Keep Multiple Contexts in Mind

  • Do not assume that web users will necessarily be reading your content on your website. They may encounter it on another website or even off of the Web entirely.

    Illustration of multiple contexts for web content

    Some of the places your content might end up. From top to bottom: an RSS feed in Firefox, Google Reader, an iPhone.

    If you created website content in the early days of the Web, you had a pretty good idea of how that content was going to be presented. It would be on the website for which you wrote it. If someone wanted to read it, they would come to your page to do so.

    Where Does Your Content Go?

    In the second decade of the twenty-first century, that is no longer the case. Your news post about Professor Jones’ illudium phosdex research (see the previous best practice) will appear:

    1. As a page on your website
    2. As an entry on your department’s “News” page
    3. On the homepage of your website in the “Recent News” box
    4. On the universitywide News and Events page or Campus Bulletins page
    5. In IUP Daily, our e-mail newsletter for faculty and staff
    6. In your department’s RSS feed (RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” See below for more.)
    7. In one or more universitywide RSS feeds

    Those venues are a given. If your post is popular, it may also be seen:

    1. On cell phones or smart phones
    2. As a posted item on Facebook or another social network
    3. As a hit on a search engine (such as Google)

    And, because we use RSS to allow other sites and software applications to access our content, your content may also show up as:

    1. A news item on a web portal
    2. A smart bookmark in a user’s browser
    3. Many, many other places

    In many of these contexts, as you can see from the illustrations, all that users will see will be your title and a summary of your page.

    Confused?

    That’s OK. Today’s Web is confusing. But what you need to do in response is pretty simple:

    • Write useful titles and summaries for everything you put on the website.
    • For news items, provide one or more links back to your website along with some information about your department (see Develop Boilerplate Content for more).
    • For regular pages, keep in mind that any page on your site may be the first page a visitor comes to. Make sure you put every page on a menu, and provide links to related content so that this page is not also the last page your visitors see.