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Having identified all the constraints on website management (from the previous article), the next step is to express them as guidelines within a documented standard.

This may then be used by staff as a convenient 'manual' for carrying out the duties of web management. This is because such a standard includes information on everything they need to know to operate a site, including...

  • The coding languages to be used
  • The content formats that are permitted
  • The security procedures that must be applied
  • The design guidelines that must be followed

To ensure such a manual can be used easily, considerable attention must be paid to the manner in which it is written. This encompasses both structure and wording.

Structuring the Website Standard

One approach to structuring a Website Standard is to group everything into categories based on the four activities of Website Management. These are:

  • Maintenance
  • Development
  • Governance
  • Infrastructure

A document created in this way allows staff to locate the guidelines they need merely by reference to the tasks being undertaking.

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For example, imagine a developer receives a request to create a video. She need only turn to the relevant section in 'Website Development' to find all the parameters to be adhered during production, including:

  • The frame rate at which the file must be streamed.
  • The size it must display at.
  • The filetype that must be used.
  • Etc.

Wording the Website Standard

The type of language used in a Website Standard is also important. Although experienced staff can often be trusted to bend rules to good effect, there may be guidelines from which no deviation is tolerable, especially security or branding. A wording that encapsulates such a stringency of meaning is therefore necessary.

A good way to achieve this is to use the definitions developed by Scott Bradner at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IEFT). The IEFT has produced a number of terms that indicate the strictness by which particular rules must be respected. By using these, a high degree of confidence about how guidelines are interpreted may be established.

These terms are:

  • Must: This word indicates an absolute requirement that cannot be ignored.
  • Must Not: This phrase indicates an absolute prohibition that cannot be ignored.
  • Should: This word means that valid reasons may exist to ignore an item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course.
  • Should Not: This phrase means that there may exist valid reasons when a particular behaviour is acceptable or even useful, but the full implications should be understood and the case carefully weighed before implementation.
  • May: This word means that an item is truly optional.

A Sample 'Manual'

By combining these guidelines for wording along with the document structure already indicated, it is possible to speculate how a website 'manual' may appear. For example, it could be composed of five sections (as follows):

1. Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to explain the overall objective of the Website Standard. It could also include suggestions with regard to sections of the document that are appropriate for different audiences. For example, senior managers should be familiar with rules on Governance, while guidelines on Development are most useful to developers and designers.

2. Website Maintenance

This section outlines the rules to be followed for the activities of maintenance. For example:

"The intranet must be checked for issues of Quality Assurance to ensure it is available and functioning correctly. This task should be applied weekly, but must be applied at least monthly".

"Content should be limited to a maximum of 500-700 words per page."

"All content must be free of spelling and grammar mistakes."

"Financial information must be approved by appropriate parties before publishing."

"Obscure references or quotations from literature should not be used in content."

3. Website Development

In many Standards, the Development section contains the bulk of all guidelines, e.g. MarkUp, scripting, design, security, testing, etc. The purpose here is to establish clear principles for ensuring production can occur in a predictable and high quality manner. For example:

"All MarkUp must be presented in XHTML Version 1.0 Transitional and validated as such where possible."

"MarkUp that is deprecated in XHTML 1.0 should not be used except where necessary for user-agent compliance."

"The names of navigation labels should be as short as possible, while remaining self-explanatory."

"Advanced search may be created if necessary."

4. Website Governance

This section outlines rules for the operation of a site at the highest of levels. It could also include an overview of the factors that influence and make such structures necessary, e.g. the law, company policies, technology, etc. For example:

"The following legislation must be respected when making a change of any kind to the website: Data Protection Act, Criminal Damage Act, Electronic Commerce Act".

5. Website Infrastructure

The final section of the Website Standard provides an overview of the main elements of hardware and software used within site hosting. For example:

"The website hosting infrastructure must use Open Source software only."

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About Shane Diffily

I am an experienced commentator on web operations. In 2015, I released the web's first online training course in website management and governance. Back in 2006 I published the Website Manager's Handbook, the original guide to online operations.

Find out more about me or download slides from my recent conference talks.