Anyone involved in inbound marketing knows that creating content is one of the key components to an effective inbound strategy that brings viewers to your website.

But you can’t just create any content: You’ve got to create high-quality content that your ideal buyer wants to read. And that means that you need to have a structured set of guidelines for your content.

Why is this so important? Well, for a couple of reasons. First of all, depending on the size of your company or marketing team, you might have a lot of different people working to create content that will ultimately end up on your website or your blog. But while this is great for churning out a lot of content quickly, without a set of editorial guidelines it can introduce problems.

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Struggling with creating editorial guidelines of your own? Here are the steps that marketing teams should take while creating their editorial guidelines to make sure that the content they are creating is both high-quality and inline with brand identity/marketing strategies.

1. Understand your audience.

The first step in creating your editorial guidelines is going to be to understand the audience that you are trying to appeal to, as this is going to impact everything from the topics you write about to the tone you use. In essence, this just means applying your persona research to your content creation process. You already know the kind of person that your company sells to. Now you just need to reflect on this information every time you create a piece of content.

Put it into practice by making sure your content creators know who your personas are, and which persona each piece is content is targeting.

2. Determine the length of your content.

Reflecting on your persona research, you need to decide on the length that your contact will take. Is your persona extremely busy? Then short, bite-size content is probably the way to go. Does your ideal buyer tend to be extremely detail-oriented and thorough? Then a comprehensive resource is probably more in line with the kind of content they want to see.

Keep in mind, too, that length of content may impact your search rankings to some extent. Though it only has a minimal impact, Google tends to reward content that is seen as more authoritative and “full,” which usually means it is at least 600 words in length.

3. Determine the voice (or tone) your content should take.

Voice and tone are extremely important parts of brand identity, and as such they are something that your content creators need to get right. If they don’t, then you risk alienating your buyer, and that is certainly not something that anyone wants.

For example, if your company has created a hip identity that uses sarcasm and wit to attract millennials, you don’t want your content to come across as cold, stilted, and corporate. Likewise, if your audience is predominantly CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, you probably want your voice to be more professional than “fun.” Buzzfeed and Forbes cater to very different audiences, and their content reflects that. Yours should too.

In short, know your audience and write for them.

4. Settle on a house style.

If you want your content to be effective in building trust with your customers, then it needs to be written well. This means that punctuation, grammar, and spelling is clear, consistent, and correct in every single piece of content.

And while the basics of grammar and spelling are obvious, there are certain things that are more a matter of style or preference than clear-cut rules. You’ll need to settle these things ahead of time, and make your team aware of them, or else you’re going to be spending a lot of time editing content so that everything matches. Again, the issue here is consistency: By being consistent in your content creation, you reinforce a single brand identity.

Issues to consider here:

  • When to spell out numbers and when to use digits (for example, “Always spell out numbers one through ten, and use digits for anything above ten.”
  • Will your organization include the Oxford comma (also known as a serial comma)?
  • If a sentence uses a colon, will you  capitalize the first word after the colon?
  • Etc.

Again, there really is no right or wrong answer on these points. Consistency is the only thing that truly matters.

5. Explain your strategy with regards to links.

As you may have noticed in the beginning of this article, blog posts often include links to other websites or pages. This is fine. In fact, it’s great, because it makes it easier for the reader to learn more about certain topics. But every organization is going to have different rules in terms of links.

Things to keep in mind here are:

  • How many links is too many?
  • Should writers link to internal or external sources?
  • Should a blog post ever link to a competitor?

6. Don’t forget about media besides text.

We live in a multi-media world. That means that the word “content” means a lot more than just blog posts. It means photos, illustrations, video, etc.

If your marketing efforts are going to include things besides text (and, really, they should!) then you need to make sure you outline your expectations for each of these kinds of content. For example:

  • What are the ideal resolution and dimensions of images?
  • Should writers supply potential images for content that they submit?
  • Make sure that photos supplied by writers are either open source or from free stock photo sites, or you could be opening yourself up to legal issues.
  • How many frames per second (fps) should video be supplied at?

The Bottom Line

I have to admit, I have a background in publishing, and that makes me much more of a stickler when it comes to editing. But no matter your background, if your goal is to create high-quality content that will attract viewers and leads to your website, then your team needs to be working from the same list of guidelines.

Creating editorial guidelines will 1.) make sure your content always keeps your ideal buyer personas in mind, 2.) save you (or the editor) a lot of time and 3.) ensure that your content all conveys a single brand voice and brand identity. And that’s really important when you’re trying to build trust with potential buyers.

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