Web content strategy

Our agency web content strategy is how we ensure everything WSDOT produces for a web audience has a consistent look and feel. As a part of the communications manual it will evolve as our work, tools and environment change and is considered a living document.

The best approach and mantra for editing and managing content for our website: Keep it simple.


Who is our audience and why do they come to our website?

People visit the WSDOT website to:

  1. Answer a question
  2. Solve a problem
  3. Accomplish a task
  4. Get the latest news

In order to avoid frustration, confusion or wasted time, it’s important to organize and display information with user-centered design (or UCD) in mind. This also ensures only correct and pertinent information is available to the public.

What is the user-centered design process?

A process ensuring from the beginning of development that all content we produce:

  • Is quick, easy to use
  • Encourages users to return
  • Forgives common mistakes such as assuming we offer a service we do not
  • Balances business and user goals

Why create and maintain a usable website?

  • Helps users find what they need without calling or emailing offices within the agency
  • Provides more structure and guidance for web governance groups
  • Ensures information is regularly updated or removed
  • Gives us processes to organize and update the website as our values and styles update

How can you help?

  • Follow this guide when creating new web content
  • Have one person who has time and skills to maintain content
  • Know web content management is more than a technical skill
  • Remove or replace content that is ROT or:
    • Redundant
    • Outdate
    • Trivial
  • Contact the Web Team for help organizing, managing or testing content

Who is our audience and why do they come to our website?

The general public is not an audience. Be specific about which audience you serve by thinking about our website archetypes.

What are archetypes?

These are tools to help us write content that is easy to use and find. In order to ensure every piece of content (text, images, graphics and documents) we have out there serves a purpose, we sorted the users of wsdot.wa.gov into four groups. Every page must have at least one archetype in mind, though may serve two, three or even all four groups.

Our external web audience fits into four different groups who want to:

The Traveler
A woman in a business suit driving in a car on a sunny day.

  • "I want to travel from Point A to Point B."
  • Find real-time, accessible information.
  • Learn about possible impacts to travel.
  • View roadway and airport web cams.
  • Access tolling or ferry reservation account.
  • Get a permit.


The Business Partner
Photo of a man wearing a hardhat on a construction site.

  • "I am working with WSDOT."
  • Search for available positions, ads and grants.
  • Develop a mutually beneficial relationship with WSDOT.
  • Find clear and accessible requirements.
  • Leverage our resources and expertise.
  • Learn who receives various projects and grants.


The Rule Seeker
Photo of a man sitting at a desk with a pen in his hand going over papers.

  • "I want to learn about and comply with rules, regulations and policies."
  • Stay out of trouble and remain in compliance.
  • Ensure the safety of colleagues and community.
  • Find accurate and accessible information.
  • Protect the environment.
  • Fit the legal requirements to apply to grants.


The Watchdog
A woman in a business suit with arms crossed, holding a microphone while standing on a street.

  • "I want to know what WSDOT is doing and how they are spending our money."
  • Learn about our vision, priorities and goals.
  • Attend a public comment meeting.
  • Require that WSDOT is transparent and accountable.
  • Understand state and federal requirements.
  • Find accurate and accessible information.

How did we find this out?

More than a year of research using website visit numbers, surveys, in person and online testing exercises led us to these user groups. We have a solid idea of how many people use our site and what they expect to gain from their experience.

Who should use these?

Everyone who creates or maintains content for wsdot.wa.gov. If your content is not for the traveling public, make sure it is focused on helping our more technical rule seekers or business partners find what they need. All of our users want to find what they are looking for quickly and expect to be able to do most things using the website alone.

How do I use them?

Before adding anything new to our website, ensure the content is serving a need for one of these groups. Is that PDF helpful for our traveler, rule seeker, business partner or watchdog? If the answer is no, then find another way to share the information, rework the content or only share the information to users who request it.

What happens if we don’t use these?

Content that doesn’t focus on user groups will not be helpful. If it’s confusing or doesn’t answer users’ questions, you will receive more phone calls or emails. Users may become frustrated if they expect information that isn’t there. This can change their opinion on the agency as a whole, which we hope is a positive one over “confusing, disorganized and unhelpful,” as we were described in initial studies.

Please see the full posters on each archetype for more information on these groups and their top tasks. Every piece of content (pages, documents, graphics, images or videos) must help at least one of our four user groups accomplish a task.

Back to contents


Our site visitors are busy and want to grab information quickly, whether they are viewing traffic information or finding a technical manual. Content should be organized around your audience’s goals, tasks, and questions – not our organization or office structure.

All site content must be

  • Unique: Labeled as such – every page or file must have a unique name to make it easy to search for and find
  • Maintained: Create a maintenance schedule to regularly update content and remove anything out of date
  • Managed: Every webpage and digital asset (e.g. pdf) must have an owner
  • Planned: Know who your audience is and why this content should be put online
  • Scannable: Separated into chunks of content divided by headers

Only publish content that directly meets the needs of our visitors. Never publish a page before it is complete: there should not be any “under construction” or “coming soon” pages

Should I put this online?

Ask yourself these questions. If you cannot positively answer more than five of these, the content does not belong on wsdot.wa.gov as it currently is:

Is this information available on another part of our site?

  • Make sure you are not duplicating or contradicting information.

Which user group or groups will need this information?

  • If your audience is only internal users, it should go on our employee intranet.

How long will this information be up to date and useful?

  • If it is a short amount of time, make sure someone can remove the outdated content or find another way to share the information.

Where does this content fit into our site structure?

  • If there is no place for it, should we make a new area for it? How long will that area be needed? If a short amount of time, find other ways to share the ideas.

Is this a document that would be better as its own web page or part of an existing page?

  • A four bullet FAQ or a long technical document is not the best use of our resource space and may be better on a page written for the web.

Do you have time to make it accessible?

  • Keep the American Disabilities Act in mind. Will someone with a screen reader or color blindness have difficulty navigating your document? Does your video have subtitles for the hearing impaired?

If the content is still created, it will have to pass our Web page checklist before being published.


Web governance

This process refers to people, procedures, standards, and guidelines that govern the creation and maintenance of our official website and digital properties.

Web governance ensures there is a centralized approach to:

  • Create and maintain WSDOT’s online presence.
  • Achieve a unified look for webpages and digital properties.
  • Ensure consistent, accurate content.
  • Represent the WSDOT brand through standard processes, roles, responsibilities, and practices.

Roles & responsibilities

Web Help team

  • Develops and maintains web content and style guidelines.
  • Communicates with content contributors and editors about content, design, accessibility and compliance with WSDOT policy.
  • Maintains a current list of designated content contributors and editors for all of wsdot.wa.gov.
  • Provides content management system training for content editors and contributors.
  • Acts as support when content editors are unavailable for web updates.

Content editors

Level 1 & 2

  • Must be part of their job description to have time to meet requirements.
  • Receive training on how to write and design pages for a web audience.
  • Add, edit, and remove content on web pages within the content management system
  • Work closely with the content contributors to prepare content according to the WSDOT’s web content and style guidelines.
  • Review and update managed content on a regular basis to ensure accuracy and relevance.

Level 1 only (required for every section of the site)

  • Have an understanding of how their managed pages fit in with the rest of the content on wsdot.wa.gov.
  • Ensure content is not redundant with what is already published.

Level 2 only (optional one to two people on larger areas of the site)

  • Support their Level 1 but do not have an understanding of whole site.

Content contributors (Subject Matter Experts)

  • Receive training on how to write for a web audience.
  • Do not receive training on how to use web systems.
  • Work with assigned content editors to update and maintain information.


Only content editors who receive the proper training will be given access to the content management system. If training is not immediately available, your organization will need to work with a Web Help team member to maintain or update the content until an individual is able to receive training.

There are four training sessions aimed at helping those who work on web content:

Introduction to Web Design

Four-hour long class

Learn how visitors use websites, web usability basics and approaches to designing and maintaining content.

Who needs this?

Level 1 & 2 content editors

Drupal training

Two-hour long class

Get the technical basics down in order to login, create and edit content on our content management system.

Who needs this?

Level 1 & 2 content editors

Writing for the Web

Eight-hour long class

In this one-day course you will learn to think about your website as if it were a conversation with a busy person who is trying to find information or complete a task.

Who needs this?

Anyone writing or managing content for a web audience.

User Experience (UX) Intensive

32 hours over four days

Through this class, you will learn what usability is and how the popular development method of user-centered design helps you achieve it.

Who needs this?

Level 1 content editors

Want training?

Contact the Web Help team at to sign up.

Maintaining content

Content must be reviewed every six months to ensure every piece of content is helping users complete a task. Pages and site content found to be out of date will be referred to a content editor for review and updating. If pages or content remains out of date, a Web Help team member may remove or unpublish content until updates can be made.

At least one content editor must claim ownership of every WSDOT webpage. If the content editor leaves their position and another takes their place, please let Web Help know. We will update our list of contacts and ensure the new person receives the proper training.

Tools like, Crazy Egg, Google Analytics, Site Improve and user research can assist with this. Please visit our online Web Toolkit wsdot.wa.gov/Communications/WebToolKit/ for more information on how to use these tools.


Web content is considered copies of originals. Please archive and organize your content and do not rely on our website to be a primary way of sharing older documents. Even when an item is required by organization-wide policies, state regulations and laws, please keep a copy offline.

Documents & pages

PDFs, Word and Excel documents must have their document properties filled out with unique filenames and titles. Please visit our online Web Toolkit wsdot.wa.gov/Communications/WebToolKit/ for guides on readying documents for the web.

Every document on the website must make sense out of context.  Whether that be in the form of a cover page, a unique title or with the placement of header text on the first page of the document.

Content must aim for a readability score of Grade 9 or lower on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. This is not to “dumb down” content, but instead makes it easy for users to scan. Microsoft Word lists the grade level each time you use their spelling & grammar check tool. This document is written in between a 7th and 8th grade reading level:

Large Files

Consider using an HTML abstract for large files on the website. Most search engines only search the first 5 mb of a pdf document.


Folios are for print, websites are for browsers. Since both contain the same content, do they need to be on our website?

Open house materials

Be cognizant about the materials you make for an open house and the information provided to the audience versus the information on your website. The content you are presenting to that open house audience should already be on the website, but may be in a different format, such as a webpage instead of a folio.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do not create FAQ pages on the WSDOT website. Write content to answer site visitors’ questions and help complete tasks. Any questions or concerns you receive on a regular basis means something is missing from one of your pages.

File management

Drupal does not have separate folders for organizing and maintaining files. All images and documents are stored in the same place. The only way you can find them is by knowing them by name. Regardless of how you organize files offline, anything meant for the web must follow these guidelines in our Drupal content management system.

Improving search results

Is your page not in the top of search results for your subject matter on the site? There are a few ways you can help change that.

Stay user focused

Ensure you are using terms that your users commonly use, not what the office uses

  • People search for “jobs” not “employment” so we changed the page header to “Jobs at WSDOT” instead of “WSDOT employment”

The more, the better

Pages containing multiple words used in user’s search will be higher up in the results. Using common terminology and plain talk will help your page get noticed.

  1. Documents are part of search
    Every single file we upload to our website becomes part of our web presence. Old documents and images uploaded to Drupal but not embedded or linked to are still part of our search results. Please ensure your documents are properly labeled and their properties filled out (see Getting documents ready for the web.)
  2. Update or delete
    Content, on pages and documents, must be updated or removed once no longer needed. Ensuring there is a maintenance cycle (beginning and end) for everything you put online will help our search find what we need, instead of combing through old documents that no longer have a place.

Getting documents ready for the web

Documents that should not go on the web:

  • Images or PDFs made specifically for a print audience such as posters or folios, which are graphic heavy. These can be time consuming to make accessible.
  • Documents containing a signature. This is a security risk as these can be copied onto other documents
  • PowerPoints that do not contain notes to guide users through and give them the same experience as those viewing the presentation. These also must be made accessible.

Web file naming conventions

Follow these guidelines to help track and find your documents in the Drupal content management system.

Naming criteria

  • Each document has a short, unique and descriptive name that makes sense out of context
  • Use a dash (-) to break up name elements
  • Clearly identify what task the document helps users complete
  • Identify contents of documents
  • In general, no dates in the name as Drupal does that for you
  • No “draft” or “final” in the document. If it’s online, it’s assumed to be final.

Naming convention pattern

  • Topic-Type-DocumentSubject
    • Topic: identifies program or topic under an office (not the office name)
    • Type: short, descriptive and clear label of what it is
    • Document titles: name of the document focusing on subject



  • Noise-Policy-HardShoulderRun
    • Topic: Concerning the noise program
    • Type: It’s a policy
    • Document Subject: Policy on Hard Shoulder Runs
  • SR520-map-I-5toLakeWashington
    • Topic: SR520
    • Type: It’s a map
    • Document Subject: It shows the I-5 to Lake Washington area
  • Rail-report-UltraHighSpeedRailwayStudy
    • Topic: Rail
    • Type: It’s a report
    • Document Subject: The report on the Ultra High Speed Railway study


  • Comm-Manual
    • Topic: Communications
    • Type: It’s the one and only Communications manual

Keep track

Keep a list of all of the documents produced by your section of the website and where they are linked to. This will make it easy to go through and update or remove outdated content every six months.

Getting PDFs ready

New documents must include keywords consistently in the content, document title, and file name helps our users find what they are searching for. This does not

  1. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat DC.
  2. Go to Document Properties under File - Document Properties.
    A screenshot showing the location of the Properties area of a PDF opened in Adobe Acrobat by clicking the File option.
  3. There are three textboxes to fill in:
    1. First enter the title of the document, make sure it matches the actual name presented on the file when it is opened. The title is most important. Make sure you use a descriptive title containing keywords that may be part of a user's search.
    2. Then type in the author or office who put the document together and owns the content.
    3. Lastly, put in keywords, or words people will use to search for your document, in the keywords box.
  4. Save your PDF file with a unique yet informative file name. The file name will appear in the web address (the URL), so it should be able to stand on its own, even if customers navigate to it directly. See Web file naming conventions in this guide for more information.
  5. Now you must ensure the document is in Fast Web View for quick loading online.
    In Adobe Acrobat DC: click File > Save As Other > Reduced Size PDF select OK and rewrite the document you just filled in the properties for.
    Older versions of Adobe Acrobat: click File > Save As.. > Reduced Size PDF and overwrite the document you just filled in the properties for.
  6. Now your document is ready to be uploaded to our website and linked to.
  7. Once you link the document on a page, also add the document type and size and that content in parentheses is part of the link.
    Example: WSDOT Drupal basic guide (PDF 714KB)

Getting Word documents ready

Note: This also gets Word documents ready to become PDFs with the properties all filled in when you convert it to that format.

  1. Open the document in Word.
  2. Save it using the Web file naming conventions in this guide.
  3. Click File on the top menu
  4. Click on Properties, and then click Advanced.
  5. A new box will open up.
    1. First enter the title of the document, make sure it matches the actual name presented on the file when it is opened. The title is most important. Make sure you use a descriptive title containing keywords that may be part of a user's search.
    2. Then type in the author or office who put the document together and owns the content.
  6. Save the document and proceed onto uploading it to the web.

Page Layout

Users read in an “F” pattern; help them find the content by putting what’s important up top and leading them to any concurrent information they need.

Left column

The left navigation on every page should

  1. Have a header that matches the content category.
  2. Give visitors a sense of place and continuity.
  3. Allow people to drill down to specific portions on a subject.
  4. Not have any links to documents or contact information.
  5. Not link to other parts of the WSDOT website or outside links (put in page body.)

Right column

The right column should only be used for secondary information and only if absolutely necessary. Do not include primary information on the page in the right column.


Never use a table to override page layout defaults. This makes it difficult for screen readers to navigate the page. Avoid relying on tables to present complex information, instead break it out into a list using bullets and headers to guide users, regardless of vision impairments, through your messaging.

Graphics & images

  • All graphics should follow guidelines presented by WSDOT Graphics when it comes to color, font and size.
  • Only use graphics that are instantly recognizable and necessary.
  • They cannot be wider than 700 px wide.
  • Images should be small in size to download quickly.
  • People like pictures of other people.
  • Images should not be used to “break up text,” use headers instead.

Add alternate text to all graphics and images

Alternative text is the text that appears in a text box when you mouse over an image. Sight impaired users have "screen readers" read the alternative text to them. By remembering to include alt text for each image you'll improve our site accessibility. Using key words in your alt text will also help improve search results. 


  • Most content on our website should be clear to someone who isn’t an expert in the subject it covers.
  • Be concise.
  • Remember to have a clear purpose and audience for everything put onto our site.
  • Every new page needs to begin with a short intro on what users can find there.
  • Please follow the Associated Press Stylebook guidelines for anything not covered in this content strategy.


Write as though you are explaining something to a colleague, keeping it friendly and professional. Use first person narrative, such as “we” and “our,” when referring to WSDOT instead of “WSDOT staff” or your office name.

Avoid jargon

Use the same words as our site visitors. It is not “dumbing down,” content, rather we are making it easier for visitors to quickly grasp the information. Using descriptive, common phrases instead of technical words will also help people find your page when they use our search function to find your content.


Type out the full name of policies, agencies (including WSDOT) and anything else we may internally know as an acronym the first time it is used on every page. Use the acronym for all other references on the page. On a different page (including sub or child pages) you must repeat this same style – spell out on first reference, then use the acronym.

Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN)


Nothing on the website should be italicized except Good to Go! and ferry names. Do not italicize agency report titles.


Only links should be underlined. Use bold to draw attention or highlight text instead.


Do not use all capital letters for emphasis, use Bold instead. Use sentence case, where only the first letter and proper titles are capitalized. For more information on proper titles, see the AP Stylebook.


There are no resource links on the website because everything is a resource. Do not use the word “resources” as a header or a page name -- be more specific.

Avoid office-centric information

You are putting content out there to help your customers complete a task, not advertise what your office does. Focus on providing task-based information rather than listing out everything your office does. Travelers, business owners and concerned citizens are rarely looking for an organizational chart, which is also difficult to keep current.


Spell out numbers below 10, unless for a measurement such as distance.

  • You must construct nine additional pylons.
  • The pylon is 9-feet tall.


Do not use tables to break up complex information, as they can be difficult to navigate for those using screen readers to access our site. Instead, fit the information in small bite-sized chunks as part of a list.

People can easily scan lists if you:

  1. Introduce your list with a complete sentence that ends with a period
  2. Use bulleted lists for items or choices
  3. Use numbered lists for instructions
  4. Aim for no more than five bullets in each list
  5. Use sentence case for each entry in a list


Use bullets, headings and space to break up walls of text that are difficult for visitors to quickly scan. Link farms, long lists of links, prohibit scannability, limit the number of links per page.

Organize the pages by task, from most used to least

Long lists of links to every portion of the site do not help users. Instead, guide users toward the things they need, such as separating content by user group or separating your content into groups.


Links must:

  • Make sense out of context.
  • Match the page title with the hyperlinked text so there are no surprises.
  • Be written in lowercase letters.
  • Always have a qualifier that states the type and size of files users may have to download or open.  
    • Example:
      WSDOT organization chart (PDF 64KB)


Do not use ‘click-here’ for links. Give users a sense of where the link will take them.


Buy a ferry ticket

Seattle traffic cameras & flow


Email links should be the full email address and not links on a name. This allows users to easily copy and paste the email address if the email link doesn’t open up a new message in their chosen program. For direct contact, use the full first.last name format (see below.)



Headers should not be links, links should all have the same look as other links on the page. Do not make your users search for non-standard links.

Using active voice

Visitors can easily scan sentences written in active voice. This means putting the subject doing the action at the start of the sentence. Active voice makes it easy to quickly follow along with who is acting upon what.

Passive: Writing for the web should be in active voice.

Active: You should use active voice when writing for the web.

You (the noun) should use (verb) active voice when writing for the web.

Active: Customers want their problems solved quickly.

Customers (noun) want (verb) their problem solved quickly.

Active: Content managers plan before making a new page.

Word Choice

Use plain talk whenever you can to make content easy to understand and navigate for all visitors. Cut all unnecessary words. Avoid using acronyms or technical terms if a better choice is available.

Write for people who scan the page by writing:

  • simple and direct sentences.
  • short and concise paragraphs.
  • short and concise headings with variable sizing.
  • simple words and phrases in plain English.
  • without acronyms such as SR for State Route or AWV for Alaskan Way Viaduct.
  • Use our WSDOT Style Guide.

You can often find a simpler word:

  • Instead of avoid, try do not.
  • Instead of factual, try true.
  • Instead of commence, try start or begin.
  • Instead of utilize, try use.
  • Instead of transmit, try send.
  • Instead of efficient, try able.

Headers & page titles

  • All headers should be informative, meaningful and used to break up walls of text.
  • Keep paragraphs close to their headings to make them easy to scan.
  • Use sentence case for page titles and headers.
  • Use Header 4 for simple headers and clearly label them. If there are subheads below the headers, change your headers to Header 3 and then apply Header 4 to the subheads under each header.
  • Never use Header 2 or Header 1, which compete with our page titles.

There are four header types:

  1. Action-focused
    Call us for more information
  2. Noun-focused
    Lane striping
  3. Statements
    WSDOT is in charge of our highways
  4. Questions
    How can I get a parking permit?

Mission statements

The WSDOT agency mission statement is the only mission statement that should be on the website.