We’re lucky at the University of Notre Dame. We know most of our intended audience will eventually come to our sites. We have a captive audience of Irish fans, students, faculty, Notre Dame alum wannabes, and peer institutions.
And then again, we’re not so lucky. We don’t always have professional writers to craft our web pages. We often are called upon to write our text ourselves.
And we aren’t always great, even good writers.
So how do we create web pages that contain decent content?
First, I believe we have to ask ourselves, “what is good content?” For a higher ed site such as ours, the answer will differ from that for a retail site. However, a few things are constant, no matter what kind of site we’re crafting.
Here’s a checklist you can use to see if your site meets this guideline and other good practices.
|Is your content unique?||There are thousands of higher ed websites. Does your site provide information that can’t be found elsewhere (even on other Notre Dame sites)? If not unique, is there a valid reason for including it on this site?|
|Is your content useful?||Think of the goals of your site and of your visitors. Does the content help fulfill those goals?|
|Is your content easy to understand?||Remember that you have all kinds of visitors to your site: high school students and their parents, non-English speakers, faculty, and just plain curious folks. Write so that just about anyone can understand what you’re saying.|
|Are your links valid?||Linking to other sites is a good idea; however, those sites could change without you noticing it. Set up a regular schedule to check your site’s links. Here’s an easy-to-use web service for link checking.|
|Do your graphics or photos that help visitors understand your content?||While photos are nice to have on websites, make sure that they actually add value to the page. Make sure they relate to the content and help the visitor relate to or understand the content.|
|Did you limit your ideas to one per paragraph?||Several short paragraphs can get the point across to your visitors better than can one long paragraph. If the points are short enough, consider making them into a bulleted list (easily scannable).|
|Did you put your important content first?||Visitors will typically read only the first one or two words of each paragraph when scanning the page. Be sure to put the most important points first so that your visitors won’t miss them.|
|Is your content up-to-date?||Old information is useless to your visitor and destroys the credibility you’ve worked so hard to establish.|
|Do you have an FAQ section?||Frequently asked questions can be very helpful. However, make sure that these are truly FAQs and not simply information you haven’t taken the time to organize.A good example of an FAQ section that is based on feedback from callers is the one on the Notre Dame Human Resources Department’s site. This FAQ section is built on questions asked of the department’s help desk and is regularly updated as the questions change with the time of year.|
|Have you turned long paragraphs into bullet lists when possible?||Bulleted lists can help break up the page for easier scanning. This will help visitors find information they might have otherwise overlooked.|
|Do your headings help your visitors find things on your page?||For more information on using headings to organize (and even write) your content, check out “Five Things You Should Know about Headings.”|
|Is your text left-aligned?||Although the default is left-aligned text, sometimes we insert images so that the text wraps on the right of the image. While this can seem, perhaps, a little less boring than right-aligned images, images to the right help visitors quickly scan and read your page without having to refocus and readjust to the varying margins of text to the right of images.|