Welcome to the online brand guide.
- Creating brand guidelines and style guides
- Create a content calendar for the year
- Protect your brand from domain squatters
- Refresh your website template
- Add or update website testimonials
- Actively manage online reviews
Improve your online brand: Guidelines
To improve your online brand, start with your brand guidelines (style guide). All communications stem from the rules and guidelines found in your style guide. Once you have this, the rest becomes easier because you can copy and paste most brand-related assets from the style guide.
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines denote the visual design, formatting, and style of a business' brand for both online and offline use. Brand guidelines typically include logo style, formatting, and usage rules for the company blog, website, ads, and other marketing materials. Brand guidelines assure brand continuity between departments, vendors, and over time. Brand guidelines live in the brand style guide.
What is included in brand guidelines?
- Logo variations in black and white as well as color
- Ad layouts for on and offline use
- Tagline or taglines
- Website layout
- Approved imagery and rules of use
- Content guidelines like tone and voice
Action: Create a comprehensive brand style guide and use it for all content
Work with an in-house or external expert to draw up a detailed brand style guide that governs all written and visual content on web properties that you control or influence:
- Your website and blog
- Your social media profiles
- External communications, such as press releases
- Affiliate and partner content, such as sponsored reviews and product listings
- Advertising and marketing content
Your style guide ensures that everyone over whom you have any influence discusses your brand in the same terms — driving a consistent message to as wide an audience as possible.
If you are looking for freelancers, we recommend you start here: Toptal
Examples of amazing style guides
Here are some inspirational resources for style guides. These are all for larger organizations, but look beyond the sizzle to see the meat of each guide:
Create a content calendar for the year for your brand
When you add content to your site, it tends to rise in search results. The content development process doesn't really start to get rolling until after you've been at it for a few months, but it is one of the best and cheapest ways to improve web traffic. The best way to stay on top of it is to spend the time in advance creating a content calendar.
Content and editorial calendar template
We've provided a free content and editorial calendar template for you to copy. Included in the template are three tabs:
- Editorial calendar template
- Blog calendar template
- Marketing calendar template
The editorial calendar is where you plan content that will be posted on third-party websites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. The blog calendar template is used for your own site's blog posts. The marketing calendar template is an example of what your whole year's marketing might look like including the editorial/blog content and webinars, conferences, and the like.
Protect your brand from domain squatters
Domain squatters are people who buy alternative versions of your brand's domain name and then just sit on them, usually charging you very high amounts to get the domain back. It's perfectly legal in most instances to register other brands' domains.
Some of the more nefarious squatters may also create competing brands or use the pages to redirect customers looking for your brand to theirs. Sometimes domain squatters simply hold your domain for ransom.
Make a complete list of defensive domains, and buy them
Make a comprehensive list of variations on your main website domain. This list could include, but shouldn’t necessarily be limited to, the following:
- Less common extensions for your domain name (not just “yourname.com,” but .org, .co, .biz, and so on)
- Alternate spellings and close variations, like “yournam.com” and “youname.com”
- Negatives (or potentially negative) variations, like “yournamescam.com” and “yournameripoff.com”
- Other variations that you might want to own, like “theyourname.com” and “thisisyourname.com”
- "yourname.sucks (yes, it's a real domain option)
If they’re available, buy them. Don’t divert resources to building out a specific domain unless you have a clear vision for it. For now, simply redirect each to your main website.
There – domain squatters = handled.
Look at your website template through fresh eyes
There is no need to switch out your eyeballs for new ones; this way is easier and less messy.
About that main website of yours: How has it aged since its last update? It’s okay to admit that the answer here is “not well.” But you don’t have to believe your own eyes. Ask stakeholders, employees, or other trusted associates to take a look and send you their unvarnished impressions, making it crystal clear that you won’t hold negative feedback against them (and would, in fact, welcome it).
Then take action on suggested improvements that don’t require technical know-how. Or, if you have the resources, get in-house or contracted experts to work with you to make the changes. At Reputation X we often use web designers hired temporarily through Toptal.
Improve and optimize website images for better search engine placement
Compelling images draw users; they also help to inform and break up long pages of text. But page speed is really important too. So images should be dealt with carefully.
A website can have too many images if there are so many that it slows down the page. Before adding any images to your site we suggest testing the page using both Pingdom and Google Page Speed Insights. These tools will show you how fast your site is and why. If images on a specific page seem like they are slowing things down, do not add more. Instead, open up Photoshop or a similar program and reduce the size of the images and then replace the old ones on your site with the new ones. Again, you can hire a web designer to do it if you cannot.
Another trick - consider swapping out solid-color backgrounds for photo or video backgrounds - but try to keep the size down to less than 120K - preferably far less. If that’s too much, use multimedia elements to tell your story, such as static photos and diagrams, whiteboard animations, and videos (preferably non-autoplay). Optimize each image or multimedia element by:
- Reducing the file size to minimize load time (without compromising image quality)
- Choosing the right file type (JPEG offers a good balance between file size and quality, GIF is okay for short animations but it's also good for small images on larger solid backgrounds)
- Assigning a descriptive file name that makes sense in an image search
Here is an article about image SEO that you may find useful.
Use testimonials on your website to drive more conversions
Genuine, relevant testimonials are new-client catnip.
Draft an email call for testimonials about your work, then fire it off to each current and former client with whom you remain on good terms after adding some attention-grabbing custom language. You may want to sweeten the offer by adding giving respondents a gift card no matter how good or bad the testimonial was. Add the best submissions to your website, preferably in a homepage section and on pages where people tend to make the final buying decision.
Update your social media profiles’ background and cover photos
The goal here is consistency across your entire social media ecosystem. Remember the style guide section above? A good style guide will provide a solid foundation for consistency in graphics and messaging. Whether they’re visiting your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter profile for the second or hundredth time, your social media followers should immediately recognize that the profile they’ve navigated to is yours, yours alone, and can only be yours. Remember, you’re vying for priceless slivers of a fickle audience’s attention.
Actively manage customer reviews on third-party sites and social media
When it comes to online reviews from customers — or anonymous “customers,” as is sometimes the case — there are certain things you can do and some you can’t. A lot depends on where the review appears and what it says.
The lowest-hanging fruits are any abusive or inaccurate “reviews” or comments posted to your social media profiles. If you don’t have a full-time social media manager and it’s been some time since you cleaned up your profiles, scan public reviews and comments and flag vile or inaccurate content for deletion.
Next, take a second pass at your social reviews and flag any well-thought-out but potentially negative feedback. Task a trusted, fluent employee with the response to each, or take it upon yourself to reach out (first publicly, then privately) with an offer to make things right (if warranted). If there was a problem, and you fixed it, ask the reviewer if they wouldn't mind refreshing their review.
As for longer-form reviews on third-party websites that you don’t directly control? Go over any in-depth reviews of your products or services with a fine-toothed comb, using tracked changes to highlight and correct any inaccuracies. Send the corrected document to the publisher with a polite request to update the review accordingly. You’d be surprised how many agree — most website publishers are basically good people who simply have too many irons in the fire to pay attention to every last detail.
Back to “normal,” better than ever
No one knows for sure when all this will end. Nor does anyone know for sure how things will look when it’s over. The new normal could be so different from the old that we’ll only realize in hindsight that a new era has begun.
But put all that to the side for now. It’s out of your control.
Focus, instead, on something you know you can control: the strength of your online brand. Use your newfound surplus of downtime to shore up your online brand. To create a bigger, better collection of positive first impressions. To show anyone who cares, definitively, that you’ll be there for them when this is all over.
What are online brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines denote the visual design, formatting, and style of a business' brand for both online and offline use. Brand guidelines normally include logo style, formatting, and usage rules as well as those for the company blog, website, ads, and other marketing materials.
What is included in brand guidelines?
Logo variations in black and white as well as color. Typography. Ad layouts for on and offline use. Tagline or tag lines. Website layout. Approved imagery and rules of use. Content guidelines like tone and voice.
What types of content need a brand style guide?
Your website and blog. Your social media profiles. External communications, such as press releases. Affiliate and partner content, such as sponsored reviews and product listings. Advertising and marketing content.
What are domain squatters?
Squatters are people who buy alternative versions of your brand's domain name and then just sit on them. They may also create competing brands or use the pages to redirect customers looking for your brand to theirs. Sometimes domain squatters simply hold your domain for ransom.
How do you manage customer reviews on third-party sites and social media?
Scan public reviews and comments and flag vile or inaccurate content for deletion. Next, take a second pass at your social reviews and flag any well-thought-out but potentially negative feedback. If there was a problem, and you fixed it, ask the reviewer if they wouldn't mind refreshing their review.
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning online reputation management agency. He has over 15 years of experience with SEO, Wikipedia editing, review management, and online reputation strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics, and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters.