Editorial guidelines define what you write, how to write it, and specific rules for replicating the same editorial style on all content formats. Every site needs editorial guidelines, especially if you’re accepting guest posts.
This guide will cover the definitive steps to set an editorial guideline for your website, alongside tips and resources you’d need to get it right the first time. But before that, find out why your website needs an editorial guideline in the first place.
Why Should You Have Editorial Guidelines?
Editorial guidelines help the writers who create content for your website create a consistent quality of content. It details comprehensive style, tone, and language guidelines in one central document. It also enables all content team members to ensure consistent branding across all published content by a brand.
Editorial guideline keeps will provide a framework with rules regarding punctuation, grammar, text layout, formatting style, titling preferences, and SEO and Image rules. The goal is to create a cohesive framework to help you create and publish content faster.
Pro tip — One way to consolidate your content operation and manage a cohesive writing and editorial team is to use an editorial calendar. A content calendar ensures everyone knows what to write when to write, and for which distribution channel.
With an editorial guideline to specify how to write your content, any content team — in-house, freelancer, or an external agency — will achieve the same quality and delivery.
How to Set Editorial Guidelines for Your Website?
Now you understand how editorial guidelines make content creation smooth, stress-free, and cohesive, how do you set the proper guidelines for your brand?
To get into it, here’s a step-by-step process on how to set a practical editorial guideline for your website:
1. Know your target audience well
The first step to setting up a proper editorial guideline is to specify your target audience. Understanding your target audience helps you narrow down the details of other elements in the editorial guideline in a way that is relevant to them.
The reason is that you want your content to attract visitors that are most likely to convert to paying customers. Therefore, you must understand what is relevant to them and the content relevant to your business that they would find helpful.
Leverage consumer data and feedback insights to understand your target buyers’ pain points and be better equipped to meet their needs.
2. Identify your brand voice
Your brand tone of voice helps to achieve consistency in all forms of content. The brand voice clarifies your brand’s personality, values, and duties to customers. Beyond this, it serves as quick reference material for existing members of your content team because your brand’s personality remains the same throughout its lifetime.
Start by affirming the positive qualities that define your audience’s values, goals, and duties. You need to be clear on how you want to communicate with your audience. For instance, you could express your brand voice in this way:
“We are playful and upbeat, but we are not presumptuous.”
“We are savvy, relatable, trend-forward, and confident, but we are not condescending.”
Expressing your brand voice will help set the guidelines for the tone, tenses, and voice (whether active or passive) that best brings this personality to life.
Nevertheless, this will also depend on what's relevant to your target audience.
One of the BBC’s brand values is accessibility, and so to communicate to a broader demographic of audience, they implement a savvy, astute, and active voice.
However, they maintain a more concise, direct, and rudimentary language, devoid of any flair, to provide easily accessible information.
3. Decide on the content length
You must work out the content form, length of the content, use of visual media, and formatting structure in your editorial guidelines.
Much of this decision depends on your goals, business niche, and target audience demographics. When considering your goals, conversion and SEO insights point out that longer content performs better on all accounts.
If your primary focus is a higher ranking on Google, you must write longer articles. However, if you aim to help people make quick decisions through insights, go with shorter articles.
For instance, like the one below, electronic product reviews are kept short within the 500 to 1,000-word range. This is to provide direct, concise, and fast information on product features and verdicts.
Using this example above, readers may only need to scan for specific pieces of information to validate a choice. Thus, making it harder for you to achieve similar goals with longer content length.
4. Set down criteria for content quality
Every marketer has an overarching goal they want to achieve with their content marketing strategy. Ensure that all content on your platforms hits your standards by setting criteria for measuring quality. Then, define your expectations for quality content and clearly state them in your editorial guideline to consolidate the performance of your content team.
Some criteria for content quality you may choose to set in the editorial guideline for your website include:
- Use of target keywords
- Readability and accessibility
- A good amount of illustrations and images
- Content formatting and organisation
- Actionability and use of direct voice
- Perfect grammar and mechanics
- Citing credible resources and stats
CoSchedule provides a concise formatting style guide for guest posts they can accept. They specify sentence and paragraph length, content formatting, keyword targeting, and image use requirements to keep all posts on their blog consistent.
For many businesses looking to raise brand awareness, easy comprehension is a common requirement for their content. So, readability is often the baseline standard by which they measure content quality. But, of course, this will depend on your target audience.
The target audience persona complements these priorities so that the content meets requirements for quality, as is relevant to the audience. For example, bloggers generally prefer their content to be easily read and understood by a grade eight reader.
One other benefit of this criteria is that it also impacts your SEO ranking. This is because Google measures reader signals on your site and adjusts its SEO ranking based on how your audience interacts with the content.
Optimise the editorial guide to improve readability by including rules for sentence length, fonts, formatting, and use of adjectives and adverbs. Shorter sentences, reader-friendly fonts and font sizes, scannable design, and sparse adverbs improve the readability.
Suggest SEO tools your team may use to achieve this in the editorial guideline, like the Hemingway App. You may also choose to illustrate actionable ways to write concisely using examples in the guideline.
Also, setting a casual tone of voice will answer how much technical jargon is too much for a good readability level.
5. Decide how you’ll use images
Your editorial guidelines should define how visuals are used in your content (videos, GIFs, memes, logos, infographics, and design elements). It doesn't matter if these images are created in-house, sourced from stock photos, or free-to-use. But you must define a clear requirement for them.
If you don’t have a design team to create images for posts, free-to-use photos are hassle-free and help you avoid copyright infringement. Include examples of sites where your writers can find them (Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons, etc.).
Otherwise, provide login details to premium stock photo repositories in the editorial guide.
Be clear on image formatting — size, reference style, border styles, and when to add your brand logo to images. Provide a short guide on how writers can create simple images directly on word processing tools like Google Docs.
Include examples of image illustration tools like Skitch, and specify quality standards for screenshots.
6. Establish the style guide and editing process
As with most aspects of marketing, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel completely.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all editorial guideline that satisfies every brand’s goal, standards, and values. Your established editorial guidelines must cater to your content niche for best practices — this is a base guideline. Anything besides that, and you’ll risk losing readers.
To do this, build up a set of rules unique to your brand by improving on generic elements of this base guideline to reflect your brand’s unique style. Your content team will use this base guideline in situations where you’ve left something out of your editorial guideline.
Depending on your industry or content niche, consider using pre-existing style guides like the ones below:
Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)
The CMOS uses a formal and rigorous editing style. Many bloggers adopt this style because its detailed guideline specifies every aspect of the writing and editing process.
For instance, it includes specifics for seemingly ignored things, like whether or not the punctuations after italicised titles are in italics.
The CMOS also specifies a dictionary to use (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary) to avoid running into famously confusing word forms like best seller vs bestseller.
American Psychological Association (APA)
APA style is an academic writing style guide. It is used for science research-writing, technical, or schoolwork in colleges and takes on slightly less formal language rules than the CMOS style. Use APA style if your content focuses on research reports or education journaling.
Modern Language Association (MLA)
The MLA writing style is a little more laid back than the CMOS and APA styles. You should consider this format if your audience is in the humanities or you publish literary works.
Associated Press (AP)
The AP guide features simple formatting without a colourful or stylish word and grammar structures. The AP style is typical among reporters, newsagents, and content writers.
Each of the writing style manuals mentioned above differs by some aspects of grammar, punctuation, and word style, such as:
- How to format compound words (pre-existing or preexisting),
- Where to apply punctuations (within or outside exclamations),
- When to spell out numbers and when to use digits,
- Whether or not you capitalise the first word after a colon, etc.
A base for setting your editing style could also be another brand’s pre-existing guidelines, especially if they’re close enough in standard and value to what you want to achieve.
Setting down a linking policy harmonises your cross-linking and SEO efforts across all content formats on your platforms. For this part, you need to decide:
- The kind of sources to link in your content,
- How many internal and external links to use,
- How anchor texts are formatted, and
- To link to competitor sites or not.
Marketers often require content writers to link to credible sources. Verify studies, references and stats you want to cite through multiple searches by confirming with the source directly or seeking out experts with different perspectives.
This boosts SEO and makes content trustworthy while ensuring that readers get the best information.
Achieve this requirement in all brand content by specifying it in the editorial guideline. Provide examples of similar and most commonly used sites in your niche that you trust. Include login details to premium accounts on frequently-used databases (like Statista).
Once you’ve set a practical guideline, document and make it accessible, then focus on giving your team easy access while allowing live updates to the guidelines. Also, consider pinning the guide to your co-working tools where the entire team can access it anytime.
An editorial guideline is a framework for content delivery, publishing, and targeting the audience on your platforms.
It provides comprehensive detail of standard rules and requirements for quality and high-converting content. Together with an editorial calendar, you can create an efficient and streamlined content writing and editing process.
These guidelines will enable you to maintain consistency of style, voice, and standard, allowing you to boost sales by as much as 33%. Finally, a consistent brand voice conveys authenticity, trust, and customer loyalty, as expressed by your editorial style.
Author Bio: Allie Decker is the Head of Content at Omniscient, a marketing agency that works with SaaS brands. Before working with Omniscient, she spent five years as a freelance writer and then joined the content team at HubSpot, where she worked for nearly three years. She has contributed to more than 100 high-converting articles for HubSpot and collaborated with the folks at Entrepreneur, Hotjar, and Foundr. Her words are bookmarked by entrepreneurs, small business owners, and digital marketers worldwide.