Web Content Blog

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why Bio Pages Matter

Faculty Bio Pages

By Debra Torres

I was excited to take the novel-writing course offered by Writer’s Digest magazine and looked forward to see who would be teaching me. The school was pairing me up with a published author, and I thought it was a great way to learn from someone who had been down the same road I wanted to travel.

But when I looked at my instructor’s bio, I stopped short. She wrote in a completely different genre than I did, and there was something about her picture that seemed wrong to me.

After getting some advice, I decided to switch my instructor to one more suited to my work.

Can you believe that a simple bio made that much difference to me?

Believe it. 

How faculty bio pages rank

When you take a minute to think about what’s “selling” degree programs on the web to high school juniors and seniors, you may be surprised to find out that faculty bio pages rank pretty high with future students.

Besides looking at things on higher education sites like job placement stats, testimonials, and program videos, some potential students are also making it a point to look at faculty bios.

The 2015 Ruffalo Noel Levitz E-Expectations Report showed that faculty profiles factor in with users.

2015 E-Expectations Report

And according to Liberty's Search Engine Optimization specialist, Diane Austin, there were 1,506 searches that included the word "faculty" on the Liberty University website in the past 12 months

What kind of shape are your pages in?

Here on the Web Content team, we’ve seen a lot of the bio pages on the Liberty website. There are some good ones, and there are some that need work. And because future students sometimes search these when they choose a school, we feel that it’s important to prioritize them. 

What makes a good faculty bio page

We’ve got so many things going for us here at Liberty, and one of them is our esteemed faculty. They’re degreed, experienced, accessible to students, and they're photogenic! All of these things you want to highlight on your bio pages. Some of the other things you may want to add are their publications and biography. 

They have degrees!

Sometimes you have to really dig into a bio to find out if a professor is degreed or not. As an institute of higher leaning, a highly educated faculty is a feature we want to highlight. Make sure to bring your faculty member's education to the top of your bio page. And list the degrees with the most recent at the top. 

Check out what the Web Manager users at the Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine did recently to highlight its faculty’s degrees. They also added a biography section: 

Before:

After:

They have experience!

Here’s where you get to show off what work your faculty members have done in their field. To me, this is almost as important as their degree listing. When I was in graduate school, I wanted to learn from faculty who had actually worked in the field that I planned to enter. I wanted to hear their stories and learn from their mistakes. When you leave out your faculty's experience,  you're only giving our future students "part of the story." 

They are accessible!

Letting your students know how to contact your faculty is important. And email addresses should be completely displayed so that users can see the address on any device. To use our address, for example, display it like this: "webcontent@liberty.edu" as opposed to "email us." 

They are photogenic!

Faces help to establish a personal connection. And up-to-date faculty photos that have similar backgrounds with others in your department helps to create a sense of unity and consistency in your design. If your faculty photos could use a fresh look, contact your Marketing project coordinator to find out when the next studio headshot day is.

What not to add to your page

Now that you’ve learned what to add to a bio page, let’s talk about a few things to leave out.

  • Too much information — If your faculty member has a long list of presentations or publications to share, limit your listing to the latest five. This way it brings their most recent contributions to the front for your users to see.
  • Anything time sensitive — Nobody wants to have to keep updating their bio pages. Most likely, this will get overlooked over time, and your page will end up looking outdated.
  • Highly personal text — Keeping your bio page professional is best. A little information about family helps to humanize a piece, but info that includes pet names and favorite foods is better left in your faculty's personal social media pages.
  • Faculty start dates — This could communicate a negative if a recent hire is new to teaching.

Need a good example? 

Show off your faculty with a great bio page. Here are some examples to follow that are on the Liberty website:

 

Debra Torres bio

Posted at 3:11 PM | Permalink


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