The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) supports its mission and vision by providing current and research-based information to students, faculty, staff, the citizens of the State of Tennessee and the global community. The most efficient and effective vehicles for presenting the Institute’s mission to the world is through its websites and social media accounts. In cooperation with the “branding” effort put forth by the University system, it is important that UTIA websites and social media accounts market not only the University, but the Institute in particular. The intent of this document is to provide maximum flexibility for creative, visually attractive websites while providing a consistent look and feel (branding). This can be accomplished best by using the official UTIA templates, word-marks, official graphic and style elements, program marks and key messages
This document is divided into two sections. The “Web Guidelines” are required elements that constitute policies and procedures that apply to ALL publicly accessible webpages that present official UTIA information and/or are hosted on UTIA/UTK web servers. This includes all pages containing information sanctioned by UTIA and directly related to UTIA units, departments, centers, programs, services or academic activities. The “Web Best Practices” portion of this document refers to proven, researched recommendations for creating and maintaining UTIA websites that are well-written, user friendly and contain current, appropriate content.
The development of the “Web Guidelines” and the “Web Best Practices” has been the concerted effort of the Web Advisory Committee (WAC), which is composed of members from all areas of UTIA. The makeup of the committee consists of associate deans, Information Technology Services (ITS) and Marketing and Communication personnel, and unit and department IT personnel. Over the course of several meetings consisting of in-depth discussions, insightful comments and sharing information, both the web guidelines and best practices documents took shape. The committee has put forth these guidelines and practices to assist UTIA units, departments, programs and projects to develop visually attractive, informative, user-friendly websites for all our audiences and clientele.
Web Design and Structure Elements
- All publicly accessible websites that present official UTIA information are required to use the official UTIA templates, which were approved and officially adopted by the UTIA Web Advisory Committee and the Chancellor of Agriculture.
- All UTIA sites (official UTIA webpages hosted on UTIA/UTK servers) must adhere to the branding effort put forth by the University system and as adopted by UTIA.
- Every UTIA website should contribute to the user’s positive perception of the Institute in particular and the University as a whole.
- All UTIA sites must be registered with ITS. Use the form located on the ITS web page to request a new site.
- All UTIA websites/pages should appear to be visually related to help promote usability, to reinforce UTIA’s branding identity, and to ensure a unified web presence.
- Design creativity, content placement and graphic elements will differ between units, departments, programs and projects. This diversity and flexibility of design is permitted within the content area (the area between the top and bottom orange lines) of the webpage.
- Exceptions to the use of the official UTIA template will require approval by the unit dean and may require consultation with the appropriate department head, Marketing and Communications (for branding) and ITS (for technical standardization).
- Exceptions include multi-party sites that are hosted on UT-owned servers. (Multi-party organizations consist of regional efforts of several universities in which no one university is primary, partnerships between UTIA and government and/or other outside organizations, or sites that are grant affiliated.
- The unit/department/organization is solely responsible for a site that meets the criteria of an exception. Therefore, anyone involved in creating these websites must adhere to the UTIA guidelines and best practices and must maintain the site as needed.
- Creative customization of sites (within the allotted content area) is encouraged, provided the customization enhances the look of the site and is beneficial to the overall functionality of the site. Customization that uses problematic or untested code or is detrimental to the overall functionality of the site, such as increasing loading time or causing erratic rendering of a page in different browsers, is strongly discouraged.
- All UTIA webpages should be accessible to people with disabilities. Visit Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) for information concerning accessibility strategies, guidelines and resources.
- Text alternatives for non-text content should always be provided– all photos and images should contain ALT tags.
- Captions and other alternatives for multimedia should be used, including full text transcripts for video.
- All users should be able to easily navigate, find content, and determine where they are in a site.
- Text should be readable and understandable.
- Distinct color contrast between text and background should be used.
- A check of your site for the use of ALT tags, summary descriptions for tables, and overall readability should be performed before the site goes “live.”
- Copyright laws for print are also applicable to webpages. The UT Libraries’ website on Copyright contains comprehensive reference material on copyright laws, issues, fair use, etc.
- Be extremely diligent in giving proper credit for borrowed material.
- Do not use photos, charts, tables or graphics from printed material or other websites that are not public domain material without obtaining written permission from the original source.
- Credit must be given to the original source on the webpage where the “borrowed” materials are displayed.
- Local, state and national laws governing photography and videotaping may exist pertaining to subject matter (especially pertaining to photographing children), location (private property vs. public land) and the use of photographs and videos. Adherence to these laws is required and is the responsibility of the photographer, videographer, and web administrator.
- All webpage content must comply with the purpose and goals of the website and must support the mission and vision of UTIA.
- Webpage content represents and reflects the UT system, UTIA, your unit, department and yourself.
- Advertisements or endorsements should not appear on any webpage.
- Logos other than officially approved UT logos should not be used unless the logo is for a UTIA-related partnership or otherwise a required logo in a grant/contract situation or a sponsorship of a UTIA event, and always with the approval of a department head or director.
- A disclaimer/EEO statement should be placed on webpages when appropriate. This link is built into the current template.
- Contact information for your website should be clearly presented on the homepage and/or in the footer area.
- Web site content is the sole responsibility of the site owner/department/program or project entity who has requested a site.
- Sites housed on UTIA/UTK servers must represent official UTIA business. The Web Advisory Committee has the right to review all new site requests and reject requests that do not have a direct connection to the mission of UTIA.
- The Web Advisory Committee has the authority to decline a site request, if the site falls into one of the following categories:
- Student, faculty and staff personal pages.
- Student, faculty and staff organizations that are NOT affiliated with UTIA, and do not reflect/promote the mission of UTIA.
- The request is for an unsupported platform (refer to Web Platforms & Programming Languages below).
Web Platforms and Programming Languages
- UTIA has adopted Microsoft SharePoint 2010 as the primary platform for websites.
- UTIA web servers can support the following programming languages:
- UTIA supports Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (soon to be upgraded to 2012) as the database management system.
- UTIA does NOT support and will NOT approve the use of MySQL.
- The UTIA Agweb server contains limited support for php. The servers will run php, but support of php will be the responsibility of the website owner. ITS will NOT provide support for websites using php.
- Other CMS platforms, such as Drupal, Joomla, WordPress etc., are NOT supported by ITS, and the Web Advisory Committee has the authority to decline a site request built on an unsupported platform.
Outsourcing Web Projects
- Prior to making a decision to outsource a web project, ITS should be contacted to discuss the pros and cons of outsourcing a project. If moderate security information is included, the project must also pass a security review using the “UTIA Outsourcing Security Checklist.”
- The outsourcing company selected for web-related project work must be established and reputable.
- The contracting party (person responsible for contracting the services of an outsourcing company) requesting the outsourced project is solely responsible for the finished product. This includes updating and adding new functionality (features) to the database or application, maintenance, troubleshooting the database or application, and technical support.
- If the outsourcing company needs access to UTIA web servers, the contracting party must submit a request to sponsor the person working on the project by completing and submitting a Request to sponsor a person OIT services form. For security reasons, a network identifier (netID) is required to access UTIA servers. A Request for a Network Identifier form must be completed and submitted to OIT to acquire a netID.
- All code must be written in the programming languages that are supported and approved by UTIA ITS. (Please refer to the list of supported languages above.)
- The contracting party MUST establish (in writing) with the outsourcing company who retains ownership of the files and design, and for what time period, before work is started on a project.
- The unit/department/organization that has outsourced a project(s) must clearly state on the home page who to contact in the outsourcing company when users need technical support.
- The contracting party and the outsourcing company are responsible for contacting Marketing & Communications (865-974-7141) regarding proper branding, use of official logos and approved styles for the site.
- Unless using ITS tech support has been previously stated in the contract, the units/departments/organizations that have outsourced projects must submit a list stating the project (website) name, web address of the site and contact information to the UTIA Web Advisory Committee in the event users in need of technical support call UTIA-ITS personnel.
Use of Domain Names
- The websites created in SharePoint are grouped under three site collections, which will be reflected in the web address for your website.
- If you wish to purchase a unique domain name, you must first contact the ITS department. Unique domain names are purchased through and registered with the IP Manager in the Office of Information Technology.
- The cost of the unique domain name will be the responsibility of the department/program/group requesting the unique domain.
- The process for the renewal of a unique domain name such as .org is the responsibility of the owner/author of the site, NOT ITS or OIT.
- The University will allow the use of .org for a domain name, but will NOT allow the use of a .com on any OIT-owned servers.
Maintenance of Websites
- Website owners/departments are responsible for maintaining their site(s), unless the site owner or department head has requested maintenance assistance from the ITS department prior to the site going “live” on the web.
- Periodic analytic reports will be run on websites to verify the usage of the site. Sites showing very little usage or showing content that has not been kept current over the period of a year will be brought to the attention of the appropriate dean/department head.
- The Web Advisory Committee has the authority to shut down a site that contains outdated content, a site that has no identifiable owner or administrator, or a site that contains any security-related risks.
- Each site must list a site administrator, a backup administrator and an IT web person as a consultant/overseer.
WEB BEST PRACTICES
Writing for the Web
- Website content must comply with the purpose and goals of the site and the mission of UTIA.
- Identify the needs of your audience and write and design appropriately to meet the needs of the targeted audience.
- Provide easy-to-scan content – studies prove users scan content on webpages rather than read it.
- Group related information together.
- Use headings & subheadings consistently.
- Use bulleted lists for a series of items whenever possible.
- The writing should be clear and concise.
- Be as direct with wording as possible.
- Links should be clear as to what users will find when they click a link.
- Talk to your user.
- Write in second person. Use “you” instead of “we.” This simulates a more conversational tone.
- Wording should be audience appropriate.
- Avoid jargon or technical terms only a specialist in the field would understand. (This is relative to the intended audience.)
- Use acronyms sparingly, and only if you are sure your readers will be able to easily identify with the acronym (This is relative to the intended audience.)
- Use clear, direct headers.
- Headers help readers scan your webpages to find what they need.
- Headers create an information hierarchy.
- Use action words in text and headers to immediately engage your readers.
- Keep it short! Keep it simple!
- Headers – 2-6 words
- Subheads – 1-5 words
- Sentences – no longer than 20 words
- Paragraphs – 2-6 sentences
- Documents – 250-300 words
- Prioritize and categorize your subject matter.
- Lead with the most important content.
- Place more abstract, proprietary content deeper within the site.
- Users who have to dig for content will leave the page unsatisfied.
- Use links appropriately.
- Links are unique to webpages (not found in print).
- Links help users find related information easily by providing a clear path through the maze of information.
- All content on a website should appear and operate in predictable ways.
Web Design and Structure Elements
- The goal of your homepage is to spark the user’s interest not overload them with information. Make a good first impression and pique your users’ interest.
- Maintain site balance by using these design elements:
- Proximity – related information on a webpage should be grouped together.
- Contrast – create interest and structure by using contrasting elements (i.e., headings to text, background to text, etc.). Link to Lighthouse International for contrast information.
- Repetition – use consistent header/footer design, page layout, and page structure.
- Alignment – structure your page; nothing should be placed on a page arbitrarily – create a visual relationship between elements. ITS recommends left alignment for text and headings.
- Contact information should be prominent on every site’s homepage or in the footer.
- Do not use large graphic files that take a long time to load. RESIZE your photos BEFORE placing them in your webpages.
- Web fads disappear quickly. Use them sparingly, if at all.
- Avoid the use of “undesirable” elements in your website, for example:
- Embedding external pages/sites with an extensive use of iframes.
- Scrolling sideways or multiple scroll bars within a frame.
- Use of untested code.
- Use of third party add-ins and plug-ins.
- Broken links.
- Plan your information architecture carefully.
- Information architecture comes before design.
- Plan your architecture carefully to avoid a confusing site.
- Architecture should include awareness of audience demographics, bandwidth, access capabilities, etc.
- Create a blueprint of your site before adding content or starting to design.
- Establish a hierarchy of information.
- Create divisions of information.
- Establish relationships between items.
- Establish consistency throughout the site.
- Use headers properly to establish a hierarchy of information and guide users through the site.
- Create intuitive navigation to assist your users in finding information.
- Navigation provides a “road map” to your site.
- Use simple words or phrases in your navigational menu items to describe top pages.
- Maintain consistency.
- Be descriptive, but concise.
- When migrating from a legacy web site to a new SharePoint site, use Web analytics as a planning tool. Analytics will provide information to help plan your new site by providing information on the following:
- How your site is being used?
- What people are looking for?
- Are they staying on your site?
- Where they are coming from?
- What search terms are being used to find your site?
- How often are users accessing pages and what pages are they accessing?
- Use official branding elements.
- Create an identity people recognize.
- Establish a consistent look and feel to your site.
- Place elements in a consistent pattern throughout your site.
- Use official branding elements (contact the Marketing & Communications department at 865-974-7141 for questions concerning the use of branding elements.) such as:
- Color palette
- Official logos and images
- Graphics and graphical placement
- Proofread, check facts, check links – If this is not done periodically, the site should be removed!
- Incorrect or out-of-date information is USELESS and reflects badly on the Institute.
- Phone numbers
- Email Addresses
- Links (Check for broken links by using W3C Link Checker.
- Recheck information regularly to ensure the information is VALID.
- Check your site using different browsers, (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome) and mobile devices to insure the site displays correctly in all browsers and on all devices.
Maintenance of Websites
- Resources for maintaining your site(s) must be in place before the website “goes live” on the Internet. If not, contact ITS to establish a plan for site maintenance.
- All website owners should set a schedule for checking websites for outdated information, broken links, expired events, etc.
Getting Started on Your Website
- Submit a website application. The application form is available on the ITS site.
- Provide the following information regarding your website:
- Title of the site.
- Domain name desired.
- Description of the site and what the site will accomplish.
- Design assistance needed.
- Responsible parties for the content and maintenance of the site.
- Duration of the site.
- The following are required only for Web sites that are to be created by ITS.
- Create an outline, flow chart or wireframe of your information architecture.
- Schedule a meeting with an ITS Web designer.
- Discuss the technology required and personnel needed for the site’s construction.
- Establish a process and timeline for building and launching the site.
- Follow-up with progress reports on the site’s construction.
- Set a delivery date for owner/author review and a date to launch the site.
- Request training in SharePoint if desired.
References and Resources
Prepared by the Web Advisory Committee, UT Institute of Agriculture
July 17, 2014 - WAC approval
August 18, 2014 - UTIA Executive Committee Approval
August 25, 2014 - Chancellor's approval