Over at Freelance Switch, there is an interesting article about Yahoo’s new stylebook being published in an effort to help establish writing standards for online content. As the article correctly points out, most sites currently follow the journalistic rules and suggestions found within the Associated Press Stylebook, or AP Stylebook. The conventions laid out within the book are collectively known as AP Style, although they do not formulate an entire style and layout like MLA style does.
Unlike MLA Style or other academic styles, AP Style is not so much a structure to be followed or grammatical rules to live by. Rather, the AP Stylebook is composed primarily of phrases, terms, names, and acronyms that have a real world use and standardization that may not be reflected in writing references like the dictionary or the Chicago Manual of Style. For example, how to properly refer to military titles is one section. (Capitalize and use the standardized abbreviation when placed before a name, but lower case otherwise.)
It is also useful for when the words of the world have outpaced the words in the dictionary. However, even the AP Stylebook falls short in the fast paced world of the Internet. If you are truly following AP Style, then web page is correct, not webpage. The same is true for web site, not website.
What is missing from all manner of references is how to deal with widely used terms that have not been standardized yet. For example, is it social media, social networking, social networks, or web 2.0, or Web 2.0.
Unfortunately, Yahoo’s effort is largely moot considering the necessity that most online content be readily accessible to and highly ranked by, the various search engines. In this regard, being correct or accurate can actually be a giant penalty. The correct title is The Associated Press Stylebook but if your article doesn’t say AP Style in it at least once, you will never get anything but a trickle of search traffic.
Until Google develops better algorithms for indexing and ranking websites, the only style guide that matters is the one that determines SERPs.