Spring Cleaning: It’s Time For A Content Style Guide Update
Textbroker CMO, Oliver Emmrich, provides valuable insights on important steps to update your content style guide.
Hello! I’m just stopping by to share my thoughts on an important element of your content marketing. If it’s been years since you’ve taken a look at it, it’s definitely time for a content style guide update. The voice you use for content communicates your brand’s personality to consumers. This is something I pay quite a bit of attention to here at Textbroker. It can be hard to get content in a consistent voice when you’re strapped for time to write or hiring outside freelancers to create content for you. That’s why it’s important to create a content style guide and update it yearly. I’ll walk you through a few necessities to get it done.
What Is A Content Style Guide?
Creating content with a consistent voice helps consumers make a better connection with your brand. One of the easiest ways to ensure a strong brand voice is to create a content style guide. Your style guide serves as a set of rules and best practices that you’ll share with everyone creating content for your brand. It will explain the grammar conventions, formatting, language, and tone that your content must have. Check out these examples of successful style guides to better understand the kinds of rules trusted brands use.
You can use the same content style guide to direct creation of:
- White Papers
- Other On-Site Content
Why Do You Need a Content Style Guide?
Organizations use content style guides for a variety of reasons. At Textbroker, we know that clients who provide clear guidelines to writers get better results than clients who don’t put that information into writing. Why? From consistency to the improvement of quality, there are several reasons a content style guide and overall content strategy are essential.
Always keep in mind, consistency in content marketing lets consumers know that your brand has a solid, reliable image. All the more reason to consider updating your content style guide. It makes them believe that you know what you’re doing when you’re posting content and when you’re offering them products or services. Your style guide ensures that all of the creative professionals you work with contribute to your image as a reliable brand.
A style guide and content strategy will also help you stick to a regular publishing schedule. We know that it’s easy to lose track of publishing needs when you’re busy growing other facets of your business. If the timing of your blog posts, videos, and other content are planned out ahead of time, it’s easier to order content on time and maintain your schedule. Consistency in terms of the frequency of your online interactions with consumers is just as important as consistency in terms of content quality.
Establish Best Practices
There are some SEO best practices that most experienced freelance writers are familiar with. You likely have other best practices that you want to include in your style guide, though.
Remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you work with a new writer. You can send new writers your whole style guide, or you can cut and paste only the sections of the style guide that apply to the job at hand.
Improve Content Quality Over Time
We believe that it’s always important to work to improve the quality of your content. If you’re revamping your whole site, you might be able to improve the quality of most of your content at once. If you’ve been marketing your brand online for a longer period, though, it makes more sense to try improving content quality over time.
Regardless of how much content you’ve already published, I want to really highlight here that creating a content style guide or updating your current style guide is a surefire way to improve content quality as time passes. Even more important, know when it’s time to update your content style guide. At first, it may seem like the majority of content on your site doesn’t fit the new style guidelines you’ve set. As you continue to publish, though, the number of content pieces that do fit your guidelines will overshadow the pieces that don’t.
This works because improving quality is largely about mastering consistency. When your content creators use a shared style guide, they know exactly how to represent your brand. Eliminating guesswork and providing your creative team with direction creates a solid foundation for you to build on over time.
Update Your Style Guide And Reduce Marketing Team Stress
Creating content and managing the content cycle can be stressful even for the experienced team at Textbroker. We know it can be stressful for you, too. After all, keeping track of the content pieces you need and when they’ll be published while monitoring writer quality is a tall task. A great style guide can help you avoid some of that stress in two different ways.
First, a style guide will make it easier for you to get the content you need from writers and other creatives without having to ask for multiple revisions. Remember that creative freelancers are not mind readers. They won’t know that your brand never uses the word “impossible” in content if you don’t tell them. Being able to place orders and approve them without extensive revisions will cut down on your marketing team’s stress.
Second, a style guide makes it much easier to write job queries for freelance writers and other creative professionals. Instead of describing your brand’s priorities off the cuff every time you need content, you can cut and paste the elements of your style guide that correspond to the type of content you’re ordering. Using a style guide means that you don’t have to dread writing job descriptions for your content needs.
How to Update Your Content Style Guide
So far, we’ve talked about what a content style guide is and why you need one. What if you already have a content style guide, but you’re not sure that it’s providing value for your brand? It’s time to do some spring cleaning and update your guide, so it meets your needs. In fact, there are a variety of reasons you might need a content style guide update:
[/list_item]It’s been more than a year since your last update.[/list_item]
- Your brand’s priorities or products and services have changed significantly.
- Social expectations or attitudes about your product or services have changed.
- Your brand wants to reposition itself.
- You’re revamping or relaunching your website.
- You’re trying to reach new markets.
- You need to update guidelines to meet current UI/UX best practices.
- You’re introducing new products or a new brand subsidiary.
- You need to unify marketing teams from different divisions of your organization.
Create a Purpose Statement
We’ve seen more than a few style guides that jump into the meat of grammar and usage mechanics right away. This type of style guide often takes the form of a list of do’s and don’ts. While there’s nothing wrong with including strict grammar and usage rules in a style guide, the best content style guides also help content creators understand what you want to accomplish with those rules.
You can communicate this to your own marketing team and to outside freelancers by crafting an introductory statement and putting it in your style guide. This statement could include information about who your customers are, what your brand is passionate about, what values your brand wants to uphold and what benefits you are trying to provide for consumers with your content. This will help writers better understand how to apply the rules of your content style guide update.
Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The first step in a content style guide update is to sit down with your marketing plan and any marketing statistics you have available. Evaluate where your content strategy is excelling and where you need to improve.
Now, identify the areas where improving your content style guide can drive better marketing results. Maybe your readers aren’t spending much time on your blog pages. Perhaps your videos aren’t getting many likes or shares. These are areas that can be directly affected by updating your content style guide.
It’s often easier to see where your strategy is lacking than to understand why it is. If you’re not sure how your content is affecting different marketing metrics, take some time to talk with loyal customers about their experiences on your site. Ask employees from different departments within your organization to give constructive feedback on the content you’ve published over the last year.
Collaborate With Your Team
Your marketing team knows the ins and outs of content creation for your organization. They know how you get content. They understand your overall content strategy. They’re familiar with your current style guide. It’s no surprise that your team is one of your best assets when it comes to revamping your style guide. Ask your marketing team for honest feedback about your plan to update your content style guide.
Some of the questions you might ask your team include:
- What do you think needs to be changed in our style guide? Why?
- Are there parts of our style guide that are confusing or ambiguous?
- What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers about our content or online brand image?
- What do you think we have right in our content plan?
- What do you think needs to be changed in our content plan?
- Have you received any feedback from freelance writers and other creatives about our style guide?
If you work with a large marketing team, it’s likely that staff members have encountered issues with content planning or promotion that you haven’t. Prepare yourself to hear some hard truths about where your style guide and content strategy fall short. Remember that the more your team feels you listen to their feedback, the more willing they’ll be to share in the future. Set the expectation that your semi-annual or annual style guide evaluation will be an open forum where your team is free to share feedback and ideas without fear of reprimand.
In addition to collaborating with your internal team, you might want to reach out to authors and other creative professionals you’ve worked with frequently as well. Because they use your style guide on a regular basis, these professionals can often point out guidance that is confusing or ambiguous. They may also have suggestions for new rules or best practices that would be helpful for other writers.
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Think of Your Style Guide as a Living Document
Reviewing your content style guide at set intervals is important. However, you shouldn’t save all changes for your annual style guide review. Instead, think of your style guide as a living document that constantly evolves to meet the demands of your industry. For example, many companies include provisions about using inclusive language in their style guides.
Maybe your business sells about 60% of its products to men and 40% to women, but your content producers tend to direct their content toward men. Directing writers to create gender-inclusive content could help draw more women to your website. Don’t wait until your next style guide review to make changes that can improve your marketing success right now. If it’s clear that something needs to be changed, change it.
Of course, you should be sure to send a note out to your internal team anytime you change something in your style guide. If you work with the same freelance writers frequently, be sure to let them know that you’ve changed the guide, too.
Share the Style Guide With Easily Accessible Apps or Platforms
Making your content style guide a living document means making it an accessible document. Instead of typing up the guide on your computer and storing it in your own files, put it on a platform where your team can work on it collaboratively. There are a ton of options, ranging from Google Docs to Microsoft Teams to Microsoft’s SharePoint. These tools make it easy for your team to work on the style guide together and to track the changes that have been made so far.
The advantages of using a platform like Google Docs are numerous. You can make real-time edits with the help of your team no matter where you’re located. You can set up your documents to track changes so that everyone knows what’s getting updated. If you hire freelance writers, you can copy relevant sections of your style guide from your Google Doc straight into your job description window. In some cases, you may want to give freelance writers the link to your style guide on Google Docs.
Update Your Content Style Guide to Make The Language More Compelling and Personable
No one likes to be told what to do by the grammar police, and professional content creators are no exception. To get the best results from your content guide, it needs to be more than just a long list of things you do and do not want writers and creatives to do. It needs to be a document that helps freelance professionals engage with your brand and compels them to follow whatever rules you lay out for content.
One of the easiest ways to complete a content style guide update and make it more personable is to use the first-person “we” when stating your practices and rules. Instead of writing, “Abbreviate barbecue to BBQ,” try writing, “We use BBQ in place of barbecue.” It might not seem like a big difference, but it helps writers and freelance creatives make a better connection with your brand. Rather than sounding like a teacher handing down a long list of rules, you come off as a fellow student sharing information about how to be successful.
Think about how you like to be addressed. No one here at Textbroker likes to be talked down to or treated like an amateur, and we’re sure you don’t like that either. Avoid language in your style guide that makes your team members or outside writers feel that you don’t trust their expertise. Some marketing professionals feel tempted to give lessons in grammar within a style guide, which is generally a no-no. Professional writers know basic grammar rules and will only feel like you’re condescending if you write out a lecture on why you prefer the Oxford comma instead of simply stating, “We use the Oxford comma for all lists.”
Tracking the Success of Your Content Style Guide Update
Once you complete your content style guide update, you should start tracking its success. Take an hour or two every month to sit down with the marketing metrics from your last period and see if there have been any changes over the preceding month. Changes in metrics can indicate that updates to your style guide are working. They may also indicate areas where you need to do a little more revising. With regular attention, your content style guide is sure to become a cornerstone of your organization’s content marketing strategy.
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