Web Content Guidelines

A guide to effectively educate and engage your website visitors through content

Tune Up Your Content

Ruralite believes clear, concise, well-formatted content is the key to educating and engaging customers of any utility. To create websites that are highly usable, we recommend utilities follow the Ruralite Content Best Practices when developing content. This guide was created using some of the foremost authorities in website usability as references.

All of our sources have been listed in the back of this guide. Any Best Practices not listing a resource are based on our own expertise, the most efficient use of our system, and efforts for consistency. Let’s begin the process of bringing you and your customers together through an attractive, easy to navigate and intuitive website.

Let’s Write

Capitalization

  • Do not use all caps to emphasize an important point. Capitalizing all the letters in a word has actually been found to decrease a reader’s ability to quickly discern what the word is. If you need to emphasize a piece of content, use bolding instead.

Numerals & Percentages

  • Write all numbers as figures so that users scanning for measurements, limits, data, etc., can easily find them. For example: “Please submit 3 copies of the form,” not “please submit three copies of the form.” Spell out numbers that don’t represent specific facts or items being counted. For example, “Hillsboro is one of the best cities in Oregon.”
  • The percent symbol (%) should be used instead of the word “percent” in all content for easy readability.

Grammar & Tone

  • Content copy should be grammatically correct and written in clear, concise sentences.
  • The average U.S. citizen reads best at an 8th or 9th grade level, so consider simplifying your content. You can use the Flesch-Kinkaid reader in Microsoft Word to determine the current level of difficulty of any piece of content.
  • Avoid using multiple punctuation marks in a row such as “wow!” instead of “wow!!!!” or “what?” instead of “what???” Exclamation points should be used sparingly.
  • Know your audience. Some content is meant to engage. Some content is meant to inform or educate. Some content has to simply direct users to contact a real person. Not all content is intended to do everything, and that is ok. Make sure that you are keeping your audience and the purpose of the content in mind when either writing or formatting content for the website.
  • It is okay to write in a more conversational tone when writing for the web. However, slang and jargon should still be avoided.
  • Avoid writing in the passive voice. The active voice is more engaging and direct. Example: “Action on the bill is being considered by the Council” is passive voice. “The Council is considering taking action on the bill” is active voice.
  • Do not use run-on or fragment sentences.
  • Be consistent with your sentence tense throughout the entire page.

Contact Info Standards

  • 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Phone: xxx-xxx-xxxx
  • Fax: xxx-xxx-xxxx
  • Street Modifiers – Spell out all street modifiers (Street, Avenue, Boulevard, Road, Highway, etc.).
  • Abbreviate all compass points in address blocks (N, E, S, W, NE, NW, SE, and SW – no periods on any of them). Include any secondary address information on the next line (Apartment, Suite, Unit, etc.) when using address blocks. Street Numbers – Use figures for 1st Street, 2nd Street, etc.

Address Within Text

  • There is no break between a lead-in sentence or subhead and the address block below it. Use an address block when an address is listed within page content.
  • If the address has a P.O. Box but the same zip code as the physical address, the P.O. Box info can be listed on the second line of the address.
  • If you have a separate physical and mailing address, list the physical address first in a separate block from the mailing address to enable users to easily highlight and search for directions.
  • Room, floor, suite, etc. is listed out on the second line of an address block. If there is also a P.O. Box in the address, the floor, suite, etc., – would still be listed above the P.O. Box.
  • Use figures for numbered streets such as 1st Street.

Headings & Page Titles

  • Page titles should be clear and concise and accurately describe the content found on the page. Ex: “Content Policy Documents” is much clearer than just “Documents.”
  • Headings should be used to break up content and provide the user guidance as to what information is in the text below it.
  • Headings should be clear and concise – describing what information can be found in the text beneath it.
  • Headings and page titles should utilize the ampersand (&) to save space.
  • Headings should be created with title case.
  • When formatting a heading, the CSS styles Subhead 1 and Subhead 2 are used to show the hierarchy of information on the page – they are not just decorative elements. You should only use Subhead 2 to separate information that is related to the Subhead 1 topic. Subhead 2 should always follow a Subhead 1.

Links

  • Use mailto: links on text instead of writing out the provided email address to prevent site crawlers and spy bots from obtaining contact information. Mailto: links should be labeled in a way that makes it clear to users that by clicking the link, they will be lead to email someone. For example, “To learn more about the ABC Policy email the General Manager
  • A similar format should be followed when linking to URLs. Don’t write out the URL in the text, as it is often difficult to read and decipher where that link is going. Instead, link the title of the website, page, etc. When choosing text or writing text to link to, the link should be intuitively named – they don’t necessarily have to be verbatim page titles. (See above example.)
  • All links to documents should open in a new window.
  • All links to other pages within the same website or links to external URLs should open in the same window to allow users to utilize browser tools throughout their web experience.
  • Avoid using terms like “click here” as they don’t indicate to the user where the link is going to take them. They also hinder the usability of the site for someone utilizing a screen reader. Instead, link to words that indicate what is found at the link. (Ex: Instead of “to view the training document, click here” try “View the training document.”)
  • Don’t replicate content, use links instead. You can link to content within the site on the same topic to avoid having to duplicate any content.
  • Be the authority when you can, but don’t create content you are not the authority on. Want to educate citizens on disaster relief and emergency management using the same tools that FEMA uses? Great! Link to the FEMA website, don’t replicate their information. This will allow your citizens to easily access information directly from the authority on the topic and keep you from having to update content.

Bulleted Lists

  • Long lists within text should be broken out into bulleted lists so that they can be easily scanned.
  • Alphabetize list items with fewer than three words.
  • Avoid over-bulleting.
  • The first letter of each item in a bulleted list should be capitalized.
  • There should be no space above bulleted lists.
  • There should be a break between the bottom of a bulleted list and the next text. Bullets should go; at the most, two levels deep.
  • Do not mix sentence fragments and full sentences in one bulleted list. For consistency, all bullets in each bulleted list should contain the same format (and verb tense).

Breaking Up Content

  • Content should be broken up into small, easily readable chunks. As a general rule, the text beneath each header should not contain more than 2 or 3 short paragraphs and each short paragraph should not contain more than 3 or 5 sentences.
  • Subheads encourage users to keep scrolling to find information, so make sure that each new topic has a header. (See also: Headers and Page Titles)
  • Completely separate topics should be housed on separate pages. While users will scroll longer pages to scan similar information, it can be very frustrating to scroll through information of completely unrelated topics, so that information should be housed separately.

Tables

  • Do not use tables to space content or pictures on the page.
  • To be ADA compliant, all columns must have headings.
  • If the information you are displaying in a table doesn’t consistently fit under the headers for that table, that information should not be displayed in a table.
  • Tables should display using alternate rows” color setting.

Images

  • Images used on the site should enhance the content on the page.
  • Images inside the content area should be no wider than 300 px.
  • Images require a descriptive alt text for users with screen readers. File names and single words do not make usable alt text entries. Try “Lineman, John Smith with Mt. Bachelor in background at sunset” instead of “lineman,” or “Marathon Hot Water Heater Rebate Program” instead of “water heater.” If an image contains both an image and a caption/marketing message (e.g., an image of a power outlet with the text “power outlet”), only the text needs to be represented in the alt text. If an image contains actual data like a chart or graph, the alt should specify this so that screen reader users can find assistance (e.g., “Graph of Average Temperatures” or “Diagram of a typical electric bill with detailed explanations”).

When to Use PDFs

  • Nearly all utilities utilize PDF documents on their sites. When developing content, Ruralite recommends: Convert any Word or Excel files to PDF so that any user can access the information. Adobe Acrobat is a free download that any user can obtain to read documents, while other file types, such as Microsoft Word, require expensive software to access.
  • Open all PDF files in a new window.
  • Indicate links that go to PDF files by including (PDF) behind the file name as a part of the link.

Font Styles

  • Underlining should only be used for hyperlinks. Underlining for emphasis can confuse users who might think they can click on that area of the screen.
  • Avoid using all caps for anything but acronyms. If you need to emphasize something, use bold instead. Using all caps can make the words more difficult to read.
  • Only use Subhead1 and Subhead2 font on subheads
  • If moving information from another source to our system, make sure to paste all items in plain text. This will clear any formatting or text class information from the previous source that may be left on the text.