Website Design and Content Standards

Introduction

(Amended April 2008)
These standards arise out of the Government of Nova Scotia's Internet Content Policy of April 1, 1997. The Priorities and Planning Committee approved the following policy statement:

"It is the policy of the Government of Nova Scotia that the interests of the Province with respect to its Internet presence are best served by maintaining a professional design and content standard on Government World Wide Web sites, and that Communications Nova Scotia is accountable for same."

The intention of these standards is to assist departments and agencies with the production of their websites. The standards are a framework for development, within which there is potential room for variation as long as there is consistency throughout the Government of Nova Scotia website as a whole. Consistent design presents a strong corporate identity, gives the website coherence and integrity, improves usability, and helps to strengthen the individual and overall messages. Communications Nova Scotia has been given the responsibility to ensure that the Internet Policy and these Standards are followed.

NOTE: Government of Nova Scotia websites are in the process of being converted to the latest standard design seen on the main government home page and the Communications Nova Scotia site (for example, this page). Some sites have not yet made the complete conversion and until the process is complete, some aspects of these Standards will not be in evidence on all sites.

Table of Contents

  1. Look and Feel - Amended September 2012
  2. Professional Design and Content - Amended January 2000
  3. Headings and Titles - Amended June 2004
  4. Plain Language - Amended June 2004
  5. Acronyms
  6. Cultural Differences
  7. HTML Standards - Amended September 2012
  8. Validating Pages - Amended September 2012
  9. Page Layout - Amended October 2008
  10. Website Layout - Amended May 2008
  11. File Naming - Amended May 2007
  12. Multimedia Formats - Amended October 2008
  13. Graphic Formats - Amended August 2003
  14. Scripts and Dynamic Pages - Amended October 2008
  15. Accessibility - New August 2003; Amended September 2012
  16. Privacy Statement Link - New June 2004; Amended October 2008

Points in brief

General Considerations

1. Look and Feel (Amended September 2012)
All websites must have the same general look and feel. Government websites need to use the most recent Common Look and Feel. Contact CNS for details.
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2. Professional Design and Content (Amended January 2000)
All pages must be of professional quality in terms of design and content.
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3. Headings and Titles (Amended June 2004)
Publications and individual parts of publications (if any) must contain appropriate headings (and a title).
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Editorial Standards

4. Plain Language (Amended June 2004)
Ensure that you write clearly and concisely.
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5. Acronyms
Do not overuse acronyms, and avoid their use in the titles of pages. Make sure that viewers can easily find the full version of an acronym on every page using the acronym.
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6. Cultural Differences
Authors must have sensitivity to how people from different cultures might view items on the provincial website.
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HTML Specification

7. HTML Standards (Amended September 2012)
The preferred specification is HTML5, used semantically. Semantic HTML5 should be used to properly structure data and give more meaning to your documents. This will also make your documents more accessible and improve their search engine ranking. Pages should be styled using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
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8. Validating Pages (Amended September 2012)
It is highly recommended that HTML5 coding be checked by running all documents through an HTML5 syntax checker. Style sheets should be checked with the free W3C online validator.
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General Website Design

9. Page Layout (Amended October 2008)
Web pages should be designed with the aim of providing clear and easy access to the services and information provided.

All pages must use the proper identifier graphics, search function, the left hand navigation menu, the proper link colours, and the footer style as shown on this page.
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10. Website Layout (Amended May 2008)
It is recommended that the services provided by departments and agencies occupy centre stage on websites. Most (but not all) visitors will not be especially interested in the structure of government; rather, they will be trying to find out what services are available, or will be looking for information on a particular service.
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File Naming

11. Do Not Use Special Characters in Filenames (Amended May 2007)
Special characters should not be used in filenames as they can cause issues, especially when used in a hyperlink; e.g. unescaped "&". For more, please see the Wikipedia "Filename" entry.
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Multimedia

12. Multimedia Formats (Amended October 2008)
It is recommended that only the most popular and stable forms of multimedia files be considered for use. Care must be taken that use of various types of media does not become a barrier to accessibility (see section 15). The best approach is to provide all information and services without requiring that visitors' browsers (user agents) be capable of utilizing multimedia (e.g. Flash) whenever possible.
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Graphics

13. Graphic Formats (Amended August 2003)
The use of graphics can be important in providing an interesting website. However, every attempt should be made so that, wherever possible, visitors with text-only access are able to obtain the same information as visitors with full graphics capabilities.
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Dynamic Treatments and Applications

14. Scripts and Dynamic Pages (Amended October 2008)
Scripts, database linking, and other technologies can be used to provide services and experiences beyond static HTML pages, but must be designed and implemented with great care. Make sure that the W3C DOM is used according to specification.
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Accessibility

15. Accessibility (New August 2003; Amended September 2012)
Accessibility is the issue of providing access to information and services for users who have disabilities, or use alternative types of browsers (user agents) such as screen readers. It is recommended that departments and agencies follow at a minimum the steps outlined in the Accessibility section of the Web Guide.
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Privacy

16. Privacy Statement Link (New June 2004; Amended October 2008)
This refers to the proper implementation of the Privacy Statement link. It should be done as in the footer of this page.
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Questions?

Please get in touch with Geoff Kerson (424-2978, e-mail: kersong@gov.ns.ca) of Communications Nova Scotia to discuss any matters relating to Internet communications.

Points in detail

General Considerations

1. Look and Feel (Amended September 2012)
All websites must have the same general look and feel so that visitors from anywhere in the world will always know when they are on a Government of Nova Scotia website. Government websites need to use the most recent Common Look and Feel. Consistent design presents a strong corporate identity, gives the website coherence and integrity, and helps to strengthen the individual and overall messages. Use of the latest Common Look and Feel also incorporates semantic and WAI-ARIA enhancements which boost usability, accessibility, and findability (SEO). Consistency of corporate identity is found on all of the better corporate and government websites.

This does not mean that all pages on all sites must be identical; rather, it means that diversification of sites is permitted (up to a point) as long as there is continuity across the sites, and that it is always clear to visitors that they are on a Government of Nova Scotia website (as determined by Communications Nova Scotia). It is especially important that all sites use the proper identifiers, have informative page titles and headers (which can assist search facilities), and use the standard navigation. It is essential that visitors need not learn a new navigation system for every part of the Government of Nova Scotia website that they visit.

It is recommended that, if there is any question about any of these points, you get in touch with Communications Nova Scotia. Certainly contact us before you get too far into a design/redesign of your website so that we can ensure all sites work together. Please contact Geoff Kerson by phone at 424-2978 or e-mail: kersong@gov.ns.ca.
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2. Professional Design and Content (Amended January 2000)
Nova Scotia has a tradition of high quality products. We need to maintain and add to this tradition with the Nova Scotia Government website. The website can influence the image of Nova Scotia within the province, Canada, and the rest of the world. Therefore, it is imperative that the website give a favourable impression of Nova Scotia.

Free, preliminary assessments of design and content (or original design and/or content work for a fee) may be obtained from Communications Nova Scotia. Please contact Geoff Kerson by phone at 424-2978 or e-mail: kersong@gov.ns.ca.
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3. Headings and Titles (Amended June 2004)
Headings and titles must be used so that each part of a website (and publications, if any, on a website) is clearly related and linked to the website (or publication) as a whole. Through the effective use of titles, readers will always know what page they are viewing, and on which part of the provincial website it resides. A proper title can also increase the likelihood that appropriate pages will turn up when visitors use search facilities. For publications, a table of contents that is hyperlinked to the appropriate places in the text should be provided for all documents of more than a few screens in length. As well, other standard navigation aids should be incorporated on each page such as links leading back to the table of contents (if applicable), the beginning of individual articles (if their length warrants), and the departmental/agency home page.
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Editorial Standards

4. Plain Language (Amended June 2004)
The use of clear writing principles is important. Your website might be your first and only chance to communicate your message, and the first impression could last a long time. Although many visitors to the provincial website might be highly educated, most will not be government employees or work regularly in your department's field of concern. Many will have a first language other than English. Clearly written information will invite visitors to keep reading and will improve the chance that they will receive the message you are sending. Clear language includes consistent punctuation, correct spelling and usage, logical construction, consistent style, and accessibility of information, that is, logical use of links, headings, and indexes. Assume the reader knows nothing except how to read.
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5. Acronyms
Acronyms are useful only if their meaning is clear, otherwise they obscure rather than assist the message. It is very likely that most visitors to the provincial website will be seeing most acronyms for the first time. Therefore, every acronym should be clearly defined on every series of pages. A good guideline is to write out the full name or phrase the first time it is used and follow it immediately with the acronym in parentheses.
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6. Cultural Differences
Some items, considered to be innocuous and understandable to most Canadians, might offend or be of ambiguous meaning to website visitors from other cultures.
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HTML Specification

7. HTML Standards (Amended September 2012)
As a web author you must code to established international standard grammers so that the great majority of visitors are able to access the information and services of the provincial website. The recommended way to ensure that your pages work with the most popular browsers is to code according to standards, rather than using coding hacks. Remember that some visitors will experience problems with frames, video (Flash, etc.), audio, Java, JavaScript (and other scripts), and stylesheets. Authors must test their pages with several different browsers (and preferably on a variety of machines with different screen sizes, resolutions, and processors) to improve the likelihood that visitors will be able to use the pages as they are intended. Please also see section 15: Accessibility.

The preferred specification is HTML5, used semantically. Semantic HTML5 should be used to properly structure data and give more meaning to your documents. This will also make your documents more accessible and improve their search engine ranking. Pages should be styled using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

The use of Cascading Style Sheets for styling web pages is a best practice. Check your style sheet with the free W3C validation service. Make sure that your pages are usable without the stylesheet(s), or any scripting, or media like Flash.

Please note that the use of frames is not recommended. If vital information is contained in one frame such as navigation and/or site identifiers), and the content is in another, bookmarking the site might result in returning visitors receiving only the information contained in the content frame. Workarounds for this are conceivable (including inline frames), but not trivial. It is best to design your site without frames. Other problems can arise with navigation and functions requiring Flash and JavaScript. Please also see section 15: Accessibility.
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8. Checking HTML Code (Amended September 2012
It is very important to code HTML correctly. Some browsers are very forgiving and might show features as intended even with incorrect code, but different versions of even the most popular browsers may not be so forgiving, and the degree of forgiveness can vary from version to version. Also, as different ways to access the web become more popular (e.g. handheld devices), and in the interests of improving accessibility, the importance of proper coding becomes even more critical. HTML syntax checkers are included in some HTML authoring software, and there are web applications that do this.
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General Website Design

9. Page Layout (Amended September 2012)
It is a good idea to have a look at the Communications Nova Scotia website. The site shows how to use XHTML5 to set up the structure of the pages and CSS for the styling. The Communications Nova Scotia web pages also demonstrate the use of the latest identification methods, search, navigation, Common Look and Feel markup, and accessibility improvements including WAI-ARIA.
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10. Website Layout (Amended May 2008)
The services provided by departments and agencies should be easy to find. Make sure that all information is presented in a clear and concise fashion.

There should be a link to the News Releases. The News Releases link can be customized so that visitors see the appropriate department/agency identifiers at the top of the page. Also, it is possible to set up custom RSS feeds on your site. Please contact Allan Lawlor of Communications Nova Scotia for help with this feature (e-mail: lawlorja@gov.ns.ca; Tel. 424-4492).
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File Naming

11. Do Not Use Special Characters in Filenames (Amended May 2007)
Special characters should not be used in filenames as they can cause issues, for example, when used in a hyperlink. For more, please see the Wikipedia "Filename" entry.
Brief | Back to Contents

Multimedia

12. Multimedia Formats (Amended October 2008)
Multimedia should be used carefully and in general should not be the sole method of presentation of information and services. The best approach is to provide all information and services without requiring that visitors' browsers (user agents) be capable of utilizing multimedia (such as Flash) whenever possible. This does not rule out the use of multimedia, because it can provide unique experiences. Proper use of multimedia can also help to showcase the technological capabilities, tourism opportunities, and business advantages of Nova Scotia. Departments and agencies should, however, choose only from the most commonly used cross-platform types of multimedia formats for delivery over the Internet, and make efforts to provide equivalent experiences for all. Care must be taken that the use of various types of media does not become a barrier to accessibility (see section 15).
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Graphics

13. Graphic Formats (Amended August 2003)
The use of graphics can be important in providing an interesting website. However, every attempt should be made so that, wherever possible, visitors with text-only access are able to obtain the same information as visitors with full graphics capabilities.

Graphics services are available from Communications Nova Scotia.
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Dynamic Treatments and Applications

14. Scripts and Dynamic Pages (Amended October 2008)
Scripts, database, linking and other technologies can be used to provide services and experiences beyond standard pages, but should be designed and implemented with great care. As with the multimedia elements described in section 12 (some of which can overlap into this area, as some of these can overlap into multimedia provision), great care must be taken to ensure that the widest possible audience can have access to these experiences and services, or to solutions that provide an equivalent experience and. Careful planning and testing on a variety of platforms and with different browsers is essential. Make sure that the W3C DOM is used according to specification.

User Interface design and technical issues can be discussed with Geoff Kerson (424-2978, e-mail: kersong@gov.ns.ca.
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Accessibility

15. Accessibility (New October 2003; Amended September 2012)
Accessibility is the issue of providing access to information and services for users who have disabilities, or use alternative types of browsers (user agents) such as screen readers, or navigate using the keyboard only. It is recommended that departments and agencies follow at a minimum the steps outlined in the Accessibility section of the Web Guide. To maximize accessibility, these steps should be applied with knowledge of WCAG 2 and best practices.

Proper adherence to the W3C's Web Accessibility Guidelines criteria and techniques will allow more people to have access to government information and services. The same practices make sites more accessible to search engines and mobile devices (which have many of the same accessibility problems with most sites as do people with disabilities), which will make it easier for more people to access government information and services and with a wider variety of devices and user agents.

Note that basic WAI-ARIA features have been made a part of the latest Common Look and Feel.

Background information on the issue of web accessibility, international efforts to improve it, and some methods to increase accessibility can be found at the W3C WAI and the WebAIM websites. Other guidelines and techniques for improving accessibility can be found at Understanding WCAG 2.0, Constructing a POUR Website, and How to Meet WCAG 2.0.
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Privacy

16. Privacy Statement Link (New June 2004; Amended October 2008)
The link to the Privacy Statement should be done as in the footer of this page.

If any pages on your site set a persistent cookie, you are required to put a link to the Cookies Notice at the bottom of that page. More information on the proper way to do this may be found on the intranet site of the CIO.
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Questions?
Please get in touch with Geoff Kerson (424-2978, e-mail: kersong@gov.ns.ca) of Communications Nova Scotia to discuss any matters relating to Internet publishing.

Please note that links to external sites do not imply endorsement of them.