How To Create A Blog Style Guide
If you’re in charge of your company’s content, you’re undoubtedly in charge of keeping it consistent no matter who’s writing it: you, a colleague, or even outside freelance help.
How do you stay consistent? How do you make sure the quality of your blog posts—no matter who’s writing them—never wavers?
A blog style guide, of course. So let’s talk about building one.
What Is a Style Guide?
A style guide is exactly what it sounds like: a guide for how you’ll style a written or typed document. Remember using MLA in school? It’s kind of like that, except not boring and not quite as stiff.
One of my favorite examples is MailChimp’s style guide, which they’ve made public—and invited other companies to reference and use in the creation of their own style guides.
I also like what Envato Tuts+ put together for voice, tone, and style.
Another idea is to create a PDF using Frontify’s style guide template (not as intuitive as I would like, but easy to get a hang of once you poke around).
A style guide sets standards for published work that often includes information on:
- the technical stuff, like
- font specifications,
- paragraph spacing, and
- how images are included, aligned, and captioned;
- and the more abstract, creative stuff, like
- what POV to write from,
- what kind of tone to use while writing, and
- a description of the ideal reader you’re writing to.
Why Do You Need One?
It is extra up-front work, that’s for sure. But trust us—it’s worth it, for a few big reasons.
Your Readers Crave A Consistent Voice
My personal favorite reason for keeping a blog style guide. Like we mentioned before, you simply can’t have multiple writers for your blog and expect all your posts to mesh into one cohesive publication without some kind of guidelines for how things should be done. This becomes even more important if you hire outside help.
Your Writers Crave Guidance
A style guide gives writers a place to start when they go to learn what tone of voice to write in and how things should be formatted. It takes out a lot of guesswork for the writer and saves a lot of time for you back-and-forth emailing on trivial questions like “Are we allowed to use millennial slang or should we avoid it?” This is something that could easily be written down and answered in one central place.
If It’s Not Written Down, It Doesn’t Exist
Think of it this way: your style guide is a straightforward declaration of your standards for your blog. If you have standards, if you have expectations, if you demand a certain level of professionalism and quality from your writers, you need to have those standards and expectations written down. Otherwise? Your standards simply don’t exist.
They might exist in your head, but unless your writers are mind readers, it’s best to get it all out on paper. That’s why, no matter how small you start, no matter how simple things seem in the beginning, we strongly recommend creating a style guide.
Anatomy of a Blog Style Guide
Let’s take the pressure off by realizing that your style guide is simply a list of decisions you’re making about how things will look from here on out; they don’t need to be perfect and technically, they don’t even need to have any kind of justification. (Do you prefer the look of “2” over “two”? Great, that’s a rule now.)
It’s is the goal, not perfection.
The Technical Stuff
The importance of each of these categories—or even some of the content in the categories themselves—will change depending on what industry you’re in.
But for the most part, you can bet you’ll need to make decisions on all of the following:
- Text style, or what you want your body text to look like
- font style
- text size
- when to bold, italicize, or underline
- Numerals vs. numbers, or whether you’ll type “2” or the word “two”
- will you say 1 or one?
- how will you express numbers 2-10?
- how will you express numbers greater than 10? what about over 100? over than a million?
- Number formatting for currency and all other measurements
- will you use commas?
- will you use decimals? how many decimal places?
- SEO guidelines, or what standard SEO practices you’ll follow in all posts
- what’s the standard for links—should they open in the same or new tab?
- how will you write anchor text?
- how to write headings, meta tags, alt text for images, image captions, and post titles
- how long should the post be?
- what keywords should be the focus?
- how are keywords promoted throughout – should you include them in the URL, headings, sprinkle them through the post?
- Authorship and credit info
- who gets the byline? is there a byline at all?
- will there be a picture of the author included? links to social media?
- how will you credit sources/referenced articles or studies?
The Writerly Stuff
This is the bigger-picture, more creative stuff. It’s a little more abstract, which is all the more reason to get your standards for these categories down on paper. At the very least, you should include:
- A company profile, including info that’ll help your writers understand your brand, things along the lines of:
- company history/the people behind the brand
- content strategy
(don’t worry if it’s not in all in place yet, this is just to give you an idea)
- Voice, which you can hone in on by describing your brand
- is your company fierce? irreverent? rebellious?
- or traditional, conservative, and mild-mannered?
- are you a little bit of both? are you something else? you decide
- Point of view decisions
- who is writing the piece—the writer using her own personality, or will it be written as if it’s by the CEO?
- what pronouns will you use—1st, 2nd, or 3rd person?
- Ideal reader descriptions, or info on your target markets
- demographic profiles
- socioeconomic profiles
- wants, needs, pain points, and goals
- how would this ideal person prefer to be spoken to?
- Political correctness guidelines
- how to discuss race, religion, politics, money
- how to discuss disability and what terms to use (“disabled” or “differently-abled”?)
- how to discuss gender and gender pronouns
- how to discuss privilege and prejudice
- Grammar and vocabulary guidelines
- should you avoid passive voice?
- what words should be avoided?
- is jargon okay? what about slang? swearing?
- do you have punctuation preferences? (not too many exclamation points, for instance)
- Post structure
- will there be a standard structure of introduction, body, and conclusion? or is free form more your company’s style?
- will there be specific guidelines depending on what kind of piece it is? (think piece, research-based piece, list piece, journalistic/news-based piece)
- will you always end with a call to action?
…And Anything Else You Want
Emojis, images, fonts, quote blocks, SEO formatting, social media hashtags, guest blog post, screenshots.
There are no rules for what you include. You should definitely cover all of these areas when you write the first draft of your style guide, but trust us: more things will come up, and things will change.
And that’s okay. Let them come up. Let them change. When a new question pops up, from you or from a writer, it’s an opportunity to go back and revise your style guide so it can be even better in the future.
Formatting It All
I know “style guide” sounds kind of fancy, and some companies do make them into these big, fancy things. But here’s the good news: they don’t have to be. They don’t have to be anything at all other than a doc with a list of rules.
So how do you format it? However you want. There are templates out there you can use, or you can just open up Google Docs and build one on your own. As long as it gets all the info across in a clear and organized way, you’re golden.
Take a look at the simplicity of our style guide. And this is the style guide template that got it all started.
How to Use It
Let’s make sure the thing actually gets, you know, used. Here’s how we recommend using your style guide in the most efficient way possible.
Share it with everyone.
Yes, everyone. Yes, even Becky in human resources. Now everyone knows that—should they ever be expected to contribute to the blog—there are clearly defined standards for their reference.
Put it on display.
In print and on company computers. Everyone should know where to find the style guide and it should be easily accessible.
Talk about it.
Have a style guide kick-off meeting. Review it with key stakeholders. Ask for opinions, additions, and changes. Get the conversation about blog post writing standards going.
Let it change.
Just like this crazy thing called life changes, your standards and company vision too will change. Let them. Let the style guide ebb and flow with all the changes and have a clear process for updating the guide when things to do change.
Get On It
I hope your blog style guide serves you as well as it’s served us here at Marketing 261. Because—for a successful blog and content marketing strategy as a whole, not having one is no longer an option. It’s a necessity. It’s a brave declaration of your company’s vision and personality. It’s a decision. It’s saying, “I have things worth saying and this is how I’m going to say them—with style.” It’s having standards for how you’ll talk to your reader.
So how about it—you show me yours, I’ll show you mine. I would love to see what your blog style guide features.