Web Style Guide
This web style guide will provide best practices for writing your copy, a checklist to assist you in developing your text, and a guide for writing for the web that is consistent with Carroll’s brand, including using a consistent editorial voice. If you are developing new text for your web pages and need assistance, please contact Jeff Wald, Webmaster, in the Marketing and Communications office – firstname.lastname@example.org, (404) 447-4512.
Best Practices for Web Copy
STEP 1: Ask These Three Questions – Who, What & What Next?
- Who is my priority audience?
Prospective Students—Default Best Answer
You have more than one audience, and it’s human nature to prioritize the loudest or most “present” audiences. That’s probably a mistake. In your day-to-day interactions, you have current students, deans, and faculty all elbowing each other for priority. In our initial meetings on campus our team and yours agreed that the website is, first and foremost, a tool for reaching external audiences first—namely, prospective students. Of course, a page here or there may prioritize internal audiences. What’s critical is that you identify that (single!) audience and think “external” first.
- What are they looking for here?
A picture of who they could become through my institution/program—Default Best Answer
This is the motivation question—why have they landed on this page? More than anything prospective students want to be able to visualize themselves on Carroll's campus. So speak directly to that when crafting web content. In some cases, the audience is not a prospective student. It could be alumni, a donor, a parent, a community member. The same rule applies: keep your priority audience’s needs and motivations front and center.
- What do I want them to do next?
Share contact information—Default Best Answer
Visualize the next action. Try to be as clear and specific about it as possible. “I want them to email the program director” or “I want them to schedule a visit.” These specific actions can be tracked in analytics as macro or micro conversions to give you feedback on the efficacy of the page. Sometimes you might only have a fuzzy “next action,” something like, “I want them to understand that an this degree can lead to many career options.” Ask yourself, “and then what?” several times to see if you can define a clearer next step.
STEP 2: Write for Scanners
Write for impatient scanners, because that’s who we all are online. So, keep your focus sharp and your prose easy to consume.
- Start with the most important thing.
First paragraph, first sentence. Just say it. Get to the point and stay on it as long as you can. If you feel the need to expound, expand, or add “interest,” do it later. Make your opening clear and to the point. You may not get another chance.
- Make your headlines and subheads count.
Put specific, substantive language into your headlines and subheads. This may boost SEO (search engine optimization), and it certainly helps users. This is a variation of #1 because when we scan a page, we read headlines and subheads first, before any other content. Instead of “Overview,” or even “Careers,” say “Accounting Careers.” This cues the reader to the topic. You can add more substance by summarizing your main point in the head or subhead: “Accounting Leads to Many Careers.” Weight wins.
- Break your copy into small chunks.
Web users don’t like to read long pages, yet we want to read more when we’re considering a complex decision, like education. Work around this paradox by presenting all content in small, digestible chunks—even, or especially, the longer pages:
- One idea per paragraph
- 40 to 50 words max per paragraph
- Use subheads (see point #2) at least every third paragraph
- Lists of three to seven items are highly digestible chunks.
- Show them what to do next.
If you completed Step 1, you know what you want them to do next. Working within your template, make sure this is easily picked up in a scan. Put it in a call-out box, or at least a subhead. Web users need your help.
STEP 3: Write to Be Found
Help your words make friends. It’s called a web for a reason. Make sure your content connects with others. With these three habits, you will move from someone who writes for the web to a bona fide web writer.
- Imagine your audience typing in a search engine.
What do they type? Use those words in your headlines, subheads, and body copy. Better yet, research your audience’s search terms and use those. Hint: Contact Jeff Wald, Webmaster at email@example.com, (404) 447-4512) in the Marketing & Communications office.
- Link to other information that might appeal.
You’ve figured out what you want them to do after reading your page. What else might they want to do? Include links to those pages that are within your institutional site. If the information doesn’t live within your institution’s overall site, you can serve the reader by including links to external sites, but remember, you could lose them when the go to another site.
- Get out and socialize.
Imagine social media conversations you might start from this page (or lead back to it). Make those conversations happen. To make more shareable content, develop infographics, top 10 (or 7 or 12) lists, or ice-breaker questions. Think about TBT (throwback Thursday) content that might spark alumni interest on Twitter or Facebook. Tie it to careers, mentoring, and intern hosting for alumni on LinkedIn. Hint: Contact Jeff Wald, Webmaster, at firstname.lastname@example.org, (404) 447-4512 in the Marketing and Communications office to develop more ideas along these lines.
Checklist: Best Practices Primer
- My priority audience is______________.
- They are looking for _____________________ on this page.
- After they read this, I want them to ___________________.
- My first paragraph is solid.
- My headlines and subheads give information.
- My paragraphs are 40 to 50 words long.
- I know what terms my audience uses to find me (keywords), and I have used those terms in my copy, headlines, subheads, etc.
- I have included links in my copy to other information they might like.
- I have created social media bits that tie into my page, and I have shared them.
Staying On Brand
Think about the stores, products, or services that you love. Those brands are summed up in their logos, but the brand is not the logo. It is the feeling a company or institution gives you in every interaction—in ads, in the classroom, on Facebook, and on a website. It is the common thread of feeling and expectation you have.
The Carroll brand is the feeling people have when they interact with you, and it’s a powerful one. Although your goals with your content may be different from department to department, all the content on the site needs to reflect and reinforce the Moments Make Us brand. This section will help you do that.
The Carroll Brand
Authentic. Powerful. Simple. Those are the things that characterize the Moments Make Us brand. Carroll is truly an exceptional place, with exceptional people. That’s why the cornerstone of this brand are the moments and stories that make your students who they are, and make the college who it is. The Carroll brand lives through the powerful moments that happen across our community that convey the brand promise and pillars and give relevant audiences a real, genuine look at the experience Carroll College promises.
Carroll College offers a rigorous learning experience to inspired, compassionate students who share in a distinctive spirit of togetherness and expand their potential in an engaging and supportive environment.
- A Higher Standard
- An Opportunity-Rich Location
- A Catholic Tradition of Service
- A Global Outlook
- A Common Heart
Checklist: Brand Consistency
- Have I given students a clear way to help themselves or to make informed decisions?
- Have I made it easier to find support services?
- Have I been supportive? Inclusive? Have I opened doors, or shut them?
- Have I kept my audience’s goals in mind? Does this content help them reach those goals?
- Does my tone create an aspirational and realistic mood that fulfills the tagline?
It’s hard to read our own work critically. Find another content author, read each other's work, and help everyone create a more consistent brand expression. Hint: Contact Jeff Wald, Webmaster at email@example.com, (404) 447-4512) in the Marketing & Communications office. He is happy to assist you in finalizing your content.
The Carroll Voice
The Carroll brand has an editorial voice and tone that’s straightforward, but compelling; authentic, but aspirational; and powerful, but not hyperbolic. We engage readers by speaking directly to them, with lines like "Think about where you want to go in life." as a way to subtly challenge them and form an immediate two-way relationship. We incorporate somewhat loftier, aspirational lines—albeit sparingly—as a way to elevate the conversation and reflect the high academic standards at Carroll, such as It’s about who you become, and the lives you touch along the way.
The authentic and genuine nature of this concept means that we must avoid hyperbole and using words and phrases that could be interpreted as over-the-top or “fluff.” Instead, in running copy, we keep things real by using direct, down-to-earth language that is still emotive and powerful. And making use of first-person plural POV (“we” and “us”) in lines like "Because it’s the moments we share that make us who we are." will help us form a strong connection with the audience.
Finally, as stated earlier, we will use the word “Moments” from the tagline as a messaging anchor for headlines and sub-taglines that will help focus the topic being discussed. For example, "Moments that endure." would serve as a headline if we wanted to talk about Carroll’s dedicated alumni or the strong relationship between the college and Helena. Sample ideas for headlines and subheads include:
Moments that endure.
Moments with spirit.
Moments of curiosity.
Moments that challenge and inspire.
Moments that transform learning, to knowing.