graphical user interface, application

Before diving in to all things editorial guidelines, a quick introduction. I head up the content team here at Optimizely. I'm responsible for developing our content strategy and ensuring this aligns to our key business goals.

Here I'll take you through the process we used to create new editorial guidelines; things that worked well and tackle some of the challenges that come with any good multi - stakeholder project, share some examples and leave you with a template you can use to set your own content standards.

What are editorial guidelines?

Editorial guidelines are a set of standards for any/all content contributors, etc. etc. This most often includes guidance on brand, tone of voice, grammar and style, your core content principles and the types of content you want to produce.

Editorial guidelines are a core component of any good content strategy and can help marketers achieve the following in their content creation process:


  • Consistency: All content produced, regardless of who is creating it, maintains a consistent tone of voice and style, helping strengthen brand image and making it easier for your audience to recognize your company's content  
  • Quality Control: Serves as a 'North Star' for content quality, drawing a line in the sand to communicate the standard of content we want to produce 
  • Boosts SEO efforts: Ensures content creation aligns with SEO efforts, improving company visibility and increasing traffic 
  • Efficiency: With clear guidelines in place, content creators - external and internal - can work more efficiently as they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them 

Examples of editorial guidelines

There are some great examples of editorial guidelines out there to help you get started.

Here are a few I used: 

1. Editorial Values and Standards, the BBC


Ah, the Beeb. This really helped me channel my inner journalist and learn from the folks that built the foundation for free quality journalism. 

How to create editorial guidelines, Pepperland Marketing


After taking a more big picture view I recognized needed more focused guidance on the step by step of creating editorial guidelines.

I really liked the content the good folks at Pepperland Marketing have created, including a free template - thanks guys! - and in part what inspired me to create our own free template as a way of sharing learnings and helping others quickstart the process of creating their own guidelines.


3. Writing guidelines for the role of AI in your newsroom?... Nieman Lab


As well as provide guidance on content quality and the content creation process, I wanted to tackle the thorny topic of AI in our editorial guidelines. Specifically, to give content creators a steer on 'fair' use of AI when creating content, to ensure creators get to benefit from the amazing power of these tools, but also that content is not created 100% by AI and help them understand why we feel that contravenes our core content principles of content quality. 

So, to learn more I devoured this fascinating article, sourcing guidance from major media outlets around the world. I know things change very quickly when it comes to AI, but I highly encourage reading this and taking inspiration from how these media outlets are tackling this topic. 

Learn more: The Marketer's Guide to AI-generated content

Why did we decide to create editorial guidelines?

1. Aligning content creators to a clear vision and process

Optimizely as a business has undergone a huge transformation over the last 3 years, going through rapid acquisition and all the joys and frustrations that can bring. As a content team, we quickly recognized the need to create a set of clear and engaging guidelines that helps content creators understand how and where they can contribute, and gave a clear process to follow when submitting a content idea for consideration. 

2. Reinvigorated approach to brand and content 

As a brand Optimizely is also going through a brand evolution - moving from a more formal, considered tone of voice to one that's much more approachable, down to earth and not afraid to use humor, different in content and execution. 

See, our latest CMS campaign creative:

Mock ups of Optimizely CMS campaign creative

It's pretty out there in terms of creative and messaging. It's an ad campaign that's designed to capture attention yes, but also - to demonstrate our abilities as a marketing team to create this type of campaign that is normally reserved for other more quote unquote creative industries. 

We wanted to give guidance to fellow content creators outside the team on how they can also create content that embraces this evolved tone of voice, while at the same time ensuring content adheres to our brand guidelines.

3. Streamline content creation process

Like many global enterprises we have many different content creators, working across different time zones and locations. Documenting a set of guidelines and making them easily available helps content creators quickly understand our content goals, the types of content we want to create and why. It would free up content team time spent with individual contributors reviewing and editing submissions, and would ensure creation and optimization aligns to broader content & business goals.

It was also clear that we needed to document a process for submitting content ideas, so we made sure to include this in the guidelines themselves to make it easy and accessible for all contributors. 

4. 2023 retrospective priority 

As a content team we regularly review our content strategy and processes to ensure we're operating as efficiently as possible.

In our last retrospective. I asked my team 'what was the one thing I could do as a manager to help them be more impactful in their role?'

Editorial guidelines was the number 1 item on their list. 

So off we went... 

What we did

  • Defined a discrete scope of work for the first version of the editorial guidelines, focusing on the Blog and Resources section of the website. This is where the content team spends most of its time and so has most involvement in the content creation process. Also where the most challenging bottlenecks have been in the past
  • Research. Reviewed what was out there, got my hands on a few free templates and assembled a framework to create a first version for inputs and feedback 
  • Asked content community - I put a few questions out to my network on LinkedIn on the topic of content guidelines and content strategy, seeking to get input and guidance from smart marketers.  


Combining two of my great passions in life - content strategy and Arrested Development - in one LinkedIn post (Feb 2024)

  • Invited feedback: Over the course of a few weekswe invited collaborators to comment in a shared doc as a way of taking iterative feedback, getting ideas for the next scope of work, and also - bringing people on the journey of creating the guidelines. Look at all those reviewers! Doing this within our Content Marketing Platform (CMP) ensured that all that feedback was captured in one place, and that we could manage the process clearly, step by step:


Look at all those collaborators! Thanks guys! And all of those beautiful ticks, so satisfying. So glad I could crop out the total outstanding tasks for this screen grab too (Source - Optimizely CMP) 

  • Updated content workflow: Now we have clear, documented guidance in place, we've included this as a step - the first step - in the workflow used for blog post creation: 

Optimizely CMP screenshot of editorial guideline review

Source: Optimizely CMP


It's early days but we're already seeing more engagement with the content creation process, especially amongst the teams involved in building the guidelines (which was part of the rationale in the first place :))

Screenshot of teams message editorial guidelines

Source: My Teams chat 

It's inspired teams to think differently about the types of content we want to produce going forwards - for the blog and beyond.

I'd also say it's boosted team morale and collaboration, helping different teams work together on shared goals to produce better quality work.

What's next?

We're busy planning wider communication of the editorial guidelines beyond marketing. We've kept the original draft and regularly share this with existing and potential collaborators for ongoing commentary, ideas and feedback.

Creating guidelines has also sparked discussion about the types of briefs and templates we want and need to create in CMP to support creating different assets. Finding the right balance between creative approach and using templates to scale content production is key. 

We'll review these guidelines on a quarterly basis and evolve as needed, adding new formats and channels as we go.

Key takeaways

  • Editorial guidelines are a useful way to guide content creators as part of your overall content strategy
  • Taking the time to do research upfront can help accelerate seemingly complex projects. Don't be afraid to ask your community for inputs and advice as you create
  • Keep the scope small at first rather than trying to align everything all at once. Test and learn as you go
  • Work with stakeholders to build guidelines from the ground up to ensure you create a framework that is useful, relevant and used

And lastly, here's that free template we created to help you build or evolve your own editorial guidelines!