Web Content Blog

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How to Be a Content Strategy Rock Star

Confab HigherEd 2017

By Debra Torres

My inbox was full, and I was having a hard time staying on task.

What was wrong with me?

My mind kept floating to topics like content strategy, multimedia storytelling, and accessibility. I had pages and pages of highlighted notes on my computer and a head that was completely stuffed with knowledge.

Was it the aftereffects of another online webinar? No, I had just returned from the Confab Higher Ed conference! 

Confab, a web content strategy conference, focuses on the techniques that can make content more usable.

Where I Learned All the Things

At Confab, I joined hundreds of colleagues who also work on higher education sites nationally and globally. I found that I had so much in common with them that they quickly became “my people.”

Strategizing and learning from one another were some of the best parts of the conference. And I also gleaned from the experts in the field of Web Content Strategy.

At Confab, I attended workshops and sessions covering exciting topics like:

  • Content Strategy Tools and Templates with Meghan Casey 
  • Stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts with Amanda Costello
  • Meaningful Messaging and Multimedia Content with Ravi Jain
  • Accessibility with Robin Smail
  • Journey Mapping with Marli Mesibov

It was a lot to take in, and now I'm taking what I've learned, sharing it with others, and applying it to Liberty’s websites.

So, What’s in It for You?

You might feel like your web pages look pretty good just the way they are. But with the web, there’s always room for improvement because things are always changing. And keeping up a compelling higher education website is crucial when you consider the number of prospective students who are using it.

Did you know that today nearly 80 percent of high school juniors and seniors consider a college by visiting its website?

And it's highly likely that they are using their phones to do it. (This is why Liberty is making the important switch to responsive design.)

Here’s what Kristina Halvorson, founder of Confab and co-author of the book “Content Strategy for the Web,” says about college sites:

“Your website is really the hub of digital communication. When people need substantive info about a course, your professors, whatever, they go to your website.”  

So, you get it, I’m sure. Your website is pretty important. This is why you’re a Web Manager user/editor/publisher at Liberty University. You’ve taken on the charge of developing an effective website for your department’s users. And it’s our team’s job to give you all the training, tools, and guidance you need to do it.

Over the next couple of months on the Web Content blog, be on the lookout for current content strategy issues that just may bring in quotes and teachings from the experts at Confab.

Go Be a Rock Star, Today!

Strategizing how to best create and display your content isn’t hard, but it does take thought, research, and some effort. Today, I leave you with this tip:

Always put your users first.

It’s so tempting to add content to your pages that makes sense to you. But you have to keep in mind the high school junior/senior or current student who is looking at the page. Most likely, they have a completely different perspective. And in most cases, they probably know nothing about your content. What they want are some quick answers written plainly in a way that they can understand.

It’s when you clearly answer your user’s questions and help them easily take an action, that you help to meet your department’s goals.

And when web goals are met at Liberty, this helps the student body continue to grow and develop in a positive way.

All good things for a content strategy rock star – like you!


Meet the Author:

Debra Torres

datorres1@liberty.edu

Web Content Specialist — LU Web Content Team


 

Posted at 3:31 PM | Permalink

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Moving Forward With Responsive

The Web Content team has been working hard to transition your webpages to responsive layouts. To date, we have over 60 unique departments completed and more pages going responsive everyday. Simply put, “responsive” webpages are those that automatically adjust to the screen they are being viewed on. Elements like buttons and text rearrange from a full desktop experience to a small phone or tablet screen. Because of the automatic response taking place on your webpages, it is important to keep a few things in mind when you work with your content.

 

Templates

The days of using tables to organize your content are over. There are now 4 templates available that make it much easier to organize your content. By choosing one of these options, you can add your text and images to your page in a variety of ways and rest assured that it will properly rearrange itself on smaller screens.

Tables do not respond well when adjusting to smaller screens. The columns of content in a table often push together so tightly to fit the table on the screen that the content in it becomes illegible.

Tip: When using multiple columns, the right column will display under the left column on a mobile device. Keep this in mind when adding your content.

 

Images

In order to get the most out of your images, you will need to follow a few tips. First, make sure your image is properly sized for your page before you upload it to file manager. This will not only help in page load times, but it will also ensure your images are ready to go responsive. You never want to edit your image’s dimensions in image properties. Moving forward with responsive layouts, you will also want to make sure there are no dimensions displayed in the image properties of your image. This ensures your image will automatically respond/scale for the screen it is being viewed on.

 

 

Keep It Short and Use Plain Language

Have you ever tried to find something on the web in a pinch and ended up having to scroll through way too many pages? This experience is usually attributed to poor copy on a website. Instead of having the most pertinent information at the top of the page in an easy to read format, pages like this often unintentionally hide the important information users are looking for in a huge block of text. In my personal opinion, this is one of the most important (and overlooked) aspects of designing for the web. Readability, knowing your audience, and the length of text are just a few of the many concepts to keep in mind when writing for the web. Poor text on a page is only magnified when viewed on a mobile device via a responsive layout.

 

 

Always Remember Mobile Users

All of the tips I have mentioned in this blog post center around one central idea: remember mobile users. As you add images and text to your pages, always remember to try the “mobile” and “tablet” views when using the preview tool. Is your content displaying correctly? Are users having to unnecessarily scroll on their phone forever to get to the content they are searching for? Can they quickly get the information they were looking for when they come to your page?

These are all great questions and ones that need to be kept in mind when creating/editing content for your newly responsive webpages.  

 

Your sites haven’t been transitioned yet?

 

 

Posted at 9:45 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

If You're Reading This, You're a Publisher

By Rhea Crider

The moment you create content for a webpage, send an email, show up in a search engine, or use social media--you are a publisher.You become an influence in what people think about your department and the university.

Though only a handful of us work on the Web Content Team, we consider every Web Manager user we train as an extension of our team, working with us to create better content.

To demand the best from your content before you publish, here are 5 things to keep in mind:

Who? When?

If you knew nothing about your own topic, would reading the content you write help you, or leave you confused?

Few things are worse than being left with more questions than answers. When writing, be sure to leave your reader feeling they have the answers.

  • Who is this for?
  • What is it?
  • Where is it?
  • When will it happen?
  • Why is this important?


This gives readers the confidence to make a decision. Try having someone with fresh eyes read your copy and write down any question that’s nagging at them.
 

Action!

Put the verb at the beginning of important and action-based sentences.

Here’s an example from the recently-created Strategic and Personal Communication home page:

Learn how to study the marketplace and relate to audiences, craft and deliver effective messages that will ignite action with your target markets, and create relationships with people and companies with a B.S. in Communication.

 

TL;DR

TL;DR is a popular web acronym meaning Too Long; Didn’t Read.

Is all of your content necessary, or can it be cut down? Full descriptions, extra text, and lengthy titles are all too common in academic web content. Web users are searching for information. They do not want to do a text search to find a simple answer.

Make your text easily digestible. Split up paragraphs so they are easier to scan, use headers, and use bullets. Include important information, descriptions, or photographs to draw the reader’s eye. Long text without any breaks is often skipped over by web users.

Limit your bolded words and NEVER USE ALL CAPS because it comes across as aggressive.

In order to make your most important information stand out, slim the rest of your information down.
 

Jargon

Academic content is often guilty of using jargon. Jargon is speech or writing full of long, unfamiliar, or roundabout words or phrases.

Readers are new to this content. High school juniors and seniors, for example, are left trying to understand terms that they would only learn after they were enrolled at LU. Keep your content clear of jargon.

 

 

Ownership

You are responsible for maintaining your content. If you include calendar dates, be prepared to remove an event as soon as it has passed. Few things are more off-putting to users than outdated information. Readers will wonder why they bother to check the content at all when it is clear that the publisher never does.

If you include an external link, you are responsible for ensuring the content it links to is relevant and useful. When pages contain many links, it also requires constant upkeep. Each link must be checked to ensure that it sends the reader to useful information.

 

 

References

1Halvorson, K. (2010). Content strategy for the web. New Riders Publishing.

Wormley, R. (2016). 12 best practices for writing website copy that actually converts. Startup Marketing Blog. Available at http://www.100daysofgrowth.com/blog/how-to-write-website-copy-that-converts/

Posted at 9:23 AM | Permalink

Friday, June 23, 2017

Mobile-Friendly Webpages are Coming!

Responsive Website

By Kari Barton

Mobile-Friendly = Responsive

A "responsive" webpage means that the content will respond/rearrange depending on the device or screen size that the page is being viewed on. In other words, a horizontal scroll bar will never appear at the bottom of your page in tablet or mobile view. When a site is responsive, the content will simply adjust to the size of the device. You may have already noticed this on the top pages of the EDU website

About 50% of our site visits come from people who are using a phone or tablet. Because of this, some of our sites have already gone responsive, including the School of Law:

Desktop View of School of Law:

School of Law Desktop View

Mobile View of School of Law:

School of Law Mobile View

In this example, notice how in the mobile view the content stacks into a long and narrow view of the site so that it doesn't go beyond the available width of the screen. Also, the navigation hides at the top of the page under the "menu" link so that it doesn't clutter up the small screen. 

Responsive Layout is Coming to Your Site

We will be helping and training you for transferring your site and will contact you before your site transitions to responsive, so don't stress. But, you can start preparing your site now to make that transition easier. Here are some things to start with:

Conduct an Audit

An audit is a review of every single one of your pages. Doing an audit is a great idea so that we aren't wasting time transferring pages to responsive that are unnecessary, have poor content, or are outdated.

Here's how to create and conduct your audit:

  1. Open your page list in Web Manager
  2. Click the link for "Printable List" in the top left of the page
  3. Highlight the list and copy and paste them into an excel spreadsheet
  4. Then, open each page in Web Manager and make sure there isn't any ROT (Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial content)
    • If an entire page is ROT, note it for deletion (academic departments: you can send your list of pages to be deleted to the Web Team).

Tips for Creating Responsive-Friendly Content

  • Remove tables in most cases. If you do use one, make sure to use percentages for width in Table Properties instead of set dimensions - and only use them for data (such as contact info), not page design/layout. 
  • Do not give images dimensions in Image Properties (you should leave the "width" and "height" boxes empty). See our tutorial for sizing images for the web.

As always, if you have any questions contact the Web Content Team. We're here to help you!

Kari Barton

Posted at 10:18 AM | Permalink

Friday, May 12, 2017

Write It So They Can Read It

Lower the reading level to raise readability

By Diane Austin

If someone asked you what reading grade level you should target when writing for a higher-ed website, what would you say?

College, 12th grade, or maybe 10th

In a recent Web Content Blog post, Debra Torres wrote about the benefits of using Plain Language for the Web. She suggested writing on an 8th-grade reading level for our university websites. That is great advice. Let me explain and give you some tools to help make your web writing more accessible for everyone.

Literacy in America

Half of the adults in this country read on an 8th-grade reading level. In fact, of all the adults in the U.S., only about 15% have proficient literacy skills. (They can read and comprehend text written on a college reading level.)

Writing for your audience

Of course, as an accredited university, our students need to be able to read and write on a more complex level. So, why bother writing at a lower reading level? Because you are not writing for college graduates who are focused on your every word. You’re writing to:

  • High school students (7th-8th-grade reading level)
  • Parents and grandparents of high school students (who might have an even lower literacy level)
  • Non-native English speakers (who typically have a lower than average reading level)
  • A distracted audience (distractions lower comprehension)

That last one is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind. Regardless of literacy level or age, people on our websites are often distracted. They don’t sit down to read web content the way they read a novel. They are multi-tasking, and they have other things on their minds. They are not hanging on your every word. If your writing is too complex, they will miss important information. That’s why we recommend using lists and subheadings to make your text easier to scan.

Readability tools

Two tools can help you bring your writing down to an easier reading level. The Flesch Reading Ease score and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level are both built right into Microsoft Word. To turn them on, go to Preferences > Spelling & Grammar, then check “Show readability statistics.” To run the check, go to Tools > Spelling & Grammar.

You’ll see a box like this: 

MS Word Readability Statistics

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score

You can think of the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score as the years of education needed to understand a passage. A score of 14, would mean the passage should be understandable to a college sophomore. Generally, a lower score is easier to read.

Flesch Reading Ease score

The Flesch Reading Ease Score works in the opposite direction. The higher the score, the easier the passage is to read.

In both cases, the scoring looks at the total numbers of words per sentence and the total syllables per word. Longer sentences and more multi-syllabic words result in scores indicating more difficult passages. Neither system is perfect, but they provide a good starting point. (Read about how the scores are calculated.)

Reading Ease Scores

Chart from Wikipedia.

Using those scores

To improve your readability scores, try these tips:

  • Break longer sentences into two or three shorter sentences.
  • Use short words. Instead of using a long, multi-syllable word, look for a shorter word with the same meaning. The word “utilize” is a great example. In most cases, the word “use” means the same thing, but it’s shorter and has fewer syllables.
  • Aim for an 8th-grade reading level for most web content. Even if you are writing for graduate students, a maximum grade level of 10th or 11th grade is a good rule-of-thumb. (Don't forget that your audience is distracted, which lowers effective reading levels.)

When you pay attention to every word and every sentence, you'll find you can often trim your writing to make it clearer and easier to read.

Web usability studies have shown that (almost) no one is reading your content. But people do want information from our websites. The truth is, the more readable and scannable you make it, the more likely you are to get your message through.

For overachievers

A free online tool, The Hemmingway App is another way to check your writing for readability. It gives you a grade level score and tells you which sentences are difficult to read.

If you want to read more about award-winning books that were written at a lower-than-average grade level, check out this article at Contently.com. It’s a lengthy read, but well worth it.

Diane Austin, SEO Specialist

Posted at 11:58 AM | Permalink


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