Web Content Best Practices

While drafting your web pages, consider these tips for writing user-friendly and easy-to-read content that meets the needs of your web audiences.

  

What should be on your website

Appropriate web content will vary from department to department. Think about your audiences, their goals, and your strategic goals as a department.  Your web content should be aimed at meeting the information needs of the people you serve everyday. Consider:

  • Who is calling or visiting your office?  What questions are they asking that could easily be answered with your web content?

  • What information are your audiences seeking from your office?  What services do you provide them?

  • What do you want your audiences to learn? Think of your strategic plan.
What should not be on your website

Blank pages or “Page under construction” messages

If a page does not have content on it, do not publish it on the live site.  Blank pages and “under construction” messages will frustrate your users and drive them away from your site.

Resources for internal staff only, including password-protected content

University departments have tools, like Google Drive, U-M Box, and shared drives provided by ITS, to store and password-protect files like departmental meeting minutes, internal forms and reports, etc. Navigating to individually password-protected pages on your website is not best practice for creating a seamless user experience.  Drupal will not support password-protection of web pages or files for site visitors. 

Think of the website as a tool for reaching audiences beyond your office walls and consider what content would be most relevant and interesting in meeting your audiences' needs. Any content that you do not wish an external audience to see should not be added to the website.

Clipart or stock photos

If you plan to include photos in your site, use ones that provide additional value to your users by showcasing actual people, places, and events within your department or the university as a whole.  

FAQ pages

If your FAQ page is answering questions that the rest of the website should answer, then you have a problem with your site content.

FAQs can become a catch-all for a random set of information and often do not encompass actual questions that are frequently asked by your users.  If you are going to format your content into FAQs, make sure to do so in the appropriate context. For example, a Financial Aid page on scholarships could include a list of questions students frequently ask about scholarships, instead of creating a separate FAQ page that lumps those questions with others unrelated to scholarships.

Voice, tone, and language

Use a conversational and approachable tone.  This will not apply to all content, like policies or degree requirements, but generally, make your website visitors feel welcomed.

Example from the Campus Life page:

“Consider it your home away from home. At University of Michigan-Dearborn, you’ll get more than a great education. You’ll join a multicultural community, discover your own strengths and forge lifelong friendships.”

Use pronouns. Refer to your users as “you,” not “the students” or “the alumni,” for example. Refer to your department, unit, or staff as a whole as “we.” This creates cleaner sentence structure and more approachable content.

Avoid acronyms and departmental jargon. Not all of your users will have your institutional knowledge so it is best to spell out the meaning of any acronyms used, with the acronym immediately following.  This will especially help give context to screen reader users if the acronym is used further down the page.

Organizing your content

Turn paragraphs into bulleted lists where appropriate.  Users find online text easiest to consume when it is concise, scannable, and objective. Front-load bulleted lists with keywords users are looking for to make lists easy to scan.

Start with your conclusion or most important point and then follow-up with supporting details.  Web users tend to scan pages to find key information quickly, rather than reading them word-by-word.

Give your users enough context and details. Users can arrive to your site via any page thanks in great part to search engines, so don’t assume they have read through the rest of your content before arriving to a certain page.  For example, a page with a single link to a PDF with no explanation of the file does not make it clear to your users who that file is for or what its purpose is.

Chunk content with headings to make your pages easily scannable for your users.

Long pages are okay if they have a purpose. Research shows that people have become accustomed to scrolling down a page to see more content.

Links

Don't label your links with verbs or phrases like "Click Here." When calling the user to action, use brief but meaningful text that:

  • provides some information when read out of context
    • Instead of: Click here to learn more about our program requirements
    • Use: Psychology program requirements are managed by the Behavioral Sciences department and updated yearly.
  • explains what the link offers
    • Instead of : Photos of our past events are here, here, and here.
    • Use: Photos of our past events: Alumni Day, 30-Minute Mentors, and Homecoming
  • is not a verb phrase
    • Instead of: Learn more about student leadership events
    • Use: Learn about student leadership events
  • is not a hyperlink
    • Instead of: https://umdearborn.edu/admissions/transfer
    • Use: Transfer Admissions

 

Don't overdo links and buttons. If everything is emphasized, nothing will stand out as important.

If a link does anything other than go to another web page, make sure it explicitly indicates what will happen. If linking to a PDF file or launching an audio or video player, email message, or another application, indicate this to your users before they click the link (e.g., put the file type in parentheses next to the link).

Link to existing content rather than recreating it on your pages. This makes for easier content updates and more accurate information, as it eliminates the need to update content in more than one spot on the site. 

Only set links to open in new tabs if they link to a file or an external page (outside of umdearborn.edu). Opening new tabs of the same website is redundant and confusing for your users.

External Relations

1161 AB -
Administration Building (AB)
Phone: 
313-593-5140
Fax: 
313-593-5403
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