share the process to start dropshipping. Instead, they have turned their product (eCommerce platform) into a solution to teach about the dropshipping process.
Let me show you another example from Notion.
Notion publishes a lot of helpful articles for startups.
One of them is about “How to improve knowledge sharing within your startup,” where they have presented a notion as a solution by adding:
- Product screenshots
- Product features, etc.
This is what it looks like:
Product Led Approach- For Service Business
Product-led content isn’t only applicable to SaaS businesses. Even service businesses can get a high conversion rate with this approach.
Here’s an example from GrowAndConvert (a content marketing agency):
One of their popular articles is about “SaaS content marketing.”
In the traditional approach, you’ll see articles sharing the strategies of SaaS content marketing or some marketing examples of brands.
But here, the GrowAndConvert team did a great job by turning their service into a part of the solution.
These articles share the strategies and case studies where they got results for their clients using the same strategies.
This informs the reader that the brand is a content marketing agency and works as social proof for its work.
The key message here is:
Try to integrate the client’s case studies with the content.
For example →
If the article is about product positioning, then share strategies for product marketing and how the same strategies helped your clients.
Step 5. Creating the content outline/brief
First of all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. So, consider customizing the process as per your requirement.
You can organize the content with brief information like the following:
Download the sample content brief template and customize it as per your requirement.