Web Standards/Style Guide

Web Standards/Style Guide

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Websites can be effective information resources for reaching the many and diverse audiences of the university, including current and prospective students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, as well as funding agencies and the general public. You are representing the university to these audiences, so it is important that you consider carefully what you put on the Web and how it will be presented. Good Web pages can be an integral part of marketing the university's image to the public, so it is essential that your presentation be professional and reflect positively on the university. This content and the PDF icon Viterbo University Communications Style Guide has been developed to help ensure that Viterbo University's website is effectively utilized in the recruitment and retention of students, that continuity and cohesiveness exists across the entire website, and that the site promotes a positive image of the university. The Viterbo University website is considered an official university publication, reflecting the university's image to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and any other constituents the university serves. It serves as a marketing tool to prospective students and their parents, a resource for information about the university, and reflects our image to our constituents.

Keep in mind most Web pages within the viterbo.edu domain are public. Even if your Web page is a small page targeted to a very specific audience, anyone can view it. Do not place information on your public Web pages that you do not want the public to see. If the information is restricted, confidential, sensitive, or otherwise should not be made public, the Web pages containing this information should be restricted using password protection or other access control mechanisms. Contact the communications and marketing office at 608-796-3047 for further information or assistance in this area.

This guide is meant to be used in conjunction with the PDF icon Viterbo University Communications Style Guide.

Your Introductory/Home Page

Your home page should avoid "so-what" content. This material may have value, but it is almost never important enough to feature on the home page. In print publications, a message from the director column usually ranks among the least read in the publication and there's no reason to believe they are any more popular in Web publishing. People are coming to your site because they have some task to complete or specific information they're looking for and home page clutter only reduces a page's "visual digestibility" and gets in the way of them completing that task.

  • Examples of "so-what" content include:
    • Message from the director, dean, chair, etc.
    • Welcome to our Web page
    • Mission, vision, history
  • Your home page must use an official Viterbo University template. Templates must be created by communications and marketing.
  • Your home page must have the name of the department, school, institute and/or office large and near the top of the page (a department template meets this requirement).
  • Your home page should provide contact information, including address, phone, fax, and email (with link). Alternatively, a clear link to this contact information may be used.

Writing for the Web

See Writing for the Web


Keep your content current. Not only should the content on a Web page be concise and easy to scan, the information must be current and correct. Nothing is more frustrating to a user than to find out that the information they are relying on is incorrect or outdated. When visitors see inaccurate or out-of-date information, the page becomes suspect and can invalidate the legitimacy of the entire website. This, in turn, will affect the user's perception of the reliability and credibility of Viterbo University. This is why reviewing and updating content on your website must be done on a regular basis.

  • To facilitate maintenance of your Web pages, assign someone in your department to periodically review your pages to ensure the ­information is current and accurate.
  • Routinely test your pages in different browsers.
  • Check your links. Other sites may move or eliminate links without your knowledge, resulting in broken links.
  • If reworking your Web pages, avoid renaming or moving files to prevent broken links, as other Web pages may be linked to your pages. If you must move files or pages, contact communications and marketing to have a redirect page set up on the server.
  • Changes in personnel, curriculum, events, or other information should be posted as soon as possible.
  • Older, but still relevant, information should be archived.
  • Events that have already occurred should be removed from the Web page immediately after the event has taken place.
  • Always proofread edited content before final publishing.
  • The responsibility for the accuracy of content and information on a department's/office's Web pages ultimately rests with the department head.
  • If a department page is not being maintained you will be contacted by communications and marketing.

Navigation and Links

Make your navigation clear, concise, and useful. Navigation links to content within your particular area are listed on the left side of your Web pages. A link back to your home page should be included first under "IN THIS SECTION" so users don't get stranded and have to resort to the browser back button to return to your home page. Check to make sure that the "RELATED LINKS" are useful and appropriate for your site. These links may have been added arbitrarily when communications and marketing first set up your pages. Check your links regularly when reviewing and updating content. Links to pages, especially those you do not control, have a tendency to change or be eliminated completely without your knowledge.

  • Do not underline any text that is not a hyperlink. Underlining is reserved for links only.
    • Hyperlinks within content are underlined for quick identification. Under no circumstances should underlines be used as emphasis within Web page content, as these will be confused as links. Use bold type and/or italics for emphasis.
  • Do not use "click here" for links included in text.
    • Links should use a meaningful, descriptive group of words so that the link will make sense if read out of context.
    • For example, use "For a listing of course requirements, see the math curriculum sheet." instead of "Click here for a math curriculum sheet."
  • Ideally, place hyperlinks in text at the end of a sentence or paragraph as a call to action for the user.
  • Spell out entire names when giving email address links rather than just giving the email address or linking the name to email.
    • For example, "Glena Temple, ggtemple@viterbo.edu" is correct; "ggtemple@viterbo.edu" and "Glena Temple"are not. The exception to this rule is when email information is included in a listing along with name, address, phone, etc.
    • Email links on Web pages should not be italicized. (This differs from the Viterbo University Communications Style Guide which requires email addresses to be italicized in print publications.)
  • Links should not be used to replace information. Instead, a brief summary of the information should be provided with a link. The link allows the user access to more details on the subject.
  • Link names should be concise, informational, and easy to understand.
  • Prioritize links according to usage/importance. Do not list links alphabetically; usability studies show that doing so is essentially the same as a random listing.
  • Link names should be consistent across your site.
    • Do not refer to the same content as "curriculum" in one link instance and "program requirements" in another. This confuses the user.
    • Also ensure that the page title corresponds to the link. If the user clicks on a link that says "Program Requirements" they should go to a page titled "Program Requirements." This eliminates confusion as well.
  • If you have Web pages that are "under construction" or otherwise not ready for public viewing, refrain from placing an "under construction" Web page on the site. The solution is to remove the link completely or unlink the text so the user knows the link is not clickable. Once the page is built and ready, add or activate the link to the page.

Because the Viterbo Web site is complex, we have a Google search tool so users can navigate quickly. The search is found in the upper right corner of every university web page.

Use of Graphics and Images

Graphics and images can enhance the appearance of a Web page. Care must be taken in how graphics and images are used. Visitors to university Web pages tend to look for information. Research has shown Web pages with "glitzy" and "cool" graphics are detrimental to a university Web site and should not be used.

  • Overuse of graphics and images should be avoided, and all graphics and images should be relevant to the Web page content.
  • Scrolling text, spinning logos, flashing icons, page counters and the like should not be used.
  • To facilitate quick loading of Web pages, pictures should be sized appropriately at a resolution of 72 dpi and/or "thumbnail" versions should be used. If larger images are needed, the thumbnail should be linked to a higher resolution picture.
  • Alternative (alt) attributes for images are automatically generated by the CMS when you enter a title for your image or graphic. These appear when you hover over the graphic in your browser. A visually impaired reader, who is using a screen reader, will hear the alt attribute in place of the image. Therefore, the image title should be descriptive and convey the purpose or meaning of the image. "Photo of" or "image of" are not necessary. Alternative text is not necessary for purely decorative images.

Numbers on the Web

These rules differ from the Viterbo University Communications Style Guide for print styles.

  • Write numbers with digits, not letters (e.g., 23, not twenty-three, 8, not eight).
  • Use numerals for big numbers up to one billion: 2,000,000, not two million.
  • For larger numbers, use numerals for the significant digits and write out the magnitude as a word. For example, write 24 billion (not twenty-four ­billion or 24,000,000,000).
  • Spell out numbers that do not represent specific facts.
    • For example, "In recent years, we have tested thousands of students." "Thousands" is not really data in this context, it is intended to give an idea of the scope of the research. Use numerals when stating the exact number (e.g., "We have tested 2,692 students."). Disclosing the exact number also increases the statement's credibility.

Documents on the Web

Use pdfs for their specific purpose only. Nearly all Web pages should be formatted within the CMS. However, for occasions when information is intended specifically to be printed, as would be the case with a form that needs to be filled out and signed, or a schedule to be printed and posted, PDF is the acceptable alternative. No matter how tempting it might be, you should never use PDF for content that you expect users to read online. According to studies, forcing users to browse PDF documents degrades your Web site's usability by 250–300% as compared to HTML pages.

  • Users frequently get lost inside PDF documents which are typically big, linear pieces of text optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online.
  • PDF files are typically converted from documents intended for print, so they are formatted for a sheet of paper and there is no consideration given to following Web writing guidelines.
  • PDF lives in its own environment with different commands and menus. Even simple things like printing or saving documents are difficult because standard browser commands don't work.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the number or quality of visitors to your Web page from search engines via "natural" (unpaid) search results as opposed to search engine marketing (SEM) which deals with paying to be listed. Typically, the higher a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

  • Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
  • Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links.
  • Give your page an appropriate title—it should be short and descriptive. The structure of the page, the H1 and H2 headers, the title, and the description should all fit together.


  • Tables on a page should be 100% wide, not a static number measurement. This will make the table work better when the responsive design of the page is considered.
  • Don't capitalize indiscriminately. Refer to the for information on what should and should not be capitalized.
  • One space after a period in the content.
  • Use numerals for times except for noon and midnight. Always put a space between the numeral(s) and the a.m./p.m. (always lower case with periods and no space) 8 a.m., 9:30 p.m., etc.
  • Use a period when abbreviating degrees: B.A., M.A., M.F.A., Ph.D. However, while M.B.A. is correct with or without periods, Viterbo's style is to use it without periods.

Web Terminology

  • email (no hyphen, capitalize at the beginning of a sentence only)
  • Internet (always capitalize)
  • log in, log out (verb)
  • log-in (noun, adjective)
  • online (one word, no hyphen)
  • the Web (capital W)
  • website (one word, no capitalization)


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