Producing Web Content

To produce effective web content, focus on the user experience. People don’t read web content closely; they scan it. Succinct and up-to-date content will also improve your site’s visibility: A user-friendly Web site is likelier to rank highly in search engine results than a page that is dense and unfocused.

Writing for the Web
Using Meaningful Links
Selecting and Optimizing Images
Improving Search-Engine Results
Working with the CMS
Tracking your Site’s Performance
Maintaining Your Site

Writing for the Web

Brevity is key to writing effective online copy.

  • Be concise. Web content should have half as many words as its print equivalent. Delete unnecessary information.
  • Chunk information — group related points together. Use formatting techniques, such as bullets and boldface, to highlight the most important points.
  • Make headings and subheadings clear, meaningful, consistent, and descriptive — they should make sense out of context.
  • Use plain language; avoid jargon and institution-speak.
  • Whenever possible, use the active voice.
  • Make paragraphs short and meaningful — no more than two or three sentences per paragraph and three or four paragraphs per page. Each paragraph should contain only one topic.
  • Show, don’t tell: use examples, bulleted items, statistics, and photos to convey important points.
  • To ensure consistency of style across outlets, Marketing and Communications maintains an editorial style guide for Columbia Business School.
  • Use consistent terminology throughout the site. Users are confused when terms change from page to page.
  • Proofread your copy. To optimize your focus, proofread in several short blocks of time rather than all at once. Ask a second person to proofread your work.

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Using Meaningful Links

Links allow users to access additional information quickly and efficiently.

  • Avoid using many links in running text. As a rule of thumb, no more than three links should appear in a single sentence.
  • Use descriptive link text; make it clear what results the user will get from clicking on a link. For example, use “Download the 2014 Leadership Study (PDF)” rather than “Click here to download the complete study.”
  • Link titles should match the title of the target page.
  • Use links, don’t talk about them. For example, use “Please visit Ideas at Work” rather than “To visit the Ideas at Work, click here: http://www.gsb.columbia.edu/ideasatwork.”
  • Links on the School’s website and in printed materials should never be underlined.
  • Links on the School’s website will automatically display in the proper color. Do not attempt to change the color in the code.

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Selecting and Optimizing Images

Identify your image needs early in the process so that you have time to acquire effective photos and graphics. Possible sources include the School’s digital photo collection on Flickr (maintained by Marketing and Communications), Columbia University’s online image library, and such commercial stock outlets as Getty Images and iStockphoto.com. (These can be “royalty-free” or “royalty-managed” — the former can be very inexpensive and is recommended.) Stock photography should be used only for New York City and global images to supplement photos from the School’s collection.

Optimizing your images correctly will help speed the load time of your page and improve the overall look of your site. Images should be optimized for the web in the JPEG (for photos) or GIF (for vector art) format and set at a resolution of 72 dpi. If you are using Adobe Photoshop, use the “save for web” function to easily optimize images. If you are scanning photos, set the scanner’s resolution to at least 150 dpi (dots per inch).

Images should represent the appropriate quality, sophistication, and tone for the School’s materials and successfully illustrate a combination of teaching and learning, collaboration and community, Columbia’s campus, and New York City. These four categories of photos should be mixed thoughtfully to best capture the spirit and content of the publication.

  • Campus photos should show familiar buildings and landmarks that resonate with students.
  • Photos of people, individually or in groups, create a personal connection to the School and can speak directly to a viewer. People should be interacting with one another.
  • Classroom photos should show engaged students and an interaction between faculty members and students. Classrooms should look neat and professional — avoid messy backgrounds and littered spaces.
  • Show diversity within photos and throughout the site.

For more information on the School’s digital photo collection, contact Marketing and Communications at [email protected].

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Improving Search-Engine Results

Search engines, such as Google, crawl through web pages to collect information about content. They pick up metadata — keywords, descriptions, and page titles. In short, the more Google knows about your site, the more likely it will return your pages in search results. The higher the site’s page rank (i.e., the earlier it comes in the search results list), the more visitors it will likely receive through the search engine.

Improve your site’s visibility in search results by including descriptive, searchable language in text chunks, headings, titles, and link text. Since search engines look for repeated words, use consistent terminology throughout the site. Page titles are especially important; most search engines give them more weight than key words or words in body text.

  • Your <title></title> tag for each page should accurately describe that page in 64 characters or fewer. This is one of the most important places to have a keyword, because what is written inside the title tag shows in search results as your page title.
  • Link to related high-quality sites. This often leads these sites to link to you.
  • Confirm that all the links on your page work.
  • Update your site frequently — this increases the probability that search-engine crawlers will revisit the site sooner.
  • Promote your site through social media outlets.

To learn more about search-engine optimization (SEO), read an SEO tutorial at www.webconfs.com/seo-tutorial.

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Working with the Content Management System (CMS)

The content management system allows you to update, add, and delete content on Columbia Business School’s website.

To set up a one-on-one or group training session on using the CMS, contact the Information Technology Group at [email protected].

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Tracking your Site’s Performance

Part of the beauty of the web is that you can track how many visitors use your site and which pages are most popular. You can use this information to evaluate the efficacy of your site in light of your established promotional goals and efforts. Underperformance is often due to poor or missing content; evaluate your site’s performance at regular intervals, and tweak your content accordingly.

Most internal Columbia Business School sites can be tracked using Google Analytics. To set up an account and access your site’s response data, contact Marketing and Communications at [email protected].

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Maintaining Your Site

Finally, don’t forget that users will navigate away from content that includes outdated information, old event listings or inaccurate details. Update your site regularly. You can use the “Expiration: E-mail Owner” function in the CMS to set up personal reminders of content-expiration dates. This tool prompts the CMS to send you an e-mail reminder to update copy on a date you select.

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