This guide provides guidelines for ensuring all Ingenuity web content is consistent, concise, and understandable to your audiences.
Your visitors often compile information they need from multiple websites and often use multiple devices. Empower them to locate the information they need quickly without overloading them with information. Eliminate any content that is not useful to them. Some tips:
- Eliminate fluff and jargon.
- Set realistic expectations.
- Don’t talk about visitors. Address them directly.
Make your content simple and easy to read. Check the reading level of your content with tools like Hemingway Editor.
Voice and Tone
Voice is the personality of your content. Your business plan and audience research should inform your choice. Make sure your voice is consistent throughout your content. Your tone will change depending upon the situation of your message. Choose an appropriate tone for the circumstances. Some tips:
- Be friendly, approachable, and responsive.
- Second person is inviting, inclusive and conversational.
- Use active versus passive voice.
Grammar and Usage
Good references for proper grammar usage:
Feel free to use contractions. They give your writing an informal, friendly tone.
If a sentence requires multiple commas, consider rewriting the sentence into multiple sentences.
Use exclamation points sparingly and never more than one at a time.
Avoid ellipses (…). Don’t use ampersands (&) unless one is part of a company or brand name.
Capitalize the names of websites and publications. Don’t italicize.
For email address or website URLs, use all lowercase (email@example.com or cnmingenuity.org). Other common words: website, online, email.
When writing about US currency, use the dollar sign before the amount. Include a decimal and number of cents if more than 0.
Always use the area code in front of telephone numbers for out-of-state visitors: (505) 244-3000.
Spell out new abbreviations or acronyms the first time you mention them.
Avoid emojis outside of social media.
The first time you mention a school, college, or university in a piece of writing, refer to it by its full official name. On all other mentions, use its more common abbreviation.
Don’t abbreviate city names. Spell out New Mexico for out-of-state readers.
Proper mention of degrees:
- associate degree
- bachelor’s degree (Bachelor of Arts)
- master’s degree (Master of Arts)
Use abbreviations (B.S., M.S., Ph.D.) only when you need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference.
How to Present Information
Avoid using dummy text as you design your website, which can lead to design flaws. Content often gets short shrift in web design. Don’t treat content as an afterthought, as a byproduct of design, or as 11th–hour work. Visitors come for your content, not your design. In usability tests, quality content always outperforms fancy design with substandard text.
Rethink the use of icons in place of word labels. Icons do not always help the user find what they need and often make scanning difficult.
The Importance of Scanning
Users are busy and goal-focused. They skim content looking for keywords, meaningful headings, scannable lists and any other information they need. Put the most important information at the top of your page.
Limit the number of requested action steps per page. Too many choices can result in decision paralysis or feature fatigue.
Present information in small chunks. Avoid long blocks of information, promotional writing and fluff. Create some visual white space.
Content length recommendations:
- Titles: 2-5 words
- Headers: 3-7 words
- Sentences: 8-15 words
- Paragraphs: 50 words or less
- Pages: 500 words or less
- Bullets: 10 words
Page title text doubles as labels for other areas of the site, (left navigation menus, top navigation menus, mega menus). Do not choose titles which repeat the same information in the first few words.
Examples of titles with poor usability include:
- CNM High School Students
- CNM Transfer Students
- CNM Visitor Students
- CNM International Students
Repetitive titles are difficult to scan. Begin with unique information in your titles, such as:
- High School Students
- Transfer Students
- Visitor Students
- International Students
For more information on usability with titles, read this Nielsen Norman Group report on menus.
Headings organize content for your visitors. Skip introductory paragraphs. Often a heading is sufficient to explain the purpose of a page. Group related ideas together in sections and use descriptive headers. Shorter is better. Be direct and use action verbs. Headings should employ important page keywords.
Title case capitalizes the first letter of every word except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Sentence case capitalizes the first letter of the first word only. Be consistent with your site’s heading style.
Typographic emphasis should not be used in headings. This includes bold, italics, hyperlinks, all caps, or underlining. Doing so causes barriers to usability.
Set up any list with a brief introduction to give context.
Use numbered lists to present steps in a process or when the order of the list is important. Use bullets for all other lists.
If one of the list items is a complete sentence, use proper punctuation and capitalization on all of the items. If list items are not complete sentences, don’t use punctuation but do capitalize the first word of each item and start each list with the same type of word (ex: noun or verb).
Bold, Underline and Italics
People have an urge to make important text stand out. However, don’t use any combination of italic, bold, caps and underline. Use any of these formats sparingly. Overuse, instead of making text more readable, simply creates noise and impedes emphasis. “When everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.” (Edward Tufte)
Don’t use any underline formatting as this is often confused with hyperlinks.
Spacing and Alignment
For online text, use one space, never two, between sentences.
Do not add blank lines between paragraphs.
Hyperlinks should be easy to understand when read out of context. Your link text should be short and give a general description of the content on the destination page. Never use “click here” or “follow this link.” Link text should employ important page keywords.
Don’t Open Links in New Windows
Don’t lead users to new windows or tabs with your links, even external links. Best practice is to leave the default website behavior alone for these reasons:
The default browser behavior opens links within the same window and tab. This is what users expect. Links that don’t behave as expected undermine users’ understanding of their own browser. This is incredibly confusing and users often don’t notice when a new window has opened, especially if they are using a mobile device. For some users, the behavior is so unexpected they never return back to the original site’s window.
User should always have control of the application they are using and opening a new tab should always be at their discretion. Forcing links to open in a new window limits the user’s available options.
Let browsers work the way they were designed. The “Back” button is an integral part of browsing the web. Sending links to new windows breaks this functionality because newly opened window do not retain the browser history of the previous window.
Link consistency is also crucial for a positive user experience. Setting one or a handful of links on a website to open in a new window will lead to an inconsistent experience for users, causing feelings of distraction and disruption.
Opening windows also causes usability issues when users are using smaller mobile devices where navigating between open windows becomes more cumbersome.
Pop-ups and links to new windows and tabs have accessibility issues which cause problems for users relying on screen readers or for visitors with visual impairments who depend on "Back" buttons and consistent link behavior to nagivate websites.
For more information on usability and accessibility studies:
- Links Should Open in the Same Window (Libux)
- Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design (Nielsen Norman Group)
- Implications of Page Parking
- Opening new windows and tabs from a link only when necessary (W3C)
Studies show that FAQ pages are highly ineffective for the following reasons:
- FAQs create more work for readers by forcing them to read every question in order to locate the information they need, rather than letting them scan through simple headings to find information at a glance.
- FAQs duplicate content. Not only does this create a maintenance problem for you as information and processes change, it also creates a SEO problem for your users.
- FAQs increase user frustration. According to our website analytics, the average bounce rate of FAQ pages is 20% higher than the average page. This means that when users search for something and land on an FAQ page, they’re leaving the CNM website without visiting any other pages. This is not good for user engagement, and is likely the result of the information being organized poorly.
Make Sure Testimonials Align with Your Goals
Vague, mediocre testimonials can be worse than no testimonials at all. They may actually hurt your conversion rate by taking up valuable real estate on important , or deteriorate trust with prospective students if they don’t like or connect with what they read.
Before you collect testimonials or endorsements, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. You may find that there are better ways to highlight your product or program, perhaps through improving the overall content and organization of the information on your site.
Avoid Generic Opinions and Random Quotes
Generic opinions do not build trust. Good testimonials need to connect with customers and their specific concerns.
- Avoid generic words.
- Provide specific examples of what customers have accomplished.
- Focus on a distinct selling point with each testimonial, rather than having several quotes saying the same thing.
- Post a manageable number of testimonials at a time (one or two) and refresh them on a regular basis.
Place Your Testimonials Strategically
Testimonials should be placed in the context of selling pages, not on a separate testimonials page.
Avoid unnecessary or excessive imagery. Avoid putting text inside images. Stock photography and many decorative images often frustrate a user’s experience because these images don’t contain useful information and might even obscure it.
Don’t use clipart or copyrighted images found on the Internet. Images found on Google image search are not free for you to use. If you are not the copyright holder, you will need to secure permission from the owner first. Search for Creative Commons licensed images or use original images.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Google uses over 200 changing variables to determine search results. Avoid keyword stuffing or other tricks that will only end up costing you a high SEO ranking.
The best SEO strategy has always been to write good content for real people. Use relevant keywords in headings and links. Be consistent with labels, headers and vocabulary.
Avoid duplicating content on multiple pages. This can split your SEO rankings and can quickly lead to outdated, contradictory content.
Many visitors never see your homepage. Browsing and searching behavior now leads many visitors directly to your website’s subpages.
Most users scan a page for keywords and relevant links before using internal site search. It’s easier and quicker to recognize a word you know than to figure out appropriate search words.
Accessibility helps visitors with mental and physical impairments gain full access to your content with screen readers, keyboards and Braille interfaces. Make sure your content is fully accessible to these users.
Create a hierarchy of information. Use descriptive links and headings.
Don’t hide information in images. Avoid using colors to organize or explain content.
Avoid directional instructions or language that requires the reader to see the layout or design of the page.
Headers should always be nested and consecutive. Never skip a header level for styling reasons. To help group sections, be sure the page title is H1, next-level sections are H2s, etc.
Create true numbered or bulleted lists instead of using a paragraphs, line breaks or dashes.
Give images descriptive titles, a brief sentence, which can be used as alternative text for screen readers. Describe the image or the data it contains. Make sure closed captioning is available for videos.
The title of the form should explain the purpose of the form.
Keep the form as short as possible. Only request information you need and intend to use.
Label required fields clearly.
Use sentence case for checkboxes and radio lists. Use title case for items in drop down menu.
Buttons should be labeled with actions.
Always proofread your content for the following:
- Make sure the information you publish is factually accurate.
- Check your content for redundant information or any gaps.
- Make sure you are employing important keywords in your titles, headings and links.
- Make sure your verb tenses are consistent.
- Check your capitalization and punctuation.
When visitors encounter inaccurate or out-of-date information, they’ll learn to distrust your site.