Style Guide – An Essential Tool to Your Web Content Strategy

I shared this article with my LinkedIn group recently and was pleased and also a little amazed at how passionate the web content community’s reactions were to this topic. This post generated a lively discussion and some of the comments were the size of blog posts. Here is a screenshot:

If you are a content writer or blogger, you need to make these key editorial decisions everyday:

  • How will you treat every day web terms: website, web-site or web site? Email or e-mail?
  • How will you handle headlines? Will you capitalize every word or only the first word?
  • Will you address your audience in a conversational style or will you use a more formal approach?
  • At any given time, creating an editorial style guide will take the guess work out of all these decisions and will set the overall tone, look and feel of your site.

    Critical Benefits of Web Style Guides

    #1. Optimum User Experience

    Consistency is the number one rule for creating an awesome user experience on your site. The primary goal of all web disciplines from web design to web development, from site architecture to content strategy is to create a consistent look and feel. A style guide sets standards that can be seamlessly maintained across every page and post of your site.

    When I was consulting recently, for a large healthcare provider, I thought that it would set a friendly and helpful tone to the site if I followed the current trend of writing content in a conversational style. Upon further evaluation of all the client sites, I had to abandon that idea as it became clear to me that their multiple websites used a more formal approach. In order to maintain a consistent look and feel to my project, I had to use the same tone.

    #2. Content Creation and Maintenance are Quicker, Easier and More Efficient

    • A style guide reduces the amount of thought, time and effort you need to put into the same tiny details on an ongoing basis. I know from personal experience that time and effort are both at a premium in a blogger’s life. You could use that additional time and effort on other essential activities such as blog promotion, site improvements, seo and social media optimization.
    • It’s a lot easier to read and comprehend information that is uniformly presented.

    #3. Everyone Is on the Same Page

    • I think that my favorite reason to create a style guide is that it reduces confusion. If you are not sure how you handle even simple conventions such as naming files or dates, you could always go back and refer to your style guide.
    • From time to time, you could have different people working on your site or blog such as guest posters, freelancers, contractors or web designers. You will have a great resource guide that these multiple people could turn to for guidance.
    • A style guide serves as a tool for conflict resolution. As a rule, people are always more agreeable to follow a standard that’s already in place.

    What Must You Include in Your Style Guide?
    Your style guide’s primary function is to serve as a guide for anyone with web writing and editing responsibilities. At the macro level:

    • Your style guide must include the writing style you will use to set the overall tone of your site.
    • It must also contain a description of keywords that you are optimizing your site for and
    • It must include a quick overview of your content driven seo strategies.

    Your style guide could be a very basic document or you could make it more detailed and be as granular as you like. Ideally, at the very least a good style guide should contain:

    • Official Reference Guides – CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), AP Stylebook (Associated Press) or any other reference guide
    • Grammar conventions
    • Syntax
    • Punctuation
    • Capitalization
    • Treatment of industry specific terms
    • Copyright issues
    • Treatment of numbers and numerals:
      • Dates
      • Numbers
      • Measurements
      • Currency
      • Format for phone numbers

      The more details you include in your style guide, the more consistent your website/blog will look and feel.

      I hope that this primer is helpful. Stay tuned for my next post and a sample style guide that you could use on your website.

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    • says

      Thank you for your feedback. That is the very reason I wanted to discuss style guides. I know that other bloggers could benefit as it simplifies life. Yes, you could definitely use my sample style guide.

  1. Karen Taylor says

    I never thought about a style guide for my business or my clients. Hmmm, I will have to think about that. I look forward to seeing the sample next week!

    • says

      Thank you for your feedback, Rana. You make a good point. I never really thought of it that way but your blog really does represent you. It’s all in the presentation! I hope that you visit again for next week’s sample style guide.

  2. says

    “Style guide” is a loose concept, includes tone-of-voice, branding and includes the terminology (words and phrases) – but our experience shows that writing the style guide is one thing. Making it happen (dare I say, “enforcing” it) should not be underestimated. I have seen a lot of neglected style guides :-).
    Look at Acrolinx to help you make your content strategy a reality.