Content Marketing Guidelines: 10 Must-Have Elements

Everything has changed because of the pandemic, including traditional marketing tactics. Industry events have been cancelled. Your customers are working exclusively from home, and they’re busier than ever, adapting to video conferencing and juggling additional responsibilities.

How do you reach your target audience where they are?

Quality content, of course.

More than half of marketers are stepping up their efforts on social media (55%) and thought leadership (53%) right now, according to LinkedIn. And rightly so: B2B and B2C customers are more hungry for your content than ever.

So, are you ready to jump on the content bandwagon?

Imagine this: you and your marketing team create a list of content topics. You line up internal subject matter experts (SMEs) for an interview. You hire a few freelance writers and hand out assignments. They are running and you are optimistic about the great articles and blog posts reaching you.

But when you open the emails and read the first feedback, something is wrong. You like a writer’s title. You like someone else’s tone. Another author’s conclusion and call to action are promising. The messages are good, but they are disconnected from each other. They lack a single, unified voice.

Enter: content marketing guidelines.

Since multiple writers write your thought leadership articles, blogs, and social media posts, you need to establish guidelines to ensure that all content (including that on your website) has a consistent voice—the voice of your business.

How do you create content marketing guidelines?

For some businesses, content marketing guidelines will be a 10-page e-book. For others, it will be a one-page PDF reference sheet. The extent of these guidelines will depend on the depth of your content program, its goals, and how you have organized your writers.

You may want a separate set of guidelines for each marketing channel or vertical. Facebook is different from LinkedIn, your website blog is different from an industry publication, each business division is likely to target a unique audience… So consider all of your marketing efforts and audiences when creating marketing guidelines.

Include these 10 topics in your content guidelines:

  1. Your. Is your content written in first or third person? Are your blog posts and thought leadership articles more authoritative or more conversational?
  2. Spectators. Who are your target audiences/markets? What kind of language do they use? This question is arguably more important than any other in optimizing content for your readership. If you’re working with new freelancers who aren’t familiar with your industry, include sample content for them.
  3. Style. Do you follow the AP style? List all your exceptions to the rules (I promise you will have some!) and any unique stylistic nuances unique to your business. For example, what should your business be called, when first mentioned and every subsequent mention?
  4. SEO. Specify SEO terms and how you want them used to optimize content. Search SEO terms for each blog post/article before distribute writing assignments. Going back to SEO insertion after the content has been written will ruin its readability.
  5. Big title. Use the ETA formula to write the headings: the FINAL result your client wants + the TIME in which they can get it + the ACTION they need to take to get it.
  6. Key to take away or terrace. Create a formula for your brand’s main takeaways or pitches (i.e. the short paragraph between the headline and the copy that sums up your main points). Here’s an example I wrote this week: Directors and Officers (D&O) claims are expected to increase significantly in the post-COVID-19 environment. Here are 5 ways private equity firms and their portfolio companies can reduce the impact on their D&O coverage and bottom line. Boring? Yes, but you know exactly what you are going to get.
  7. Citing statistics. Uninformed readers always deserve the truth. Tell your editors how you want the statistics cited. Will you use footnotes or direct to each stat with “According to LinkedIn…”? Maybe you’d like to quote the source next: “Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13 times more likely to have a positive ROI, according to Forbes.”
  8. Copy body. Your readers are running out of time. Train your writers to create multiple entry points into the copy for your audience to join, then join later. Use bullet points, numbered lists, or paragraph headings to continue to re-engage the reader.
  9. Call to action. Create a go-to CTA that can be dropped at the end of each thought leadership piece to inform your reader of next steps. Use different CTAs for each platform: your website blog will have one, a business magazine article another, and social media another. Writers should be able to cut and paste them from content guidelines.
  10. Internal approval process. Detail how writers should submit their blogs, what the pecking order is for internal approvals, and what the expected timelines are. Many organizations use project management software like Basecamp or Scoro to manage workflow. Others will want to include a flowchart in the guidelines that guides the author through the editing and approval process.

Of course, nothing is set in stone, not even the wonderful masterpiece you create to serve as your content marketing guidelines. Like a LinkedIn post or a website blog, your content marketing guidelines can and should evolve over time.

As marketing trends change, adapt with them and adjust your content marketing guidelines accordingly.