Got Style? Why Your Organization Should Have a Customized Web Style Guide

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We’re talking Web content style here. Before you prepare to strut your organizational stuff on the Web runway – regardless of the platform – make sure your style is intact and impeccable.

How? With a customized Web style guide that’s specific to your organization. If you don’t have one, you should. This is the document that defines and standardizes how your organization communicates online. It may be part of your overall brand guidelines, but Web content should be addressed specifically since writing for the Web differs from other forms of marketing and corporate communication.

OK, maybe this isn’t the most intriguing part of your marketing and communications program, but it’s an important, and often overlooked, tool in projecting your best image to the world.

Why Do You Need a Style Guide?

Defining your unique brand, style, voice, tone and editorial preferences in one place benefits your organization in several ways:

  • Professionalism – A unified voice and consistent editorial style project a polished and professional image of your hospital.
  • Brand and image credibility – Nothing dings your credibility like inconsistent use of your corporate name or logo and other careless inconsistencies.
  • Readablity – Good editorial style is invisible to readers. Inconsistent style and usage get in the way, distracting readers from your key message and even bouncing them off the page.
  • Efficiency – Putting your style guidelines in the hands of writers, editors and other contributors saves them time researching, allowing them to focus on the message rather than the mechanics.

What to Include in Your Style Guide

Keep it straightforward and scannable, just like your website. Make it easy for contributors to find what they need quickly. And don’t relegate this to the summer intern to develop. It needs a thoughtful approach by someone who knows your organization and your audiences.

Brand Guidelines

Include your brand identity guidelines to make sure your online voice stays consistent with other messaging. Define your voice and tone and include examples of sentences that do and don’t use the preferred voice.

Example: We are known for our personal service and compassionate care; our ability to interact with patients as individuals is a hallmark of our brand. Let’s speak as a caring doctor would to a patient: with confidence, warmth and clarity.

You’ll also want to consider your point of view – first person using “we” and “our,” second person focusing on “you” and “your,” or third person talking about patients and facilities. It all contributes to the image you’re projecting.

 Editorial Style and Usage Guidelines

Here is where you define the editorial details specific to your organization that people can never remember:

Question: Is board-certified hyphenated or not?
Answer: Board-certified – Hyphenate only when used as an adjective.

Question: Do we capitalize medical conditions?
Answer: Capitalization – Do not capitalize medical conditions unless they contain a proper noun. Examples: congestive heart failure, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Achilles tendinopathy

Question: How do we write phone numbers?
Answer: Follow this convention for phone numbers: 812.333.4941.

This section needn’t be all-inclusive. Instead, spell out those details you’re most concerned about standardizing. For everything else, select and refer contributors to your preferred editorial standard, such as The Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style.

Web Writing Best Practice Tips

It’s a good idea to include some tips to help contributors who may be new to Web writing. For example:

  • Always focus on the end user. Visualize your audience. If your audience is the general public, limit the use of medical jargon.
  • Keep it simple and scannable. Web users don’t read, they scan.
  • Make it easy to take action. Help users complete tasks by including clear calls to action (register now, learn more, get directions).

Design Guidelines

Include information on pre-set styles, templates, and other design aspects of the site, including how to size and insert images on the page.

Add anything else you want to standardize, for example, how to write calls to action, how to give geographic directions or contact information, and guidelines for internal and external linking. It’s your style guide. Make it work for your organization. Then be sure to distribute it to all contributors to your site.

Getting Started

VitalSite makes it easy to build your style guide into your content management system so it’s available to all contributors. VitalSite installations come with a “Content Master Guide” which contains pages on:

  • VitalSite Styles and Templates – defining and showing examples of all design styles and templates available on the site
  • Standards and Best Practices – giving tips on file naming, page titles, heading, hyperlinking, keywords, and more
  • Brand Standards Guidelines – a page for clients to insert or link to their brand guidelines
  • Working with Images – pointers and reminders to use when adding images to the site

These recommended sections offer useful information for all aspects of content development and management for your site; you can augment and customize them to reflect your organizational preferences.

Geonetric Can Help

If you need help creating your own Web style guide, contact us. Our content team will be happy to help you put your best foot forward. When it’s time to roll out the red carpet on your new or updated Web content, you’ll be stylin’.

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Content by Jade DeLang Hart. Bookmark the permalink.
Jade DeLang Hart

About Jade DeLang Hart

Jade actually enjoys research. And she’s quite good at it. She’s one of those super-focused people who can dive deep into a topic, become an expert, and then communicate what she’s learned in an engaging way. Sounds perfect for someone who is often found writing about the latest cardiology procedure. This Cedar Rapids Library Board Trustee is a joiner – in fact she’s in a gourmet dinner club, a book club and a knitting club called Knit Wits. How clever!

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