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Monday, September 29, 2014

Writing for the User

Taking out the "we" word.

We need to take our eyes off ourselves when writing.

Not too long ago, my mother stopped going to the hairdresser she had been using for years. Telling me about it, she said that her decision had nothing to do with the woman’s abilities.

“She just talks about herself all the time,” my mother said. “She never asks me about my own life.”

Just like the customers in that salon, our web users don’t want to hear us talk about ourselves all the time either.

But when we write content for our web pages, we tend to gravitate towards what we know – and that’s our department isn’t it? Our offerings, our services, our classes.

The reader needs to know the facts, so why not deliver, right?

Web users are looking for benefits

We have to be careful though, because successful web content is written in a very different style. Web users are looking for benefits, and when someone lands on your page you have just seconds to convince them to stay. You do this by writing content that shows you care about helping them with their questions, their needs, and even with their pain.

Speak to your readers directly

Unfortunately, much of our existing web content is focused on us. We may use the word “we” a lot or just mention our department over and over again. Or, if we do talk about our readers, we sometimes throw in impersonal words like: “the student,” and “him, her, and they.”

Here’s a snippet of content I’ve written, and you’ll see what I mean:

"We"-focused content 

I've highlighted the we-focused and impersonal content in yellow. And there's a large dose of it, isn't there? The good news is that content like this can easily be reworked.

Talk to the user just like they were right in front of you

Words like “you,” “your," and "you're" are encouraged. So, here’s what you could do to the above web content to make it more compelling:

User-focused content

Focus on the user and not on the department

See? That was easy. With a little practice, your content will flow more freely and feel more natural. And your users just may thank you by staying on your pages longer and engaging with your content. 

After all, it was written just for them.

Posted at 9:16 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Buttons vs. Text Links: The Inside Scoop

“Could I get a button on this page?”

This is one of the most-asked questions by our Web Manager users. And with buttons continuing to be highly sought after, it’s time you got the inside scoop on when to use them—and when not to.

When Buttons Work

In the old days, buttons were often used to decorate webpages and make them more graphically “exciting.” For example, here’s a screenshot of Liberty’s main website from 2002:

Ineffective button links from 2002

This 2002 screenshot of liberty.edu shows an overwhelming number of ad-like buttons.

Yikes!

But now, buttons are less about decoration (what looks good) and more about design and function (what works well).

It’s widely accepted that buttons represent an action, such as “Pay Now,” “Create an Account,” or “Save.” The action is more than just navigating from point A to point B. Instead, it tends to let the user do something based on user input. For example, clicking a “Buy Tickets” button should reserve a ticket for you, decrease the number of available tickets, and charge your credit card using the info you provided. That's an action.

Take a look at the new Jerry Falwell Library website. The green “Go” button works here because clicking it performs a search (the action) based on your search terms (user input). The result is a custom search result page that didn’t exist before. On the other hand, a text link works best to access a pre-made page of search tips.

Button links for actions, text links for navigating content

Good example: the “Go” button performs an action, while the "Search Tips" text links to a page.

When Buttons Don’t Work

Colored, underlined text is the most recognized visual cue for a link between two pieces of content or pages. It’s so common that users often ignore buttons in favor of text links. That’s why buttons don’t work well as page-to-page links.

We tested this a few years ago on the former LUO site shown below. Users were asked to locate HelpDesk information or intensives, but the majority of them had trouble because they ignored the buttons and jumped straight to the text links below them.

Users can ignore buttons and favor text links

When tested, users ignored these buttons in favor of text links, making the information hard to find. These buttons were removed at the next redesign.

Image buttons don’t work well for search engine optimization (SEO) either. More links pointing to your page means more potential ranking power for that page. But the text used in the link is also important. If the text “School of Religion” links to the SOR page, then that page can build search credibility on that term or topic. This is lost when buttons are used.

The Takeaway

So there's the inside scoop on buttons vs. text links.

  • If clicking performs an action (e.g. confirming a payment, registering for a class, shipping an order), a button might do the trick.
  • If clicking connects content or webpages together (e.g. department homepage, a policy, news article), try text instead.

To request a button for your page, contact your Marketing project coordinator to get started. We can help you determine if a button will work for your page!

And join us on Twitter to be a part of our growing web content community.

Posted at 2:47 PM | Permalink

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Text in Images: Don't do it (usually)

Here's why we say that text should not be put in images on the web:

  1. Search Engines cannot find it - your page will not return results for that text.
  2. Screen Readers cannot read it - users with disabilities will not know it's there.
  3. Consistency on Liberty's website will be lost when everyone has very different text images on their pages.

For Function

When the text performs a function, such as a header or title, it should not be in an image because it needs to be searchable for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and available to users with screen readers. Neither of these can happen when text is buried in an image.

Examples:

In this example, the text in the image is taking the place of a proper text header, so the page only has an image and body copy.

This is what the image "looks" like when someone is using a screen reader or has image loading turned off on their browser, so they would have no idea what the header is on the page (or that there is one).

Buttons

Buttons and images are two different things: Buttons are clickable links with a specific "button design" that users expect and know, whereas images are often not expected to be clickable by users. Images are meant to serve as visual/design appeal and should not be used as buttons. If you would like a button added to your page, you can request one from the Marketing Department.

For Design/Visual Appeal

Images are great for adding visual appeal to a page, and sometimes it is also okay if they have some text in them that only adds design appeal and does not take the place of pertinent text.

Example:

In this example, the text in the image is only providing design and visual appeal, it is not taking the place of the proper page header, which is still at the top of the page as it should be.

Posted at 11:04 AM | Permalink

Monday, August 11, 2014

Page titles and headers

Web page titles and headers have a simple but important function. They tell readers and search engines what the page or section is about. That part’s pretty simple, but there are a few tips that will make your page titles and headings better.

Page Titles

The page title should briefly and accurately describe the purpose of the page. It should use keywords that your audience will know and understand.

  • Keep the title short and simple – the full page title will show up to search engines with your Web Department name and “Liberty University” added to it. You can hover over the tab of a live page to see the full page title. 

 Hover over tab the page tab to see the full page title

  • Put keywords at the beginning – Search engines assume that the most important words are at the beginning of titles and headings. In the above example, the department name appears first, followed by the title entered in Web Manager - "Meet the SVP for Student Affairs." But "SVP" is not a term that most students would recognize or understand and the page is not about how to get a personal introduction to the SVP - it just tells a little about the Senior Vice President. A better title might be: "Student Affairs Senior Vice President Liberty University.

Page Headers

These are the heading formats (heading 1, heading 2, or heading 3, etc., also known as h1, h2, and h3) that you use on your page to organize and divide it into sections. 

  • Use one – and only one – h1 per page. Usually, the h1 is the same as your page title and it should go at the top.
  • Organize your content using headings so that the most important information comes first (h1, followed by h2, etc.)
  • Left-justify headings (don't center them) – People read (scan) web pages using an “F” pattern. When they are scanning the left side of the page, they may miss a heading that is floating in the middle of the page. 
  • Keep headings short - don't put whole sentences or paragraphs into a heading format. You can emphasize "normal" format text by using bold, italics, or bullets. 

Examples

Good heading uses

The right way

Good use of header styles

 

Bad heading uses

Don't do it this way

Each page should have one and only one h1

Don't do it this way Don't use header styles for entire paragraphs of text
Don't do it this way Don't use more than one h1 on a page
   
 
Posted at 4:03 PM | Permalink

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top 5 Social Media Tips

When it comes to social media, we all want to use it to the best of our ability. So for this Web Manager Blog post we decided to give some tips on how to improve your use of social media. Don't hesitate to contact socialmedia@liberty.edu if you have questions about your accounts or you can reference the Social Media Policy

1. The Shorter the Better. Research shows that posts that are around 100 characters tend to see better reach than longer posts (meaning that many of you quit reading this after 100 characters).

2. Post Consistently. When people see an account that has up to date information, photos, and posts they are more likely to follow/like! But, don’t over post! Find the happy medium.

3. Ask Good Questions. If you want to increase engagement, ask questions that people will really answer. It's always a great idea to respond as quickly as possible. 

4. For Facebook, constantly check insights. Look at what posts have the highest reach and who they are reaching. Then tailor future posts to those people based on what has worked in the past.

5. DON’T post identical content to Facebook and Twitter. These two social networks are very different. Find out what works for each respective platform and post unique posts to each of them.

Posted at 11:47 AM | Permalink


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