The words on a Web page are just as important as the look and feel of the page, if not more important. We offer these content strategies as a framework to use when creating or editing any content on the SMU site.
1. Keep style and tone relatively consistent.
There must be a general consistency of style and tone across all of the externally focused top-level messaging of the site. Overall, the tone of writing throughout the site should be smart, knowing, engaging, and straightforward. One of the best ways to check the style of Web writing is to read it to yourself out loud. If it sounds natural, it’s likely to be good. A little variation in writing style and tone is ok, however, when developing content for areas of the site with different audiences. For instance, Student Life may have a more playful tone than Graduate & Professional Studies or Giving.
2. Integrate key messages.
Through the news stories, themes, selection of examples, and general choice of words—especially for news headlines and event titles/teasers—readers should come away associating Saint Mary’s (or your particular Department or School) with some of its key values and characteristics. We believe that visitors to the SMC site will form associations based on ALL the content they read on the site. So to the extent possible, each part should reflect the qualities of the whole.
3. Incorporate first-person narratives.
In general, we recommend using first-person narratives as much as possible.Prospective students want to get as accurate a sense as possible of the true nature of the SMC community, and direct exposure to that community is the best way to achieve that goal. Blogs, student/faculty-generated content, good photography with descriptive captions, and video can help to give this impression.
4. Use opening paragraphs on section/department/office homepages.
Flipping through the site, any visitor should be able to quickly absorb the most important information on the page to determine whether she needs to take the time to read the entire page.
Each section/department/office homepage should include one to two short opening paragraphs of text that introduce the content area and link to key pages within the section. (Many of these links will be redundant to the section’s navigation, but will give it more context and make information more accessible.) It will be important to keep these short, so they can be read quickly and easily. These intro pages should be around 200-300 words in length.
5. Make sure you know what a page is.
This might seem like a silly point, but often websites become unruly behemoths when pages are created, then lost and forgotten. We know that there will always be a little messiness around the edges but with a redesign we have the opportunity to review and streamline as much as possible. When someone has some information that needs to be "put on the website," it's easy to simply create a new page. But a few questions ought to be asked before a new page is created:
- Is this an event, news item, announcement, image gallery, video or feature story? If, yes, it should not be a page, it should be entered into the system as content that can be shown on more than one page and repurposed for use in various contexts. (We often call this dynamic content).
- Is this information (or a class of information) that should exist in one place on the site and won’t change frequently? If the answer is yes, then it might be worthy of a page.
- Does this information exist elsewhere on the site? And related, is there someone else on campus more directly in charge of this information that I should be coordinating with? If the answer is yes, then briefly mention the information and link to the existing page. This extra step helps cut down on redundant and out-of-date information throughout the site. And in the end it’s less work for everyone.
If this question is being considered during a content review process, consolidate redundant pages (or simply eliminate some) and find the most logical place in the architecture for the one page. The “owner” of this page should be the one who has access to the most up-to-date information for it.
General inside page main content area
In reviewing content on any interior page, often the biggest problem is heavy blocks of text that are not easy to read (often the result of transferring information from a printed format to the Web). This is where Web writing style guidelines are most critical.
The more prominent a page is, the more carefully we need to consider quick readability, style, and message. Most pages should not exceed 500 words. Pages deep in the site with very technical information can be longer, but even lists of policies and procedures lose their usefulness (i.e. no one reads them) when they run down a long page without use of headers, bullets, or other ways to break up the information.
Page sidebars (and other ancillary content blocks) should be reserved for content that supplements the main area of the page. At the very least, this might include related links or available document downloads – and at best, can include rotating stories, quotes, testimonials, or images that help to explain and bring life to the main content area.
On pages where the sidebar is used for sub-page navigation, only very pertinent information (such as contact info or deadlines) should be added. This additional information should always be placed below any navigational elements.