Anatomy of a web content document

Amy Wallace

For anyone who works with content, knowing how to format a web content document—or simply how to read it—is a crucial step in successful content creation. 

Why? Because without a clearly structured web content document, you run the risk of confusing your content reviewers, designers, and developers. And that confusion can lead to mistakes and frustration—stuff that could end up manifesting itself on your website. 

Remember, a web content document isn't just used by web writers, even though they are often the people who create and manage it. 

Content reviewers use it to make copy edits and review messaging/tone. Designers use it to get the right copy into their design mock-ups. Developers use it to determine which copy appears as links on the actual website, and when to display dynamic content—for example, content that goes live on a specific date. 

Here are a few of the formatting essentials you'll need to cover to make sure your web content document (commonly called a “copy deck”) works for everyone on your marketing and/or creative team(s): 

Links and buttons

You can count on link and/or button copy to be in just about every web content document you work with. As you probably know, this is the content that takes the user to a new page, cross-references relevant information, or helps a user complete a task. 

You'll need to choose a style for representing links and buttons in your document. Our standard is to format this copy as blue, underlined text. This tends to be the industry standard, too. 

Examples: 

Read the Brain Traffic blog 

Submit your request 

If you do decide to format the links and buttons in your document in a different style, make sure it's clear—and that everyone on your team knows what it is. Keep in mind that straying from the norm might confuse reviewers, designers, and developers used to working with the standard blue, underlined text style convention. 

Regardless of the style you choose, follow the link and button text in your content document with its destination, which will likely be based on a site map or an external URL. 

Examples:                 

Site map page ID:Submit your request <link to 2.2> 

External URL:

Read the Brain Traffic blog <link to http://blog.braintraffic.com/>  

Descriptive content labels

If your copy isn’t properly labeled within your content document, designers and developers working with the document can have a difficult time figuring out which copy goes where. 

So, make sure to identify all the content pieces on each page. For example, put the label "Heading" above your page headline, "Body copy" above the main content, and "Right column copy" above content that lives on this part of the web page. Or use whatever labeling convention your agency or organization may already have established. 

Example: 

The key is making sure the labels are clear and easy to understand for everyone referencing your document. 

Dynamic content

Content that may change or is dependent on functionality conditions is often referred to as "dynamic" content. For instance, if you're working on a project that includes content that launches on different dates or should only be displayed based on certain requirements (maybe after a user logs in, for example), your document will need to specifically state when to display that content. 

I recommend writing a short note to the developer above the specific piece of dynamic content. Describe the rule for displaying it—for example, "only display this content for California residents." 

I write these notes in gray text, so it's easy for developers to skim and find them throughout the content document. 

Example: 

<Note to developers: Display this link on 1/1/2010>

See our 2010 plans<link to 3.4> 

Meta data

Those of you well-versed in web content know what meta data is, but let's do a quick review. It refers to specific information developers need to make your content searchable. 

Meta data includes: ·         

Meta title (the title of the content page, which appears in your internet browser)        

Meta description (a keyword-loaded description of the content page)        

Meta keywords (words that refer to specific topics on the content page and make it easily findable) 

A web writer or SEO expert is usually responsible for creating this information. Whether or not you create ityourself, you'll need to include meta data in your content document. Which means you might also need to format this content, especially if you receive the meta data in a different type of document, like Microsoft Excel. 

It's a good idea to place the meta data in a separate section of your content  document—say, at the top of each page—so it's clearly distinguished from the actual web copy. 

Example:

Remember, the web content document you create isn't just black-and-white. Sometimes it’s blue. And underlined. With notes. Because that's what works.