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October 11, 2017 (Updated: March 2, 2020)
Communication between you and your writers is crucial to creating the best content and ensuring that this content fulfills its purpose in your strategy. Since you don’t have the time to watch over your writers’ shoulders and critique everything from word choice to sentence structure, you need a resource that writers can use to maintain consistency across your brand. That resource is known as a style guide. Content style guides include everything that creators need to know about what you want from them. Guides ensure that content is consistent, even if it was created by several different writers.
What should you include in your style guide? Do writers need to know their way around every nook and cranny of your strategy? Of course not. But there are some key things you should include in your style guide so all of your content contributes to your brand.
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While the priority of these key items may not be in any particular order, tone is crucial to almost every aspect of your content. It’s essential that you immediately establish what tone you want content to follow. Of course, other aspects will influence tone, such as audience, but tone will ultimately influence every aspect of your brand. Do you want your content written in a conversational tone or a more formal tone?
Tone helps you connect with your target audience. Your writing will look much different if your content is targeting academics than if it’s targeting casual consumers. It could also be what sets you apart from the competition. Take Old Spice, for example. The hybrid serious/playful tone of the Old Spice brand carries over from everything to its commercials to the copy on its deodorant. Just remember, keep tone consistent across your entire brand.
Your style guide is the perfect place to include your brand’s key competitors. First and foremost, indicating competitors can keep writers from linking back to your competitors’ websites, which gives their SEO attention rather than yours. Secondly, by getting to know your competitors, writers can focus on what makes you distinct from your competitors and carry that over into the content.
In line with tone, writers should be able to use your style guide to get a feel for your target audience. After all, every word they write should be aimed at that specific audience. Your style guide should at least include age, gender, and geographic boundaries (national, county, international). You could also include other demographic information, such as the average career and education level of those in your audience. Provide any information that helps writers understand and identify with the audience.
In addition to providing general information on your audience, it may be helpful for your style guide to include a list of personas. Each persona captures a certain member of your audience. It includes what primary issues they’re facing and what they expect from a particular piece of content. When you make assignments to writers, you can then point them to a specific persona. A piece written toward a stay-at-home parent will likely focus on far different issues than a piece written toward a CEO.
More important than your writer understanding the ages and genders of those in your audience is for them to know the primary problem your audience faces. By its nature, content is meant to solve problems and meet needs, whether by directly supplying answers to questions or by providing a resource. If your content is solving problems, you’re more likely to draw traffic to your website.
Some of this information may be captured in the personas in your style guide, but your guide should also cover some general problems that apply to the bulk of your audience. It’s the core issue that your business is hoping to solve. Writers need to know why your audience is coming to your website. While content creators are always expected to conduct research of their own, summing up the problem in your style guide can guarantee that the writer meets the audience’s needs.
Writing comes in all shapes and sizes. Every writer has a distinct voice and style, and while that’s crucial to a writer’s success, such qualities need some directing in order to create the content your brand needs. All the parts of a style guide will help writers create content in a certain way, but an example of previously approved content always helps. Having a copy of material that you’ve already approved and you know the audience enjoys gives the writer a template which they can follow with their own writing.
A content example can also be the culmination of your style guide. It can be the clearest indicator of what you want, bringing together everything from tone to topic focus to length requirements.
Letters and words aren’t the only important aspects of content. Links and digital media are vital to not only ensuring higher SEO and page rank but also to increasing user engagement and enhancing the overall experience. However, that doesn’t mean content creators should spam readers with links every few words, nor does there necessarily need to be an image after every paragraph.
Use your style guide to clarify the amount of links and images you want in your content and how you’d like them included. Do you only want two links? Six? To what websites do you want the links taking users? To other pages on your own website? Or resources found in other places? Where do you want images in your content? Before the first heading? After? Or do you want to leave images to someone else on your team other than the writer? Answering all these questions (and more) in your style guide will enhance the overall quality of your content.
Content creation is a long and often trying process. However, if done correctly, creative content will drive traffic to your website and build brand loyalty. Crafting a style guide is the first step to bringing consistent and focused content to your website and ensuring success.
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