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Documentation: Web Content Best Practices

Only 16% of users read online content word for word Some people in the study (40/500), only read the headline before moving on.

Write in Plain Language

Plain language allows users to find what they need, understand what they have found, and then use or action the content you’re providing.


  • Writing plainly erases ambiguity
  • Staff + support team spend less time clarifying content
  • Content is inclusive and accessible

Writing plainly is not “dumbing down” content, it’s a matter of meeting people where they are and saving people time.

In Practice

  • Put the point up front
  • Use active voice instead of passive voice (“I ate five hamburgers” instead of “five hamburgers were eaten by me”)
  • Write short, simple sentences (“enter your contact details to download the brochure” instead of “it is important to note that you need to enter your contact details before downloading the brochure”)
  • Avoid redundancies such as “absolutely essential” and “evolve over time” where you can just say “essential” and “evolve”
  • Avoid jargon
  • Use everyday words (“use” instead of “utilize”)
  • Use personal pronouns

Understand your users top tasks and don’t create content that does not help them accomplish those tasks.

Content and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO has gotten a bad rap and has come to stand for spammy, often unethical black-hat practices. Google has made it clear that it prioritizes content that is of value to people. SEO should be a consideration, but your readers should always come first.

Fulfill the searchers goal and satisfy their intent

  • There’s an intent for every search – I’m seeking information, I’m seeking to accomplish a task.
  • End goal can be different from search intent – looking for hair salon reviews > booking an appointment for this weekend – you ultimately need to speak to both.

Google loves good UX

  • Fast load time (avoid over-doing pages with too much multimedia and images)
  • Mobile friendly/responsive
  • Authoritative domain (SSL Certification)
  • Intuitive navigation

(Tasteful) Balanced Keyword Targeting

  • Balance keyword targeting with title elements, good content, external anchor links, alt attributes, URL structure, and internal links.

Related Terms

When Google sees terms like “hair salons” they often also see related terms and phrases like “short hair cuts”, “hair extensions”, and other related terms. Google has built up a graph between these related terms and they would say that these topics are very important to “hair salons” as a term.

As a content creator, you need to consider related terms and how you can build them into your content. This increases your ranking opportunity.

Outdated Techniques

  • Stuffing all your keywords into your title element
  • Heavy use of anchor text on internal links
  • Pages for every keyword variant:
    • Cambrian College, Cambrian, Cambrian College Sudbury, Sudbury College
  • Directories, paid links, etc.
  • Using multiple microsites and separate domains to build authority
  • Using CPC or AdWords “competition” to determine the difficulty of ranking in organic results
  • Linkbait
    • “7 moms have this weight-loss secret”

Measurement and Optimization

Content effectiveness is actually one of the hardest things to measure. One of the main reasons for this is many confuse “content” and “formats” as the same thing.

Content = the message you deliver to your audience.

Format = mediums used to deliver that message (data visualizations, written content, multimedia).

Setting yourself up for success

In order to measure the effectiveness of your content, you have to have a goal to measure against. Creating content strategy is one of the most overlooked elements of website creation and/or redesigns.

Consider your brand goals, how your website contributes to those goals, and how your content can drive users to action. If your content is causing people to complete the desired actions, then your content is effective.

You can measure almost anything in Google Analytics, so ensure that you understand what your KPIs are for your website, constantly measure against them, and continue to tweak and optimize your content for better results.

Best advice: create and maintain a measurement plan.

Exercising Restraint

It is easier to have a 10,000 page website than a 10 page website.

Pages should (generally) be between 300 and 2,400 words for ease of reading and SEO purposes.

Combine pages where appropriate – use a single page with multiple headings rather than multiple pages containing only a paragraph or two each.

Keep each section concise, especially on landing pages. If there is a lot of detail about a single topic, write one or two high-level paragraphs about it and include a link to a subpage for more details.

Keep it Simple

Simple information architecture, simple content, and simple editorial chains (and the ability to say NO) will allow you to maintain control over your website and avoid ending up in this predicament (again).

Have one person (or a limited few) be the gatekeeper of website content and create a process for which content can be disapproved for publishing if it is not valuable. Putting up a page to appease someone for internal politics will ultimately lead to a costly website redesign.

Implications on Information Architecture

A place for everything, and everything in its place

Your information architecture was created to be scalable, and suit your needs as they develop and change.

When you create a new piece of content, always ensure:

  • The piece of content will have a “parent” that makes sense – do not create standalone pages that do not fit into your IA
  • The content is not duplicated somewhere else (Google does not index duplicate content)
  • The content will be valuable to your users and to it’s parent section.
  • Content is not redundant, outdated, or trivial

Perform content audits at least annually to ensure all content is relevant and valuable to your users.

Use of PDF documents and other attachments

Always consider your users when directing them to documents/PDFs. You may want to reconsider using various file formats in place of embedded website content.

Ask yourself: how are users finding your content?

  • Remember that attachments/linked/PDF content are not searchable via the site search.
  • Attachments/PDF content may not be compatible on all devices or may require third party applications to read them, forcing visitors away from your website.
  • Remember that PDFs and various other file types do not comply with WCAG 2.0 standards (required by the Canadian Government)

WCAG 2.0 AA standards

The Government of Canada requires that all Canadian organizations (large or small) comply to WCAG 2.0 AA web accessibility standards.

WCAG standards will ensure that all visitors will have equal access to content on your website, even those with visual disabilities requiring them to use screen readers or other aids to consult your website.

Compliance: the Basics

  • PDFs and many other file formats are not compliant by default (blind people can’t read them easily), unless equivalent content is made clearly available as standard web page content. PDFs can be made accessible, but this process is long, tedious, and very technical (and also requires specialized software). In most cases it is more cost effective to simply convert the content to HTML/web page content.
  • ALL images require alt-text that clearly describes the image’s content to someone who cannot see it.
  • Avoid images or graphics with embedded text (e.g. flattened text) when possible. If you can’t highlight the text in your browser, there is a good possibility that it is not accessible.
    • If a graphic or image contains embedded text content, supply a link to a “long description” page: a separate page that describes the image, and contains all of the images text. When writing such content, imagine that you are describing the graphic verbally to someone who cannot see it.
  • Maintain good colour contrast. Text and colours must always provide adequate contrast for easy reading. Avoid changing the colours that are built into the web page templates to maintain contrast requirements.
  • For more in-depth information on other WCAG 2.0 AA requirements, visit the WCAG website.