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The 14 Components of Effective Editorial Guidelines

Guidelines aren’t the sexiest part of the marketing process, but using brand and editorial guidelines help to ensure consistency, which is critical for effective brand management.

Editorial guidelines ensure that all the work you put into building and maintaining the identity represented in your brand guidelines won’t get lost in translation once content creators go to work.

Brand and editorial guidelines serve distinct but complementary purposes. While brand guidelines describe a holistic view of the brand, editorial guidelines are an extension of brand guidelines and describe how the brand should be applied through content. 

In other words, editorial guidelines ensure that all the work you put into building and maintaining the identity represented in your brand guidelines won’t get lost in translation once content creators go to work. You should be able to hand an experienced writer your editorial guidelines and have confidence that your brand will be well represented in the content they produce. 

Editorial guidelines can vary significantly depending on the needs of an organization and of the content, itself, but we’ve outlined several key components here to get you started.

Channel Objective

Take a minute to think about the goal of your blog or other content platforms (like a YouTube channel, a podcast, or social media channels). Do you use this platform to attract traffic to your website? Are you trying to support lead generation efforts? Are you expanding your email list or online community? A clear goal keeps writers focused on the end result. For example, your objective might be: Our company’s blog is where our audience (customers, visitors, followers) can find content (research, guest posts, videos) that answers questions and validates our expertise.

Audience Information

If you already have your audience personas and journey maps created, great. Share them with your writers and contributors. These tools might include demographic information, topics of interest, background, roles, questions, challenges, influencers, sources of information, and more, depending on the nature of your business and your audiences. 

Voice Guidelines

Do you take the friendly, playful approach in your brand voice or are you more conservative and straightforward? Your audience — especially your loyal customers — will notice the language and tone used to connect with them. Consider your audience’s needs for each piece of content, and define whether your brand’s voice should be modified on different channels. You’ll want to include voice and tone guidelines in your brand guidelines as well — one example of overlap between the two tools. 

Topics of Focus

Once you define your audiences, you can provide topics they care about. Your audience is likely interacting with your content for two main reasons: they’re researching a question (for this, you can provide how-to blog posts and articles), or are looking for a solution (for this, you can provide a clear call to action, product, or service information).

Examples of High-Performing Content

Provide writers with samples of content that have performed well in the past, or that demonstrate characteristics of your brand. Showing one example of the voice you’re going for will allow your writers to understand the concept right away. Point out what you love (and what readers have loved) about the piece so they’ll have a clear example to follow. 

Linking and Information Source Policies

First, remind writers to link to related content that’s already on your blog when possible. Then, set clear expectations for linking to other blogs and websites. Are there certain blogs and websites you often reference? Are there any competing companies that are off limits? How many of these links do you recommend per post? Make sure you also include guidelines for establishing source credibility and trustworthiness.

Re-Posting Policy

Establish whether or not guest contributors and freelancers can republish content on their own blogs, social accounts, or other channels. Be clear about if, when, and how they should link back to your content if they do re-post. 

Style and Formatting Guidelines

Regarding style and formatting, offer tangible tips, like write in short sentences or bullet your major points. Be specific about details, like when to use capital letters and whether to use serial commas or Oxford commas. If you coach new writers on how to format their content, you’ll both save time during the revision process. This is also a good place to include words that fit your brand (or words never to use!). While these words or phrases won’t show up in every blog post or video, they’ll help your writers and your team grasp the characteristics of your brand.

Headline Examples and Guidelines

If there isn’t a compelling headline to keep your audience reading, they’ll scroll past or click off. To encourage strong headlines, show your writers examples you like. Define your standards: How long should headlines be? Do you expect writers to submit one or suggest a few? Should headlines include questions and numbers?

Keyword Utilization

While this section won’t necessarily include specific keywords to target, you will want to discuss how keywords should be used (primary and secondary keywords, frequency of use, headline placement, meta description inclusion, etc.). Proper keyword utilization will help search engines and audiences find your content, so make sure your content creators know how they should approach keywords.

Content-Length Requirements

Establish targeted content length based on your goals and audiences. How many words should a typical blog post include? How long are your social media videos? Length should be based on research and performance trends, but it should also increase or decrease depending on the needs of the actual content. It’s important to convey standard content requirements, but content creators should also be given the freedom to produce something longer or shorter if that’s the best way to express an idea. Make that flexibility clear within your editorial guidelines.

Image Guidelines

A simple way to increase engagement in your post is to include photos and images. Include a few guidelines for your writers: Do you use multiple images per post? What kinds of images do you allow (stock photos, charts, illustrations)? Do you have photo style guidelines? If writers are tasked with choosing their own images, include information about approved image sources. 

Although it takes time and thought, creating thorough editorial guidelines will allow your organization to create authentic, consistent content. Plus, with these clear expectations in place, your writers and contributors can hit the ground running. 

Maggie Sonnek

Maggie Sonnek is a storyteller and content marketer. She’s passionate about creating authentic content for businesses and their readers. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring the Driftless Region with her husband and three small kids.