How to Create Editorial Guidelines That Won’t Infuriate Your Team
Ever bought a new smartphone, only to discover it came with a 20-page instruction manual?
All you really wanted was to start using your phone. But now you’re stuck reading what feels like one of those small Penguin classics. You know, the small orange ones you can buy for just 80 pence (bargain!).
It’s off-putting. Patronising. And chances are, you’re not going to bother reading it anyway.
In a marketing context, bloggers/copywriters/word magicians from across the world face the same problem every day. They want to do their job - and do it well - but instead of getting stuck in, they are bogged down and bombarded with editorial guidelines. It wastes time for everyone involved, including the guideline author, and it’s your customers who are most likely to suffer the consequences.
The reality is that editorial guidelines are essential for any business that communicates with customers, whether that’s through the glorious world of blogging or digital content. But they aren’t written to be the next ten commandments. Instead, a great set of brand guidelines helps to empower staff members and provide them with guidance when the going gets tough.
So if you want to create content guidelines that don’t send your staff crawling up the wall, here are a few helpful points to keep in mind.
Give examples of great content
Is there a publisher or writing style that makes your toes wiggle with glee? Have you ever read a business blog that made you scream ‘I must have this now!’?
Then get it in your editorial guidelines. Providing this type of information can offer an invaluable benchmark for copywriters - ensuring that the blog or digital copy meets the standards you expect.
Quite simply, it’s sometimes easier to show by example than use words. Funnily enough.
State your goals
Whether your copywriters are creating an in-house blog, or writing for clients, every piece of content should be created to meet a specific business objective.
This could be a number of different goals, such as:
Drive website traffic
Support social media team
Enhance customer service (through actionable advice, for example)
Generate leads (“Hey, I saw you wrote a great blog about optimising content for search engines. Can we meet to discuss this in person?” Amazing!)
So, for example, if you want to create establish a business blog that drives website traffic, you may want to consider blogging several times a week. Google’s crawlers love nothing more than publications that provide valuable content to users on a frequent basis - and these websites are more likely to rank well because of it.
But regardless of which goal you choose - and there could be more than one - it’s important your writers know exactly what’s expected from them. Otherwise, you might be waiting a long time to see a return on your investment. Even if it’s the best written content on the block.
Provide general style tips
You don’t need to go into lots of detail here - but it can be really beneficial to outline some basic style tips to your copywriters.
Here is an example. At pixel8, generally, we wouldn’t recommend our writers exceed four lines in one paragraph. Otherwise it feels like too much information and is likely to put customers off (four lines translates roughly into 8 on mobile too).
The crafty amongst you may have noticed I wrote ‘four’ and then ‘8’ in the same sentence.
Nope that wasn’t a slip of the typing hand. Again, our team will fully-write our numbers when they are five or under. Anything above - 6, 10, 100 - goes into digits.
When it comes to creating your own editorial guidelines, however, you’ll probably have your own way of doing things. To avoid confusion, ensure you include this information in your editorial guidelines. As a general rule: unless you feel really strongly about something, it’s probably not too important right now.
Include photo/image guidelines
As a writer you might think it would pain me to say this: but images are just as important as words when it comes to digital media.
Again, at pixel8, our blog images have some general guidelines to ensure everything remains on brand and consistent. We don’t use generic stock images (you know the ones) and the photo size must meet the stipulated dimensions. Other than that though it’s pretty relaxed.
If you are a business that uses guest bloggers, or contractors, then you may have to be more thorough. Make sure to state that every image must be labelled for reuse. And that obscene/offensive photographs probably shouldn’t make an appearance - unless you’re into it.
Define your linking policy
High quality linking is paramount for great content. It’s good for SEO purposes, but it’s especially useful if you’re creating resource-style blogs for your customers.
However, you probably don’t want your writers linking to any old website.
It’s in my nature, for instance, to avoid Wikipedia at all costs. There are also other low-authority websites I would deliberately avoid if it didn’t bring value/credibility to my own blogging efforts.
Maybe think of it like this: you should never do business with people who get a better end of the deal than you do. The same applies to linking, really.
Don’t forget about headlines
There is a true art to writing the perfect headline. And there is plenty of information available online to fuel your imagination and perfect your skills.
So when it comes to your editorial guidelines, provide examples to your copywriters of what you do and don’t like. It’s also a good idea to offer guidance on keywords and the tone of voice that suits your brand most.
You may also wish to consider how often you use headlines. At pixel8, we would recommend anywhere between 2-5 headlines per 1,000 words - depending on the subject matter and nature of the content. But if you’re writing a longform post on LinkedIn, you’ll probably have to up your game and feature more.
Keep it short and sweet
Finally, the best advice we can give about editorial guidelines is this: don’t overcomplicate things.
A 3-5 page document should suffice. Anything more, and you risk making the guide difficult to follow and susceptible to gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. Keep things clear, easy to read, and concise - without any room for ambiguity, in case mistakes do happen.
That’s about it.
How to create editorial guidelines
Editorial guidelines aren’t worlds apart from brand guidelines. But rather than focussing on colour, font, and logo, it’s all about words. Glorious, glorious words.
They are a benchmark of excellence - and provide your lovely copywriters with invaluable insight into how to create content that meets your business objectives. Rather than just sitting pretty on your website.
And like any good copywriter will tell you - the hardest part is just getting started.
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