Whether you’re guest blogging for others, or you’re soon-to-be accepting guest bloggers on your own site, it’s important to make your requirements clear up-front.  Not only does this give your bloggers better direction on fulfilling your expectations, but it also provides clarity and a uniform writing tone on your blog.  We’ve all seen blogs where some of the writing is stellar and other posts leave much to be desired.

A blog style guide can help change that.

1What is a Blog Style Guide?

A style guide has its origins back in the 1800s, when the painstaking task of manually typesetting every printed piece ended up churning out vastly different results.  Style guides were created to ensure consistency – and have continued well into the digital age to provide a clear, concise set of “blueprints” on writing for, and designing content around – a blog.

Good blog style guides are at their best when they’re not even noticeable.  You heard right.  The best blog style guides are those that are followed seamlessly, to the point where reading every post is a joy, not a hindrance.  You can just tell by the use of proper headlines, spacing, line and paragraph breaks that this is a blog that’s easy on the eyes.  And in order to get more eyeballs, you’ve got to make your content easy to read and enjoy.

2What Goes In a Blog Style Guide?

You can write your style guide along the same lines as the professionals do (like the AP Style Book)  or you can go item by item and list the specifics, including what to do for:

Language/Spelling – For example, is American or British English spelling preferred?

Punctuation and Capitalization (some people have a love/hate relationship with serial commas and exclamation marks)

Dashes and Hyphens (Wordpress automatically corrects two dashes in a row to an em-dash for easier reading)

Acronyms and Abbreviations– Nothing’s worse than getting lost in the alphabet-soup terminology of an industry you’re just learning about. Do you spell them out or provide definitions?

Once you’ve got the more traditional points nailed down, it’s onto the details about the blog itself. As the blog publisher, you have a bit more leeway in how you want articles portrayed. For example, is your blog primarily:

  • Entertaining
  • Laid-Back
  • Conversational
  • Educational
  • Amusing
  • Controversial

As you can imagine, each of these words carries with it a remarkable shift in tone and writing style that your guest bloggers will be working to emulate.

3Style vs. Style

On the web, one’s style of writing is about more than just grammar and punctuation. It also has to do with the formatting – in which case the stylesheet will do most of the heavy lifting.  Still, it’s a good idea to direct your writers on how sub headlines should be formatted (H2 vs. H3), when and how to use block quotes, how often to break paragraphs, numbered vs. bulleted lists and so forth.

Again, much of the formatting of these items will be dictated by the CSS behind-the-scenes, but knowing when and where to place these pieces in an article is important to the golden rule of all blog posts – readers scan, they don’t read.

4Going Beyond the Words

A blog style guide is about more than just the article itself.  Depending on the subject, you might also include sections for:

  • How to properly source articles, images and studies
  • How to handle search engine specifics, including titles and meta tags (if your writers have this permission on your blog)
  • How to use post excerpts for maximum search engine juice
  • Where and how to categorize their post
  • Number of links that can be included in an article
  • Whether or not the author can include their bio in their piece
  • How to handle social links, pingbacks and trackbacks

4 Won’t All These Requirements Stifle the Personality on My Blog?

On the contrary!  Establishing a set of rules (and sticking to them) doesn’t take away from the writers’ personalities, their own unique styles, or the overall persona of your blog.  Instead, it makes for much easier, more thorough reading.  The guest bloggers still get to flex their creative muscles without losing sight of the main goal, and you get a polished, professional post that should require minimum, if any, editing.

Don’t forget, it’s a good idea to remind your guest bloggers who they’re writing for.  Refresh their memories as to who your target audience is, what they’re looking for, and their specific demographics, so that your writers can refine their style accordingly.

Do you use a blog style guide for content submissions?  Do you know of a site that has a particularly great blog style guide?  Share your thoughts and comments below!

 

Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and content through proven conversion rate optimization strategies. Learn more at iElectrify.com and get your free conversion optimization checklist and web copy tune-up. Follow @sherice on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+