How to Craft Editorial Guidelines That Drive Great Content
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If you’re not getting the content you want for your blog, or you are spending too much time during the editorial process trying to turn mediocre content into something better, then you’re in need of editorial guidelines. Editorial guidelines can be the what you need to unite all of your writers and to fill your blog with content that drives traffic to your business.
Who Needs Editorial Guidelines
Whether you are the sole author of your blog, or you have a wide range of one-time and regular contributors, editorial guidelines can help you stay on track. Here’s how they help all of the writers for your blog.
Blogging can be a challenge for anyone, no matter how passionate you are about your niche or industry. Even if you are the only author for your blog, creating editorial guidelines can help you keep the overall picture in focus. On days you are having trouble writing a new piece of content, your editorial guidelines can remind you of your blogging goals, who you are writing for, and what to write about. They can also help you maintain consistency over time with your content.
For Guest Bloggers
Inviting guest bloggers to contribute content to your blog opens the door to both amazing writers and those that are still trying to game search engines using the “guest blogging for links” strategy. Having a strong set of editorial guidelines will generally help you weed out the latter (we’ll show you the specific requirement to help with this later) and reduce the overall amount of time you spend editing guest content you receive.
For In-House Writers
Training new employees can take time. Fortunately, with editorial guidelines, you won’t have to train each new employee you want to contribute to the company blog on how to create a great piece of content. They can just follow the guidelines.
While freelance writer are professionals who know how to create content, they typically work with several clients at a time. Having editorial guidelines to share with them will ensure that they are writing the type of content you want for your blog as opposed to writing in the ways they are used to for themselves or their other clients.
Why Your Editorial Guidelines Need to Be Specific
If you want to get the content you need for your blog with minimal back and forth with authors and editing, then a specific set of editorial guidelines is the key. You can start with less descriptive guidelines to begin with, and slowly add new requirements to the list as you run into issues with the blog content you receive. But if you want to start off on the right foot, then get detailed and save yourself some editorial headaches.
Key Elements to Cover in Your Editorial Guidelines
The following are the key elements to cover in your editorial guidelines. Be sure to think each one through and formulate your guidelines to match your desired blog content.
If you are just starting out in the blogging world and are not sure what works in your niche or industry, the best way to find out is to do a little competitive research. Look at other blogs in your space to see what type of content they publish. Look at the engagement for those pieces of content. This can help guide you in determining how to define the following elements for your editorial guidelines.
Let writers know what your goals are for your blog.
- Do you want more traffic?
- Do you want content that will help you rank for specific keywords?
- Do you want lots of social shares?
- Do you want a little controversy to spark discussion?
- Do you want content that generates leads?
Figure out the specific things you would like to achieve with your blog and get your writers in the right frame of mind to create content that works towards those goals.
Define your ideal blog audience.
- Will content be directed towards busy people who are looking for bite-sized content, or technical people who want step by step details?
- Will content be aimed at attracting small business owners or Fortune 500 CEOs?
- Will content need to appeal to users or decision makers?
Create reader personas for your blog so that writers can visualize whom they are speaking to with their content.
Are you looking for writers that are passionate about specific topics? If so, list those topics in your guidelines. That way, you get pitches that match the topics you want to cover.
Require that all content submissions be unique. Writers should know that the content they submit to your website should not have been published elsewhere in the past and should not be republished elsewhere in the future without specific consent from you. This is something you will need to check with each content submission you plan to publish on your website. It’s as simple as putting one sentence from the content in Google to see if any matches come up, or using tools such as Grammarly.
Blog post length is a tricky subject. In the past, content created for SEO purposes had to be a minimum of 300 words. Now, the average blog posts is a minimum of 400 – 600 words, and can range upwards of 1,200 – 5,000 words. While there is no magic formula to determine what word count works best, you should specify a minimum word count to aim for with each piece of content.
This doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all number either. You can specify that breaking news articles must be a minimum of 500 words, inspiration pieces must be a minimum of 700 words, and tutorials must be a minimum of 1,000 words. This way, you can have some variety to fit different types of content consumers.
Most blogs opt for a more conversational tone. This will depend on your audience, and if you have a business, the type of products and services you offer. Some industries can get away with conversational, and maybe even humorous content, while others should aim for something more formal.
Images are important to content, so at minimum, you will want to require that each piece of content have at least one image. With that said, images can come from a variety of sources such as stock photography, Creative Commons, screenshots, Canva, and so forth. Let your writers know what type of images you want and where you want them to get those images.
Links can be a tricky subject in blog content, especially if you are relying on outside contributors. You should always insist that writers try to link to related content from your blog within their posts. You should also insist that they link to any resources they recommend or sources for statistics they mention.
What you should discourage, on the other hand, are links to your direct competitors and self-promotional links where the main goal is to promote something that the writer has a vested interest in, such as their own website, business, products, and services. If you allow the latter, writers will not be focusing on creating content for your audience, but content to promote themselves. You should also discourage affiliate links.
In all cases, you should check the links writers include in blog posts to ensure that they are links that you wouldn’t mind your readers (and potential customers) clicking through to.
The one place writers should be allowed to do a little self-promotion is in the author byline. This can be a sentence or two, up to a paragraph about the author at the end of a post and on an author archive page. You should still review the links writers include in their author bio, again to ensure they are links that you wouldn’t mind your readers clicking through to.
Examples of Top Posts
Help your writers by pointing them to specific pieces of content you consider the top posts on your blog. This should be a post that meets your blog content’s goals and that meets all of your editorial guidelines.
How to Deliver Content
The easiest way to reduce the amount of time editing blog content is asking writers to enter it directly into your content management system, such as WordPress. If you prefer to restrict access to your CMS, you can require that writers deliver content in the format that works best for you – Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or plain text. The goal for this is to make submission consistent and easy to work with on your end.
Require that your writers reply to blog comments for at least the first week or two after their posts are published. You can’t un-publish a piece of content just because a writer has decided not to engage with your community, but you can require that community participation is required, otherwise the author loses the links in their byline. This is a great way to weed out link-building guest bloggers, as their goal is to just get a link and run, as well as ensure that the engagement on your blog continues to thrive.
How to Apply to Contribute
You will want to include specific directions on how people should apply to contribute content.
- Do you want them to submit a blog post topic idea or a full blog post?
- Do you want them to send links to published works on other blogs (preferably ones similar to yours)?
- Do you want them to specify their Twitter or Google+ profile?
- Do you want to link to their LinkedIn profile to further establish that they are a real person again, to weed out link-building guest bloggers)?
You can allow people to submit their information via email, or create a custom form on your blog that will allow them to input this information, and upload blog posts if necessary.
Last, but not least, you may want to have an internal editorial guidelines document that you send to writers once they are employed at your company, once they have been hired are freelancers, and depending on the level of sensitivity, once they have signed a non-disclosure agreement. This document would outline things you may not want to publish publicly, such as specific competitors to avoid mentioning in blog posts, how to create an account on your blog to enter posts, and a full tutorial on how to enter posts into your CMS.
How to Publish Your Editorial Guidelines to Attract Writers
Once your editorial guidelines are complete and you are ready to welcome new contributors to your blog, you should publish your editorial guidelines. You should then link this on your blog in the main menu, sidebar, or footer links as well as at the end of blog posts so that readers know you are open to new contributors.
In addition, you should optimize your editorial guidelines for search by including phrases such as how to become a contributor, write for us, editorial guidelines, and similar phrases in the SEO title of the page. This will help more people discover the opportunity to write for your blog.
How to Enforce Your Editorial Guidelines
The best part about comprehensive editorial guidelines is that you can use them to quickly call for edits or reject content submissions as a whole. Instead of having to explain yourself each time you respond to a blog post submission, you can quickly point writers to your editorial guidelines to have them make edits that require additional content or change of tone. You can also quickly point writers to the guidelines to say that the topic or blog post they have submitted does not fit your blog’s needs based on topic or quality.
What it comes down to is this. While guidelines do not eliminate the need for editing altogether, it does greatly reduce a lot of the headaches and hassle. And the time saved on those headaches and hassle can go towards perfecting great content.
Want to see a great example of editorial guidelines? Check out the Write for Us page!
September 17, 2014