Digital Style Guide
The University of Idaho website is maintained by the University Communications and Marketing (UCM) web team, with support from Information Technology Services.
UCM uses the Sitecore content management system to maintain and organize the university website. If you need assistance with creating or maintaining your university website, your web team member can assist you.
Writing for the Web
Writing online content requires shifting your thinking a little from writing traditional print copy. The content needs to offer links to additional resources and references, clear calls to action, and include appropriate keywords so that it appears in search engine results, known as search engine optimization (SEO). Below are best practices and tips for creating effective digital content.
Digital copy should be simple, concise and easy to scan. Users may be on your site from mobile, tablet or desktop devices. The U of I website utilizes responsive web design to give a good visual experience to all users, but the longer your content is, the more scrolling a mobile user will have to do, and that can make scanning difficult.
Subheads, bullet points and breakouts can make your content easy to use and help site visitors find what they need.
Use Headers and Subheads
Search engines give more weight to pages that have search terms in header tags. Long feature articles should be broken up with subheads that use keywords to describe the next section of text. On feature articles, subheads should be included about every 200-300 words, as it makes sense in the flow of copy.
Digital copy is often consumed through scanning, rather than reading top-to-bottom. Subheads can help users find the content they are looking for quickly.
Using headings and subheadings frequently is also important for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Screen readers used by people with visual impairments detect the HTML code that indicates headers (h1, h2, h3) and pay more attention to them than they do to ordinary paragraph copy — even if paragraph copy is set in bold or italic.
The importance of a heading descends as its number ascends, for example, information used as a Heading 2 should be more important than that of a Heading 3.
Add Links and Keywords
If you mention a page or document in your copy, link to that page or document. Important links should be added in the content itself, as well as in the “Additional Resources” right-hand objects.
Hyperlinks should be embedded on keywords, rather than passive words like “click here.” For example, “Find more information about the bachelor’s program” is a stronger call to action than “Click here to find more information about the bachelor’s program.”
Both internal links (to other U of I webpages) and external links (to sites outside the university) can improve the university’s SEO results.
When creating your content, think about the words that a person might use to search for that page. Be sure to include those common search terms somewhere in your copy. Search terms should be written naturally as part of the content. Don’t try to “trick” the search engine by adding a paragraph of search terms at the end.
Use Alt Tags on All Images
An important part of maintaining ADA compliance is the inclusion of “alternate text” or alt tags on photographs or images. This is the text that will display when an image isn’t downloaded, and is available for screen readers for the visually impaired. Alt tags should give a description of the image, for example “A portrait of U of I President Chuck Staben,” rather than just a label, “Chuck Staben.”
It is also important to remember that graphics or photographs that display text can be difficult to read and reduce ADA compliance. If a photo file must contain text, be sure it has an adequate alt tag. Avoid creating tables or charts with complex information as images only. Email should also never contain photographs with important text on it.
Use Descriptive Metadata
Metadata is the behind-the-scenes text that is scanned by search engines to generate search results. While it is rated lower than headers, it is important to include to maximize your page effectiveness. When creating new content in Sitecore, metadata includes:
- Meta headline: Less than 70 characters, this is the headline that shows up in a search result. It should contain easy-to-search-for keywords. It is OK to use “UIdaho” in the meta headline for search results.
- Meta description: This is the secondary text that shows up under your headline in a search result. It should give the user a clear description of the page content, so they know if it will serve their needs. It should contain strong keywords and be less than 150 characters.
- Keywords: Additional keywords that are contained on your page. This is a list of keywords separated by commas. Keywords should include the names of colleges, programs, faculty, students or degree types, as well as common abbreviations. For example, all content should include the keywords “University of Idaho” “U of I” and “UIdaho.”