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8 Must-Have Content Guidelines To Set Writers Up for Success

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8 Must-Have Content Guidelines To Set Writers Up for Success

Brands often turn to freelance writers or marketing agencies to scale up content production.

But that’s not always a smooth process.

A 2021 Semrush report shares that in-house content teams face frequent issues with outsourced writers:

  • Lack of hands-on experience or knowledge (49%).
  • Low-quality content (42%).
  • Multiple edits (36%).
  • Lack of consistency due to different writing styles (27%).

These issues mean your content team has more work to do – just what you didn’t want and what made you outsource the content in the first place!

Now, you can try finding a word magician who can Abracadabra your worries away and makes everything alright.

But it doesn’t always work that way – you do run into some misguided wizards here and there.

Instead of leaving things to chance, work toward preparing content guidelines you can give the outsourced writers to minimize the challenges of working together

Content Guidelines 101

Content guidelines (or writing guidelines) refer to the information brands or their in-house content teams give their outsourced writers to produce commissioned content.

These include 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 external to your team.

By sharing the required details with them, you can reduce the revisions on both ends.

In other words, content guidelines give writers an idea and context of what you want and expect from a content piece before they start the draft.

This lets them see the target before they attempt to hit a bullseye, and you don’t have to realign the overall direction after the first draft.

Encourages consistency.

A content brief ensures both writers and editors are on the same page regarding the content style, tone, and goals.

Sets your work in the right direction: Great content is a result of collaboration between brands and writers. By providing detailed writing guidelines, you do your part and show the writers what you want from the content piece.

Helps you scale content production.

A standard set of writing guidelines lets you grow and scale the content production since you can easily onboard more writers and editors to write and edit content in your brand’s voice and tone.

So, if you provide content guidelines, your issues are gone?

No, that alone won’t cut it. Your results depend on the details you add to those content guidelines.

What To Include In Content Guidelines

  • Welcome packet.
  • Editorial process.
  • Brand style guide.
  • Visual guidelines.
  • Content brief.
  • Persona details.
  • Product information.
  • Industry’s resources.

Once again, external writers can’t read your mind.

They’re not a part of your day-to-day team meetings. In order to make up for this gap, you must provide detailed content guidelines.

1. Welcome Packet

As 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 commonly write about.
  • FAQs about working with you.
  • People on your team the writers can reach out to for content and billing questions.

Your welcome packet helps onboard new writers and set them in the right direction.

But you still need more guidelines to cover everyday details.

2. Editorial Process

The editorial process details what the writers should expect to deal with regularly – your brand’s content workflow.

It defines the expected timeline for each action after both parties have signed an agreement.

For instance, here’s how my team handles it, from the client’s perspective:

Screenshot from TheBlogsmith.com, June 2022

The writing process can certainly vary case by case, but it’s good to set expectations with writers in terms of what happens before, during, and after they turn in a draft.

3. Brand Style Guide

If there is one must-have with writing guidelines you give to writers, it’s a style guide.

A style guide covers the dos and don’ts of writing for your brand. It provides direction to in-house and outsourced content teams and ensures your content is consistent with the brand ethos.

This consistency enhances the customer experience and builds customer loyalty.

After years of working as a freelance writer, I shifted to a content agency model.

One of the first things I did to set my agency up for success was create The Blogsmith Style Guide – a document that details my best practices from years of experience working with different clients.

It helps writers capture the voice and tone that The Blogsmith is known for and gives editors a straightforward standard for editing content.

A style guide covers:

  • Grammar (active voice vs. passive voice).
  • Style and formatting requirements.
  • Tone (conversational or formal).
  • Punctuation preferences (oxford comma or not).
  • Word usage (use of abbreviation, inclusive language, or jargon).
  • Spelling preferences (e.g., ecommerce vs. e-commerce).
  • Point of view or pronoun usage (first person or second person).
  • Citations.

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 within their style guide, but some like keeping them separate.

Whatever the case, visual guidelines are a must-have part of your content guidelines, as brand visuals impact the written aspect of content creation.

Not to mention, visual guidelines ensure consistent output if you outsource your graphics.

Make sure to include the following in your visual guidelines:

Image directions

Include everything writers and graphic designers need to know about creating or choosing images for your website, such as: image attribution, featured images, custom images vs. stock photos, text vs. no text in featured images.

Preferred formats

Share formats you prefer for images and videos, such as .PNG, .JPEG, or .webP.

Image resolutions and sizes

Share your preferred image resolution and file size. For instance, it’s better to limit the file size of images to 250–300 KB to load them quickly on your website and score better in Core Web Vitals.

Colors

Include the brand palette and Hex, RGB, CMYK, and Pantone color codes to account for print vs. digital (and so on). You can also include the purpose of each color (e.g., main vs. accent, headings vs. body content, and so on).

Fonts

Include the fonts you use for different purposes. For example, Kinsta uses Brandon Text for headings and Roboto for body text.

Logos and icons

Include all versions of your logos and their proper use cases.

You can share your visual guidelines on your website for freelancers and agencies to reference – like Kinsta.

A screenshot of Kinsta’s visual guidelines.Screenshot from Kinsta.com, June 2022

5. Content Brief

A content brief is a writing guide freelance writers can follow when creating a particular content piece for your company.

Compared to the other content guidelines on the list, content briefs differ in topics depending on the assignment – but they are essential to creating a stellar content piece.

A screenshot of Afoma Umesi’s tweet where she highlights the importance of a content brief.Screenshot from Twitter, June 2022

The content brief must include basic information, such as:

  • Client name.
  • Topic.
  • Word count.
  • Article type (blog post, case study, or white paper).
  • Rate.
  • Due date.

More detailed briefs also include additional information that gives the writer context, like:

Intended Audience

Who are you writing the content for?

Adding your intended audience is crucial, especially if you have multiple target audiences.

It informs the angle you’ll be taking.

For example, content for C-suite executives differs from content targeting entry-level employees.

While some content brief details like competitors may be reusable, intended audience and content goals may vary across pieces.

It’s best to fill out all the information regardless of whether it varies to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Content Goals And Objectives

What is the purpose of creating the content piece?

One take on the content marketing matrix suggests that content’s four main purposes are to educate, entertain, inspire, and convince.

Whatever the content goal, share that with the writer.

Being clear about your content goals and objectives also makes it easier to do keyword research, determine search intent, and develop a relevant call to action (CTA) for the post.

Also, you can add a short abstract highlighting the important points you want in the piece or provide the writer with a suggested outline.

Keyword Research

If you’re creating SEO content, include the primary keywords you’re trying to optimize for and instructions or best practices.

For example, you can ask writers to include:

  • Primary keyword in the title and within the first 100 words.
  • High-volume keywords in subheadings.
  • Low-volume keywords in paragraphs.

More than often, your writer or agency will provide this. But you should still plan to review and approve it, so everyone is on the same page before drafting.

Competitors

Include competitors and top-ranking blogs to help writers benchmark content.

It lets writers observe what other brands did well and how they addressed the problem.

Not to mention, It helps them identify missing information to strategize how to make your content stand out.

6. Persona Details

Buyer personas represent the target audience 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 gaps and tailor messaging to each persona.

If you haven’t had the chance to define your personas yet, HubSpot’s Make My Persona tool is an excellent place to start.

7. Product Information

If you’re asking freelance writers to create product-led content, give them the tools they need to succeed like:

  • A dummy account they can play around with and take screenshots of for tutorials.
  • Case studies that show how customers have used your product and achieved results.
  • Opportunities to interview SMEs (subject matter experts) about the product.

In other words, the writer should know enough about the tool and the problem it solves to address customer pain points and get them to convert.

8. Industry Knowledge

For thought-leadership content, give writers access to information from industry thought leaders and SMEs.

As a courtesy, before you give writers the details of an SME they can contact, let the SME know a writer will reach out to set up an interview.

Some SMEs may be uncomfortable speaking with other people (or too busy to nail down a specific time for a live interview), so give them the option to do an interview via a meeting, an email exchange, or a prerecorded video or audio response.

Make it convenient for both parties to get the information they need.

Conclusion

Good writing is often a result of collaboration between the brand and writers.

Don’t be a client from hell. Improve the experience of working with outsourced content teams by providing writing guidelines they can use to create content closer to your goals.

More resources:


Featured Image: sutadimages/Shutterstock



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15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Top Insights For 2023

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15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Top Insights For 2023

Wondering how to do SEO for ecommerce?

Looking for expert insights on ecommerce SEO?

Uncertain how to make your online store more successful?

From acknowledging that the traditional customer journey is dead, to fast pivoting due to Google’s constant updates, to reassessing benchmarks after the pandemic digital boom and the subsequent fall, experts from award-winning agencies assess what’s next in ecommerce SEO.

We wanted to go beyond unpredictability, so we interviewed 15 digital growth and SEO experts to get their insights, tips, and lessons learned as part of our Ecommerce SEO deep dive.

Ecommerce experts in this article talk about search behaviors, hands-on clients, forecasting for aligning to current trends, and more.

Let’s see what they have to say.

Implement Multi-Touchpoint Customer Journeys As Search Behaviors Change

James Finlayson, Head of SEO at the7stars: “Google’s search volumes aren’t just stagnating – in many cases, they’re reducing. Despite this, consumers are conducting more research prior to purchases than ever – on Amazon and other ‘super-retailers’, on TikTok, large publishers with loyal audiences, Pinterest, YouTube, and Reddit. We recently looked at one market where, we estimated, less than 10% of search activity was actually happening on Google.” Read Finlayson on digital and in-store buying, pushing for larger budgets, and their Sofology success story.

Sara Povoas, Content and SEO Manager at iProspect Portugal:  “We observed a huge increase in shopping, not only for younger audiences but also for older ones, which is new. I think that users are getting more demanding and more informed — if you have a lot of offers, you need to make smart decisions. So people are looking for more. The reviews, opinions, video demonstrations, and price comparisons are getting more popular as people are doing these decision-making searches in order to make a purchase.” Read Povoas on fluctuating stocks, health and cosmetics trends, and client communication.

Luke Carthy, eCommerce SEO & CRO Consultant: “What I’m seeing across my consumer-based clients is that Average Order Value is up, but the number of transactions is probably similar or falling. What I mean by that is they’re spending more per transaction. Rather than someone going to a clothing retailer, maybe once a month or once every couple of weeks, depending on what their previous shopping habits were, they will shop less frequently. And when they shop, they’ll spend more money. I think that happens for a couple of reasons: One is to mitigate the delivery fees and, secondly, to try and get to thresholds to claim rewards, whatever those might be.” Read Carthy on buy-in, shifting strategies, and B2B clients.

Jen Cornwell, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Ignite Visibility: “The way people shop has changed, as they had converted to online and are now back to this hybrid style again. I think it’s all about expectation setting: Can we ever get back to those traffic levels or those conversion levels online again? What are some creative ways that we can go about if we think that’s the case? User behavior has taken a big shift.

For instance, we had an electronics client who sold computers, both online and brick-and-mortar. We started to see a shift at the beginning of 2022 as they had more foot traffic to their stores – which they’re happy about, but they do not see as many purchases online anymore. Even in the instances where there isn’t a brick-and-mortar component or the product is only available online, the opportunity for somebody to go and buy it in person just pulls them away from coming to the Internet as much as they used to.” Read Cornwell on video content, white goods, and creative page optimization.

Get Creative With Product Reviews, Long-Tail Keywords & Specificity, As Google Algorithm Updates Intensify

James Euinton, Account Director at The SEO Works: “Over the years, as Google improves its handling of language, it’s been more important to focus on the more specific, longer-tail phrases. Sometimes this may mean catering to specific questions and keywords that fall outside standard products and category pages. It’s important that we tailor additional content to these to target the customer at different points in the journey or funnel.” Read Euinton on moving the needle fast, Core Web Vitals, and business contexts.

Radu Marcusu, CEO at Upswing: “The biggest challenge this year was for marketing managers to explain the drops in the market and how to go about it. That’s why I would say it was more about us being proactive in communicating these shifts to our clients. They needed support in understanding the overall market trends and that it was a general change in demand – and, of course, in adapting to it. That also meant new tactics or focusing on specific actions. For instance, if Google now recommends refined searches, we make sure our clients have filters or categories targeting those searches. We also focus on having the right content to answer those searches. Or keep their Google My Business profiles optimized. In a nutshell, we were proactive in adapting strategies, budgets, and also specific actions implying Google changes.” Read Marcusu on differentiating through pitching, video searches, and developing internal tools.

Eli Schwartz, Growth Advisor and SEO Strategic Consultant: “Google and other search engines use deep learning to improve search results for their users continuously. This past year, I have noticed that local results are triggered more often when Google detects a local intent. At the same time, on results where there should not have been local intent, I have seen the local results disappear.”

Forecasts, SEO ROI & Data-Led Decisions Should Be At The Forefront For Ecommerce Businesses

Marc Swann, Director of Search at Glass Digital: “​​There’s no doubt that retailers are feeling the pinch as consumers tighten their belts, and this presents risks for most marketing agencies when it comes to justifying the value of their services. SEO is a channel that is often more at risk when times are hard, and marketing budgets are scrutinized. SEO performance can ultimately be maintained in the short and even medium term without a recurring spend associated with it, unlike something like paid search where once ad spend stops, performance disappears. So certainly, justifying expenditure in SEO is something that we have seen requested more and not seeing it as a luxury in harder times. Ultimately, those that are able to fulfill their SEO strategies through the hard times will be in much stronger positions when the economy eventually turns positive.” Read Swan on multi-lingual sites, sports retailers, and “luxury” channels.

Steve Walker, Technical Director at Journey Further: “Measuring ROI has always been important, but it’s no longer a nice-to-have. Measuring ROI is essential. This is why performance monitoring tools like SEOmonitor are critical to your agency. The amount of in-house teams has also increased dramatically over the past few months. This is a great thing for the SEO industry and a testament to SEO’s importance in digital marketing – but it fundamentally changes how agencies need to operate. We’re no longer just additional resources doing basic SEO activity. We need to act in a similar way to a business consultancy and provide strategic-level support.” Read Walker on new user journeys, measuring impact, and funnel optimization.

Rank Tracker’s Strategy view on SEOmonitor.com, December 202215 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023

Ben Austin, Founder & CEO at Absolute Digital Media: “We utilize forecasting for both pitching and upselling to ecommerce clients to showcase our understanding of the industry they compete in and the business. By doing so, we can more effectively dictate what is required to drive continuous growth to the business whilst highlighting the ongoing value our innovative SEO strategies provide. In addition to providing a basic forecast of the brand’s current market position, we supply further insight into the wider business benefits such as returning customers, revenue, and ROI.” Read Austin on business strategies, performing verticals in ecommerce, and dynamic URLs.

Charlie Norledge, Head of SEO Performance at Impression: “The pitches are much more competitive now because there are probably fewer clients going to market as things started to slow down a bit. We’ve had to make sure that we include innovative tactics in there. Like talking about how to utilize social media trends in organic when we talk about tech SEO, not just putting a list of fixes, making sure we have priority behind things and just giving them as much detail as possible.

Forecasting is another important piece. When we go to a competitive pitch, forecasting is, I’d say, required. If we didn’t do it, we could miss out. We were in pitches against other agencies, and because we had forecasts in place, we ended up winning the work.” Read Norledge on GPT-3 efficiency, reporting, and client expectations.

Kevin Gibbons, Founder and CEO at Re:signal: “For us, it’s important to have strong communication with our clients about where the priorities are and make sure that we know not just where the search demand is, but also the supply. Knowing what clients are focusing on – both in terms of seasonality and where the priorities could be and could be shifting because of those issues – helps us re-address what we’re doing.

I think everyone’s just probably a bit more price-conscious and cautious right now in terms of what they’re doing. So, again, that’s why ecommerce is such a strong sector for us. For the reason that you can track organic revenue performance. Everyone wants to make sure they’re maximizing their ROI.” Read Gibbons on internationalization and their ASICS success story.

15 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023SEO Forecast by SEOmonitor, December 202215 Ecommerce SEO Experts Reveal Their Top Insights For A Successful 2023

Leverage Integrated Campaigns To Build More Growth Opportunities

It’s not just about one channel or one tactic, but ecommerce digital experts are looking more and more into how they can optimize the full user experience, coordinate PR and SEO efforts, and make sense of the whole industry landscape and where the opportunity lies:

Petar Jovetic, Organic Director at Impression: “Everything we do has to show value and be targeted. We’re baking innovation more and more into our proposition. It’s been quite compelling to leverage AI to handle higher workloads and then do it more efficiently. One other thing I’m keen to explore is using our CRO department, especially at the bottom of the funnel where every user counts, to grow acquisition strategically with more A/B testing, multivariate testing, etc. We’re looking into how CRO and SEO can complement each other more. I think that is really appealing in the current economic climate. So we’re not just throwing additional users but nurturing them through the funnel to conversion.” Read Jovetic on SEO maturity frameworks and the State of Retail.

Charlie Clark, Account Director & Founder at Minty Digital: “I noticed more clients are looking to build their brand through digital PR, and we build their brand name rather than just focus on sales. Some of the bigger companies we work with used to allocate a separate budget to SEO, and that used to be the entire thing. Now they’re allocating separate budgets within their departments, one for SEO and one for PR. They’ll have their traditional PR, the standard press releases, but then they’ll also be tying in the digital aspect to that, which is something that’s been quite interesting to know.” Read Clark on entering new markets and campaign KPIs.

Heemesh Vara, Head of SEO at Semetrical: “Our keyword research process focuses on exploring the whole industry. That’s something different from other agencies. Where they might take a category-by-category approach and do it month by month, we do it the other way around. It’s a lot of work for us at the beginning, but it does provide the client and us with a complete picture of their entire industry. For example, we worked with a vintage furniture client with multiple types of products and categories, from sofas, stools, chairs, side tables, etc. So we had to research the entire industry all at once. And this is one of our unique selling propositions that we always put in the proposal as well.” Read Vara on SEO data analysis and baselines, stakeholder management, and securing budgets.

In the end, as our 15 interviews have shown, both ecommerce clients and markets continue to shift, so it’s critical to showcase sustainable results.

With all these challenges SEO experts face in mind, we continue to develop SEOmonitor so it helps you:

  • Prove the value of SEO with a forecast solution that allows you to connect desired ranking targets to non-brand organic traffic growth potential.
  • Bring session, conversions, and revenue data back into keywords with our solution to the (not provided), so you know what the performing keywords are.
  • Keep track of demand with daily ranks for desktop and mobile as standard, search volumes and year-over-year trends across the platform, and automatic seasonality alerts.
  • And so much more.

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