How to Create a Content Guide for Your Clients

notebook pen ipad with content planner

Do you know what the biggest roadblock is in any web design project? Content. No matter what point in the process it arrives, it always becomes the part that slows the project down.

Why? Because unless the client has hired a copywriter, they’re responsible for writing all their content. After all, who knows their industry better than them?

The thing is, writing content is hard. It’s even harder when you’ve never been through the design process before. For most clients, this whole experience is new to them.

At my first agency job, I noticed the struggles my clients were having creating their content. They wouldn’t know where to start or they’d send over content that was incomplete, disorganized, or worst – plagiarized. Images would come from Google (huge no-no) or sent over within Word docs. It was a hot mess. I couldn’t blame them. They didn’t know better (except the plagiarism part 😉).

To help them out and get the content I desired for my designs, I started creating a content guide. It outlined what I needed and how to submit it along with a checklist.

I sent this along with their site architecture (aka a site map) and started to see success. Clients were sending over their content on time and it was content that fit the design.

Now, I’ve recently revived and overhauled my content guide for my freelance clients. It’s been so helpful for both of us. They feel less overwhelmed, and I get everything I need.

Here’s how you can create your own!

What is a Content Guide?

A content guide is a document to help clients through the process of creating their content. This keeps the client from feeling overwhelmed and sets them up for success.

Creating a content guide also helps you. This ensures you get everything you need for your project and keeps things moving along.

A content guide does the following:

  • Defines what content is
  • Gives clients an understanding of do’s and don’ts for content creation
  • Has tips and suggestions for writing their content
  • Shows them how to organize and send their files

When do you send the content guide?

In the industry, content is one of those chicken and egg situations. What comes first – content or design? Some designers require content upfront. Others will design without it and use their design to dictate the content. I’ve done both, but I’ve found a project is most successful when I know what I’m working with.

My process requires content before we get into design. I send the content guide after we’ve solidified their site architecture. That way they have a site map to reference and it’s still fresh in their mind. The content guide helps bring everything together.

The anatomy of a Content Guide:

  1. Cover
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Introduction
  4. What content is and best practices
  5. Tips and suggestions on what to write
  6. How to organize and deliver their files
  7. A checklist to wrap it all up

01. Cover

Pretty self-explanatory, but the key thing here is that it’s branded. Don’t throw this in a plain old Word doc. Design it. Introduce some of that white-glove service into your process. 😉

02. Table of Contents

I find a Table of Contents to be crucial because it lays everything out they’re going to find. Already setting expectations! Plus my guide is 22 pages long, so it was definitely a must!

03. Introduction

The introduction is your place to let your client know that everything is going to be okay and cheer them on. Here you’ll tell them what they can expect and why it’s important. You’re their content Yoda. 🤓

04. Defining Content

You should first define what content is. Content is complex, so it’s important you identify what it is. I broke content up into two parts: written-copy and visuals (branding, images, media). I explain what each of those parts mean and what they include. I also have a section for best practices, things like don’t plagiarize, don’t get your images from Google, and what file types I’m looking for.

05. Tips & Suggestions

This is where you start getting into specifics for the actual pages on their website. Usually, there are certain pages clients already have content for. However, most of the time they need help on where to start.

In this section, I give tips and ideas for the most common pages you’ll find on a website. This includes home, about, services, contact, blog, and legal (privacy policy + terms & conditions).

Use this section to share resources, such as where to generate copy for legal pages. Include a few prompts and best practices. I also suggest typical sections of content you might find on that particular page.

This is the most useful section of your entire content guide to your client. Help them be successful!

06. Delivery

In this section you layout how you want their content organized and delivered. Do you want copy in a Google Doc? Do you want images shared on Dropbox? What naming convention do you want for folders and files? You can even include a sample document on how to format their copy.

Pro tip: Design a nice little flowchart showing the file structure. It makes a great supporting visual.

07. Final Checklist

Now we’re bringing everything together! This is a one-page checklist that simply reminds them of what they need to provide and how to submit it.

Create your content guide!

Creating a content guide for your client is a win-win for both designer and client. You’re helping each other succeed, and you’re adding value to your services. Who wouldn’t want that?