Guidelines on how to plan, write and manage online content
We've created these guidelines for all content and record editors using our website. They will help to ensure that our web content is clear, simple, effective and accessible. The guidelines are based on established best practices. You can use these web content guidelines to help you to write clear and effective online information.
Help us improve these guidelines by emailing your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Plan your content
Plan your content before you start writing. Focus on the user. Structure your content based on a few questions, including:
- Who's looking for this information?
- What do they need to know?
- Why will it help them?
- Can the user help themselves without accessing a council service?
- How can you make the most important information clear?
- Where does the user need to go next?
How to write for our website
- publish content that's useful, specific and authoritative
- aim for a reading age of 9 to 11 years old
- write clearly and simply in plain English
- use short, simple everyday words
- use the active voice
- address the user, for example: 'you can...'
- keep your sentences short (fewer than 25 words)
- make paragraphs concise (even one sentence)
- avoid jargon
- explain any technical, legal or other specialist words or phrases
- use a neutral tone of voice
- do use positive contractions, for example: 'We'll'
- do not use negative contractions, for example: 'don't'
Create clear page titles and summaries
Your titles and summaries need to be clear, simple and descriptive. The character limit is:
- 55 for titles
- 160 for summaries
Page titles should be front-loaded. Put the format type (consultation, guidance) at the end of the title. Keep summaries active. Explain what people can do. Avoid redundant words.
Format your content
People do not read a whole webpage. Your content needs to be easy to scan. Use formatting techniques and features to make content clearer. You can use:
- the inverted pyramid (most important information at the top)
- sub-headings to make the page easier to scan
- bold text for highlighting important details
- bullet points for lists
- tables for clear dates and times
- buttons for the most important link (for example: download, proceed to payment)
- accordions and tabs to make page more usable
Adding links, documents, images and other media
Make sure you understand how to publish different types of links, files and media.
- Make it clear where a link will take you
- Make link text active, include a verb (for example: 'Find out more about universal credit on GOV.UK')
- Add alternative text (alt text)
- Open internal links in the same tab. Open external links in a new tab
- Do not signpost without context, for example: listing links under a generic 'further information' heading'
- do not link any part of headings
- Publish information as page content (HTML) not files (such as PDF) wherever possible
- Format file links as Download the DOCUMENT NAME (PDF/A, 12KB) and add the hyperlink to the document
- Add alt text to the file link
- Document file size should be less than 2MB
- Do not use images simply for decoration - images should have a purpose
- Images should not contain text, as screen readers and search engines can not read it
- Make sure information in graph images is also accessible in the page content
- Add alt text to images for accessibility and search
- Ensure image quality is acceptable
- Image file size should be less than 500KB
We can embed the following types of media on our website:
- Google maps
- YouTube videos
Follow the style guidance
The way we write should be consistent across every page on our website. Make sure you know how to write things like:
- dates and times
- money and fees
- numbers and ages
- units of measurement
- web terms
Make your content accessible
Websites should be usable for all. No one should be digitally excluded from using our service. We work to Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) so our site is usable for everyone.
As a website record editor or content creator you should focus on the following areas to make your content accessible:
- Write clear, meaningful and descriptive page titles
- Use headings and make sure they're structured properly
- Ensure that instructions are explained properly
- Link text should make sense in isolation
- Check how to write dates, times and when to use special characters
Images, video and audio content
- Make sure any images have a description (alt text)
- Check any video or audio content is properly described
- Try to avoid images containing text (unless they are purely decorative)
PDFs and other documents
- Make sure documents have clear, meaningful titles
- Use the correct heading structure (using the document styles function)
- Ensure the documents convey instructions in an accessible way
- Check that any link text makes sense
- It's hard to make maps accessible
- Make sure there's an alternative for people who can’t see maps
Make your content easy to find in search engines
Many people start their visit to our website by using a search engine. This means it's important people can find your content in Google and Bing.
You can make your page easier to find. You should:
- write titles, summaries and page content in terms people use to search
- ensure your sub-headings are well structured
- avoid publishing information as images
- add alternative text to images
- add metadata to the page
- avoid duplicating content
- not publish pages with little information
- get links to your page from authoritative, trusted websites
Edit and proofread before publishing
Before you publish you should:
- edit your content to make it clearer and more concise
- proofread it to spot typos and other errors
Common mistakes to avoid include:
- technical differences, for example: fewer versus less
Manage your content after publishing
After you publish your content you should:
- look at analytics to know how people are using your page
- check your content for issues, such as broken links
- keep your content up to date
It is important to meet user needs, below are questions to consider before you start
Meeting user needs
User needs are the reasons people use a website. People use bucksfamily.org to access information, advice and support local services, organisations and activities. They're searching for information, or trying to complete a task. They are not here to browse. Meeting their needs means helping them find what they need quickly and easily. You should assume they have no prior knowledge of the page topic. Our content guidelines will help you write content to meet user needs effectively.
Before you start: six questions
When planning your content, think about:
- Who's looking for this information?
- What do they need to know?
- Why will it help them?
- Can the user help themselves without accessing a council service?
- How can you make the most important information clear?
- Where does the user need to go next?
You should plan and structure your content based on the answers. This approach will ensure you meet user needs for every page you write.
This section covers how people read on the web, front-loading, reading age, plain English, tone of voice, sentences and paragraphs, active voice, addressing the user, when to use 'we', contractions, behaviour nudges, writing about disability.
Principles of writing for bucksfamilyinfo.org
Your content should come across as:
- useful by answering a question or helping to complete a task
- simple by using common, everyday words and phrases
- specific by using precise language, such as 'must' for legal requirements
- concise by using short sentences and paragraphs, and only what's needed
- authoritative by being straightforward, but not too casual or informal
How people read on the web
People read differently on the web compared to on paper. They will scan web information, rather than reading every word, looking for what they need. Research shows that people only actually read 20 to 28% of a webpage.
Website users will also read in an F-shape pattern. They scan across the top of the webpage, then down the left side and across to find what they need. This means your content should be written so people can easily scan it. Users should be able to understand the information without having to read every word in order.
The way people read online means you should 'front-load' page titles, sub-headings and bullet points. This involves putting the words people are scanning for at the left of the title, heading or bullet. Example: 'Family Centres in Buckinghamshire', not 'Find out about Family Centres in Buckinghamshire'.
Applying a reading age to content tells us how hard it is to read. The higher the reading age, the more difficult it is to understand. There are many readability tests, such as the Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
Many website users have a low reading age. This may be due to poor literacy skills, or because English is not their first language. You can make sure content easier to read and understand by writing simply and concisely. Simple writing makes content easier to understand for all users, not just those with a low reading age.
We aim for a reading age of 9 to 11 years old. Test the readability of your content by using an online tool like Hemingway Editor.
You should write content simply, using plain English. This will make it easier for people to understand your information. Plain English means using short, simple and familiar everyday words. It avoids long words, technical language or jargon, which is vague and unspecific.
For example, this sentence is full of jargon: 'We engage in horizon-scanning to anticipate future growth of demand for services.' You could instead write it in plain English: 'We plan for who might need to use our services in future.'
If you need to use legal, medical or other terms only known to specialists, explain what it means using plain English.
Jargon to avoid
- agenda (unless it's for a meeting)
- deliver (pizza and letters are delivered, services are provided)
- dialogue (we speak to people)
- drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
- foster (unless it's children)
- horizon-scanning (more likely you’re planning for future needs)
- impact (as a verb)
- progress (as a verb – say what you’re actually doing)
- strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
- tackling (unless it's rugby, football or another sport)
Here is a longer list of words to avoid from GOV.UK.
Everyday word alternatives
- ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’
- ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’
- ‘working with’ instead of ‘collaborating with’
- ‘begin’ instead of ‘initialise’
- ‘talking to’ instead of ‘engaging with’
- ‘changes’ instead of ‘modifications’
- ‘many’ or ‘several’ instead of ‘multiple’
- ‘put in place’ instead of ‘implement’
Here is an A to Z of alternative words.
Tone of voice
Your content should have a neutral and consistent tone. It should not have a distinct individual style. Websites are not a conversational medium. They are different to how we might communicate with a user on webchat or social media. Example: 'You can contact us', not 'give us a ring'. Using a neutral tone ensures content is consistent and appropriate across every page.
Sentences and paragraphs
Shorter sentences are easier to read. Here's an example of a sentence that's too long: If a sentence in your webpage is over 25 words in length, try editing it into two or more shorter sentences without any unnecessary words included. Instead you should write: 'Sentences over 25 words are too long. Edit long sentences into two or more shorter sentences.'
Separate two sentences using a full stop, not a semi-colon. Concise paragraphs are also easier to read. Try to break up long paragraphs into a series of short paragraphs. Sometimes a paragraph can be a single sentence.
Write using the active voice, not the passive voice. This helps users scan content. Example: 'Report feedback online' is active; 'Feedback can be reported online' is passive. You can find out if your writing is active or passive using Hemingway Editor.
Address the user
Refer to the user as 'you' where possible. It helps make content clearer. Example: 'You can apply using the portal', not 'Applications can be made using the portal'.
When to use 'we'
You can refer to Buckinghamshire Family Information Service or a specific service as 'we' if it's clear who 'we' are. Users can arrive at a webpage from anywhere. So be clear in your title, summary and first paragraphs if 'we' are the whole council, a directorate or specific service.
Use positive contractions such as 'you're' and 'we'll'. Do not use negative contractions such as 'can't' or 'don't'. These are harder to read, and users may misunderstand them. Using contractions does not make your content unprofessional or too casual. It's an everyday way of speaking that makes content feel more natural.
Nudges are psychological techniques used to shape a person's behaviour. They've been used by companies for a long time. Now they're increasingly being used in the public sector, for example: to encourage better health choices. We use behavioural nudges to manage the user journey on our website. There are many reasons we might want use behavioural nudges. For example, to encourage people to contact us online. This saves money compared to phone calls.
Examples of nudges:
- '80% of people report a problem using our online feedback' - emphasising online is the norm
- 'The main contact us is to use the contact us form on our website' - establishing digital is the default
- 'If you apply by post it'll take longer to hear back from us' - here there's an incentive of quicker response
- 'By contacting us online you help us spend more on front-line services' - this appeals to ego of having a positive affect on society
Nudges are not a 'dark art' if used for the right purposes. Our aims for nudging people are ethical and justified. Research shows that nudges can work even if we're told we're being nudged. This means you can be transparent with users, and let them know why we are trying to shape their behaviour.
Some tips for writing disability-related content:
- Be consistent – try to avoid slipping into a patronising tone
- Use appropriate terms (‘disabled people’ or ‘people with disabilities’, not ‘the disabled’)
- Avoid medical labels – they reinforce stereotypes of disabled people as ‘patients’
- Be mindful – many people don’t consider themselves ‘disabled’, but identify as having a ‘health condition or impairment’
- Stay positive - avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’ or ‘confined to’ which suggest pain and victim status; use ‘has [condition or impairment]’
- Write normally – aim to create content for disabled people in the same way you would for everyone else
Here is more guidance about words to use and avoid when writing about disability.
This section includes: page titles, summaries
Your title should be 65 characters or less (including spaces). Longer titles are harder to read, and Google cuts off titles after 65 characters.
Make your titles clear and descriptive
Most people who use bucksfamilyinfo.org start with a search engine, such as Google. Your page title should:
- be written using the language people would search for
- make sense on its own
You should not use the terms most people use if there is a misconception. For example, it's the Register Office, not Registry Office. If you must use official terms in a page title, use plain language in your page summary. Example: the 'Household Waste Recycling Centre' page should mention 'tip' or 'dump' in the summary. These are the keywords people may use when searching.
Using ‘ing’ in titles
Use the active verb (for example ‘Apply’) if you use the page to do the thing. Example of good form title: Apply for a school place. Use the gerund (‘Applying’) if the page is about doing the thing, but you do it elsewhere. Example of good guidance title: Applying for a school place.
Formatting your title
You should put the format type at the end of a page title, not the beginning. This follows our guidance about 'front-loading' titles and sub-headings.
- 'New short breaks service consultation', not 'Consultation about the new short breaks service '
- 'Content guidance' not 'Guidance about content'
Keep all summaries to 160 characters (including spaces). Google usually only shows the first 160 characters in search results.
Describe the page content
The page summary is one of the things people see in search engine results (along with the page title and URL). So your page summary needs to clearly explain what the user will find on the page, and how it could help them. Example: the 'Max Card scheme' page the summary could be: 'How to apply for a Max Card, the eligibility criteria, how to renew or replace your card, and what to do if you are a new applicant.'
Include keywords in your page summary that people might search for but that you haven't included in your title. Do not repeat the title in your summary. Use the summary to expand on the title.
Formatting your summary
Keep summaries active and include a verb.
- You can apply...
- How to pay...
- When reporting...
Summaries should end with a full stop. This can help people who use assistive technology like screen readers.
Avoid redundant introductory words
These do not tend to give the user any more information than what they would already assume.
- Information about...
- A consultation on...
- This form will allow you to...
- Please complete...
Remove as much as you can without losing critical information.
This section includes: page length, inverted pyramid, sub-headings, bold text, bullet points, number lists, tables, shoutboxes, buttons, accordions and tabs
There is no limit to page length on our website. However, always make sure a content page is only as long as it needs to be. You can use the formatting guidance in this section to ensure your content is clear, concise, and easy to scan.
The inverted pyramid is a practice where you put the most important information at the top of the webpage. The pyramid shape reflects that your writing should go from the broadest facts down to the smallest details.
For example on an 'Apply for a Max Card' page, information about:
- how, when and where to apply should be at the top
- how applications are processed advice should go at the bottom
Find out more on the Nielsen Norman Group website: Inverted Pyramid: Writing for Comprehension
Use sub-headings to divide up content into sections of related information. These headings help people and search engines scan a webpage and understand what the page is about. People using screen readers use sub-headings to navigate a page to find the information they need. Sub-headings must be well structured, or they will confuse users and search engines.
You should use headings like this:
- Heading 1 is the page title. There should never be more than one Heading 1 on a webpage.
- Heading 2 is used to divide the webpage into sections.
- Heading 3 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 2.
- Heading 4 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 3.
Always make Heading 2 the first sub-heading used after the page title. If a page is only divided using Heading 3 or Heading 4 search engines and screen readers will view this as the page 'missing' a Heading 2. Do not use Heading 5, 6 and so on. Too many heading types are confusing. Do not link any part of sub-headings.
You can use bold to help users scan for important information, such as dates or costs. Example: 'The deadline for applications is Friday 30 October'. It can also be used for emphasis. Example: 'Do not report this online if it's an emergency'.
Use bold sparingly to avoid it becoming meaningless and distracting. Some pages do not need any bold text. Never highlight a whole sentence, paragraph or link in bold.
Use bullet points to make lists easier to scan. Bullets are appropriate when the order of list items does not matter.
When using bullets:
- write a lead-in line ending in a colon, for example ‘When using bullets:’
- use lowercase at the start of each bullet if continuing the sentence
- don’t use ‘or’, ‘and’ or a semi-colon after each bullet
- don’t add a full stop after the last bullet point
- limit yourself to 5 to 10 items per bullet list
On our website you can:
On our website:
- you can report
- you can apply
- you can pay
Use numbered lists to present ordered information. For example, step-by-step instructions to complete a task:
- This is step 1
- Here's step 2
- And now step 3
Use tables to display information such as timetables, opening hours or budget figures. Do not use tables to control the layout of your page. Example of a well formatted table:
|Monday to Friday||9am to 5pm|
|Saturday||10am to 4:30pm|
Use buttons to highlight the most important link or download on the page. This is known as a call to action. It's the main thing the user needs to do when visiting the page. For example, on the 'Send us your feedback' page, the link to the external form should be a button.
Apply for a school place The link text on a button should describe what happens when you click the button.
For example: On the 'Apply for a Max Card' page the button text should be 'Proceed to apply'. It should not say 'Make an application' or 'Apply now' as the user can't complete their application by clicking the button. Do not use more than one or two buttons on a single webpage.
Accordions (Expand and Collapse)
Accordions are webpage features that expand to show more content. On this guide, "Formatting your content" is an accordion. Use accordions for long pages where the user may only need to look at one section of information. For example, FAQ pages. Treat the accordion title as a Heading 2.
You can use tabs to segment your page content. Use tabs for similar reasons to accordions, but where your page sections are limited. Treat the tab title as a Heading 2.
This section includes: links, documents, images, videos and other media
You can use links to help people navigate to pages on bucksfamilyinfo.org and to external websites. Only add links that are useful to your page.
- Internal links should open in the same browser tab.
- External links should open in a new tab.
Do not signpost to further information without context, for example: links listed under a generic 'further information' heading. Signposting is not effective if it's unclear why you should visit an external page. You should explain what the user can do when clicking the link. Example: 'You can learn more about Local Offer for SEND on bucksfamilyinfo.org
Include external links within the main page content, not a separate 'external links' area of the page.
How to format links
- Make your link text active, concise and include a verb if possible. Good example: Find bus timetables on the Arriva website Bad example: Bus timetable are available on the Arriva website: https://www.arrivabus.co.uk/
- Add descriptive alternative text (alt text) to your link. This is read by screen readers to tell people what the link is about.
- Do not use generic link text such as 'click here'.
- Do not link any part of sub-headings.
How to publish information
Publish information as webpage content (HTML) rather than files (such as PDFs) wherever possible. This is because PDFs:
- do not change size to fit a web browser
- are not designed for reading on screens
- don't allow us to track how people use them offline
- can be hard for some people to access
- are harder to keep up to date
More information: Why GOV.UK content should be published in HTML and not PDF The maximum filesize for our website is 5MB. You should aim for your file to be less than 1MB if possible. There are many free online tools that can shrink your file size.
Formatting your document link
The format for document links should be active, concise and include a verb if possible. Include the file type and size in brackets after the document link.
- Good example: Download the example document (PDF/A, 12KB)
- Bad example: You can download the document
When to use images
You should use images when they serve a purpose, not for decoration. Good example: An image showing pothole depth can help explain what a dangerous pothole looks like. Bad example: An image of children in a classroom on a school term dates page is decorative, as it does not help explain anything
Resolution, size and file type
Images should be of appropriate resolution, size and file type. As a guide aim for:
- 800px width (if landscape)
- less than 500KB
- PNG or JPEG file formats
Make your image accessible and searchable
Add clear and descriptive alternative text (alt text) to your image. This tells people with screen readers what the image shows. This will also help people find your page through search engine image results. Do not include text on your image. This makes the information inaccessible to screen readers and search engines. If you publish graphs as image files, make sure the details are also available in the editable page content.
You can embed YouTube videos on bucksfamilyinfo.org. Make sure any page with videos still has enough content around it (text, headings). This helps search engines and screen readers read the page and understand what it's about. Embedding videos is simple and quick. You have the option to resize the video to work best in your page layout and for mobile devices. Ask the BFIS Digital Team for support if you need help adding a video to your page.
We sometimes embed other media formats on bucksfamilyinfo.org. For example: Google maps. Please ask the BFIS Digital Team about adding non-standard media to a page.
This section includes: abbreviations, acronyms, addresses, capitalisation, dates and times, hyphens, italics, money and fees, numbers and ages, quotations, semi-colons, singular and plural, symbols, units of measurement, web terms
Avoid abbreviating words and phrases. They are harder to read, and may sound confusing when using a screen reader. For example: write 'for example' in full rather than 'e.g.'
When first mentioning an acronym on any page, write in full with the acronym in brackets. For example: start by writing ‘Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)'. You could then refer to 'MASH' for the rest of the page.
When writing addresses use address formatting:Buckinghamshire Family Information Service,
1st Floor,Walton Street Offices
Capital letters make sentences 13 to 18% harder to read. Begin page titles with a capital letter and continue in lowercase. Example: 'Apply for a max card' not 'Apply For a Max Card'. Never write in all capitals, as online this looks like we’re shouting. The exception to this is when using acronyms or initialisms, for example: ACS, DVLA or GOV.UK.
Dates and times
- Use the date format ‘Thursday 17 October 2019’
- Do not use 24-hour clock - this requires extra effort for the user to 'convert' the time. Write '5pm' not '17:00'.
- Write date and time ranges using the format 'Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm' not 'Mon-Fri, 9am - 5pm'
- Be specific with dates if you can.
- Example: 'Applications open on Monday 12 September' not 'Applications open next Monday'.
Examples of words that should include hyphens:
Words that shouldn't have hyphens:
Do not use italics on bucksfamilyinfo.org. Italics are harder to read online, and can add tone to information which we want to avoid.
Money and fees
Write money in the format: £2.50; £250; £2,500, £25,000, £250,000; £2.5 million; £2.5 billion.
Numbers and ages
The conventional way to format numbers is to spell numbers up to ten, then use digits for larger numbers. For example, 'nine', ten', '11', '12'. Always use digits unless you're starting a sentence with a number. Example, you would write 'There are 3 ways to apply', but 'Three ways you can apply'. This makes it easier for people to scan for numerical information.
- The format for large numbers is: 100; 1,000; 10,000; 100,000; 1 million; 1 billion.
- Write decades using the format ‘1980s’, not ‘1980’s’, ‘80s’ or ‘eighties'.
- When writing ages, use the formats 'The 21-year-old woman' and 'The woman is 21 years old'.
Write quotations like this:
- The councillor said: “This is an example quote.”
- The councillor said he was “very happy” with his quote."
- The councillor said he’d give one more quote that was “great”.
When dividing long quotations into shorter paragraphs, use this format:
- The Digital officer said: “I like giving example quotes too."
- “It’s useful to know how to write quotations so I can teach others."
- “I especially like quotes that continue onto three or more lines.”
Do not use semi-colons to separate two sentences. Use a full stop instead. Semi-colons are harder to read and may not be understood by users.
Singular and plural
Write collective nouns as singular entities. This includes companies, governments and other organisations or groups. Example: ‘Buckinghamshire Council is/has' not ‘Buckinghamshire Council are/have'
- Do not use ampersands (&). For example, write 'Roads and transport' not 'Roads & transport'.
- Do not add exclamations (!). If you need to highlight an important message is bold text for the relevant part of the sentence.
- You can use the symbols for percentage ('%') and the pound sign ('£').
Units of measurement
Use metric units. If you need to use imperial units, provide a conversion to metric units. For example, 'The road is 10 miles (16km) long.' Write temperatures in the format 'Today's temperature is 23C'.
When linking to a website use the format 'bucksfamilyinfo.org'. Do not include 'https://www.' prefix characters or any unnecessary slashes. Write:
- website not web site
- webpage not web page
- webchat not web chat
This section includes standards, responsibilities, text, images, video, audio, PDFs and other documents, maps
Content on bucksfamilyinfo.org should comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA. This is good practice, and will be a legal requirement from 23 September 2020. You can read the accessibility statement for bucksfamilyinfo.org which explains our level of compliance with WCAG and UK web accessibility regulations.
As a website editor the content that you’re responsible for making accessible includes:
- text content
- images, video and audio content
- PDFs and other document types you publish
- maps (user-generated, for example using Google)
As website admins we are responsible for ensuring the following, in conjunction with our web provider:
- interactive tools like forms and decision trees
- navigation and search functionality
- dynamic content like pop-up windows
- website design and styling, such as fonts or colour contrast
Your page should be titled properly. If it's not, users won’t understand what it's for and will struggle to find what they need using search. Make sure your page title is descriptive, meaningful and suggests in plain English what the page is about. For example, 'Apply for a max card' is more helpful than simply 'Max card applications'.
Check that none of your titles are duplicated: if two pages have the same title, how is the user supposed to know which one to use?
It’s important that any headings you’re using are styled and structured properly. This is because some users with visual impairments use tools called ‘screen readers’ that read out page content to them. Screen reader users often jump through the list of headings in a document so they can skip to the content they’re looking for. If you’re styling headings just using bold, or by using bigger font, then screen readers won’t recognise them as headings and users won’t be able to skip to the content they need.
Structure your sub-headings in this way:
- Heading 2 is used to divide the page into sections
- Heading 3 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 2
- Heading 4 is used to sub-divide the content under a Heading 3
Always make Heading 2 the first sub-heading used after the page title. If a page is only divided using Heading 3 or Heading 4 screen readers will view this as the page 'missing' a Heading 2.
The link text you’re using should clearly explain where any links will take the user. This is important because screen reader users often scan through lists of links in isolation. This means they don’t have the surrounding context to help them understand what the link is for. If the link text still makes sense in isolation and clearly explains where the link goes, it’s likely the text you’re using is accessible.
If you’re using link text like ‘click here’ or ‘more information’ then you’re probably not meeting this requirement, as link text like that doesn’t describe where the link will go or what it’s for. You can find guidance on writing good link text if you’re not sure.
You need to make sure you’re not conveying instructions in a way that relies on a user’s ability to see the page.
For example, only sighted users will understand instructions like:
- ‘click the round button’
- ‘click the big button below’
- ‘click the teal button’
Users who can’t see the page won’t know what you’re referring to, because instructions like that rely on visual descriptions.
Characters and other conventions
- Consider when to use symbols or special characters. For example use 'Roads and transport' not 'Roads & transport' as a screen reader would read it as 'roads ampersand transport'. However you could use the pound sign (£) when writing a cost amount.
- Format dates as '9 July to 11 July' not '9 July - 11 July'. Screen readers will read the hyphen as 'hyphen', which make dates harder to understand.
- Write times as '2pm' rather than the 24-hour clock '14:00'. It's easier to understand using a screen reader.
Images, video and audio content
Images should have appropriate alternative text (also known as 'alt text'). This explains what the image conveys. Make sure any non-decorative images (including charts or diagrams) have an accompanying text description. That way, users can still access the relevant information even if they can’t see the image. You don’t need to add alt text to decorative images.
Images containing text
Your images should not contain text (unless the image is decorative and not intended to communicate information). This is because screen readers won’t be able to read the text within the image. The information should be published as normal page text instead. This doesn’t include logos and brand names - it’s okay for those to contain text.
Audio content description
Your videos or audio content should be clearly described so that users who can’t hear them can still access the information. This means checking that videos have captions explaining any sound effects and dialogue. You should also include transcripts for any audio content you publish.
Audio descriptions for video and audio content
Your video may cover something that’s not described in the audio track – the contents of a chart or graph, for example. If you were only following the audio, you’d miss this information. To make sure users can access the information they need, you’d need to provide an extra audio description to describe anything not covered in the main audio track.
PDFs and other documents
Your documents should have meaningful, descriptive titles that explain what they’re for. An example of a good title is something like “Max Card application form”, as it makes clear what the document is and what a user would use it for. Something like “Forms - ‘20” isn’t as good, because it’s vague and doesn’t explain in enough detail what the document is.
Your document should be broken up into sections - and that those sections all have descriptive headings. This will allow people using screen readers to scan the document and jump to the section that’s relevant to them. You’ll also need to check that the headings are tagged properly - for instance, they’ve been created using the styles gallery in Microsoft Word or something similar. That way, a screen reader will recognise them as headings and will let users scan through them to find the content they need.
If the headings are just styled using bold, the screen reader won’t know they’re headings and the document isn’t accessible.
You need to make sure you’re not conveying instructions in a way that relies on a user’s ability to see the document. For example, only sighted users will understand instructions like:
- ‘click the round button’
- ‘click the big button below’
- ‘click the teal button’
Users who can’t see the page won’t know what you’re referring to, because you need to be able to see the page to identify a button as ‘big’, ‘teal’ or ‘round’.
Any link text you’re using should clearly explain where the link will take the user. This is important because screen reader users often scan through lists of links in isolation. This means they don’t have the surrounding context to help them understand what the link is for. If the links still make sense even in isolation and clearly explain where the links go, it’s likely the text you’re using is accessible. If you’re using link text like ‘click here’ or ‘more information’ then you’re probably not meeting this requirement, as link text like that doesn’t describe where the link will go or what it’s for.
You can find guidance on writing good link text if you’re not sure.
Tables and chart images
Don't add an image of a table or chart. Users who can’t see the image will not be able to access the information the image conveys.
It’s very hard to make a map itself accessible to people who have visual impairments using some sorts of assistive technology. However you should provide an alternative for users who aren’t able to use the map. For example, you’re presented not only with a map you could use to navigate, but also with a text address any user could access. Check any maps on your webpages to see whether you’re providing alternative routes for users who can’t use the map.
This guidance is based on the GOV.UK guide Doing a basic accessibility check if you can’t do a detailed one
This section includes: why search is important, how search engines works, how to optimise your web content
Why search is important
Most people start their search for information online using a search engine. Half of visits to suffolk.gov.uk start with someone using a search engine, such as Google. This means it's important that users can find your pages using search engines.
How search engines work
Search engines aim to present the most relevant results for any search term. They do this by first building up an index of webpages on the internet. They then use a complex algorithm to rank pages for different search terms. It's thought there are over 200 factors influencing the Google search algorithm. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the ranking of your webpage on search results. SEO is a complicated and specialist practice. However, as a content editor you can influence how high your page appears for relevant search terms.
How to optimise your web content
Publish on an authoritative domain
Authoritative domains such as gov.uk or nhs.uk are more trusted by search engines. This means pages on those websites rank higher on search results pages.
Meet the user need
Make sure your content is relevant and answers the questions people will have. If people visit your page and immediately return to their search results Google may think your page is not relevant.
Include keywords people use to search
Write your page title, summary and content using the words and phrases people would use when searching. Do not try to 'trick' Google by repeating keywords unnaturally. This may result in a penalty, where Google stops your page from appearing on results pages.
Make sure your page is well written and formatted
Write clear, concise and descriptive page titles, summaries, sub-headings and content. This helps both search engines and users understand what the page is about. Ensure your sub-headings are in a logical order.
Do not put information in images
Search engines cannot read information in images, for example: text overlaid onto photos. If a lot of your page information is contained within images, search engines will think the page doesn't have much content.
Add alternative text to photos
When you add photos to a page make sure you add alternative text (alt text). This helps the image (and page) show up in Google Image search.
Avoid sparse pages or duplicate content
Google may penalise your website if it contains a lot of sparse pages or duplicate content. This means your website would not rank highly on search results pages. This would only apply to a trend found widely across a website, not just an individual page.
Complete the page metadata
You can add metadata to your page when editing it in the Content Management System (CMS). This metadata is only read by search engines, and provides more information on what the page is about
Fix any usability issues
Make sure your page doesn't have issues that would cause a bad user experience, for example: broken links.
Acquire good links from other websites
Search engines look at links to a page from other websites as 'votes' that your page is relevant and useful. Getting links from trustworthy and authoritative websites will help your page rank higher in search results. For example, if you publish a page related to healthcare for young people, links from NHS, university and other relevant websites will be beneficial. Be aware that it can take days or weeks for search engines to fully take account of all the links to your page and adjust its search ranking.
Avoid bad links from other websites
If a lot of spam or low quality websites are linking to your page, search engines may penalise your page or website. There are lots of online tools to help monitor inbound links to a website.
This section includes: editing, proofreading, misspellings, homophones, apostrophes, other common mistakes.
Editing and proofreading tips
When editing your content you should:
- Delete redundant words
- Split sentences over 25 words into two or more shorter sentences
- Keep paragraphs concise (even a single sentence)
- Check for readability using a tool like Hemingway
- Check content does not include any sensitive data
To spot mistakes in your writing you can:
- spell check, but do not rely on it (it will not tell you if you’ve used a word in the wrong context)
- change the font to make it unfamiliar
- print it out so you're reading it in a different context
- read it aloud
- read it backwards
- ask someone else to read it
Mistakes to avoid
Below are some common mistakes made by content editors.
Write using British English, not American English.
- ‘recognise’ not ‘recognize’
- ‘focused’ not ‘focussed’
- ‘holiday’ not ‘vacation’
- ‘pavements’ and not ‘sidewalk’
- ‘lift’ not ‘elevator’
Make sure your spell check is set to British English. Refer to the Oxford English Dictionary if you’re ever unsure.
These are words that are pronounced and spelled similarly, but have different meanings. Make sure you’re using the correct versions of the following:
This is when you use additional words that are unnecessary.
Examples of tautologies are:
- new innovation
- mutual co-operation
- past experience
- honest truth
Apostrophes are used to indicate possession or omission of words.
Below are correct uses of apostrophes:
- This is Thomas' room
- This is Thomas's room
- Work will start in two weeks' time
- Today's the day
- You'll be contacted soon
Do not use an apostrophe when writing the plural of something, for example: there are 20 office worker's.
Other common mistakes
It’s easy to use the wrong version of the words below. Ensure you’re using the correct instance of the following.
This section includes: understanding how people use your content, monitoring your content for issues, keeping your content and editing skills up to date.
Understand how people use your content
It's easy to see how people use your page with tools such as Google Analytics. You should know how many people are visiting your page, and what they do when they arrive. If you don't know how your page is being used, you do not know if it's meeting user needs.
Monitor your content for issues
You can use web quality assurance software such as Siteimprove to monitor your web content for issues. The main issues that affect websites are:
- broken links
- poor readability
- accessibility issues
- SEO issues
Issues can prevent people from being able to access your service.
Keep your content up to date
You are responsible for ensuring your online information is accurate as a content editor. You should review your pages to edit any information or documents that are out of date.