CARROLL COMMUNITY COLLEGE
WEBSITE CONTENT STANDARDS
Table of Contents 3
Writing - Standards and Guidelines for Online Copy 11
Nomenclature: Consistency with Naming and Terminology 12
Multimedia Content: Image, Video, Audio and PDF Standards 16
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 19
Copyright Policies 20
Accessibility – Ensuring Content is Useful for All
“Web users are impatient and critical. They have not chosen your site because you are great but
because they have something they need to do.” – Jakob Nielsen
An Informing Principle: Credibility
One of the most important concepts in creating and maintaining great web content is credibility.
Because the Web is full of unsourced, unreliable and untrustworthy content, web users are notoriously
quick to judge. Even moderately experienced web users can very quickly size up our content, using both
explicit and implicit signals, to determine if we are to be trusted with their precious time. And make no
mistake: the judgments that they make about the quality of your web content will significantly influence
their view of the college.
The intent of this guide is to help ensure that Carroll Community College has a strong, public presence
on the Web. The standards and procedures contained herein are based on well-established web
usability standards and best practices in communications, as well as thorough research into the needs of
Carroll’s web audiences. They flow from the premise that, while it relies on members of all departments
to contribute to the development and maintenance of carrollcc.edu, it is critical that we do so with a
single, clear, consistent and credible voice.
Carroll Community College’s public facing website, carrollcc.edu, provides information and access to
services for its external audiences. For more details, refer to the Website Governance Standards.
The college’s goals include:
Provide an affordable center of learning with supportive and caring faculty and staff, appropriate
admissions practices, effective learner support services, relevant programs and a variety of teaching
and learning strategies.
Provide opportunities for all learners to develop competencies in communications skills, critical
thinking, quantitative and scientific reasoning, information and technological literacy, creativity,
global awareness, and personal development.
Prepare students for completion of the baccalaureate degree through rigorous transfer programs,
appropriate advising and support services, and effective articulation agreements.
Provide career preparation, job skill enhancement, continuing professional education, and career
development services through credit and noncredit programs.
Ensure learning through ongoing assessment of student progress and achievement, and evaluation
of the effectiveness of instructional programs and support services.
Support county business growth by providing training and services directly to businesses, and by
partnering with industry, community organizations, Carroll County schools, higher education
institutions, and government entities to advance economic and community development.
Embrace an increasingly diverse and changing world by encouraging students, faculty, and staff to
value diversity, cultivate global awareness, and practice responsible citizenship.
Provide cultural and community enrichment through lifelong learning opportunities, creative arts
activities, and special events that educate and entertain.
Nurture a learning-centered, inclusive, and collaborative organizational culture that fosters personal
and professional growth, leadership skills, and the development and implementation of best
These goals focus heavily on the college’s external audiences: prospective credit students and
continuing education students, businesses and organizations seeking training and services, college
alumni and donors, and Carroll County residents. As such, all content on the website should be directed
to the needs of these external user groups.
Post Required Regulatory Content
In some cases, content may not be important to our users’ primary tasks, but the college is required to
make publicly available on Carroll’s website by regulatory agencies or accrediting bodies. In providing
access to such content, remember to always put users’ task oriented needs first.
Content that does not meet the website’s mission for communicating to the college’s external audiences
is considered inappropriate for carrollcc.edu.
Avoid Adding Content for Internal Audiences
Information intended for an internal audience detracts from the site’s public message and can confuse
users. If information is intended solely for an internal audience (i.e. faculty and staff), include that
content on the c3, the college’s portal site, where the appropriate audience will have exclusive access to
If the information is for both employees and the public, the content should be focused on the public
audience. Consider posting a more employee specific version on the c3.
Avoid Giving Prominent Placement for Content Meant for Small Groups of Current Students
Information for current students on the website should have broad application to sizable populations.
The use of announcements on Blackboard should be considered as an alternative.
Information for small groups should be posted on the website in the appropriate location, or shared
through club sites (e.g. social media, Blackboard) or other means.
Example: The minutes from a meeting of a student organization should be posted on the appropriate
Third Party Advertising is Prohibited
Carroll does not display paid advertising on carrollcc.edu. This includes advertising in exchange for in-
kind services. Such advertising should never be a part of a vendor agreement.
Writing – Standards and Guidelines for Online Copy
Website content needs to be presented in a user friendly format. The following guidelines and standards
assist you in presenting information accurately, clearly and succinctly.
Know Your Audience and Your Purpose
Content that is well written begins with a clear goal and a solid understanding of your audience.
Determine who your audience is and what they need. Adapt your voice and content to fit your audience,
and ask yourself: why did they seek out this content? Periodically re-evaluate your efforts to make sure
you are still on target. When you have multiple audiences, break up and organize the content according
to the specific audiences.
Hint: Always ask yourself the following questions:
What does my audience want to know/find/do?
What else do they need to know to be successful in their goals?
Focus on a Top Task
A top task is any action that a large number of people need to complete. It is essential for people to
accomplish this quickly and easily. For example, many people will want to find out how to apply and
complete the action online.
The importance of a top task
People come to the website with a specific task in mind. If it isn't easy to find and quickly complete
that task, they’ll leave.
Identify the purpose of your content, not the mission statement of your department.
Use this purpose to determine your visitors' #1 top task. Focus your web page(s) on helping users
complete this task.
Example: Explore this section to discover how you can become a student at the institution, or contact an
admissions counselor today to learn more.
Point of View
Try writing as if you are writing to one person, using the second person point of view. The second
person point of view (you) takes on a more personal approach then the third person (students).
Content that is written with a personal approach helps readers visualize themselves taking action,
which more likely results in actual action. This could be completing an application, registering for a
class, making a phone call or some other type of action.
Changes in terminology can easily confuse users and lead to a frustrating experience. Therefore, it’s
important that the terminology use be consistent throughout the site.
The college follows the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide. Additionally, the college has its own set of
editorial guidelines that covers campus-specific terms like campus locations. Refer to the Writing
Style section in the Brand Standards Manual, which is available in the Marketing and Creative
Services (MACS) Document and Forms Library on c3.
It is not expected that you be an expert at writing for the web, but it is expected that you make a
best effort in following the writing guidelines in this document and the Brand Standards Manual.
Submitted content that does not comply with the guidelines will be discussed with you and may be
modified by either MACS or Network and Technology Services for compliance.
In instances of conflicting opinion, the college’s editorial guidelines take precedence, followed by
the AP Style guidelines.
Exceptions are made in instances where content is generated from applications (e.g. Colleague and
25Live) with specially designed content fields.
Avoid Technical Terms and Jargon
At the highest level, the website exists to help people find the information and services they need from
Carroll. Written content should not be intimidating in tone or rely on technical terms and academic
If technical terms or jargon needs to be used, explain the term’s meaning in the copy. (e.g. The process
for transferring your credits back to Carroll to complete an associate degree is known as Reverse
Write With Respect
Avoid biased or exclusive language. Avoid writing copy that could be perceived as offensive.
Most writers no longer use the masculine natural (his, he, him) to refer to an individual of unspecified
gender. However, in attempting to avoid it, we often create an issue of pronoun number agreement.
Consider revising sentences altogether to avoid this issue.
Before, gender exclusive:
Each applicant must submit his contact information.
Attempted fix with pronoun agreement error:
Each applicant must submit their full contact information.
Non-exclusive and grammatically correct:
Applicants must submit their full contact information.
A better approach, using appropriate voice:
Be sure to include your complete contact information.
Voice is created through word choice, writing style and grammar. While it’s important to consider your
target audience when developing an appropriate voice, the voice of your webpage(s) should be
professional, yet inviting, helpful and supportive. A voice that is too casual may result in negative
perceptions of our higher education institution.
Make Content Easy to Scan and Navigate
Most users do not fully read online content. Instead, they scan pages looking for key bits of information
to help them reach their goals. This makes it increasingly important to write concisely and make content
easy to scan and navigate.
Place important information first
The “inverted pyramid” writing model places important information at the beginning of sentences,
important sentences at the beginnings of paragraphs, and key paragraphs at the beginning of a
block of content.
Other details and background information are included in order of diminishing importance.
This technique is valuable on the web for the same reason it was important in 19th century
newspapers: the reader can leave the text at any time and still understand its main point.
All sentences and paragraphs should be short and on topic. Start sentences with the most important
information and limit to one main point.
Streamline content for mobile devices. Smaller screens mean less room for information – the
average smartphone screen holds about 13 lines of text.
However, shorter isn't always better. Writing succinctly is a juggling act. Cut every unnecessary
word, but never sacrifice clarity for brevity.
HINT: Use the 1:3:15 rule:
One idea per sentence, three sentences per paragraph and 15 words per sentence
Use headings and lists
Copy should include headings, subheadings and lists to break up and make large blocks of content
easy to scan.
o Headings and subheadings give readers a quick overview of a page’s main idea. They help
users quickly gauge whether or not the page content is relevant to their task.
Headlines express the basic idea(s) of a page. They should be short, 3 – 6 words are ideal,
and include keywords. Subheadlines are used to convey minor points. Use them so users can
locate specific points. Both must be clear and meaningful, and should avoid nomenclature
HINT: Think about the words or phrases your audience might type into a search engine to
find your content. Use those words in your headings. This makes the content easier for users
to scan and helps optimize your content for site and search engine searches. Example:
Classes for fun versus Continuing Education.
o Bullet lists attract attention because the limited words and organized content stand out
from the surrounding text. They are ideal to use for lists, procedures, requirements and
other important lengthy content that would likely be overlooked in a paragraph.
Use numbered lists when the order of the points is important, otherwise use bullets.
Links attract the scanning eye because they are formatted differently than the text around them, but the
main attraction for using them is they allow users to explore multiple dimensions of content.
Link to appropriate content.
Visitors expect websites to take them to other pages and websites that will be helpful. Content
editors should only incorporate links that fulfill that expectation.
Avoid using “click here.”
Use keywords as labels instead.
Make links the right length.
Links should be long enough to be understood but short enough to avoid continuing on the next
line. Ten words should be the limit for a link.
Indicate if links are not web pages.
Use established icons or abbreviations with links for other types of content (e.g. PDF).
Keep links current.
Links should be reviewed regularly to avoid broken links and giving outdated information. Both can
immediately undermine your content’s credibility. It’s recommended that links to carrollcc.edu web
pages be checked quarterly, and links to external sites be checked monthly.
External linked content should appear in a new browser window.
When users are directed to external sites they can become frustrated and confused when trying to
go back to carrollcc.edu. Arranging for external content to appear in a new window allows
carrollcc.edu to remain in their browser, allowing easy access to return to carrollcc.edu.
Nomenclature: Consistency with Naming and Terminology
To ensure the best possible user experience and the most efficient management of the site, it is
important to establish consistent guidelines for site nomenclature. This section covers Carroll’s naming
and terminology. This information and common AP Style usage can be found in the Brand Standards
Manual on c3, specifically the MACS team document library.
When naming a location, job title, department, program, service, or other college offering, adhere to
current standards and policies, and use officially approved names.
In cases of acronyms, state the full name on the first reference followed by the abbreviation for
In addition to following the AP Style Guide, the college has its own set of editorial guidelines.
o Refer to the college as “Carroll Community College” on first reference, “Carroll”
on successive references. Avoid “CCC” and “Carroll CC” references.
o Capitalize Carroll Community College but lowercase college when referring to
the college; this follows AP style.
o Refer to the theater as “Theater in the Scott Center.” Avoid “Scott Center Theater.”
o The “Gallery in the Scott Center” should not be referred to as the “Scott Center Gallery.”
o Room locations should not include “room” or a dash between the building letter and room
number. For example, room locations should appear as K100.
Term not Semester
o Carroll courses are scheduled by terms, not semesters. Always refer to terms as follows:
Summer Term, Fall Term, Winter Term and Spring Term.
Multimedia Content: Image, Video, Audio and PDF Standards
The web is distinct in its ability to use multimedia content to engage users and help them accomplish
their tasks. Like all content, images, video, audio and Portable Document Format (PDF) files should be
used carefully to enhance users’ experiences and support their goals.
Make Content More Engaging or Extend and Add Depth to Written Content with Multimedia
All content should add value to the viewer’s experience, whether it is with writing, sound or images.
Never add photos, illustrations, graphics or video simply as decoration or to make a page seem more
sophisticated; if they are not helping the viewer understand the written content or accomplish another
task, they are just getting in the way. Most web users intuitively recognize such “fluff.” It frustrates them
and undermines the credibility of all of your content.
Give Users Control of Dynamic Media
In almost all cases you should not incorporate video or audio files that play automatically when the page
loads, and users should always have the ability to control playback, sound, window size etc. Videos
hosted on the college’s Kaltura hosting system automatically incorporate these features.
Static images: illustration and photography
The quality of the images you select sends important messages about the quality of your content
and of the college. Wherever possible, use professional photography. MACS maintains a database of
approved photos, some of which are available for download from c3, or if there is a need for specific
photos, contact MACS to discuss the possibility of scheduling a photo shoot.
o Do not use amateurish illustration or “clip art.”
These send the wrong message about the effort you’ve put into your content and reflect
poorly on Carroll’s brand.
o Pay mindful attention to composition.
Subjects in the photos should be clear, not blurry.
Appropriate lighting should be used to avoid important details being obscured by
Subjects should appear toward the right or left of the photo, to create more
interest, instead of in the center.
Photos should be bright and colorful and capture human interaction. Subjects
should look like they are happy and having a good time.
o Make sure your images are in a web friendly color format.
RGB color is web friendly while CMYK is printer friendly. RGB color format must be set to 72
o Size your image correctly and appropriately.
If you need to resize your image, be sure to maintain the original aspect ratio (the
relationship between the width and height) and be conscious of the image’s resolution.
Otherwise, the image could appear stretched or pixilated. As a general rule, if the image you
have is too small, try to find another image. Do not try to enlarge the image because the
image will appear blurry.
o Use “alt text.”
Make sure your images have alternative text, captions or descriptions assigned to them in
the WCMS so that they are accessible. This text allows screen reader applications employed
by visually impaired users to meaningfully interpret your images. Alt text tags also help
search engines find your content. Images without alt text are essentially invisible to search
To create alt text for an image, simply write a brief description of the image. When you post
images to the site, you will be prompted to include alt text. Never omit alt text and avoid
using the same keywords to describe multiple images. This allows for more opportunities to
include relevant keywords.
Example: If the page is about scholarships and there is a picture of students applying for
scholarships a good alt tag would be "Two future students fill out applications to receive
o Create videos that serve a useful purpose.
Video can enhance user experiences in cases where copy and photos cannot. Useful video
include those that feature the following:
o Consider the context.
Because it is resource intensive, professional video production is not always possible, but
sometimes it is not necessary. In the age of YouTube, users have come to accept brief,
informal videos of somewhat less-than-professional quality to accompany website news
items or “how to” content. Again, quality should always be the goal, and for larger,
sustained productions that seek to promote programs, departments or otherwise represent
a major aspect of the college, professional production value is a must.
HINT: For tips on creating professional looking videos, visit the Vimeo Video School at
o Be mindful of the length.
Although users enjoy watching videos, their attention span is short. Brevity in online video
production can have a huge impact on the overall success rates of your video content. The
following are recommended times based on content type.
30 – 45 seconds for traditional commercial style videos
120 seconds for full key message commercial like videos
3 minutes for educational/demonstration and interview videos
10 minutes for topical stories
In the end, it comes down to your purpose and target audience. Once you have determined
that, video lengths can be matched to your goals; whether that be bite-sized clips, a short
profile video or an in-depth video.
o Front-load your videos.
From the very beginning, the user should know the video’s purpose. It’s a good idea to
front-load the video with the call to action and other critical message elements because,
many times, users will stop watching a video before it ends. Front loading in the beginning
gives them the information you want them to know if they opt out early from watching the
o Be clear, direct and relevant.
Your video should be clear, direct and relevant. Make sure your video contains new, unique
and interesting information. If you're publishing customer testimonials, for example, trim
out anything that's vague, generalized or non-specific. Know what you want to say and say
it, or viewers will click away.
o Give a human and personal feel to your videos.
The more engaging videos are those with a human and personal touch. Be sure to make a
personal connection early in the video. Identify who is speaking, what's their story, and how
the story relates to the college. People are human and social creatures, and are more
inclined to stick with a video if they can relate to the on-screen presenter.
o Make your video look as professional as possible.
You should always strive to make any video you use on the website as professional as
possible including image quality, sound, lighting and editing.
o Use hosting systems and follow embedding procedures.
Carroll uses a video hosting platform, Kaltura, which should be used for all college-created
video. It automatically handles many technical details to provide the best quality video to all
devices on all different sorts of connections. This allows us to present videos in a
compatible, consistent and accessible way across all college websites, including carollcc.edu,
Blackboard and c3. It also allows us to easily manage all the video files used by college
websites, so we can easily replace older versions with newer versions.
The WCMS offers a variety of options for embedding videos on web pages. Refer to your
WCMS training manual for full information.
By encoding audio as an MP3, the file size will be small enough to keep the site downloading quickly
and will not use as much room on the server.
Adobe’s Portable Document Format is a very useful type of multimedia file when used properly, but
can hamper usability if overused. PDF documents can be difficult to view and use on mobile devices,
and it takes quite a bit of work to make them accessible to visually impaired users.
o Use PDF to share print documents.
PDF was created as a standard means of sharing documents electronically. Use the format
when the equivalent of a static print document is necessary. For example, when posting a
formal report in its original form or providing a blank form that must be returned with a
o Unless a print document is required, present your content as HTML web page.
Do not use PDF documents to take the place of creating HTML content on the website. PDF
files used unnecessarily diminish the user experience by requiring longer load times and
creating the potential for compatibility issues.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
There are a number of different explanations out there for what SEO is and how search engines
function. Essentially, when executed properly, SEO is the process of improving a website so search
engines can more easily understand its purpose.
Measures can be taken to help search engines understand a website’s pages, which allow the target
audience to more likely find those pages. Follow the tactics and strategies below to maximize SEO for
Goals and target audience
Define the goals for your web presence and let those lead your efforts. Examples of goals include
increasing applications, promoting a specific offering, increasing giving by x%, and building brand
awareness. Do not confuse goal with metrics (i.e. increase site traffic, increase traffic to page,
increase clicks, etc.)
When trying to understand your target audience, think about the following:
o Who are they?
o What is influencing their decisions?
o What specific words do they use to search for what you are offering?
When it comes to SEO, you’ll also want to gain an understanding of what they call your
Keyword research is a practice used to research and find actual search terms people enter into the
search engines. Keyword research is an art and science and requires an understanding of your target
audiences and your offerings. You can find keywords by:
o Looking at your existing content and pulling out a few words that are frequently used.
o Getting ideas from competitors who are successful in search.
o Refining your keyword list page-by-page based on your research.
o Utilizing the free Google tools that are mentioned later in this section.
Technology and site structure
There are certain elements of a website that need to be addressed in order for search engine
spiders to “read” and better understand your website. Below is a list of the most important
structural elements and some best practices, in order of importance.
o Page title
The page title is the title of a page that shows up at the top of the browser. Page titles should be
concise and keyword rich. They should be descriptive and convey the main idea of the page.
o Body copy
Body copy is the text that appears on web pages. Try to optimize between one - three keywords
per page and use them at least three times per page. Although it is important to follow these
guidelines when optimizing web pages for SEO, when it comes to writing content don’t sacrifice
content quality by adhering too strictly to SEO best practices. Try to write elegant content while
adhering to SEO best practices.
A URL is the web page’s address. URLs are created automatically by the WCMS and designed to
be meaningful. IT Web Services can create unique “shortcut URLs” for marketing purposes.
Search engines read headers within web pages to understand the content of the page. Headers
should help summarize page section content and contain keywords when possible.
o Meta description
In the early days of SEO, meta descriptions were where web pages loaded up on their keywords.
Search engines looked to these descriptions first when trying to understand the content on the
page. This is no longer the case. Meta descriptions are still valuable in search, because the meta
description is shown on the search result page (SERP) as the description of that page. Meta
descriptions should be written in a way that describes the page. They should contain no more
than 160 characters, and should be written in a way that motivates users to click.
There are other structural elements that influence SEO, but at the time of the writing of this document,
these five are the most important and will have the most influence on search results.
Optimizing PDFs for Better Searchability
While the goal is to cut back significantly on the use of PDFs on the website (most content should be
published via the WCMS and should be accessible on-page as opposed to posted within a PDF), it is
understandable that PDFs will still exist in some capacity on the website. The text in PDFs created with
Acrobat (or other similar software programs) can be viewed by search engines, but scanned images of
text cannot unless the scanned document is converted into text using OCR software.
Regardless of which method is used for creating the PDF, the information under document properties
should be filled out to assist with searchability. This information includes title, author, subject and
keywords. Description, author description and copyright information can be added under advanced
options. When populating the keywords dialogue box, use keywords that are specific to the subject
matter within the PDF.
Title: Content Standards
Author: Steve McVision
Subject: Website Content Standards
Keywords: “Website, Content Publishing, Guidelines, Website guidelines, Content guidelines, Website
Content Standards, institution, AP Style Guide”
Conclusion and additional resources
These are just a few basics to get you started. Keep in mind that if you plan on doing SEO on your own,
you need to understand that it’s a moving target. Search engines are constantly changing their search
algorithms, which means that you need to keep up with these changes in order to stay relevant and
What is SEO? – searchengineland.com/guide/what-is-seo
Free Google Tools
o Universal Analytics
A great tool to view statistics about carrollcc.edu’s visitors. Contact IT Web Services for
o Google Webmaster Tools
Gives in-depth information about your pages’ visibility on Google. Contact IT Web Services for
o Google AdWords Keyword Tool
Generates keywords based on how often they’re searched and their competition. Contact the
Digital Marketing Administrator/Copywriter for assistance.
o Google Alerts
Emails you updates about the latest relevant Google results based on your query.
o Google Trends
Compares search volume on specific keywords.
Follow copyright law when creating and posting content on carrollcc.edu. Carroll adheres to U.S.
copyright law. You can refer to the law at copyright.gov.
Within U.S. law, the doctrine of fair use permits the reproduction of material under certain
circumstances, including criticism, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. Refrain from
publishing copyrighted material that does not fall within the bounds of fair use. You can learn more
about the doctrine of fair use at copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html.
If you must use copyrighted material on carrollcc.edu, you must have the written permission of the
copyright owner and the original copyright statement must be included with the reproduction along
with any other attribution that the owner requests. You should keep a copy of the written permission.
Carroll’s Statement of Copyright
In general, posting copyrighted materials to a publicly accessible website is prohibited.
Restricting access via a password or PIN to instructional materials on a course site, which may
include copyrighted materials, will allow for fair use. Blackboard course sites fall into this category.
Digital information is still governed by tests of spontaneity, brevity and cumulative effect.
It is permissible to copy Internet links (URLs) for purposes of scholarship, research or instruction as
long as the content is not copied.
Links to articles in selected library periodical or research databases (e.g. Expanded Academic ASAP,
Health and Wellness Resource Center) are permissible depending on the licensing agreement with
the specific database. Check with librarians to verify fair use.
Accessibility – Ensuring Content is Useful for All
Making sure that content is accessible to all is a good practice from a marketing and communications
perspective, but with Carroll’s website, it’s also federal law. All Title IV institutions (those that award
federal financial aid to students) are expected to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This
1998 amendment to the original 1973 legislation addresses accessibility concerns in electronic and
information technology, including web-based intranet and Internet information and systems. Section
508 standards seek to eliminate barriers and support equal opportunities.
The criteria that apply to Carroll’s website are based on access guidelines developed by the Web
Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. Many of these provisions ensure access for
people with vision impairments who rely on various assistive products to access computer-based
information, such as screen readers, which translate what's on a computer screen into automated
audible output, and refreshable Braille displays. Many of these adaptations have to do with how pages
are built, but content contributors have an important role to play as well, primarily in including
alternative text (alt text) for multimedia elements that they post. See section 3.a.v. for more information
about alt text.