Starting Out with Web Communications
These guidelines have been put together by the Public Affairs Directorate to help you when creating pages for the web.
Points to bear in mind
- People read differently online.
- They won't necessarily read from left to right.
- They will scan pages rather than read every word.
- They will focus on headings, subheadings, bold text and links.
- They may not scroll down and therefore could miss text at the bottom of a page.
- They might set their screen to ‘text only’ or be using screen reader software. This means that they won't necessarily see web pages as you do. With this in mind, it is best to avoid referring to images or the next column in a table.
- You should avoid using ‘click here’ as this is meaningless to screen reader software. Label your links descriptively ("see Undergraduate Prospectus", not "for Undergraduate Prospectus click here").
Creating a website
- Effective planning at the beginning will ensure that whatever time or money is invested will not be wasted.
- Know your target audience/users.
- Remember, the site is not for you; it is for the site users.
- User-focused content and site design is critical.
- Future users of the site will determine its success, not internal critics.
- Good navigation is essential. The user wants to click on links and find what they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible.
- A good website is uncluttered and simple to use.
- Use plain English. Avoid using jargon that your audience may not understand.
- Why do you need a website? If it is just because everyone else has one, is that a good enough reason to spend your time and effort on it? A bad website does more harm than no website at all.
- Identify the main objectives for your website. Are they promotional, training, marketing, information, community-building? You may have more than one objective for the site.
- A good website is well maintained and constantly reviewed; is the commitment there to do this?
- What are the longer-term goals? Try to be clear about goals and objectives and document them.
- Look for similar websites. This will show you what others have achieved and allow you to take on the role of a user.
- What works well for those sites? What doesn't work? How will your site be different? Look at content, navigation, writing style, etc.
- If you are redesigning an existing site, analyse the 'web metrics' such as server log file statistics or Google Analytics. They are an invaluable source of information about your existing site visitors - what they are looking for, search words they are using, how they navigate through the site and where they are based around the world.
- Identify your target audience and consult a test group if possible. The needs of your audience should determine the content and design of your site.
Budget and resources
- Your budget will often determine your project scope; it may even restrict your 'site objectives'.
- Will you need to invest in technology to run your site? Will any of it require a database? Scripting?
- Be realistic about what resources you have available; how often will you be able to update your site? Plan your content with this in mind (linking to central resources wherever possible will ensure that information is kept up to date).
- Write down what the success criteria for the site will be and review regularly.