As your blog grows, you'll need a style guide to make sure your content is consistent and everyone you're working with is on the same page. Consistency gives your blog credibility, especially as your audience grows and you start hiring contributors. Style guides don't have to be elaborate, and websites of any size can benefit from them. Even if you're the only one writing, it helps to have a simple list of guidelines to refer to.
Don't think of your style guide as a set of rules and regulations—it's just a handy tool that will make your content more engaging and professional. Here are some tips for creating style standards that work for you.
Most writers like making lists, so this part should be a breeze. Make a list of words that describe your blog (for example, you might list words like "playful" and "inspiring"). Once you narrow down your list, go through and qualify each one with another word (for example, maybe you're playful but not silly, or inspiring but not cheesy). You'll end up with something that looks like this:
My blog is…
playful but not silly
sophisticated but not stuffy
informative but not academic
inspiring but not cheesy
A "this but not that" list can inform your writing style and remind you of what's important. You might even want to print out your list or write it on a Post-It note for a little inspiration throughout the day.
There are lots of style guides out there you can rely on for basic grammar standards. My favorite for bloggers is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It's a classic, and it covers basics like who vs. whom and common misspellings (added bonus: it looks beautiful on a shelf). If you're looking for something more comprehensive and web-focused, I recommend the Yahoo! Style guide. Whatever style guide you choose, there's no need to rewrite the book—your own style guide can include exceptions, additions, and topics that are specific to your blog. If you work with contributors, give them copies of the style guide you choose. It's a great way to welcome them to the team!
An external style guide makes a great foundation to build on. Tailor your own guide to your blog, and focus on the fun stuff like voice and tone. Your topics might include:
*Your mission statement
*Voice and tone guidelines (including that list of personality traits we talked about)
*Post format and length standards
*Title and header standards
*Categories and tags
*Image guidelines (including size and photo credits)
*Publishing schedule for your blog and newsletter
*Brand assets (logo, brand colors, headshots)
*Sponsored content rules (this is a good place to emphasize the FTC's guidelines for bloggers)
Keep your style guide as simple as possible. A super long document will overwhelm contributors, and it won't come in handy as a reference. If your guide fits on one page, that's even better.
Whether your style guide is a page on your website, a Google doc, or a text file, be sure it's in a format that's easy for you to update. Make it available online, so you and your contributors can access the most recent version at any given time. That way, when you notice something's missing or need to update an entry, you can just hop in there and make the change, without going through an elaborate republishing process.
Every so often, spend a few days freshening up your site and newsletter, updating your brand guidelines, and tweaking your voice. You'll notice your content improving with every revision. I like to think of it as getting a good haircut—people might not notice exactly what changed, but they'll think to themselves, "Wow, she looks great!"
This post was sponsored by MailChimp.