In this edition of Ask An SEO, Zach from Wichita writes us:
“How would an SEO specialist write a content brief for an industry expert with very little writing experience?
Or how should my company structure our content writing process when we have an SEO person, industry expert, and content writer/editor?”
Great question, Zach. Before we dig into content briefs, I have a question: Why is someone with very little writing experience doing the writing?
Writing is a skilled trade.
Sure, some have a natural talent and affinity for it. But many people would rather get dental work without sedation than have to write an article, blog post, or some other form of content for their work.
Time and again, I’ve seen that forcing topic experts to write – even on topics they’re passionate about – fails on every front.
Your topic expert tends to spend way longer than a skilled writer would on the piece.
Maybe marketing asked them to do it. Maybe they’re semi-bought-in as they like the thought leadership potential but they’re still experiencing the frustration of the writing process.
They’re stressed out and can even become resentful as this is just another task on their to-do list.
So let’s tackle this piece first.
Setting Your Topic Experts & SEO Writers Up For Success
I’ve been ghostwriting for over 15 years. Here’s the first thing I always ask a new author I’m ghosting for:
“How can I make this easier for you? What do you want this process to look like?”
Then I’ll ask questions to figure out the best way to get their knowledge and topic expertise out of their head and into mine.
- Have you already worked on an outline or even a rough draft you want me to run with?
- Would you like to make me a bullet list of all the important information you want to see included?
- Do you have 15 minutes to jump on a call and I’ll pick your brain?
- Want to send me voice notes? A doodle? Smoke signals? Let’s do this.
The first thing you can do to set your topic experts and writers up for a productive, collaborative relationship is to give them the freedom to define their own processes.
I used to create content for a polar expeditions brand. For content generation purposes, I regularly interviewed their polar experts. Most of these people worked on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions a good chunk of the year.
Ever tried to interview a polar bear researcher in Russia who only gets to a payphone once a week?
How about a penguinologist (it’s a real thing!) who spends months at a time circulating Antarctica gathering penguin poop and feathers for DNA studies?
Here’s the thing: whether writing as polar experts, software engineers, C-level executives, SEO thought leaders, or real estate agents (to name just a few), I’ve found that every topic expert has their own preferences on how to share that knowledge.
Some experts get too nervous about being interviewed to do well in a face-to-face conversation about the topic.
Others love nothing more than to chat about their area of expertise.
What’s important is that your topic experts understand a few key things about this relationship.
Here’s what you as the leader of this initiative need to convey to the expert, and also build into your shared process:
1. Trust that the writer is here to help you.
Dear Sir or Madam Expert: This isn’t going to be an exposé. We’re bringing on a writer(s) who specializes in crafting optimized content to tell your story in the best possible way.
Their goal is to write a post befitting your level of expertise.
They’re literally here to make you look good.
They’re going to save you time and help us get all of that super important topic knowledge out of your head and onto paper in a way that search engines and readers alike can discover and appreciate it.
2. You choose how we work together.
Do you want to send an outline, forward some articles or research that’s inspired you, schedule an interview, share previously published works? Let’s do it.
Or do you need project management help, a video conferencing platform, or assistance with scheduling?
We’ll put the resources in place (budget permitting) to facilitate you telling your story.
3. You get the final say on everything.
Yes, it can be scary to give permission to have someone else write as you.
What if they make you look bad?
Don’t worry: you as our topic expert get final sign-off on anything that goes out in your name.
And for you as the leader of this process: make sure that review and approval are actually built into your editorial workflow so this essential step is never missed.
A Few Quick Notes On Process
If we were to boil this down to a step-by-step process, yours could look something like this:
- Research the topic and consult your topic expert and SEO team in creating the brief – more on that in a minute.
- Assign the brief to the writer.
- Arrange for transfer of knowledge from topic expert to writer.
- Writer creates first draft.
- Topic expert reviews to ensure the content quality, depth, and all important information is there.
- If it’s not, there may be a revision at this point.
- Once writer and topic expert are satisfied, it goes to the Editor for review.*
- Any other revisions requested by the Editor are completed.
- Go time.
*Zach, I did notice that you said, “content writer/editor” in your question, and I hope that was a typo. These are not the same person.
Your content always needs a second set of eyes before publication.
The editor will fact-check the writer’s work, run copyright checks, optimize for search, ensure the content is in keeping with your brand’s style guide, and edit for use of language, tone, structure, and more.
In large organizations, the editing process might involve separate editors for mechanical editing, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading.
Or, a few types of edits might be handled by one person.
What matters is that your company understands what’s involved in the publishing process and that each of these checks is built into it at some point.
That’s what it takes now to win in competitive SERPs where expertise, authority, trustworthiness, accuracy, and other qualities of top-performing content are table stakes.
Now, to your question about how the SEO specialist will create the brief.
Tips & Tricks For SEO Content Creative Briefs
I’m going to tell you a secret that an awful lot of people get wrong.
No one cares about what you need to say; it’s all about what your audience needs to hear.
Too often, the writer is handed a brief that’s little more than a laundry list of things the expert (or more often, their colleagues in marketing and PR) want to say.
- Tell them all of our features.
- Make sure you mention these selling points!
- Don’t forget we won those two awards last year.
- Can you drop this quote from our CEO in there?
- Here are two case studies you should mention.
This is how content created by well-intentioned companies becomes that guy at the party who corners you and talks about himself and how awesome he is until you fake a washroom break and go home early.
Don’t be that guy.
A good content brief includes a bit of that “here’s what we want to say.”
But it also incorporates:
- The purpose of the piece; what goal you want the reader to achieve or problem you want to solve.
- Notes on the author’s style and tone of voice, with examples if possible.
- The intended format and length of the piece and whether that’s flexible.
- Who your audience is and why they care about this topic.
- What their learning outcomes or next steps are going to be.
- SEO insights into how people are talking about this topic, what questions they have, who else is ranking on it, and more.
- Identified opportunities for achieving featured snippets or multimedia placement in the SERPs with content formatted or structured in specific ways.
- Reliable sources of information for background.
Your writer can take this understanding of what you’re looking for, who it’s for, and what it needs to look like and add in all of that rich insight the topic expert has to share.
That’s where the magic happens.
Bringing It All Together For SEO-Friendly, Expert-Led Content
If I had to wrap this up in a single sentence, my answer to your original question would be this: Get each person involved in your content creation process doing what they’re best at.
Don’t force your topic experts to fret over a blank screen if they have no desire to write.
Don’t expect your writers to inherently know SEO; invest in those who do or in training yours up.
Don’t ask writers to read your expert’s mind or write PR fluff.
If you want to produce top-quality, expert content at scale, treat your content workflow as a publishing operation.
Make sure all parties have the necessary input; that your SEO insights, company goals, audience needs, and expertise are reflected in a clear brief for the writer.
Then let them do their work.
Support your content creators with an editorial process that will prevent any headache-inducing issues around copyright or other mistakes that could harm your brand.
The results are worth it when you have a steady stream of well-written, expert-led content optimized for discovery and conversion right out of the gate.
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
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