How to blog

Firstly, ask yourself whether a blog is the right medium for the message you want to convey. If you have information-based content that will remain static over time, that users need to be able to access repeatedly, it is likely to sit better on a static webpage.

But, for content that will become out-of-date, information that is ‘nice to have’ as an addition to the essentials, or ‘opinion and insight’ – a blog could be the perfect way to showcase this. We can help colleagues from across the university get started with blogging on the domain. The Library News blog and The Exeter Blog are two examples from the University of Exeter where blogs are being used successfully to supplement pages on the main website.

If you think a blog might be right for your content, the first thing to do is have a chat with a member of the web team. They will be able to talk further about whether blogging is appropriate for your area, and may know of existing blogs that you could contribute to, rather than setting up a whole new one.

Whether you find another blog to contribute to, or set up a new one from scratch, the following tips will help.

Five top tips for blogging

  1. Keep it simple & not too long

300-500 words is a good rule of thumb

  1. Keep it up

You don’t have to blog every day or every week – don’t bombard people with posts if there’s nothing to say – but your readers will appreciate timely updates when you do

  1. Be personal and friendly (engage)

A blog’s a good opportunity to show a bit of your personality in your writing – it’s written ‘from a person’ rather than ‘from the department’

  1. Remember the difference between a blog and a web page

Link up the two where appropriate – use hyperlinks within blog posts (remember: these are best for opinion and insight) to link through to your web pages (static information.) Maybe you’ve got a new webpage you could talk a bit more about the process behind? Or perhaps a blog would work as a way to deliver updates on an ongoing project which also has a static web presence?

  1. Engage with your audience

If you get comments and emails from your readers – respond. Your blog is an opportunity to speak to your users in a more informal tone, so make the most of this.

Further reading from the web team blog



The main principles of web accessibility

Put simply, web pages are accessible when people, with and without disabilities, are able to access and use the content as intended. So all have equal opportunity to achieve the  purpose for which the content is published. It’s a key area within user experience design and website usability.

Equal access for all is a legal obligation we have as an organisation providing education services. But it also makes sense from a business and social point of view to have a website that works for as wide an audience as possible.

People-centred design
Just as accessible building design that takes into account the needs of people with disabilities often results in a better experience of a building for all the people who use it, accessible web design also benefits all users’ experience of the web.

People in their infinite variety are therefore at the heart of this, and people use various senses, technologies, languages, formats and functionality to access and interact with web content. Some of this is from personal choice, and some is imposed by the need for assistance when certain senses or abilities are compromised.

For an idea of the range of abilities we need to keep in mind when considering accessibility, take a look at this Alphabet of Accessibility.

Search engine optimisation
Did you know there is a very important and severely disabled group of users who look at our entire website on a very regular basis? Search engine robots are blind. Their needs when accessing our web content to crawl and index our pages are much the same as blind users of the site. The same things we can do to assist blind or partially sighted users to access our web content will help search engines index our web pages, so they will be findable by all people who need to find them. That in itself makes our pages more accessible.

If we’re talking about the ways people use technology to access web content, there is clearly an important technical aspect to web accessibility. An international set of guidelines produced by W3C called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines offers guidance on a range of specific technical pitfalls to avoid when creating web pages. But it’s important not to get too bound up in technical accessibility alone, as it’s possible to pass a set of guidelines to claim technical conformance, but still have a site that is not fully usable by real people. So these guidelines are organised around four people-focused guiding principles, that web pages should be:

  1. Perceivable: People need to be able to access web content through the senses of sight, hearing, and/or touch if they are to be able to use it.
  2. Operable: People should be able to find and interact with web content using whatever input methods available to them (eg keyboard, voice recognition), and have control over how they use it.
  3. Understandable: If people can access your content, it’s useless to them if they cannot understand its meaning or what to do with it.
  4. Robust: Content needs to be able to be perceived, operable and understood using the wide range of technologies available for people to choose from.

There are a lot of these guidelines, it has to be said. But many of them have to be taken into account by designers when designing websites and by developers when building new functionality. The Web Team are responsible for keeping these in mind when building design and structural code into the back end of T4. There are, however, some less technical but very important guidelines which you as content authors and publishers need to bear in mind when you create content and add it to the website in T4. These will really help to make sure your web content is as accessible as possible.

What you can do as content authors

  • Use the formatting options Heading 1 to Heading 6 from the drop-down Format menu in T4’s editor to format your headings and subheadings correctly. The visual formatting is available to sighted users for scanning and the underlying logical structure is available to assistive software, such as screen reading software and keyboard users to navigate, making your content accessible to all. Over 65% of screen reader users with visual impairments or dyslexia navigate pages using headings according to a recent WebAim survey.
  • Only format actual heading text as headings – avoid using heading mark-up to style text that isn’t a heading as this will be misleading.
  • Good use of headings is also helpful for search engine optimisation.
  • Link text and navigation labels
  • Screen readers allow users to view a list of all links on the page, using a keyboard shortcut, and people who can’t use a mouse can use the tab key on a keyboard to skip from link to link in order to skim content. If link text does not make sense out of context, then the destination of the link will not be clear.
  • Make sure you use clear, concise and direct words to indicate the destination of the link – although don’t use any more words than you need, as link text needs to be kept short and to the point.
  • Use key words in your link text to help search engines to find your pages, as words in link text are prioritised for indexing.
  • For the sake of both humans and search engine robots do not use ‘here’, ‘click here’, ‘more’, ‘read more’ or other such link text that doesn’t make it clear on its own what the destination of the link is.
  • This also applies to the words in navigation labels, which are determined in T4 by the way you name your sections.

Page titles

  • Page titles appear in your browser tab heading. These are also derived from section names in T4, and each one needs to be unique and informative. A screen reader will speak this when a person arrives on a page, so they need to know from the title where they are and if it is the page they want.
  • It’s also the title of the page’s listing in a set of search results, where you want people to be able to identify the page is what they want.


  • Alternative text should be provided for any images conveying important information not available within the actual text of the page. In the media library entry for an image, you can add text to the ‘Description’ field to input alternative text that will then be available in the code of your page to convey the equivalent meaning. You don’t need alternative text if your image is purely decorative and not conveying key information.
  • Images of text: use graphic text sparingly as it is not available to search engines or to screen readers. If there are good reasons to use this, then keep the words to a minimum and provide alternative text using the same words.

Lists and tables

  • Use the relevant buttons in T4’s WYSIWYG editor to apply the correct structural formatting to bulleted and numbered lists, and to table headers and rows.
  • Avoid pasting lists or tables directly from Word into T4. If you paste from Word documents, this doesn’t include the correct underlying structure for lists or tables in web pages.

Plain language


  • Use plain, simple direct language for clarity of expression and ease of understanding, using your audience’s language, and avoiding jargon.
  • Focus on a single topic per page and keep sentences as clear and straightforward as possible within the topic you are writing.
  • Explain abbreviations and acronyms the first time you mention them in a page.
  • Don’t rely on colour, shape or location alone
  • Avoid using instructions in your page that rely only on shape, size, screen location, orientation, sound or colour alone. Eg, ‘Click the blue button’, ‘Use the links on the left’, ‘See the instructions below’. You can’t assume how the reader is actually viewing your content.

For more information, read our pages on web accessibility on the Web Support site.

Sarah Williams
Web Marketing and Editorial Officer

Handling questions and acting on behalf of the University on social media

In general terms, if you are acting on behalf of the University on any social media platform, you should always use a professional but friendly tone of voice. We want the University’s social media voice to be friendly and welcoming, not too corporate and anonymous. However, we should not slip into any sort of ‘banter’ or show any encouragement of, for example, silly student behaviour, drinking culture etc etc. If you are not using an official account, you should identify yourself as a member of staff so that it’s clear that you are acting on behalf of the University.

Social media is interactive and encourages discussion and this can be very useful for establishing communication and dialogue with your important audiences. However, you should always avoid engaging in contentious issues where you may not represent the University’s official view.

Our policy is to respond, where it is deemed appropriate, such as to congratulate people who get offers, address any complaints, correct misinformation, and answer any queries whereby we think we can provide assistance.  If you are unsure of the information you are giving, please check first and let the person know we will get back to them.

As Social Media Manager, I am always able to offer advice and guidance if required. You can email me on You may also wish to take a look at the University’s social media guidance and policy.

Calls to action

A ‘call to action’ or ‘CTA’ is an instruction or invitation to your audience, intended to provoke an immediate response. On the web, a CTA is usually in the form of a text link, button or banner meant to prompt a user to click on it. Examples of CTAs include ‘Apply online’, ‘Ask a question’ or ‘Get a prospectus’.

On commercial websites, the CTA is often focussed around persuading the website user to buy a product or sign up for a service online. In a university environment, CTAs are more likely to be used to encourage the user to visit an additional web page for further information, or to contact the university via an enquiry form or email.

What makes a good call to action?

  • Compelling – The text should be brief (a couple of words is best, no more than five is ideal) and the copy should compel the user to click on it.
  • Active urgent language – The call to action should clearly tell users what you want them to do, words such as ‘Register’, ‘Subscribe’, ‘Apply’. To create a sense of urgency, it may be useful to emphasise any deadlines or limits associated with the CTA.
  • Positioning – The CTA should be in an easy to find spot that follows the flow of the page. White space around the CTA will help to draw attention to it. If using a button, (rather than text link), consider increasing the size of the button and using a colour that stands out clearly.
  • Easy to understand – Make sure you state exactly what the visitor will get if they click on the CTA, don’t mislead website visitors in any way.
  • Social sharing – Using social sharing buttons on a page are a form of CTA and a way to encourage website visitors to perform an action such as a Facebook ‘like’.
  • Tracking – The effectiveness of a CTA text link or button can be measured by tracking how many people click a link by using a program such as Google Analytics. Most CTAs aren’t tracked by default, so if you would like to know exactly how many people are clicking on a CTA link, speak to your Web Marketing Officer to discuss the possibility of setting this up.

When used effectively calls to action can help to: add focus to a website, measure success and direct users towards a particular course of action.

Hootsuite – an overview

Hootsuite is a social media management system that is used to manage multiple social media accounts from one ‘dashboard’. At the University, we use it to post messages to Twitter and occasionally Facebook, from the main @uniofexeter account as well as the @UofE_Students and @UoEPenrynCampus accounts.

As well as posting messages, we use Hootsuite extensively to monitor what others say about the University on Twitter. We run multiple search streams to try and catch all mentions of the University, for example ‘Exeter uni’, ‘Exeter University’, ‘Exeter students’ etc. This enables us to see what is being said about us as well as what is said directly to us when people include our twitter username.

Through this monitoring we can get a clear idea of the general sentiment about the University and it also allows us to pick up on problems and issues that we would otherwise be unaware of.

We also use the search streams when we’re promoting a particular hashtag. This allows us to see the extent to which a hashtag is being used. Examples include #ExeterForever for graduation, #ExeterOpen for open days and #ALevels for results day.

Hootsuite also enables us to schedule tweets and posts many months in advance so this allows us to manage our work load better and use our time more efficiently.

We use Hootsuite to manage our out of hours service as well. Hootsuite allows us to email tweets to other members of the team or assign them to someone else for an answer when the person on out of hours is unable to deal with the query themselves. By sharing the search streams as well, everyone who is managing the accounts can see all the conversation and which tweets have already been answered.

If you would like to find out more about using Hootsuite, please contact Charley Sweet (

Charley Sweet
Social Media Manager, Communications & Marketing Services

In late 2014 the University started an international marketing campaign with China as the focus. As part of this campaign we established our presence on several Chinese social media channels (read more about this in our introduction to Chinese social media blogpost). Having a presence on these social media channels meant that we were able to hear from our prospective students in China directly, and we found that quite a few students reported having problems accessing our University website. The solution to this problem was an easy one – we needed a Chinese website!

The internet in China is strictly controlled by the government and this can cause slow loading times for websites outside of China. To make the new site easy to access from China we needed to have a .CN domain name and to have the site hosted in either China or Hong Kong. After working with an external marketing company, MarketMe China, we were able to register our .CN domain and find hosting for the site in Hong Kong. Exeter is now the first Russell Group University (without a campus in China) to have a .CN domain name.chinese_website

You can take a look at the site here:

Our China site is designed to provide an overview of the University to prospective students and parents in China. The site is fully mobile responsive and features a parallax background when you scroll up and down. The website features an introduction to Exeter, videos about the University (all captioned with Mandarin subtitles), undergraduate and postgraduate course sections, student profiles and a map showing the location of Exeter in relation to London.

The content for the site was specifically tailored for the Chinese audience. In the introduction to the University the key facts highlight the cleanliness of the air and how safe Exeter is as a city in the UK. The courses featured on the site are ones which we know appeal to students in China. There are also links to our Chinese social media channels so that students can get in touch with us if they have any further questions.

Our aim is to keep improving the site to provide the best information for our prospective students in China. We are already working to develop the site further and over the next few weeks we will have a Chinese webpage for each of our courses that are featured on the site.

Emily Chapman
Web Marketing Officer

The Communications Brief

- “I need a website!”
- “Why?”
- “Erm… what do you mean?”

The Web Team build, manage and maintain websites all day every day. It’s what we do and it’s what we spend our time thinking about. Which is why people who come to us asking for a website are often surprised when we challenge them to tell us why they think they need one in the first place.

There are a number of important reasons why we try to do this.

Most straightforwardly, the creation of a website should be as a solution to a problem. You wouldn’t walk into the Doctor’s surgery and say, “I need a two week course of Amoxicillin, one tablet, three times a day please”. Instead you would describe the problem you were having and, hopefully, your doctor would help you to find the most effective treatment.

If we’re going to do a good job for you and hopefully help you solve some of your problems, then we need to know what those problems are so we can help design the best solution.

You may not need a new website at all, or you may need improvements or amends to existing pages. You would be surprised how many problems can be significantly improved by removing existing web content, rather than creating more. It’s a common misconception that once you’ve created some web pages, then the information they contain is somehow immediately found and understood by the people who need it. It may be that there are more effective means of communication available to you. We most often end up doing some work on the website to help solve problems, but it’s perfectly possible that you actually need a social media campaign, some digital advertising or a smartphone app. Who knows, you might even need a poster!

At a more detailed level, the secret to finding the right solution for your problem lies in gaining a shared understanding of what you are trying to achieve and for which audience. When we ask “Why?”, that’s the important conversation we are kicking off.

To enable this important part of any web or digital communications project, we use a tool called a ‘Communications Brief’. It’s a template document that helps you to answer, or begin to answer, the important questions that will give us the information we need to help design a good solution for you.

The Communications Brief includes questions like:

- What are the purposes of the new project?
- In three years’ time what are you hoping this will be doing for you?
- Who is your target audience?
- What is a typical task each of these visitors needs to perform?
- What do these people care about? Why are they interested and what trigger would prompt them to take action?
- What do the target audience think and feel about this area currently? What do you want them to think and feel?
- How would a new project help to achieve this goal?
- How will you measure the success of a new project?

These are important questions for anyone trying to design any sort of service, not least a communications channel like a website. It often surprises us how few of the people who knock on our door have stopped to consider questions like this. Without stopping to do so, it’s impossible to be precise about what any new project is aiming to achieve and therefore it’s very difficult to say whether any new piece of work that is delivered has been able to have a genuine impact.

Working through the Communications Brief is always an interesting and enlightening process. It gives us in the Web Team the chance to ask the sort of dumb questions that can raise interesting discussions and suggestions, and it gives our clients the chance to really think through the detail of what they need to help make things better.

We encourage people to use it however best suits them. Some like to compile draft answers themselves and then circulate to colleagues for comments. Others like to ask a larger group of people to give answers which can then be collated. The template works particularly well as a framework for a group discussion.

The answers can, indeed should, be brief and to the point. Some of the questions may not be relevant to you, but by considering them before writing ‘Not Applicable’, then you can be sure you have been thorough. In all, this doesn’t have to be an onerous process at all, but it is a very important one.

It’s also a great tool for getting buy-in. Once a draft Communications Brief has been completed, asking managers and other colleagues whether they agree is a great way to brief them and to bring them into a discussion about what you are trying to achieve.

We meet people from time-to-time who are ploughing through this process on their own, convinced that they have all the answers to these questions and have no need to confer. Very occasionally those people are maverick geniuses. Mostly they are just people like you and I who need a little help to open up what they are thinking to create collaboration with other colleagues. The Communications Brief, simple as it seems, can really help with that too.

We’ll be posting more advice on how to tackle some of the questions in the Communication Brief in the future. In the meantime, please take a look at the template and consider how it might help you in gathering your thoughts about any aspect of your digital communications.

It’s based on a template we’ve been using for many years, so if you have suggestions for how it can be improved, then please post your comments!

And next time you knock on our door, we hope you’ll say:

-        “I’ve got a draft Communications Brief for you to consider!”

Rob Mitchell
Web Editor

Explaining Sync and Clean

Ever since we have been using T4 we’ve had an issue with the retention of out‐of‐date content on the web servers which carries a number of risks to the institution. This was because sections that were made Inactive and removed from T4, and old files from the Media Library that were no longer being used in content, have always needed to be removed manually from the web server, because T4 didn’t do this automatically. But unless staff in the Web Team knew about deleted sections, old pages often stayed on the website where they risked being found by users through searches or by following out-of-date links.

We have now managed to test and implement some functionality within T4 called Sync and Clean, which automatically removes pages, images and documents from the web servers for sections or media library files no longer in use in T4. So from now on if a section is marked either Pending or Inactive, and if Media Library files are no longer linked within a piece of content, they will automatically disappear from the web server with the next scheduled publish and transfer.


Pending sections can remain in T4 so they can be reused at a later date by re-approving them to go live. As you know sections made inactive turn red and are purged every Friday afternoon from the Recycle Bin. However you won’t have to wait that long now for the corresponding pages to be removed from the web server. Once you’ve made a section either Pending or Inactive, this will now clean the page from the live site with the very next publish.

We would also encourage you to continue to use the Insert Section Link button when section linking to other parts of the University website in the T4 site structure, rather than treating them as hard-coded external links. If the section is ever removed from T4 or moved into a pending area, then the link will display with a red outline around the link in the WYSIWYG editor, and it then becomes easier to identify that it’s a link that won’t appear on a web page. If links are hardcoded to other internal pages, then if the linked page gets removed from the web server, it’s harder to identify it as a broken link within T4.

For a media item to remain on the website, it is vitally important that it is linked within a piece of content by using the Insert Media button in the T4 WYSIWYG editor. If you hard-code the link as an external link instead, T4 will not be able to identify that the document (or other media item) is being used, and such files will be cleaned off the server, which will break any hard-coded links to them. Unused media library files will remain in their media library folders in T4 for later reuse, even if no content links to them and they are removed from the server.

It’s worth noting that Sync and Clean will only clean down content which has been generated from T4. It won’t touch any content that has been uploaded as third party outside of T4.


It is possible to exclude certain folder areas on the live web server from being cleaned up and we would normally do this in areas which need archiving for future reference; for instance, old versions of the Calendar, UG and PG Study sites.

Restoring removed content

In the case of sections or media files being wrongly deleted in T4, and subsequently removed from the server, there is a fall back mechanism available for a period of time after removal if you need content restoring.  If that’s the case do contact the Web Team.

Martin Williams
Web Officer

Living Systems Institute website live

You can’t have missed the rapid rise from the ground of the new Living Systems building next to Geoffrey Pope, and now there is a new website to match!

The Living Systems Institute is a new £52.5 million investment from the University which will pioneer novel approaches to understanding diseases and how they can be better diagnosed, building on our significant established research strengths in human, animal and plant diseases, and incorporating innovative diagnostic imaging technologies and powerful mathematical modelling capabilities.

The new website is fully mobile responsive and features a parallax background when you scroll up and down. As well as web cams and videos of the building going up, the site also contains further information about the Living Systems Institute research and details of the recruitment process.

Living Systems Institute site

The Living Systems Institute website is now live

View the site:

Ed Creed
Web Marketing Officer for the College of Life and Environmental Sciences

The ‘Inverted Pyramid’ web content model

You have about two seconds to ‘hook’ your reader – so the first words on your page and the structure of your copy is incredibly important.

A technique called the inverted pyramid can be used to structure your copy in a way that puts the most important information at the top and the less essential at the bottom. This means if someone only reads half your page they still leave having consumed your key messages.

Eye tracking studies have shown that people spend more time looking at the top left of a page – the place your profile picture is usually displayed on social media sites. They read the first few words of the first paragraph; if that doesn’t hook them they will read the first few words of the second paragraph. If they still aren’t interested they will leave for another website.

Using the inverted pyramid encourages you to put the most important information first (where people are most likely to see it) – this includes the who, what, where, when, why and how – then the more general (or background) information further down.

Inverted pyramid

Inverted pyramid for web writing

The inverted pyramid analogy shows that the points in your copy are made in descending order of importance.

The inverted pyramid was originally (and still is) used by journalists to give structure to news stories. It means a reader can stop reading when they have satisfied their curiosity without worrying that something is being held back. It also meant that, back in the days of having to typeset newspaper pages, sub-editors could cut the bottom off a story without losing any essential information.

Jenna Richards
Web and Digital Communications Officer (Research)