Why You Need a Style Guide and How to Make One

Marketing is about clear communication and consequent engagement. Bad grammar, embarrassing misspellings and careless typos all erode credibility and even damage brand reputation.

Unfortunately, another enemy of effective communication often goes overlooked: inconsistency. Just as a brand needs consistency in terms of messaging, look and feel, written words – the “voice” of an organization – need to be presented in a uniform manner.

In many cases, the organization may have certain ways web and published copy is written. And a lot of the time, only the primary communicators know those styles. It’s something they keep in their heads.

Just like the copy itself, these style guidelines need to be written down.

Not only does it keep the entire staff in the know, it also helps to have a reference readily available to the main authors within the organization.

There’s no need for anything fancy: A simple Word doc should do. But, it does need to be carefully followed to ensure your voice consistently comes through no matter who has the proverbial microphone.

So, where to start?

First, familiarize yourself with the AP Stylebook, which is essentially the media industry’s bible. Organized by words and topics A-Z, it’s the spiral-bound standby for a surprisingly wide number of inquiries.

Because it is so widely accepted – most prominently by newspapers and sites – it’s a good foundation for consistency.

From there, you can dig into those quirks and preferences for your organization.

Start with Your Own Name

When crafting style guides for clients, we often start here. How will you refer to yourself on first reference? Is it a Co., Inc., or LLC? Do you tend to keep that off? And what about subsequent references? Will you always spell it out or just use the one word after the first reference? Any kind of inconsistency will disrupt your reader, so decide how you want to do it and get it on paper.

Trademarks

If your products or services are trademarked, create a rule for when those little ™s and ®s will be used. Will you use it in every reference? Only the first? What about headlines? As with all these self-determined rules, there’s no right or wrong way. It’s just important to pick a direction and stick with it.

Industry Terms

Do you spell out acronyms on first reference or are they widely known by your audience? Are there certain terms that are universally or nearly always capped? Identify what those words are and get them down.

Commas

Yes, commas. There’s the Oxford camp and everyone else. Choose a side.

Format

The most common is time/date/place. Or is it place/date/time? This is one of those style gray areas where there is no established format, but you should have one. Same goes for headlines or titles: some capitalize every word, some ignore articles and/or prepositions, some lowercase two-letter words. There’s no official rule, so go with what you’re comfortable with.

Caps

Often times this will relate to job titles. Is Chief Officer always capitalized, or only before a name? If there’s no name at all, is it still capped? Do you always capitalize a certain service or department from within your organization?

Tags

This is an important place to be consistent in terms of SEO and the style guide is a great place to put them so they are always at the ready for blogs and YouTube videos. Get together a list of the keywords relevant to your business or product and create an entry in the guide. Tip: If you put these in sentence form using one long list with commas, you can cut and paste right into the post or video description!

These are just a few of many considerations to get the consistency wheels turning. Style guides are living documents that can be added to as issues arise (or before they do). Does your organization have a style guide? Any basic entries I missed? Oxford comma or no? Weigh in with a comment below!


Google’s RankBrain Makes Smart Content Strategy and SEO Even More Valuable

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Brain vector designed by Freepik

In the past month or so there’s been talk in SEO and digital marketing circles about RankBrain. It kind of sounds a bit sci-fi, right? What’s that about?

Like anything new in the world of marketing, there is a bit of a hype phase. Now that the hype has settled some, let’s take a look at RankBrain like rational marketers. After all, we are not interested in hype. Instead, let’s see what RankBrain is, how it works and whether or not you can make it work for you.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is the name of a machine learning program Google is using to help produce results for its search engine. That’s right. Google is using machine learning.

Machine learning is when a computer or machine learns from itself instead of relying solely on human programming. Don’t worry. There’s no need to call up Emilio Estevez to stop the machines from taking over (classic ’80s reference).

While not a pure form of artificial intelligence (AI), this is a significant point in SEO and digital marketing because it marks a real change in how search engine results are delivered.

How does RankBrain work?

OK, that’s what RankBrain is. However, for people trying to engage a target audience, it might be more important to understand what RankBrain really does.

“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities – called vectors – that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries”.

– Greg Corrado, Google Senior Research Scientist

Has Google has turned over search engine results (and your organization’s SEO destiny) to machine learning?

Not exactly. Google is only using it in a limited way at this point.

  • RankBrain is used as just part of their results algorithm, which Google says has more than 200 ranking factors.
  • RankBrain is being used for a certain subset of search queries.

However, Google is excited at the results so far and anticipates machine learning to be an increasingly important part of their overall business.

How is RankBrain used?

RankBrain is implemented to address unique search queries Google has never seen before.

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While that might not sound like much, you might be surprised. Brand new searches are up to 15 percent of search queries in a given day. For those of you keeping score at home, that equates to 450 million searches in a day.

Based on how RankBrain works and how it is being implemented to more intelligently and efficiently handle new search queries, one can speculate that Google is using RankBrain to improve understanding of the context and intent of new searches, and categorize them. It may improve the quality of search results by putting new searches through RankBrain to make its determinations and then work in conjunction with already existing aspects of the algorithm.

Over time, as RankBrain continues to improve, it will potentially build on its learning abilities and increase its ability to handle new queries in a meaningful way.

How does RankBrain affect SEO?

That depends. If you are the kind that doesn’t think creating content for your audience matters and try to get by on technical aspects of SEO or driving a ton of links to a limited set of mediocre content, then you should be concerned. Then again, you should have been concerned long before RankBrain. But, that’s another topic.

If you are the kind who has truly invested in providing high quality content to your audience in a strategic way, then RankBrain may potentially affect your SEO in a beneficial way.

The simple fact that Google created RankBrain should tell you some things:

  1. Good content is important.
  2. New, fresh content is important.
  3. Relevant content to your audience is important.
  4. The intent of your content is important.
  5. Understanding content is a huge priority for Google.
  6. Google is constantly working on building a better set of brains to understand content for serving search results.

What does this all mean?

Smart content strategy is really important for SEO!

Can you make RankBrain work for you?

Look at the bigger picture. Google is not going to stop its effort to create a better set of brains to understand websites and the content on its pages. They will not stop at trying to learn and detect tactics people use to game the system and take shortcuts to “trick” Google into ranking content. Google’s goal will continue to be ranking valuable, credible, relevant and authoritative websites and content.

If you can understand and embrace these things, you can make RankBrain work for you.

The big digital marketing and SEO lesson …

Here’s the simple, yet incredibly important, marketing lesson that RankBrain offers:

Provide great value to people who are most likely to be interested in buying your products or services.

Underlying all of the intricacies of digital marketing and SEO are fundamental principles of human nature and marketing.

If you invest and make a real commitment to providing authentic, high-quality content for your website’s audience and combine it with an intelligent SEO approach that puts users first, you will increase your chances of reaping a ton of benefits.