How to write a useful web content brief – without a marketing degree

How to write a useful web content brief – without a marketing degree

Engaging a website copywriter should be a simple and smooth process. Ideally, this is how it goes:

1. You brief your copywriter (either in writing or over a cuppa).
2. Your copywriter creates the content and then sends you the first draft. (They may phone you with some questions along the way.)
3. You receive the draft and read it with a smile – because you know they ‘get it’.
4. You make or suggest some minor changes to the text.
5. You receive another draft. (You may need to go through steps 4 and 5 two or three times. That’s normal.
6. Your content is uploaded for the world to see.

So why do problems sometimes arise? Why isn’t the process always this smooth?

If you’ve been dissatisfied with a copywriter in the past, my guess is that your brief was inadequate. Or your copywriter was unable to draw a meaningful brief out of you.

An effective brief will ensure your web writer’s first draft hits the mark. That doesn’t mean every word and every fact will be perfect. But the overall message should be.

Like many of my clients, you probably have some ideas on what you want your website to say and do. But organising and communicating your thoughts is another challenge altogether. That’s why I have prepared this guide to help you. And you don’t need a marketing degree to apply it.

1. Who are you?

Telling your website copywriter about your business is the obvious starting point. But what exactly does she need to know?

Let’s start with the basics.

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What is the expertise of your people?
  • What products and services do you sell?
  • What’s the ‘story’ behind how and why your business came to be?
  • Does your organisation have an overall purpose or ‘reason for being’?

But don’t stop there. Your web writer also needs to understand the unique ‘personality’ of your business. This will ensure she uses the right tone of voice throughout your content.

  • If your organisation was a human, how would you describe its personality?
  • How would you describe the culture of your team?

And finally, your website copywriter needs to know what makes your business compelling.

  • What do you believe makes your business credible?
  • What do you believe keeps your existing clients coming back?
  • Why do you believe new customers choose you over your competition?

2. Who are you talking to?

You need to give your copywriter a clear and specific picture of your audience. You may have several audiences and that’s fine. Just be sure your audience descriptions are comprehensive and useful.

And remember, even if you are in the B2B space, you are still always communicating with human beings. Real people. Not buildings, businesses or institutions.

Let’s look at an example – a mortgage broking business.

Useless or vague audience description: 

“first-time home buyers”.

Useful or specific audience description:

“Young single adults and couples in Melbourne who are considering buying their first home. They’re unsure how much they can borrow, worried about the financial commitment, and feeling generally overwhelmed about all there is for them to learn.”

3. What underlying problem or pain are you solving?

Your business, products or services exist for a reason. They are addressing a problem or pain that your customers and prospects are experiencing.

Your challenge is to articulate what that is.

  • Are they feeling overwhelmed and confused?
  • Are they overworked, tired and stressed?
  • Do they want to protect themselves and their family?
  • Are they looking for more fulfilment?
  • Are they looking for ways to help them ‘fit in’?

Let’s go back to our first-time home buyers. How might you articulate their problem or pain?

“My customers are feeling overwhelmed about finding a home loan. They don’t have the confidence to compare their options effectively – because they know very little. They just want somebody they can trust who will make the process easy. And ultimately, they want peace of mind that they’ll end up with the right loan.

4. What’s your ‘one thing’?

You may have heard the term ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ or ‘USP’. But if I was to ask my clients, “So, what’s your USP?”, most would stare at me blankly.

Instead, I ask them: “What’s the one thing that makes your business, product or service compelling, different or special?”

It’s something that no other business claims. Or can claim.

Of course, there may be more than one thing about your business that’s compelling, different or special. (As your web writer, I’d want to know those too). But if you want your audience leaving your website remembering only one thing about you, what would it be?

Determining your ‘one thing’ is not always easy. So be prepared to put in the time to figure it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Let’s think about our mortgage broker again:

“We are more than just reputable brokers. We are also qualified accountants. Although an accounting qualification is not needed in our industry, our clients believe we are more thorough because of it. As accountants, we consider the bigger picture of your financial situation – and evaluate your options with utmost scrutiny.”

5. What sales objections do you often face?

When you are selling to prospective clients in person, what are the most common objections you hear?

Is your audience concerned about paying higher fees? Are they worried that your service will not meet expectations? Or perhaps they have doubts about the credibility of your industry.

Once you know your prospects’ likely objections, share them with your web copywriter. Then it’s over to her to craft content that alleviates fears, doubts and uncertainties.

Back to our mortgage broker:

“People are often worried that I might recommend loans based on how much commission the lenders pay – rather than because it’s best for the client.  Clients want to be sure that the amounts on my commission cheques do not cloud my judgement or compromise my credibility.”

6.What do you want your audience to do?

What do you want your online visitors to do when they visit your website? If you don’t tell them what it is, you can’t expect them to do it.

In the marketing and advertising world, this is known as your ‘call to action’.

Do you want your audience to:

  • phone you?
  • submit an online enquiry?
  • visit another page on your site?
  • read a document?
  • complete a form?

Once you’ve worked it out, it’s up to your copywriter to make your ‘call to action’ clear.

Now you’re ready to get started. But when you do, also remember to provide…

  • Your existing marketing materials: Send your copywriter any written materials that you already have. Brochures. Documents. Newsletters. Sales proposals. Some materials might be useless, but some might provide unexpected insight.
  • Your brand style guides: Does your organisation have a style guide or corporate standards manual?  If so, give your web writer a copy. It will help her fine-tune your content and ensure brand consistency.
  • Your website design template: If you already have a website design and structure in place, share it with your copywriter. Your content and design need to be compatible. There’s nothing worse than having fabulous homepage text without a place to put it.

Good luck. Now it’s over to your copywriter. I hope her first draft knocks your socks off!