A style guide can have real sustainable value, when it conveys deep principles of website design rather than a simple statement of fashion and technology.
Imagine if a print magazine had no set standards or guidelines. Within a single issue, let alone across its publication, imagine a variety of fonts used, styles altered, references cited differently, ad placements that blend with stories. And what if you weren’t able to find the cover story? Or the editorial? Would you still be interested in buying this magazine?
I know, it sounds absurd. But the fact is this type of disarray continues to occur on the Internet. While you may be allowed a bit more creativity online, a website is a publication and it needs to maintain rules to achieve uniformity and accessibility.
Step in style guide. A style guide is a document that prescribes the style you should use on your website/s. It outlines the font or manner in which information, graphics and other imagery is presented. Style guides are not only important to achieve consistency within an organization, but they also help the creative team understand and follow the rules.
In other words, while guidelines facilitate usability for customers and prospects, they are of equal importance for content managers, Web managers, marketers, and the organization itself. Establishing guidelines—like specifying product specifications—avoids a series of problems. Problems, which can affect long-term sales and the overall productivity of a business.
- Why is this? Well….when content placement and formats vary:
- You can’t enforce a lead generation mandate, and face it, in B2B, websites are all about lead generation.
- You lose readers at ‘hello’ – regardless of how personalized or dynamic messages are. If a viewer can’t figure out how to navigate and digest your website, they’ll simply leave.
- You’ll be challenged adding new content, starting over time and again to figure out how to tell your new story.
- You’ll run into all kinds of brand issues especially when collaborating with outside groups or non-marketers.
- Your international teams will have no basis for extending the messages into their regions – read: clear messages muddied through translation and new formats that you may not be able to read!
In general, guidelines aren’t easy to create, but they need to be embraced by your marketing team, first and foremost.
- Tone and style (personal, formal, technical, business, etc.)
- Writing and editing (spelling, abbreviations, citation formats, etc.)
- Meta-data (titles, keywords, descriptions, using them!)
- Page formats (content placement, panel inclusions, call to actions, etc.)
- Visual design and navigation (color schemes, internal and external links, bulleting, etc.)
- And….a small clause that allows for flexibility…guidelines need to be reviewed and updated over time, to incorporate growth, diversification, and change.
Here are four principles to embrace when writing your style guide:
Sort and select advice carefully. At the gym, everyone seems to have a theory on what works the best – running, weights, circuit training. In marketing, you will be offered many opinions on your website: what it looks like, how much content, bullets or paragraphs to include, abstract or literal imagery that works etc. Getting marketing input from those in the field is always welcome; just bear in mind that what works for them might not work for you. Each marketing situation is unique, and ideas and concepts do change with time. There are no cookie cutter style guides or a one-plan fits all model that we can prescribe to. Use your expertise, research, and yes, even instinct, when making decisions.
Pick the right tools for the job. In keeping with the gym analogy, ever try running three miles in cheap sneakers? The pain of shin splints just isn’t worth the money saved. In making your marketing investments, don’t try to save money. This doesn’t mean you need a massive budget— by selecting the right tools for the job, you can create a professional site even on a tight budget. Sure, it may take a greater initial investment, but if your website is built on a solid framework using the right tools, you are miles ahead of your competitors.
Just one component won’t cut it; invest in multiple strategies. In a fitness plan, there are several variables, including aerobic exercise, strength training, and diet. Successful websites depend on several well-planned strategies coming together. So, using just SEO won’t cut it. Web marketing through advertising only will fail. You need to pick the best strategies for your business and budget and focus on generating business leads, while ensuring all your efforts work in tandem.
Renew your commitment daily. Sometimes it’s just not fun to go to the gym, and I have to shame myself into the trek. Your plan, no matter how well intended, will slip by the wayside if it’s not made a priority and integrated in all your initiatives. Review your web plan regularly, and jot notes throughout the year on what worked, what didn’t, and opportunities for the next year.