She sat before her fingerprint-laden MacBook Pro and powered up, just like any other day.
But today, she was going to re-work some older blog posts.
It's been a while. And her writing has grown quite a bit since she started blogging.
But the initial fear didn't even scrape the surface of just how "bad" her older posts were—at least in comparison to her new stuff.
Opening that first post, it was undeniable that she'd matured as a writer.
The problem is, that first unintentionally regurgitated drivel of a post was shared over 3.8-thousand times.
Over 3.8-thousand people may find her brand to be inconsistent, outdated, and bland.
The 3 ingredients for an untrustworthy brand.
Why'd she let her precious online presence develop so many deepening potholes?
She didn't do it on purpose, of course. She just never had a content style guide.
You can follow her, frantically digging through older content trying to fix everything in one shot, or you can [re]start smarter.
Start with one of two things:
- A content style guide you create for your own writing
- Weave in regular blog post updating into your schedule now
If you want to build a more loyal and satisfied audience, while leveling up your credibility, then this post is just what you're looking for.
Let's get started with the first point:
What's A Content Style Guide?
You've heard of a style guide, right?
My client experience showed that many solopreneurs think of a style guide as a reference for a website's design.
But it's not just for design.
In a nutshell, a content (or editorial) style guide is a set of rules you instill for your brand's writing. A guide that highlights the important pieces you need to include or exclude from your content.
When you use a content style guide, you're:
- creating consistency, and building trust through that
- putting your readers first (the key to growing your blog)
- creating better content
How can I say such things?
Because soon after implementing my 1-page style guide, I saw a dramatic increase in traffic, email subscriptions, and conversions — website visitors and email subscribers becoming paying customers.
As you can see, using a style guide to repair older content and unify new blog content has been super beneficial for my readers and business.
I know you know it's important. So let's move on.
What Can I Include In My Style Guide?
(Assuming you're a fellow solopreneur with only your hands in the pot.)
There are many topics you can (and probably should) cover in your content style guide.
For now, here's a list of some of the typical topics you can include. (I'll share my simple strategy after this.)
- Writing Goals | What do you want your content to do for you and/or your business?
- Writing Principles | Any rules on brevity? How about the use of "fancy" words? For example, in a sentence like: "I was ____, that's for sure." Would you go with *discombobulated* or *shaken up*? What education level should you write for that works best for your business type and audience?
- Voice And Tone | How do you want to sound to your readers? I'd say this is a must-include...
- Content Types | What types of content do well with your audience? Do you need to remind yourself in your style guide?
- Web Elements | How to word or style website elements. Like Alt text (how you label images), buttons (what goes on your button?), forms, headings and subheadings, links, and more.
- Formatting or Style | How will you break up longer posts? Will you use bolds and italics? How will you format headings?
- Language | What language and/or grammar is a "no-no" for your audience? (Do you need to reminders on it?)
- Words, Acronyms, Abbreviations, Slang | What are commonly misspelled words? Acronyms? How will you abbreviate things? Example: You use SEO. Not all of your audience will understand that that means "search engine optimization". So, in the first use of it in every piece of content, you'd write: search engine optimization (SEO). Thereafter you can refer to it as SEO.
- Dates | How should you format your dates? "May 8, 2018"? "5.8.2018"? "2018-5-8"? Your date format should be consistent. So if you can't remember how to display it, include it in your guide.
- Numbers | Will you write out the words or simply the numbers? Do you need to remind yourself?
- Exclusive Formatting | For example, let's say you italicize in your website content. You can't italicize on social media. So you use ALL CAPS to bring attention to words you'd otherwise italicize. You can do the same for words in email, too.
- Attrition, Sources, Links | How will you display links? Link full, descriptive sentences? Just pieces of a sentence? Only direct links, like "Suggested: How To Create A Painless Blog Style Guide (For The Solopreneur)"? How will you credit sources? In the text? Within quotes? At the end of the post?
How To Create A 1-Page Style Guide
The key to a 1-page content style guide is to only include what you need reminding of.
And the sample style guide from Epic Content Marketing.
These guides helped me develop my simplified version—the one I'll share with you in just a moment.
What tools can you use?
You can create a simple style guide using any word processor. You can use:
- Pages for Mac (what I use)
- Microsoft Word (or OpenOffice.org — the free version)
- AbiWord (cross-platform word processor — works on Linux, Mac OSX, Windows)
- Google Doc (universal online platform)
- A web style guide on your website (more common in larger companies)
You don't need a 5 to 10 page content style guide.
(Unless you're super forgetful or will have guest writers on your blog.)
Let's keep it simple, yes?
My Content Style Guide [Shortcut]
There are only 2 steps (not including the bonus part after).
STEP 1: Frequent Considerations
Lovingly borrowed from the sample Pulizzi Style Guide, I adapted a "frequent considerations" section.
At the top of my total 2-page style guide (I'll explain how it became 2 pages in a moment), I have a sectioned box for frequent considerations.
These are things that I tend to screw up on often.
Like capitalizing the first letter of each word in all headings. H2 (Heading 2) being the only ALL CAPS heading, also.
Why? Because it's what I do with Goff Creative.
I'm keeping my brand consistent and recognizable.
Although you may not consciously notice those little details, your subconscious does.
Your subconscious and conscious mind work together to accept new people, things, ideas, and strategies. Just as both contribute to whether you trust someone or not.
A consistent brand, content, and business all meld together to create your credibility online.
So, if you were to put a frequent considerations section on your content style guide, what would you include?
- Specific words you misspell more often than not?
- Word, number, or heading formats? Like writing 69 instead of sixty-nine. Or writing website instead of web site.
- Any style rules or writing principles you break? Like my inconsistency with em dashes. (Still editing those guys...) I intend to write them with a space before and after — to break up a sentence a bit more. But I tend to stick them right up against the words—like this.
- Do you abuse adverbs? A reminder is probably a good idea. (Oops. I mean, "A reminder is a good idea". Darned adverbs...)
- How about punctuation? (I guess that depends on how hardcore critical your audience is, yes?)
- Any special rules you should keep up with?
Did I miss anything?
STEP 2: Pick your content battles wisely.
(Another adverb, Sara. Tisk, tisk.)
Make your style guide a smart and simple quick-reference.
To do this, you should only include what you need.
You're a solopreneur. Not a mid-size company with multiple authors.
Sure, you may need to start with a 3 to 5 page guide. But, as you go you'll be able to whittle down your lists.
Some things will just come second nature to you. Those things don't need to take up precious style guide space.
So, what do you need to be able to reference at-a-glance?
- Content style suggestions?
- The types of fonts you use?
- How you want to sound to your readers? Like, "conversational, but not too chatty or inappropriate".
- How you'll link to sources, mention others, and on what channel you'll tag them?
- Who or what are "approved" sources and content? Anyone "unapproved"? And for what reasons? (You'll want to remind yourself why you won't link to them — no matter how good their latest post is.)
Want to know what I have on my second page?
Whether you need a constant reminder of who you're writing for, it's still smart to include a section on them.
So, that's what the second page of my style guide is all about: Reader Personas.
One is my ideal, target reader and the other is an observation of my key competitors.
The first is the person I write for. The second is the person I monitor (since blatant copycats are evil).
Both frequently open my emails, go to my website, and read my blog on their own fruition.
They both are people I should (and try to) pay close attention to. Thus, they get their own page in my double-sided style guide.
I think your reader(s) deserve their own page, too.
11 Simple Steps From An Over-Thinker
Don't over-complicate your content style guide.
Simpler is generally always better.
- Make a list of your necessities.
- Cross out what you know like the back of your hand.
- Add [back] what you tend to ignore or overlook.
- Split your page up using shapes or outlined text boxes (if using Pages).
- The first sections are the most important ones. (Your frequent considerations.)
- Fill in your sections.
- Split your second page into 2 columns or 2 boxes.
- In the first column, take notes on the person you want to write for.
- In the second column, take notes on your "sneaky competitor". (Don't know who they are? They're likely a person subscribed to your email list. They're in a very similar niche. They engage with you often on social media and/or on your blog.)
- Sleep on it.
- Review your lists the following day and print it out when you're done.
You can then post it up in your office or in your spiral-bound notebook.
Just be sure to always have it on-hand, open and at-the-ready whenever you write any content for your brand.
All that's left to do is get started.
Don't put this off.
Let me know how it all turns out via @GoffCreative on Twitter!