How to Create an Exceptional Content Style Guide

Has this happened to you too?

You've hired a freelance writer before to curate content for you. However, after sending in the first draft, your editorial team sent it back requesting some edits because the work was good-- but didn't meet your brand's standards.

And you were sure to add some comments when requesting for the revision:

"The tone doesn't resonate with our audience. Our readers won't understand the jargon. The legal team thinks this is all wrong. Your style is so artistic and playful, but we need high-level professional content. You should've used oxford commas instead."

The hapless writer couldn't understand what you wanted, but tried anyway.

The result? A mediocre mash-up of drafts and notes that wasn't up to scratch. It would have been better if you wrote the wretched thing yourself-- if only you had time.

But let me ask: What type of content guide did you give to them?

Was it a concise and elaborate guide that showed your writer what they should've included (or not), the tone they should've used and the style they should've followed?


So is it even remotely possible that the fault wasn't entirely the writer's, and you played a role in it too?

Why You Need a Content Style Guide

No matter how good your marketing team and writers are, there are high chances that something will be done incorrectly without the proper style guide.

Think of a soccer match. If there aren't marked sections around the pitch, how haphazard will the game turn out to be?

Disastrous! And this will remain true despite the skills of each player.

A style guide helps your content creators stay in line with your brand regardless of the contributor. It doesn't matter whether it's a freelance writer for hire, a subject matter expert, or an in-house marketer.

Provided they have the guide; you can trust them to develop solid content consistent with your brand. Besides, it's this brand consistency that can increase your revenue by almost 33%.

If you mark the pitch well for your contributors with these five steps, you will have them producing amazing, back-of-the-net content that sends your audiences in a frenzy, even if they've never written for you before.

How to Write a Content Style Guide in Easy Steps

1. Define Your Goals

What does scoring a goal in terms of content marketing look like to you, and how will you measure that success?

A CMI report showed that the most important goal for 85% of the marketers was lead generation, for 83% sales, and 81% of them longed for customer retention. What's your goal?

So if you can't define the goals for your content, kindly tear up that guide and go back to the drawing board.


If you can't establish your goals clearly, how do you expect your contributors to create powerful, persuasive content with a purpose?

Unless your guide shows the ultimate goals of your content marketing strategy, your contributors will not have a "why" as long as the writing is concerned, which is hands down one of the most critical pieces of information they need.

So if your goal is to get people to sign up for your webinar, and the writer writes an exceptional thought-leadership piece, shout and scream of how poorly they did-- but please, don't blame them if you didn't communicate your goals.

2. Establish Audience Personas

Imagine inviting die-hard football fanatics for a swimming event.

Well, they might just show up but won't be thrilled because the sport doesn't resonate with their interests.

That's precisely why you need clearly defined audience personas. This will ensure your contributors create peer-to-peer character-rich content that provides readers with a fresh perspective and isn't fluffy and basic.

Don't make your freelance writer guess their way through the content. Be absolutely clear by including things like your audience's:

  • Job titles

  • Demographics such as age and gender

  • Main pain points

  • Stage of the buyer's journey

  • Source of traffic

For instance, if you're running a gaming console shop, your audience could be guys aged 18-34, are students, work part-time or full-time and live with their parents.

But that's too broad and vague.

For your writer to produce compelling, persuasive content that targets the hearts of your audience, you need to be a bit more specific-- the one person you want to attract.

For our case, we can give our persona a name, say, Bob. Bob will have his 18th birthday in a few months, and his parents want to get him two presents: a "Manual to Manhood" and a personalized anime portrait- but what Bob really wants is a PlayStation 5. And that's what you're selling.

Personifying your audience persona might take time, but it's worth its weight in gold. So describe your target audience as a person with real values, and show how you want to eliminate their most significant pain point.

The more a writer understands the audience they're writing for, the higher the chances of reflecting their values, understanding their pain points, speaking their language, and writing content that persuades, compels, and entertains them.

3. Document Your Technical Specs

Now you need to set out what you need your content to look like and what you want to deliver to your audience. It's a lot like reading all the rules before the match begins.

Of course you want each writer to bring in their secret sauce that makes their work unique, but at the same time, there are some specific standards you need them to adhere to.

These include things like:

  • Post Length- What's the minimum word count you want to see for each blog post? And is the word count for a blog the same as for a white paper? What about emails and press releases? It doesn't have to be an exact word count, but a range is essential.

  • Desired tone and voice- This should be consistent with your brand. For instance, if you run a law firm, the tone should be authoritative and professional. On the other hand, if you sell fluffy toys to dog lovers, your tone should be playful, witty, and youthful.

  • SEO- What are the keywords you're trying to rank for? Are there any external links they should refrain from adding? Any tools they should use to ensure the content meets certain standards?

  • Media- Do you want your writer to include images and infographics in the content, or do you do that in-house?

  • Brand-specific rules- Do you follow the APA or Chicago? Oxford commas or not? Are there mandatory inclusions that you need? Any words that writers shouldn't use? Include them, please.

4. Highlight High-Performing Content

Do your writers know why you decided to put together that content? If not, direct them to your source of inspiration.

You see, all other things are almost useless if the writer can't visualize the end-product. It becomes easier for a chef to bake a cake if they've seen the finished product beforehand.

It shouldn't just be one post-- you can aim for a number and even highlight what makes it work for each case.

If it was the spell-binding intro, or the fluid writing, or the use of humor and stories, let the contributors know. Don't be afraid to show your competitor's content (even if you envy their blog). This way, you can rest assured that if the writer is worth their salt, they'll produce the exact content you wanted, or better.

5. Create an Editorial Calendar

While this might sound a bit off especially considering we're talking about content guidelines, a content calendar will help your writers know how each type of content fits into the entire strategy.

Letting your contributors know your theme that month is will assist them to not only work on that piece but also contribute to the entire strategy.

Taking our soccer match, for instance, if the goal is to beat the other team by at least two goals to qualify to the next stage, then your players, even if they're ahead by one goal, will be working extremely hard to win by two goals or more.

Besides, it works to your advantage because you don't have to send assignments to your contributors; instead, they can send you pitches that align with your overall theme and content calendar at that particular stage.

Turn Your Content Guidelines into a Killer Guide (The Steps Most Marketers Leave Out)

The above steps are given, and most people will include them in their guides.

But why settle for five goals when you could score two more to drive the point home for your competitors?

6. Put Some Passion Into it

Of all the great content you've read out there, you can confirm one thing: it oozes with personality and passion. So be confident, be funny, be humble…. Whatever reflects your values, include them in your guideline.

If you love humor and the oxford comma, you could include something like:

"A little about us. We enjoy jokes, oxford commas and irony."

I mean, sprinkle some excitement into your content guidelines. Show your writer some of your values, and ditch the jargon. Give your contributors something to be enthusiastic about.

7. Aim for an Emotional Connection

We, as humans, are emotional beings.

Apart from the action you want your audience to take, what do you want them to feel?

Why is it important, you ask? According to this blog, human beings rarely make their choices based on logic but on how they feel. It's cognitive bias for you.

So if you can make your freelance writers understand what you want your audience to feel, boom! It's like giving them that trick that works to cross past the defenders with utmost ease.

And this doesn't apply to only one business. It applies to yours too. It could be a Law Firm, Tech, Interior design, or anything; just aim for those raw emotions that reach the heart.

So do you want your audience to feel reassured, classy, sassy, informed, suspicious, or curious? State that in your guidelines.

The Upshot

Your content guidelines are the bridge between you, your contributor, and the next piece of excellent content. So make it concise, clear, and informative.

So if you can't articulate exactly what you want, go back to the drawing board and start creating one. It will not only help you define your content goals but will force you to think strategically about your content marketing project as a whole.

Because if you haven't given your players some clear guidelines and rules to follow before beginning a match, why should you complain when they start playing it rough outside the pitch?



Photo by Jens Johnsson from Pexels: Thanks Johnsson : )