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Updating your web content in an global pandemic

Making your content accessible is more important, not less so, during an emergency.

Most of the UX books out there are light on advice as to when the world shuts down completely and every aspect of our lives has been utterly turned on its heads. It’s not even covered in EdWeb training. What were we thinking?

There’s an awful lot of new content going up just now, and a lot of it really is emergency content. It has redefined the phrase ‘this has to go up today’.

You’re in a hurry. You don’t have time to make sure you’re keeping to good content guidelines. Surely your content doesn’t have to be perfect? It just needs to do the job.

That’s true. But remember that you are not your audience. Your content needs to do its job for everyone.

Accessibility needs don’t go away in an emergency

Accessibility and inclusivity should always be at the core of your content, and it’s important to remember that these issues can become even more of a problem at a time of crisis.

  • Visually impaired people can’t suddenly see better.
  • Sensory overload can be reached much more quickly.
  • Stress takes up cognitive load.

When is it ok to cut corners?

If you are short of time and really do need to get some content up quickly, here are a few tips.

1. Use common words. Use short sentences, even if it sounds too simple.

Plain English is more important than ever.

Users must understand what you’re saying.

Make your language plain and precise.

Don’t use more words than you need. Don’t use words that are more complicated than you need.

If you make a sacrifice here for the sake of time, make it the beauty of the language and not how easy it is to understand. It’s nice to make things beautiful. It’s essential to make them clear.

2. Use alt text, or don’t add an image.

If you don’t have time to add alt text, maybe you don’t need the image. If it is just decorative, remember that your alt text doesn’t need to be expansive.

3. Add subtitles, or don’t use a video

It’s great to give a talking head update during a time like this, to give a personal touch. But people might have their partner trying to work in the same room and no headphones that work. They might be trying listen to it with their cabin-fevered children screaming along to Joe Wicks in the next room. They might not speak English well.

They need subtitles.

4. Separate out your links and use meaningful link text.

Inline links make it harder for people with dyslexia and a range of other impairments to read your content. They make it harder to navigate your content. They are difficult to write well when you’re in a hurry.

Your links should always sit on their own line, and the link text you use should make it clear where the link goes.

If you need to, sacrifice snappiness in favour of clarity when it comes to links.

5. Use long pages if you must, but still make them clear.

We often advise that if a page is too long, it should probably be more than one page. Splitting your content makes it easier for users to navigate, and means it’s easier for search engines to index it.

However, designing and creating a set of pages can be more time-consuming, so sometimes an emergency update does have to be just one page. But in this case, it’s more crucial than ever to make these pages clear.

  • Signpost what’s on your page as much as possible up the top. Consider adding a quick list showing what’s on the page.
  • Subheadings should make it crystal clear what the paragraph below is about. Always tag and nest your headings properly.
  • Don’t overwhelm the page with lots of stand out features like images and feature boxes (even expanding/contracting ones).
  • Keep it to the point.

We’re here to help

It’s easy for me to preach about the cognitive load of our users, but the fact is that we’re all under pressure from stress and mental health issues too. Please remember that we are here to help, even when ‘here’ is ‘in our own homes’.

Get in touch with us if you want advice on any of the above. We’re still available via email and are working out how our Web Support Clinics work best online. Just drop us a line and we’ll do our very best to help you.

Contact Website Support

Stay safe.


3 replies to “Updating your web content in an global pandemic”

  1. Neil Allison says:

    Great advice Lizzie.

    In particular it seems standout elements overload is a common problem at the moment. It can seem like a whole page is shouting for attention.

    Remembering readers ‘ scanning behaviour and establishing a content hierarchy has never been more important.

    Five second tests can be an easy and valuable sense check for critical content.

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