Top tips for producing a great website
Your website isn't for you!
Who are your users? Think about what they are likely to want, rather than what you want to tell them. What will they be looking for? Where might they expect to find it? Avoid grouping information that just reflects your internal structure, it is meaningless to those outside your organisation.
The maximum number of top-level links visible in the main menu is six. The main menu should be used to address sections of content that top tasks sit under. Once the drop-down menu is visible, links from the section can be added as well as links to pages outside of your department.
Use your homepage
You can use the homepage of your website to draw people through to important content. Add numerous signposting boxes that link from your homepage to draw attention to important sections. It just helps your main audiences find their way that little bit quicker. The homepage doesn't have to be static. Small changes like adding the latest news stories may help users trust that someone is behind the scenes keeping it all up to date.
There are some elements of websites that have become the norm (such as links being underlined). If you are going to break with what people think of as 'normal', then have a very good reason for doing so. Users are unlikely to re-learn your way if they feel more familiar with the way most other sites are doing it.
Goodbye to the '3-click' rule
It's important that your information is easy to find, the number of necessary clicks to find the required content affects neither success rate nor user satisfaction. If you don't make the user think about the clicks then they would rather click on five links following the scent of information and find the answer in 20 seconds, than click on two or three links and search down a long page for two minutes.
Page structure and layout
- Make it 'scannable'
Web users tend to have a particular task in mind. They will scan their eye down a page, looking for headings and links that relate to their objective. For this reason, we chunk text into easy-to-scan content. You should use plenty of sub-headings, keep paragraphs short and write links that describe where the user will be taken.
- Tone of voice
The tone and style of your web content should always have the audience in mind. In general, the tone we use on the University website is informal, friendly and engaging. Web language generally edges towards the conversational and away from jargon and complicated terminology.
- Be concise
Pages that lead the user to specific content (signpost pages) should be kept short and to the point. Users should not have to scroll down these pages. Obviously, once you have directed a user to the content they are after, you can afford for pages to be longer. Once someone has found the information they are looking for, they will be more likely to stay in one place and read (or print) the page.
- Meaningful links
Use links to help draw the user through your site. Links should always be descriptive, to give people an idea of what they will find. Avoid acronyms or jargon that is unfamiliar to users.
- Search engine optimisation (SEO) - choose your words
A carefully worded introduction on a page not only gives users an indication of what they'll find, but it also helps search engines (such as Google) pick up keywords to identify the subject matter for search results. You can read more about this topic on our SEO web pages.
- Get the picture!
Don't use pictures just for the sake of it. Choose images that add something to the page and give context. Generally, photographs should be saved as jpeg format whilst pictures containing solid blocks of colour, eg. graphics, should be saved as gif format.
Many blind and partially sighted people use screen reading software to help them use websites. To aid this software you should always include ‘alt text’ (alternative text) with all images. This is the text you see when you hover the mouse over a picture. Avoid 'click here' links and describe where the user will be taken. Example: 'Find out how to apply', rather than "Click here for more".
Managing and monitoring your website
- Be realistic
Don't put lots of time-sensitive information on your pages if you do not have time to monitor and update regularly. Keep prompts or a diary to remind you when something needs removing or updating. If you have feedback forms do reply to people who send in feedback. Try to do this within a reasonable timescale (ideally one or two days).
Remember to review your site to make adjustments and improvements. Conducting user testing can help you identify areas that need further change.
Get in touch
If you have CMS questions or are stuck then get in touch and we'll do our best to help.