A guide to writing and creating effective, efficient, accessible content for the Colgate University Website.
If you don’t read anything else…skim these tips to create great, accessible content.
- Identify what you need to accomplish.
- Whom are you trying to reach — prospective students? students? parents? faculty or staff? community members?
- Ensure that any content you create meets the needs of that audience, and moves you toward your goal.
- Too much information is just as bad as not enough.
- Consider why people come to your site.
- Focus your content on the purpose of the page.
- Ensure the content is timely, informative, and helpful.
- Avoid using language that only insiders will understand.
Match their expectations and needs, not how your department or program is organized.
- Write page titles that describe the page’s content
- Organize for context; for example, instead of listing staff members alphabetically, arrange them by function, authority, or another relevant, defining category.
- Use headers and subheadings to organize your content.
- Use whitespace to separate sections of content.
- People read far less online than in print. Keep your content succinct. Edit mercilessly.
- Avoid introductory phrases such as “Welcome to our website!”
- Omit explanatory text that states the obvious or what the visitor already knows, such as what they’ll “be able to discover information about.”
- Using words throughout your writing that are common to your field or subject makes your page more discoverable in web searches.
- Avoid vague/insider language, acronyms, or abbreviations, especially for section labels.
- Spell out acronyms or abbreviations on first reference.
- Be sure to provide:
- Informative page titles
- Alternative text ("alt text") for images
- Descriptive link text (“More about housing” instead of “Read more”)
- Transcripts, captions, and/or closed captioning for multimedia
- Read more on accessibility in the section Creating colgate.edu content that works: The details
- Professional photography and videography is preferred, but decent cell phone photographs are often acceptable.
- Quality is credibility; if you don’t have a good image, better to use none.
- Users may not interact with slideshows. If all the images in a set are important, it is better to create a page where they are all visible than to hide some in a slideshow.
- Links to non-essential information are distracting and might send the user elsewhere before you’ve achieved your goal.
- Link to other or supporting resources only when necessary.
- Linked text should describe what the user will get when they click (e.g. “More information for first-year students”).
- Action-oriented words let people know what will happen when they click (e.g. Register).
- Avoid mystery links that don’t indicate where they will go like “more” or “click here.”
- PDFs are difficult to read on smartphones, take time to download, are often not accessible, and are harder to skim and search than web pages.
- Turn PDF forms into web forms where possible.
- Only post the necessary information from existing documents.
Support a Great User Experience
Web content has unique characteristics.
Online readers skim content.
Rather than reading every word, online readers tend to jump around. They read subheadings to get a sense of the page, and often go straight to hyperlinks. Just copying and pasting from print material into a web page often creates a poor online experience for users. Therefore:
- Provide informative subheadings outlining and giving structure to the page
- When creating hyperlinks, use informative link text. For example, “Download sustainability report” instead of “click here.”
- Be brief. Simplify as much as possible.
Colgate’s web pages are organized to target specific audiences.
Content should have specific goals. Not every page has to serve every audience. Throughout most of the website, Colgate generally targets an audience of prospective students and families. Within the Campus Resources and Services section, specific content targets specific groups, e.g., faculty, staff, students, and parents.
- When creating a web page, understand the page’s goal and to what audience that goal is relevant.
- Build the page in the correct section of the site for its intended audience. Ensure the content you prepare is speaking to that audience.
Page layouts change based on the user’s screen size.
Colgate’s website is built using responsive design. This means the content on the page dynamically resizes and rearranges itself based on whether the user is accessing with a computer monitor, a smartphone, a tablet, etc. It is impossible to know exactly how your content will display for every user. Therefore:
- Pay attention to testing for adequate display at several screen sizes, rather than trying to perfect presentation on your own screen.
- Avoid phrases like “the image on the right” — depending on the user’s screen size, that image may appear above or below the text.
You can change it whenever you want… but you have to change it.
Time-bound content falls out of date quickly, and requires continued attention. Therefore:
- If you’re including time-bound content on your page, schedule a time on your calendar to re-edit the page when the information is no longer relevant.
- If you are unable to commit to continually updating a page, provide useful information that is not time bound.
- In most cases it is better to post events to the campus calendar than to a web page. You can then embed the calendar events on relevant web pages on the site.
You need a strategy to help people find your content.
Building a web page is only part of the process of communicating. An equally important step is driving traffic to the new page. Take time to plan a strategy across media for driving awareness of the information you post online, following this useful checklist.
- Build links from other pages of the site to your content. Can users get from your main landing page to your sub-pages?
- Could social media help you meet your goals? Contact the Communications Office to inquire about being referenced on University accounts or how a social media campaign might drive users to your page.
- Depending upon your goals and audience, strategic email marketing may be a solution. Consult with the Communications Office.
- Are you promoting a complex event? Start with calendar.colgate.edu and link to your web page from the event listing. The Communications Office can help you plan an integrated promotion strategy.
- Have you mentioned the web address in relevant printed content?
Creating Website Content That Works
The Big Picture
Colgate is a leading university; our content should reflect the high quality and high standards of the Colgate experience.
Ensure that your content is clearly written, error free, and up to date.
- Identify your goals first. What are you trying to accomplish?
- Consult the Colgate Content Rubric to determine whether your content is appropriate and useful.
- Consult the Colgate Website Content Management System Guide for instructions about how to use the Drupal CMS.
- Review your page before publishing.
- Is it readable by someone in a hurry? Does it contain headings and other features that make meaning clear by skimming?
- Do the images (or other audio/visual content) relate to and enhance the text?
- Is the page easy to use?
- Does it load quickly?
- If you answer “no” to any of these questions, reconsider your design choices in the context of what your audiences need to know.
“Build it and they will come” is a passive approach to creating web pages. If you have an important message to convey, plan a strategy for directing people to the content. You will also want to dovetail the content on your page with the other mechanisms you are using:
- Blog entries
- Social media
- Colgate events calendar
The communications office will be happy to work with you to develop a cohesive communications plan for your project.
Once you have created your page, be sure you review it on a regular basis and revise as necessary.
Maintain a consistent structure to make pages easier to read, navigate, and use — and, consequently, more likely to be read by the people you’re trying to reach.
Drupal 8 allows you to create, edit, and display content on web pages using predefined widgets. For example, there is a widget for adding text, and another widget for adding an image slider. Creating content using widgets has several advantages:
- Widgets can be reordered on the page by dragging and dropping them.
- Widgets automatically add most of the code and HTML that the page needs, so you only need to add information into the widget’s fields, like an online form.
- Everyone on the site is using the same library of widgets, creating a consistent user experience across the website.
Headers and Headings
Headers are critical in web pages; they aid users and screen readers in navigating and understanding your content.
It is important to use the header styles defined in the content management system rather than simply resizing text, making it bold, or underlining it. Re-formatted text may visually look like a header, but in order to be understood by search engines and accessibility tools like screen readers, it must be programmatically defined as a header. Learn about adding headers.
Intentional Word Choices
Word choices on your page are important in two ways:
- Readers: Good word choice and placement helps readers to understand your content, and to visually skim it for efficiency. For example, a page about “OISS” that does not use the term “international student services” would be very difficult for prospective students to understand.
- Search engines: Just like readers, search engines will read the content of your page, and use what they see to place it in search results. If you want to appear in search results for a given term, ensure that term is used meaningfully in the headers and body of your content.
- Use subheads: Subheading your text allow users to skim content. They also play an important role in explaining to search engines what your page is about. Plan where to use subheads, and what words they should contain, to maximize both readability and searchability.
- Text in hyperlinks: The text you use when creating hyperlinks can clarify for both users and search engines what the link’s destination is. Consider how much more useful the phrase “Download sustainability report” is than “click here.”
- Word choice in body copy: Remember that readers online skip around, so if there are important concepts or phrases — like “international student services” instead of “OISS” — work them into the text throughout the page. This will also clarify the subject of your page for search engines — a page that references international students several times is more likely to contain relevant information on that subject than a page that uses the phrase once.
Lists for scannability
Bulleted and numbered lists are a great way to convey a lot of information in a format that is quick for readers to skim.
Use the list buttons in the editor to define lists.
Online, there is a difference between typing something like a dash before a line of text and programmatically defining a bulleted list. This difference is important for search engines and for accessible technologies like screen readers.
To correctly build a bulleted or numbered list, ensure you use the buttons provided in the text editor. Learn how to add lists <LINK>