Creating a Content Marketing Style Guide: What Should You Include?

Creating a Content Marketing Style Guide: What Should You Include?

By Stephanie HawkinsMar 7 /2013

what to include content marketing style guideBy now, hopefully we’ve convinced you of the importance of consistent content. Now comes the real work: figuring out what to include in your style guide. The tricky part? The contents of your style guide are going to be entirely dependent on the purpose and needs of your company. We’ll do our best to cover the basics, but there will probably be some trial and error involved as you take the steps to figure out what works best for you and your employees.

Where to Start

There are a couple of decisions you’ll need to make up front—some of which we’ve discussed in previous posts, so we’ll just touch on them here.

Choose your format. The possibilities are certainly open. Mostly, it’ll need to be a judgment call that takes into consideration the format your writers will find most accessible.

Choose your style. The best way to choose a tone for your guide is to take your company’s style into consideration. Think of it this way: if the content you produce is fairly straight-forward and informative, you’ll probably want your style guide to mirror that content. Likewise, if your company’s content is known for its quick wit and creativity, it might make sense for your style guide to do the same thing.

The Big Details

These are the aspects of content marketing style guides that we’d highly recommend including.

  • Brand Architecture. This term refers to the building blocks of your brand. For instance, at Kuno, we might ask ourselves, "What makes a Kuno blog post a Kuno blog post?" (It’s more than just the fact that it’s published on our blog). In a section on brand architecture, you should seek to answer the question: What defines your content? This might manifest itself in a list of brand attributes (perhaps similar to our Like This, Not Like That chart) with examples.

    Hint: On the other end of the spectrum, defining your brand architecture might also include what your brand is not. Sometimes having an explicit Don’t do this! section in your style guide can help your writers even more than the Do this! sections.
  • Grammar Nitty-Gritties. While lots of grammatical rules are hard and fast, others can be a matter of preference. By documenting your company’s stance on grammar questions, you can eliminate those tedious editorial tasks of correcting the writer who prefers a double space after every period or who spells it g-r-e-y when all your other writers spell it g-r-a-y.

    Hint: To make things simpler, choose a reference manual as your grammar manifesto. You don’t want to devote tons of space in your style guide to the nitty-gritty, so consider delegating grammar tiffs to guides like The Chicago Manuel of Style and letting Merriam-Webster mediate future quibbles. 
  • SEO Your writers need to understand your SEO strategy. You might communicate this to them by way of a list of keywords to use frequently or an explanation of other SEO best practices your company has perfected over time.

    Hint: To drive home the importance of SEO, include some Google Analytics screenshots that illustrate the relationship between keyword usage and web traffic.

Lists Are Your Friend

Keep in mind that you want your style guide to be something writers can easily reference when creating content—not a giant wading pool of a document they have to trudge through. So, here is a list of some lists your style guide might include for quick reference:

  • The Ultimate Checklist: This could be a quick and simplified version of your style guide writers can double check before submitting content.
  • Company Vocabulary: A list of the words your company uses to describe itself and its products and services.
  • Common Grammar Missteps: Lists of commonly misspelled words or grammar mistakes for easy reference.
  • Quick Source Citation Guide: Even if you’ve already designated the AP Stylebook as your go-to citation guide, including a more accessible breakdown might be useful to your content creators.


This is a category you may or may not need depending on how you receive and publish content, but we at least wanted to mention it. If visual aspects of your content like headings, capitalization, graphic use, inline links, etc. are not standardized by your website templates, you might consider including some brief design instruction.

How your content style guide functions within your company entirely depends on your needs. If you’re still feeling a little lost, look at some style guides from companies with similar objectives to yours. And remember, your style guide should be a living document, so there’s always room for growth and improvement. Have you started your style guide yet? What are some challenges you have experienced so far?

stephanie kaperaStephanie Kapera is a freelance writer and the co-founder of Up All Night Creative, a Raleigh-based content marketing agency that helps B2B and B2C companies develop magazine-quality web content. Connect with Up All Night on LinkedIn and Twitter to find out more!

Creating Content for Marketing Automation
photo credit: Sprengben [why not get a friend]
The Author

Stephanie Hawkins

Stephanie has 10+ years of experience creating quality content for innovative software and healthcare companies. She is passionate about using interviews and journalistic techniques to create content that truly resonates with target audiences. Stephanie lives and works in Raleigh, NC.