Carnegie Mellon University


Marketing & Communications with Computing Services

Content Best Practices

The content of your website is the whole reason your users are coming to your website. That's why it's so important your content is useful, easy to digest and easy to find. Follow these best practices as you create your pages to give your users the best content possible.

Note: though many of these best practices apply specifically to the copy (text) of your website, content is not limited to just the words on the page. Broadly speaking, content also includes images, photos, charts, graphics, documents and other assets on your website.

Writing Content for the Web

Use progressive disclosure

Progressive disclosure is a technique of displaying information in logical stages, or "chunks" rather than all at once. Information is introduced in broad topics that become more specific or granular the deeper you go.

In terms of navigation, progressive disclosure means "drilling down" by clicking on sequential navigation items to obtain the information needed. For example:

  • Biology > Undergraduate Degrees > Bachelor of Science > Microbiology
  • Human Resources > Benefits > Health Insurance > Dental Coverage
  • Dining Services > Dining Locations > Skibo Cafe > Menu

The same rules of progressive disclosure apply to the rest of your content. This method of presenting content gives your audience the opportunity to scan a page first and then make decisions about what to read before they delve into more detail.

Helpful tips for web writing:

Be brief

  • Concentrate on one topic per page, and one main idea per paragraph.
  • Keep paragraphs short – less than five sentences is a good guideline.
  • Content should not scroll longer than two full-page lengths.
  • Overall, less is more!

Use descriptive headings, styles and images to "chunk" information

  • Users scan pages for headings and subheadings when looking for specific content.
  • Use headings to accurately describe the content that follows.
  • Use search-friendly keywords in headings and subheadings.
  • Use images to help break up content and reinforce or visually explain your text.
  • Use bulleted lists and tables to make information easier to digest.

Make your pages freestanding

Don't assume that a user moves through the website sequentially by beginning with the home page and following the order of your navigation; users can enter a website from any page and jump around. Create content for each page that is independent from content on the rest of the website.

Use image alt text

Use descriptive alt text on images to ensure that visitors with visual impairments can understand your content. For accessibility compliance, the CMU CMS requires alt text on all images. Alt text also presents a good opportunity to use keywords to improve search engine optimization (SEO).