How to Create A Style Guide for Your Web Content

Jillean Kearney
Jillean Kearney
Apr 9, 2015

How to Create A Style Guide for Your Web ContentConsistency is key when it comes to your website's content and brand messaging.

If you rely on a group of writers (whether they're internal team members or external contributors) to keep your website fresh with new content, consistency can take a hit if you don't put style guidelines in place. 

A style guide, a set of content rules, provides all writers with a readily available source that outlines every one of your requirements for composing and presenting quality content, while staying on-brand. 

The added bonus of creating a style guide is that it will save you a lot of time in the long-run. You won't have to answer the same questions about formatting over and over again. It will also prove to be beneficial when on-boarding new hires and guest contributors.

Below are seven key style guide components that will breed consistent tone, language, structure, formatting and more.

1. Target Audience 

Outline who you want your content to get in front of by presenting your target audience as personas within your style guide. When your writers know who they're creating content for, it will help them understand the tone and style that you want to get across.

2. Grammar

Decide which of the established grammar style manuals that you want to follow in order to set a solid foundation for basic grammar rules.

Most companies go for the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook (and the Canadian Press Style Guide for those of us north of the border).

A best practice is to purchase an online subscription to any of the aforementioned manuals that your writers can easily reference when they get stuck on a style issue. Make sure that your style guide includes login credentials.

In this section of your style guide, you'll also want to include any exceptions to grammar rules that are unique to your brand and style. Examples:

  • Your stance on oxford commas

  • Terms that you commonly abbreviate and how

  • Special capitalization rules for your brand name, products, prepositions, etc.

  • How to spell industry-specific terms that don't have definitive spellings (like website vs. web site)

3. Style & Tone

The style and tone section will outline how content should sound to your readers (conversational, sophisticated, funny, educational, etc.). A great way to present this in your style guide is to include examples of content that convey your coveted tone. 

4. Keywords

You're likely trying to rank for specific sets of keywords that are valuable to your brand. Include keywords in your style guide, and encourage writers to fit them into their content where they work. 

Also include notes about where keywords should be used (headlines, within the first 300 words of a post, etc.) and other SEO best practices.

5. Content Structures

Your editorial style guide should specify which content structures writers should be using. This is especially helpful for external contributors and on-boarding new writers. Outline whether you want (as examples):

  • Listicles

  • How-tos and tutorials

  • Interviews

  • Infographics

  • Galleries

  • Videos

  • Podcasts

This section should also include length requirements for each content structure (Podcasts cap off at 35 minutes, keep lists under 20 items, etc.).

6. Formatting

This is where you will get into the nitty-gritty of online content. List out formatting requirements like:

  • When and where to use italics, bolding and underlining

  • What hyperlinks should look like

  • Bullets that should be used (circle, square, etc.)

  • Header text, size and font

Even though it's possible to preset these formatting requirements within your CMS, it's still a good idea to set these expectations in your style guide to avoid any creative liberties that a writer might take.

8. Image Sizes, Formats & Sources

Consistency of graphical elements is really important. This section of your style guide should outline:

  • Image sizes (main photo, thumbnails, etc.)

  • Resolution requirements

  • File-naming conventions

  • Whether text wraps around images or not

  • Image alignment (left, right, center)

  • Image style requirements (illustrations, stock, etc.)

  • Sources where contributors should be pulling images from

  • Attribution and sourcing requirements

  • Alt Text best practices


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