Nine Simple Best Practices for More Effective Web Pages
1. Think like a client. What information would you most want to know when you open our page? Put the most important information at the top. This could be a summarizing first paragraph to help readers quickly determine whether your web page meets their need, or it might be the date, time, and location of a workshop. Make your page titles and headings meaningful, i.e., descriptive and informative. Online readers rarely read everything on a page; they quickly scan pages for information. Meaningful titles, headings, and subheads can help them find what they’re looking for quickly.
2. Include appropriate keywords in your title, headings, and first paragraph to help users find your information via search engines. Search engines prioritize information in titles, headings, and first paragraphs when ranking and displaying results for users. To help your page appear at or near the top of search results, include keywords that your target audience is likely to use in their searches. Include the word “Maine” when appropriate, to help Maine clients find the info they need.
3. Use language that will be easily understood by your target audience. Avoid acronyms, words, and phrases that might be considered “insider” jargon. Define new terms when they are introduced, and use them consistently throughout the page.
4. Proofread your pages. Better yet, have someone else proofread your pages, since it can be difficult to spot errors in your own writing. Spelling and grammar are important! Typos and grammatical errors erode our credibility as an educational institution.
5. Get the name right — ours as well as other institutions, partners, sponsors, etc. We are “University of Maine Cooperative Extension” in the first mention on a page. We are “UMaine Extension” in subsequent mentions. Our county offices are “University of Maine Cooperative Extension X County Office” (or “UMaine Extension X County Office”). Our 4-H camps are “University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at X.” Consistency is important; it helps clients and stakeholders remember who we are.
6. Keep formatting simple and consistent.
- Use tables only for tabular data, not for formatting the layout of the page. Avoid trying to force text to align by adding extra spaces. When you allow text to flow naturally, it will display well on all devices: computer screens, tablets, mini-tablets, and smartphones. TIP: To single space between paragraphs, hold down your shift key while hitting Return (or Enter).
- Use underlining only for hyperlinks. Underlines are a cue to users that a word or phrase is an active link. Users become frustrated when they scroll over underlined words or phrases and find there’s no link. Use bold and/or italics for emphasis.
7. Use meaningful words and phrases in your links. To help users and search engines, avoid “click here” type links or long URLs and be clear about where links are taking users. Examples:
Linking to external sites: Links to external sites should be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis. Adding links to external sites implies that we endorse everything on those sites, despite our disclaimer statement. Relevant program staff should thoroughly review sites before linking, in order to determine if the content is appropriate and useful to UMaine Extension’s clients. See Section 4.11 of the Policy and Procedures Manual for complete guidelines.
8. A picture is worth a thousand words, however…
- Make sure that all the content on your site — images, text, videos, etc. — is content that you have the right to use. For “safe” images, see Photo Sources. To request permission to use an image (or text) from another source, use our Permission to Use form letter.
- Obtain a signed release from the people in the pictures before posting images to the web. If the faces can’t be recognized, because they are too small, turned away from the camera, or blocked by another person or object, no release is necessary. If the person is recognizable, a signed release is necessary.
- Reduce image sizes before uploading to the CMS to reduce download times for users and to save server space. All images should be saved at 72 dpi. Most images can also be reduced to at least 500 pixels wide. The exception would be images that are intended for identification purposes (for example, a plant disease or insect pest) and therefore require a lot of detail. All images file sizes should be less than 3MB. Learn more at How to prepare images for the web, using Preview on Mac.
- Add alternate text to all images to make them ADA compliant. For more information, see How to add alternative descriptions to photos and graphics.
9. Most online users prefer regular web pages over PDFs and, given the choice, will choose to download a web page. This is especially true of users on mobile devices. Use PDFs sparingly. Make sure they are ADA compliant before uploading to the web. For more information, see How to check if a PDF is accessible and what to do if it’s not. If you do include a PDF (or Word or Excel) document on your web page, let the user know by including (PDF) or (Word) or (Excel) in parentheses as part of the link, like this: Release Form (Word).
For more help, contact Michelle Snowden at email@example.com.