Brands often turn to freelance writers or marketing agencies to expand their content production.
But this is not always a smooth process.
a 2021 SMRASH Report Posts internal content teams have recurring issues with external writers:
- Lack of work experience or knowledge (49%).
- Low quality content (42%).
- multiple alterations (36%).
- Inconsistency due to different writing styles (27%).
These issues mean that your content team has more work to do – just what you don’t want and what made you outsource content in the first place!
Now, you can try to find a magician’s word that Abracadabra can take away your worries and make everything alright.
But it doesn’t always work that way – you run into some misguided magicians here and there.
Instead of leaving things up to chance, work on setting up content guidelines that you can give outside writers to reduce the challenges of working together
Content Guidelines 101
Content guidelines (or writing guidelines) refer to information brands or their internal content teams provide to their external writers to produce commissioned content.
This includes style guides, product information, and access to tools.
Detailed content guidelines provide several benefits:
Save time and money.
Writers may be professionals, but they can’t read your mind, especially if they’re outside of your team.
By sharing the required details with them, you can reduce revisions on both ends.
In other words, content guidelines give writers an idea and context for what you want and expect from a piece of content before starting a draft.
This allows them to see the target before they try to hit the target, and you don’t have to realign the overall direction after the first draft.
The content brief ensures that both writers and editors are on the same page regarding content style, content tone, and goals.
Puts your business in the right direction: Great content is the result of collaboration between brands and writers. By providing detailed writing instructions, you are doing your part and showing the writers what you want from the piece of content.
Helps you scale your content production.
A standard set of writing guidelines allows you to scale your content production so you can easily onboard more writers and editors to write and edit content with your brand’s voice and tone.
So, if you provide guidelines for the content, will your issues go away?
No, that alone won’t cut it. Your results depend on the details you add to these content guidelines.
What to include in content guidelines
- Welcome package.
- editing process.
- Brand style guide.
- Visual guides.
- Content Brief.
- Personal details.
- Product information.
- industry resources.
once again, Outside writers can’t read your mind.
They are not part of your daily team meetings. To make up for this gap, you should provide detailed content guidelines.
1. Welcome pack
When you start working with new writers, provide them with a welcome packet that includes all the details they need to know to create content for you, including:
- Your brand and its value proposition.
- Your content goals.
- Topics you usually write about.
- Questions and answers about working with you.
- People on your team can contact them with content and billing questions.
Your welcome pack helps prepare new writers and set them in the right direction.
But you still need more guidance to cover the day-to-day details.
2. The editing process
The editing process outlines what writers should expect to deal with regularly – your brand content workflow.
Specifies the expected timeline for each action after the parties sign an agreement.
For example, here’s how my team handles it, from a customer’s perspective:
The writing process can certainly vary from case to case, but it’s a good idea to set expectations with writers in terms of what happens before, during, and after you deliver your draft.
3. Brand style guide
If there is one thing that is a must with the writing guidelines you provide for writers, it is a style guide.
The style guide covers the do’s and don’ts of your brand writing. Provides direction to the internal and external content teams and ensures that your content aligns with the ethos of the brand.
This consistency enhances the customer experience and builds customer loyalty.
After years of working as a freelance writer, I transitioned into the content agency model.
One of the first things I did to set my agency up for success was create Blogsmith style guide – A document detailing my best practices from years of experience working with different clients.
It helps writers capture the voice and tone The Blogsmith is known for and gives editors a straightforward standard for content editing.
Style guide covers:
- Grammar (active voice vs. passive voice).
- Style and format requirements.
- Tone (conversational or formal).
- Punctuation preferences (Oxford comma or not).
- Use words (use of abbreviation, blanket language, or jargon).
- Spelling preferences (eg e-commerce vs e-commerce).
- point of view or pronoun use (first person or second speaker).
If you don’t have a style guide, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook serves as a good baseline.
4. Visual guidelines
Most brands include visual guidelines in their style guide, but some like to keep them separate.
Whatever the case, visual guidelines are a must-have part of your content guidelines, as brand visuals influence the written side of content creation.
Not to mention, the visual guidelines ensure consistent output if you outsource your graphics.
Be sure to include the following in your visual guidelines:
Include everything writers and graphic designers need to know about creating or choosing images for your website, such as: attributing images, featured images, custom images vs. stock images, text vs. no text in featured images.
The sharing formats you prefer for photos and videos, such as .PNG, .JPEG, or .webP.
Image resolution and sizes
Share your preferred image resolution and file size. For example, it is better to limit the file size of images to 250-300 KB to quickly upload them to your website and get a better result in Core Web Vitals.
Include the brand palette and Hex, RGB, CMYK and Pantone color codes to account for print versus digital (etc.). You can also include the purpose of each color (eg, main vs accent, headings vs body content, etc.).
Include fonts that you use for various purposes. For example, Kinsta uses Brandon script for titles and Roboto for body text.
Logos and symbols
Include all versions of your logos and their appropriate use cases.
You can share your visual guidelines on your website for freelancers and agencies for reference – eg Kinsta.
5. Content summary
A content brief is a writing guide that freelance writers can follow when creating specific content for your company.
Compared to the other content guidelines on the list, the content summaries in topics differ depending on the task – but are essential to creating an excellent piece of content.
The content feed should include basic information, such as:
- customer name.
- The number of words.
- Article type (blog post, case study, or white paper).
- an average.
- due date.
More detailed summaries also include additional information that gives context to the writer, such as:
the target audience
Who do you write content for?
Adding your target audience is crucial, especially if you have multiple target audiences.
It tells which angle to take.
For example, content for C-suite executives is different from content aimed at entry-level employees.
While some brief details of the content such as competitors may be reusable, the content objectives and intended audience may differ across segments.
It is best to fill in all the information regardless of whether it is different to ensure that nothing is missed.
Content goals and objectives
What is the purpose of creating the content piece?
One approach to the content marketing matrix suggests that the four main purposes of content are to educate, entertain, inspire, and persuade.
Whatever the goal of the content, share it with the writer.
Being clear about the aims and objectives of your content also makes it easier to do keyword research, define a search intent, and develop a call-to-action (CTA) for the post.
Also, you can add a short summary that highlights the important points you want in the piece or provide the writer with a suggested outline.
If you are creating SEO content, include the key keywords you are trying to improve and instructions or best practices.
For example, you could ask the book to include:
- Primary keyword in the title and within the first 100 words.
- Big keywords in sub-headings.
- Low volume keywords in paragraphs.
Often, your writer or agency will provide this. But you should still plan to have it reviewed and approved, so everyone is on the same page before drafting.
Include competitors and high-ranking blogs to help writers measure content.
It allows writers to note what other brands have done well and how they have addressed the problem.
Not to mention, it helps them identify the missing information to strategize how your content will stand out.
6. Personal details
Buyer personas represent target audiences at different stages of the buyer’s journey.
Including this information in your content guidelines gives writers a better picture of what your customers want and need. They can fill in the gaps and design messages for each character.
If you haven’t had the chance to define your personals yet, HubSpot’s Make my character The tool is an excellent place to start.
7. Product information
If you require freelance writers to create product-led content, give them the tools they need to succeed such as:
- A fake account they can play with and take screenshots for tutorials.
- Case studies that show how customers use your product And achieved results.
- Opportunities to meet small and medium businesses (subject matter experts) about the product.
In other words, the writer should know enough about the tool and the problem it solves to address customers’ pain points and get them to convert.
8. Knowledge industry
For thought leadership content, give writers access to information from thought leaders in industry and SMEs.
As a courtesy, before you give writers the details of an SME they can contact, tell the SME that the writer will be in touch to set up an interview.
Some SMBs may not feel comfortable speaking with other people (or are too busy to schedule a set time for a face-to-face interview), so give them the option of interviewing via a meeting, email exchange, pre-recorded video, or voice response.
Make it convenient for both parties to get the information they need.
Good writing is often the result of collaboration between the brand and the writers.
Don’t be a customer from hell. Improve the experience of working with external content teams by providing writing guidance they can use to create content closer to your goals.
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