- Focus your content on top tasks for the individual audiences that use your site. What are those "top tasks"? Hire Customer Carewords to do the research or do it yourself following these U.S. Government "how to" guidelines.
- Make sure key content elements on every page are scannable in 5 seconds or less. If you don't do that, you will lose visitors.
- Use heads and subheads that tell people something. If they can be lifted to anyone else's website they will not do anything special for you. Not "Academic Programs" but "Academic Programs: 63 Bachelors & 14 Master's"
- Clear and simple language... if the first scan draws people into the page, make it easy for them to read on for more details. "Organization speak" is deadly for people who are not part of the organization.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short... about 5 lines per paragraph. If you feel the urge to use a semi-colon in a sentence, that sentence just might be too long.
- Use top page photos only when they have an impact related to page content. Don't let them be a speed bump between the primary heading and the content that comes after it. And nowhere is it written in granite that every page must have a photo at the top.
- If you have a few top points in the center-page content that you think or know will interest people, link direct from each one to more information about that point. Don't make people look for a navigation point somewhere else on the page.
- When you link, make sure that language in the link connects to what people will see first on the next page so they know immediately they have arrived at the right place.
Recently in Writing Right for the Web Category
- Google continues to search for ways to but "black hat" SEO people out of business. That's great. I get regular offers from people who know little if anything about me to exchange links. At least 75 percent of these folk have little if any connection with anything I write about.
- Quality content remains the most important element for strong SEO results. What defines "quality content"? One important element for Google is whether or not anybody reads it. The "Panda" criteria are still important: if you have a large amount of content on your website that is seldom visited by anyone, your SEO rankings will suffer.
- Use keywords and phrases, but don't overdo them.
- Control the "marketing speak" that appears on your site. Too many higher education sites really are like Monster University from Pixar. Don't be Monster University.
- Give people the content you know they want, not the content you think they must read. Long, dense "Welcome" statements from presidents and deans are my favorite candidates for purging.
- Large blocks of dense text unbroken by subheads or bullet points, often with paragraphs more than 5 lines long. This is still the killer step seen most often. See this "Curriculum in Biochemistry" or this "About" page or this typical "dean's message."
- Low contrast text that makes it just about impossible for your eyes to separate the text from the background. See this page in an online annual report.
- "Flip tech" software to put a print publication online. Check this magazine from an academic division.
Web content creation... centralize or decentralize?
Last month I was working with a university to review their web management policies and practices and recommend changes consistent with their resources, both human and fiscal. A key question was whether or not to move back to a more centralized content system for content creation and publishing.
Searching for background information at the start of the project, I visited several university sites to see what was available online. The answer: not much. A strong exception turned up at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where there is a very clear website presentation of their "Web Content Management" policies and practices.
Last year we did a Customer Carewords survey for Sacred Heart to find out how well people (current and future students, alumni, and faculty and staff) using the website liked the experience. The response was unusually positive for the accuracy and completeness of the content and the clarity of the language used to present it.
Learning from Nancy Boudreau at Sacred Heart University
I asked Nancy Boudreau, director of web content management at Sacred Heart, to share her thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of centralized vs. decentralized content management in the four questions below.
A very big "thank you" to Nancy for taking the time to do this.
Q. When universities first started to adopt Content Management Systems (CMS), one goal was to move to decentralized content publishing. Today, there is more talk about the value of centralized content creation. Have you been following that discussion? What's your own experience been?
Yes, I've been following the centralized vs. decentralized discussions with much interest.
We went from centralized to decentralized about 7 years ago with some success. We had just redesigned the website and implemented a new content management system. With limited web staffing and resources, it seemed like a good time to give it a try. It definitely has its pros - no bottleneck to get things posted, ability to make minor edits on your own quickly. It also had its cons - pages published with typos, grammatical errors, duplicate information, content just copied and pasted from print materials without being "webified'.
Q. What lessons have you learned from your first effort to decentralize content creation?
With our last CMS rollout, we assigned a web liaison for each department allowing them to publish edits/additions to their web pages. We provided group training on the CMS, gave everyone a user guide, provided refresher courses and one-on-one training as necessary. We also provide telephone and email support. In addition, we hosted some "writing right for the web" webinars.
With our upcoming redesign and new CMS implementation, we're seeking a more balanced approached. While we will continue to train departments on the CMS to make their own basic edits and offer web writing instruction, we need to have some sort of review process and systems in place to remind web editors to review and edit their content at regular intervals. How are we going to do this? Well, we're still working out the details but our CMS will be able to help automate some of that process.
Q. What's the major obstacle to an effective decentralized publishing system?
The pendulum is swinging back in the direction of centralized content editing but not because universities don't have a CMS or that the CMS isn't being used to its fullest potential.
The biggest obstacle to decentralized publishing is ensuring the quality of content. Web content isn't just about updating some event dates, adding course descriptions or editing program pages. It's about marketing your university's academics and culture and creating a unified brand and message. It requires writing engaging, search engine optimized content, and that takes time and practice. And thanks to people like you, the message is getting out that a website isn't just about pretty pictures and typography - it's about THE CONTENT.
Q. I loved the idea of 2-hour website boot camps described on your website. How have those worked?
As far as our website boot camps, yes they have been very successful. We get departments to focus on their processes, procedures and top user tasks. Then we look at their web pages to see if those process and tasks are represented in the most user friendly way. There are a lot of "ah ha" moments as we look through sites and rearrange or edit content to make it more user friendly.
The downside to these boot camps is they do take lot of time so they're not always practical. We do a lot of pre-work before we meet with the department, such as reviewing the current site as well as similar sites for best practices so that we arrive at the meeting with some actionable items. During the 2 hour boot camp, we make edits on the spot and create an action plan for content that is more involved and needs to be developed. By the end of the meeting, everyone leaves feeling like they've accomplished something.
Experience working in or designing for a content management system is preferred.
Experience working in social media is preferred.
Basic HTML tagging experience is preferred.
Proficiency with Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator preferred.
Knowledge of search engine optimization principles preferred.
Join me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HighEdMarketing
Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" and "Link of the Week" emails at http://www.bobjohnsonconsulting.com/newsletter-subscribe.html
- Writing Right for the Web... 8 Key Points from our Boston conference
- Web writing... Expectations for Search Engine ranking
- Writing Right for the Web... 3 ways to kill the ability to scan your web pages
- Web management question... centralize or decentralize content creation?
- Web content editor... position open at Radford University
- Advertising (17)
- Brand Strength (16)
- Customer Carewords Research (23)
- Digital marketing (10)
- Graduate, Professional, Continuing Education (16)
- Higher Education Tuition and Costs (21)
- Integrated Marketing (6)
- Link of the Week (7)
- Mobile Marketing (28)
- Non-profit marketing (1)
- Online Marketing (59)
- Presidents Who Blog (3)
- Search Engine Marketing (14)
- Social Media Marketing (21)
- Student Recruitment (88)
- Video Marketing (5)
- Web Analytics (14)
- Web Content Editors (23)
- Website Design (4)
- Writing Right for the Web (46)
- Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter (58)
- June 2013 (2)
- May 2013 (2)
- April 2013 (5)
- March 2013 (6)
- February 2013 (6)
- January 2013 (5)
- December 2012 (1)
- November 2012 (3)
- October 2012 (2)
- September 2012 (3)
- August 2012 (5)
- July 2012 (4)
- June 2012 (3)
- May 2012 (4)
- April 2012 (2)
- March 2012 (4)
- February 2012 (5)
- January 2012 (2)
- December 2011 (3)
- November 2011 (5)
- October 2011 (1)
- September 2011 (3)
- August 2011 (4)
- July 2011 (2)
- June 2011 (4)
- May 2011 (3)
- April 2011 (3)
- March 2011 (4)
- February 2011 (3)
- January 2011 (2)
- December 2010 (2)
- November 2010 (3)
- October 2010 (3)
- September 2010 (5)
- August 2010 (5)
- July 2010 (2)
- June 2010 (4)
- May 2010 (3)
- April 2010 (3)
- March 2010 (5)
- February 2010 (6)
- January 2010 (4)
- December 2009 (2)
- November 2009 (3)
- October 2009 (5)
- September 2009 (6)
- August 2009 (2)
- July 2009 (7)
- June 2009 (7)
- May 2009 (7)
- April 2009 (10)
- March 2009 (8)
- February 2009 (6)
- January 2009 (7)
- December 2008 (11)
- November 2008 (1)
- October 2008 (1)
- September 2008 (1)
- August 2008 (1)
- July 2008 (5)
- June 2008 (3)
- May 2008 (5)
- April 2008 (5)
- March 2008 (1)
- February 2008 (3)
- January 2008 (1)
- December 2007 (1)
- November 2007 (1)
- October 2007 (1)
- September 2007 (1)
- July 2007 (2)
- June 2007 (2)
- May 2007 (4)
- March 2007 (1)
- February 2007 (1)
- January 2007 (1)
- November 2006 (2)
- October 2006 (1)
- August 2006 (1)