content marketing style guide

How to Create a Content-Marketing Style Guide

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The content you produce is likely one of the primary ways people learn about your brand. That’s why it’s so important that your content strategy includes conscious decisions about your brand and style.

What’s your company’s voice? Your content marketing should reflect it. For example, if one of your company’s core traits is being straightforward, readers shouldn’t get to the last sentence in a blog post to discover the question posed in the title was never answered.

I asked a few editors I’ve worked with to share their tips for creating a useful content-marketing style guide.

Distinguish Between a Style Guide and a Brand Guide

Your style guide should reflect your brand, and many people use the terms style guide and brand guide interchangeably; however, there are major differences between the two.

A style guide typically provides guidance and requirements regarding the use of words, and covers such topics as grammar, spelling and punctuation. For example, some companies prefer the Oxford comma (or serial comma), which is inserted at the end of a series: My favorite colors are red, white, and blue.

The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are two of the most popular style guides. Other types of style guides include the APA stylebook (for the American Psychological Association), the AMA Manual of Style (for the American Medical Association) and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual.

A brand guide refers to design elements, such as logos, fonts and colors.

Include Specific Guidelines

Many companies generally adhere to one of the major style guides, like AP, with a few noted exceptions. For example, you might include notes like:

  • Spell out percent instead of using the percentage symbol.
  • All introductions should be 100-200 words.
  • Subheadings should be in title case.
  • When linking to another site, make sure link opens in a new window.
  • Use commas with dollar amounts ($1,000 instead of $1000).

Sharing these specific guidelines will help internal writers and freelancers write content that reflects your brand.

Know Your Target Audience

I asked Realtor.com Associate Editor Natalie Way how the company’s style decisions reflect its readership. “When editing and creating content for Realtor.com, we always maintain a very conversational tone,” she says. “Because some of the topics we're writing about are technical (getting a mortgage) or serious (foreclosure), we always make sure the stories sound approachable, like advice you'd get from a friend — a very well-informed friend.”

If, on the other hand, your target audience is hospice nurses, your tone would be markedly different.

When deciding on the tone for your target audience, consider the available data that you have on them, which could include their education level, job responsibilities and how they’re reading your content (at home, at work, on a desktop computer or on a mobile device).

Adjust as Necessary

Your style guide is a living document that you should update thoughtfully as the need arises.

Alyssa Gigliotti, an editor at EBSCO Information Services, says her team’s style guide had strict rules against using contractions and first- and second-person points of view in book reviews. However, the guide was recently revised. “We’ve actually changed our formatting over the last six months or so to include both contractions and first and second person,” she says.

“While our aim before was making our summaries a bit more formal, we’re now aiming toward making them more actionable, which means directly addressing readers.”

Terri Williams is a staff writer at Rep Cap. She has bylines at The Economist, Realtor.com, Yahoo, US News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and USA Today. Terri lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where she cheers against the Crimson Tide, and for the UAB Blazers, Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. Follow her on Twitter @Territoryone.

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