12 best practices for UMaine Extension web managers

Following a few best practices will help make your web pages polished and professional.

1. 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. Also, avoid referring to our offices as simply the “county office” since it could be confused with county government locations. Remember, our online audiences could be visiting from anywhere.

2. Proofread your pages or ask someone else to proofread them, since it’s often hard to spot your own mistakes. Typos and grammatical errors erode our credibility as an educational institution. It’s pretty embarrassing that the most commonly misspelled word on our web pages is “university”!

3. 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.

4. Use meaningful words and phrases in your links. To help users and search engines, avoid “click here” type links or linking URLs. Be clear about where links are taking users. For example:

DON’T: “To learn more, click here.”
DON’T: “To learn more, visit https://extension.umaine.edu/harvest-for-hunger/.”

DO: “To learn more, visit Maine Harvest for Hunger.”
DO: Make email addresses active links.

When linking to a PDF, Word, Excel or Google document, let the user know by including (PDF) or (Word) or (Excel) or (Google Doc) or (Google Form) in parentheses as part of the link, like this: Release Form (Word).

5. Use the first name and ONLY a last initial when referring to youth who are participating in our programs, to help protect their identities online.

6. Be consistent with the way dates and times are displayed. You can choose a.m. or AM, Oct or October, Mon or Monday, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re the same throughout a document.

Don’t use tables to organize calendars and agendas. Tables should be used for tabular data only.

When listing calendar events, keep the formatting simple and consistent so they display well on all devices. Something like:

September 5, 2019: Event, Time, Location, Description, Presenter
September 6, 2019: Event, Time, Location, Description, Presenter
September 7, 2019: Event, Time, Location, Description, Presenter

When adding an agenda, keep the formatting simple and consistent so they display well on all devices. Something like:

8:00 AM: Title of Session, Description, Presenter
9:00 AM: Title of Session, Description, Presenter
10:00 AM: Title of Session, Description, Presenter

7. Include ALT text on all images to make them ADA compliant. For more info, see How to add alternative descriptions to photos and graphics.

8. Optimize your images for the web before uploading them to your Media Library to improve download times for clients and save server space. UMaine requires all images to be 1M or less before uploading. For more info, see How to prepare images for the web, using Preview on Mac.

9. Let images be images, and text be text. If you have taken the time to create a flyer for a communication, it is tempting to use an image of the flyer on web pages or in social media; we are all busy, and that certainly can save time. Unfortunately, it gives a poor experience for many users, especially mobile users or users who use assistive technologies like screen readers.

10. 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 or with limited data plans. Use PDFs sparingly. PDFs must be made ADA compliant before being uploaded to our website or you must provide a compliant text alternative in addition to the non-compliant PDF. For more information, see How to check if a PDF is accessible and what to do if it’s not.

11. Use the Paste As Text tool on your toolbar when copy/pasting from an email. Copy/pasting directly from a Word document works quite well, however, copy/pasting from an email can bring in a bunch of junk code with it, making formatting more difficult.

12. 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). Avoid multiple spaces between paragraphs to minimize users’ need to scroll.