USF student laughing while working on laptop

Web Content Strategies

The words on a Web page are just as important as the look and feel of the page, if not more important. We offer these overarching content strategies as a framework to use when creating any content for the USF site. Specific page-by-page content recommendations, as well as content strategies for the USF homepage and school homepages, are provided on separate pages.


Prospective students (and their parents) are our primary audience for About USF, all Admissions pages, and most of the top two tiers within each schoolʼs site. With this in mind, there must be a general consistency of style across all of the externally focused top level messaging of the site.

Of course, each school has its own unique type of prospective student, and content for each of the schools should have a tone that reflects their particular external audiences. Students applying for evening bachelorsʼ completion programs may bring different expectations to the table than do 16-year-old prospective freshmen. But overall, the tone of top-level messaging throughout the site should be smart, knowing, engaging, and straightforward. One of the best ways to check the style of Web writing is to read it to yourself out loud. If it sounds natural, itʼs likely to be good.

The writing in each section of the site — especially introductory paragraphs, sidebar features, and the like — should be seen as part of the larger USF story, and not feel compartmentalized within the domain of one office or communications effort.

Key Messages for the USF site

Through the news stories, themes, selection of examples, and general choice of words — especially for news headlines and event titles/teasers — readers should come away associating USF with some of its key values and characteristics. This doesnʼt mean that USF staff should micromanage every headline or event name; simply put, we believe that visitors to the USF site will form associations based on ALL the content they read on the site. So to the extent possible, each part should reflect the qualities of the whole.

What makes these messages important is that they apply to all of USFʼs schools equally. In our formal and informal research about USF, weʼve found a striking unity of purpose among the stakeholders weʼve talked to throughout the community. Unlike some universities where each school pursues its own agenda, there is a great deal of common ground here, and our recommendations are meant to reflect that.

Although many of these themes are somewhat abstract (“Academic Excellence,” for example), itʼs important to understand that key messages shouldnʼt be presented to the public that way. The Golden Rule of messaging for the Web: Show, donʼt tell.

  • San Francisco Advantage. USF embodies both the history and the values of San Francisco deeply enough that we should establish a very close connection between the two. Visitors should understand, without doing a lot of research, how close USF is to Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and the beach. Associations like these — to the neighborhoods and natural wonders of this beautiful city — are every bit as important as the more conventional, familiar ones.

    News stories that connect USF to San Francisco should always make that relationship explicit. When creating stories about USF’s work in the community, we should make clear where the work is taking place; if students are running a soup kitchen in the Mission, we should place them there. Photography should show not just USFʼs proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge, but how deeply the campus is woven into the fabric of the city.

    Of course, thereʼs more to USF than San Francisco: its branch campuses in Sacramento, Santa Rosa, San Jose, and Pleasanton are an important part of the USF story. By virtue of the name alone, USFʼs primary association will always be with its namesake city; however, we should make sure that the values and benefits of the branch campus locations, with appropriate photography, are highlighted adequately on the site.

  • A higher standard of academic excellence. This is a message that should permeate the site through the use of examples (news stories, course highlights, faculty features, student research, etc) rather than through the use of any tag lines or canned phrases. If the USF site is to truly focus on academics, there will have to be real stories, with compelling lead images, that link to further reading. Thought should be given to event titles as well as the ordering and featuring of events on the homepage.
  • Passion for justice. USF truly and genuinely is changing the world from here: academic excellence in the service of humankind is a part of USFʼs mission that is interpreted in diverse and fascinating ways on a daily basis. Letʼs be sure the living, breathing version of the mission statement shines throughout the site. As with “academic excellence,” USF is teeming with examples of how students, faculty and staff live and learn together with commitment and responsibility.
  • Diversity. We are very impressed at how often the students themselves talk about the importance of USFʼs diversity; weʼd like to see more authentic photography and writing that will portray the many shades of color, background and opinion that make the USF committee interesting. Diversity of opinions, interests, and concerns is important too; in particular, the value of debate and collaboration across USF lends weight to its reputation as the most diverse and liberally oriented of the Jesuit schools.
  • Jesuit values. Many students come to USF because itʼs a Jesuit school. Current students, faculty, staff, and alumni appreciate the influence Jesuit values have on their experience at USF. While we must be careful not to overemphasize USFʼs Jesuit heritage — the school is open to students of all faiths and beliefs, and our audience has to know that — the moral values of the Jesuit tradition permeate USF life in many real and tangible ways that we can feature throughout the site.

Read more about USF messaging in the Brand Messaging Guide »

First-person narratives

In general, we recommend using first-person narratives as much as possible. Prospective students want to get as accurate a sense as possible of the true nature of the USF community, and direct exposure to that community is the best way to achieve that goal. Blogs, good photography wi th descriptive captions, and video can help to give this impression.

In addition to the #usfca — the aggregator of USF community Web content that weʼve discussed in other documents — parts of the site that are managed directly by faculty or students (such as profile pages or sites for student groups) ought to be as easily accessed as possible. We should see more faculty work, research, and classroom activities throughout the site.

Content doesnʼt have to be literally unfiltered to have this impact. But we should be careful not to over-manage first person narratives, as todayʼs audience is sensitive to packaged and manufactured content and can see through “canned” or marketing-driven material of that sort.


Next page: Writing for the Web »