Skip navigation


5.1 Content Management

5.1.1 Audience

Content published to NIU websites should be geared primarily toward recruitment and retention of students. Content for which the audience is inter-office would be better suited offline or on an intranet system (see Document Retention and Storage, below).

5.1.2 Official University Content

Do not recreate content that exists elsewhere on the NIU website. Always link to the official online source. For example, link to the official, current catalog using GoURLs established and maintained by the Web Team for course descriptions and degree requirements; link to the Office of the Bursar for current tuition and fees information; link to Housing and Residential Services for current room and board rates.

5.1.3 Outdated Content

Content should be reviewed every six months to ensure information is accurate. The Web Team and page managers will periodically perform content assessments, working with the subject matter expert (SME) to determine a plan for updating outdated content. If the SME is unresponsive, the page manager will update or delete the content as necessary.

If a web property has not been updated in 12 months, the Web Team may send out a notification to the user associated with the subdomain. If the user does not respond within 10 business days, the Web Team will delete the site from the server.

5.1.4 Archival Content

Archival content should be stored outside of Cascade CMS. For example, if past course syllabi need to be archived, they should be maintained by the professor or the department in O365 or, in some cases, University Archives.

5.1.5 Content Readability

Website content should be written for a fifth through eighth grade reading level. This is not to “dumb down” the content. Rather, it acknowledges that the majority of website visitors are scanning pages quickly for specific information.

Content should further be made easily scannable by keeping sentences and paragraphs short, using relevant and descriptive headings and using formatted lists whenever appropriate. Use brand voice and avoid jargon and/or difficult-to-read words when less complex words can easily substitute.

5.1.6 Document Retention and Storage

Cascade is a web content management system, not a records management/retention tool. All offices should have an offline or intranet storage system, such as SharePoint, Blackboard, Dropbox or an O365 group and follow the Records Retention and Administration Guidelines. The type of storage system should be determined by the colleges, divisions, departments and/or schools managing the documents.

For current information on file sharing and linking internally or externally from a website, check the NIU web resources.

5.1.7 Event Listings and Event Pages

NIU-sponsored events and events in the surrounding community should be published on the NIU Calendar. Events may be subject to approval by Web and Internal Communications.

The Web Team can install a calendar widget on any NIU web property to pull in events related to a department, school or organization. Widgets should be used rather than manually adding event dates and details directly to a web page.

Pages in Cascade may only be created for major annual events or event types (such as an information page about a conference or about a colloquium series). Event pages must be kept up to date. Once the date of an event has passed, information about the next date must replace it. Do not use placeholder text, such as “information coming soon.”

5.1.8 Event Websites

Websites for conferences, symposiums and similar one-time or annual events will be built and maintained in Cascade using standard NIU templates only if all of the following criteria are met:

  • The event is sponsored by NIU and/or takes place on an NIU campus.
  • The website abides by the NIU Communication Standards and the NIU Web Standards.
  • The website will remain live only until the next recurrence takes place (i.e., a conference held every two years will have its website live for 24 months) and then it will be updated or removed. If the event will not reoccur, the site will be removed after 12 months.

5.1.9 Faculty Profile Pages

If a department directory links to individual profile pages for faculty members, the profile pages should be consistent in aesthetic and type of information presented. Department directories may link to a faculty site in lieu of a profile page as long as the faculty site is in the same NIU template as the department site and meets web standards.

Profile pages may be created for emeriti who are actively teaching at NIU or working in the scholarly community.

Do not post “In Memorium” pages for deceased staff or faculty members.

5.1.10 Faculty, Lab and Student Organization Websites

All faculty, lab and student organization websites must comply with the NIU Web Standards and corresponding Editorial Guidelines.

Websites for student organizations formally recognized and/or funded by the Student Association (SA) are maintained on Huskie Link, not through Cascade.

Research lab websites must comply with any additional standards determined by their related department or college.

Research lab and faculty websites should be maintained by their division or college’s page manager and linked to/from their department’s primary website.

5.1.11 Tutorials and Modules

Tutorials and learning modules can be hosted in Blackboard, SharePoint, MOOC, Cascade CMS or another third-party service. Tutorials hosted in Cascade CMS must meet all web and brand standards and should be submitted to the Clearinghouse for QA review prior to launch. Work with the director of Web Strategy and Services to determine the best hosting solution for your module.

5.2 Website Structure

Sites are divided into folders and subfolders, where every folder corresponds to a site section.

Each folder should have a landing page with the system name “index.” A web browser will default to (or “land on”) this page if only the site URL and folder are entered (for example,, where “services” is a folder under the “/marcomm” website, will actually land on This is also necessary for usable breadcrumbs.

The only folders in a website that do not need an “index” page are folders for the purpose of organizing files (i.e., image folders, PDF folders, etc.).

The site’s Base folder (aka, “[sitename]”) is the location where all of your site’s content is housed. The base folder’s primary index page is your site homepage.

Images should be stored in a folder with the system name “_image” under the base folder, not within site section folders.

Likewise, PDFs should be stored in a folder with the system name “_pdf” in the base folder, not within site section folders.

Your site will also have a folder with the system name “_internal” where your navigation blocks will be housed.

Best Practices for Website Structure

When you keep all of your images and PDFs stored in a centralized location, it helps keep your site organized and avoids accidental file duplication. You may break up your “_image” and “_pdf” folders into subfolders that correspond with site sections, if you wish, for further organization.

5.3 Navigation

The site’s navigation should reflect the site’s folder structure. Changes to navigation should not be made lightly, as doing so can result in broken links and/or major architectural changes.

All navigation items should be formatted in Title Case.

Top Navigation appears horizontally at the top of your website. This is created using a custom navigation block. A website may have only one top navigation menu and it must appear consistently on every page.

Top navigation bar
Figure 2. Example of Top Navigation menu

The order of items in the top navigation menu should be as follows:

  • Home icon* (): this should link to your site’s homepage
  • About*
  • Customized labels
  • Contact Us (if needed and not already present as a dropdown option under About)

*The Home icon and About items are required in top navigation menus.

Left Navigation appears as a content block in the left column (right column navigation, similar in style, is used for faculty websites. Left navigation should be customized for the content folder. Additional menu items outside the content folder should be marked with the “New Window” icon.

Example of New Window Glyphicon
Figure 3. Example of New Window Glyphicon

Breadcrumbs appear directly beneath your top navigation menu. Items are generated automatically using the display names for pages and folders. Breadcrumbs must be enabled for any page that is three or more steps away from the site’s homepage.

Screenshot of breadcrumbs menu
Figure 4. Example of Breadcrumbs

Best Practices for Website Navigation

For consistency, use the following labels in top navigation:

About (not About Us)
Contact Us (not Contact)

Left navigation menus are optional, as the top navigation menu has dropdown menu options. However, if a left navigation menu is used in one site section, all pages in that section should include the left navigation menus to maintain consistency and prevent confusion. The same left navigation menu should be used on each page of a site section.

If you wish to change your site’s overall navigation, or the navigation for a specific site section, please contact the Web Team or your division’s page manager to assist you. Navigation changes should only occur when a site is undergoing major reconstructions, as it will affect any internal links within the site and external links from other NIU sites and beyond. If you have any questions, contact

5.4 Naming Conventions

There are various types of “names” in Cascade.

The System Name (also known as the Page Name or File Name) corresponds to the asset’s URL and should be formatted with all lower-case characters and no spaces. If the asset is the landing page for a folder, its system name must be “index.” If the system name for an asset contains multiple words, words should be separated by hyphens rather than formatted as all one word (for example, “contact-us”). Avoid using abbreviations or acronyms, unless commonly recognized such as “FAQ,” as they are not intuitive to your users nor are they helpful for search indexing.

The Display Name for a page appears in navigation elements, such as in breadcrumbs. Display names should be simple but descriptive and can be formatted in title case (for example, “Policies and Fees”). Display names are required for pages and folders in Cascade CMS, but are generally unused for other assets, such as files and blocks.

The page Title (also known as the meta title tag) appears at the top of a user’s web browser or tab and is useful for Google search indexing and relaying a user’s location on the site in relation to the domain. Titles must be formatted in the following way:

[Page Name] – NIU – [Website Name]

(for example, “Contact Us – NIU – Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications”).

Best Practices for Naming

System names should be kept short and relevant to the page content

Display names for pages should not contain the same phrases as the display name for their parent folders, otherwise breadcrumbs will appear repetitive (i.e., “Academic Affairs > Newsletters > Newsletter Archives”).

Title formatting should be consistent across the site (for example, if you use “[Page] – NIU – Academic Affairs” on one page, don’t use “[Page] – NIU – Division of Academic Affairs” on another page).

5.5 Meta Content

For search engine optimization (SEO) and accessibility value, pages must have unique meta titles and descriptions.

Title tags (also referred to as page titles) are approximately 55 characters with spaces.

Descriptions are optional but encouraged on the site’s most important pages. Descriptions are approximately 115 characters with spaces. Descriptions should be formatted as 1-2 sentences that briefly summarize the purpose of the page.

Screenshot of meta content in page editor
Figure 5. Screenshot of meta content fields in Page Editor

5.6 Heading Tags

Use <h*> tags for the following page elements:

Do not use h1. This heading is used automatically by the meta title tag.

h2: Main heading (when you place text in the Main Heading field in Cascade, this is automatically formatted). h2 should only be used once on a page. If you put text in the Main Heading field, do not use the h2 tag anywhere else. If you do not use the Main Heading field, you may use the h2 once in the Main Content Area as a page heading.

h3: Sub heading, block heading

h4: Lower sub heading, nested under h3

Do not bold or emphasize paragraph text to create headings—use heading formatting.

Do not use heading formatting for text that does not head a section of content (a.k.a. for aesthetic purpose only - CSS can be used for this, instead).

Do not use additional formatting in headings (i.e., bolding, underlining, italicizing or all caps).

Best Practices for Headings

The proper use of heading tags is crucial for accessibility and usability. Headings relay important information, such as the hierarchy and structure of content, to the user.

Because heading tags are read by screen readers to users with visual impairments, text that heads a section should be formatted as such, rather than as bolded text, which only emphasizes that word or phrase.

Likewise, text that is not designated as a section heading should not be formatted as one. Do not use headings as styled or emphasized text. If you must change the appearance of your text, use a custom Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) after receiving approval from the Web Team.

5.7 Links

Do not bold links.

Do not use “Read more”, “Click here”, or “For more information…” as your linked text. Rather, link an appropriate chunk or snippet of the text within the paragraph or sentence.

Links that point off-site (including any other NIU sites that are not your specific site) should be created as an external link and the target should be set to “open in a new window.”

PDFs should be created as internal links, but because they are not pages with breadcrumbs or navigation menus, they should be set to open in a new window.

Screenshot of Insert/Edit Link dialogue box
Figure 6. Screenshot of Page Editor displaying "Insert/edit link" icon selected with link dialogue box open.

Linked text should be relevant words or phrases, not full URLs (with the exception of email addresses* and “go.NIU” URLs).


Don’t do: Visit the Web and Internal Communications website ( /index.shtml) for information about maintaining your web presence.

Do: Visit Web and Internal Communications for information about maintaining your web presence.

Don’t do: Click here for more information about web support!

Do: Find more information about web support.


Do: Visit for more information.

Don’t do: Email Web Communications for more information.

Do: Contact us at for more information.

Best Practices for Links

Links should be understandable out of context because website visitors using assistive technologies, such as screen reading software, may tab through all links on a page.

5.8 Files

5.8.1 File Types

PDF is the most preferred text-based file type.

Other text-based file types, such as DOC(X), XLS(X) and PPT(X) should be converted to PDF format before being uploaded into Cascade.

Best Practices for Files

Non-PDF file types typically require another program to open, which the user may not have access to. Non-PDF files also, in most cases, automatically download from the browser, which may be alarming to the user if they are unsure whether the source can be trusted.

However, some files are easier to maintain as Word DOCs or other editable file types. See the NIU web resources for up to date information on document management and sharing.

Documents that get updated periodically should include a “last updated” note in the footer to indicate the version.

Use of SWF files is not recommended.

Documents intended for print distribution, such as flyers, posters and brochures, should not be posted to NIU websites. Print and web are different types of media with different purposes and means of conveying information. Rather than posting a print content to a website, we recommend creating web content (if it does not already exist) that contains the same necessary information but that is presented in a way that best fits the website structure, brand voice and standards.

5.8.2 Naming and Renaming

Use simple, descriptive names. Do not include dates or references in the name.

Don’t use spaces in file names. Separate words with hyphens ( - ), not underscores ( _ ). Use lowercase words.

Files must be unpublished before being renamed. After the file is renamed, republish the file and all of its relationships. Find any off-site links and update them to the new file name or complete a web update request form to have them updated.

5.8.3 Storage and Management

Files uploaded to Cascade must be in use. Files that are not in use or that haven’t been updated in more than two years should be deleted. Files must be unpublished before deleting.

Don’t store multiple versions of a file in Cascade. Rather, replace existing files with their updated versions by uploading over them.

Files uploaded to Cascade must be accessible for persons with disabilities and must not infringe on copyright.

5.9 Images

5.9.1 Image File Formats

We recommend using the following types on the NIU websites. For help determining the file type for your project, contact the Office of Web and Internal Communications.

  • JPG is the most common image format and recommended for photos.
  • PNG can be used for flat art images, but is most useful for supporting transparencies.
  • GIF is used most often for flat art images. Do not use animated GIFs on your NIU website.

5.9.2 Image Sizes and Dimensions

To shorten download times and conserve server space, optimize images for web before uploading, keeping the file sizes below 150KB.

For banner images, use 1200 x 420 px.
For column images, use a 3:2 aspect ratio (ex., 300 x 200 px or 450 x 300 px.)
For staff profile images, use a 2:3 aspect ratio (ex. 150 x 200 px or 200 x 300 px.)

For websites that use the older (beige/gray, responsive/non-responsive) templates, please consult the templates appendix.

Image Dimensions for Black and White Website Template

You can use Cascade’s image editor, Photoshop or another external photo editing service to crop your images to the appropriate dimensions/aspect ratio. We recommend uploading your images at a size slightly larger than you intend to display them on the page to ensure the best image quality.

When adding an image to a page in Cascade, the page editor’s image dialogue box allows you control the display size without changing the uploaded file. You can reduce the display size from the image’s actual size, but attempting to display the image larger than the uploaded file will result in the image appearing pixelated or blurry.

Please note: the page editor’s image dialogue box is separate from Cascade’s image editor. While changing the dimensions of an image in the page editor’s image dialogue won’t alter the actual uploaded file, changing the image dimensions in the image editor will affect the actual file size.

5.9.3 Responsive and Accessible Images

All new NIU websites are created in templates that utilize responsive web design (RWD). This is done so that content is always optimized for whichever device and screen-size it is being viewed on.

To optimize images for RWD, the “img-responsive” class must be added to the image tag in the HTML, in the Format Custom Classes dropdown or via the Insert/Edit Image dialogue box.

Screenshot of Insert/Edit Image dialogue box
Figure 7. Screenshot of page editor displaying "Insert/edit image" icon and "Format > Custom Classes" dropdown where the "img-responsive" class can be added to an image.

To ensure that images are accessible for assistive technologies, use alternative text (or alt tags). This can be done in the “alternative text” field on the “Insert Image” pop-up or within the <img> tag in the HTML editor.

Do not simply describe the photo, but provide information equivalent to that which the image conveys.

Bad example: “John Smith in classroom.”

Good example: “Professor John Smith leads [class] in a lively discussion.”

Don’t use “image of…” or “photo of…” phrases, as they are unnecessary.

Don’t include redundant information that is conveyed in the surrounding textual content.


Best Practices for Accessible Images

Alt tags are one of the easiest things to get lackadaisical with when creating web content because they take thoughtful consideration to use correctly but can quickly and easily be used incorrectly. However, it’s very important that we do whatever is in our power to make our pages accessible for persons using assistive technologies.

One reason alt tags are often used incorrectly is because we often assume that every image needs one. On the contrary, most of the images on our websites won’t require alternative text because they either don’t convey information and are simply decorative or the information they do convey is presented elsewhere in the context of the page (i.e., in the textual content).

No alt text required (Must be marked as “decorative” in the Insert Image window or tagged alt=“” in the HTML):

  • Decorative images (i.e. a close-up on Bunsen burners placed on a chemistry department web page)
  • Images where the message or information being conveyed is present in the surrounding text (i.e., a photo of a staff member next to their name and bio or contact info)

Alt Text Required:

  • Images conveying information that is not present anywhere else on the page (i.e., an infographic or a staff photo that is not followed by the staff member’s name)
  • Images that serve a particular function, such as icons or buttons, for which the alt text should simply state that function (i.e., an arrow icon indicating that the user should advance to the next page would have an alt text of “next page”)


Decorative images that don’t require alt text would still benefit from it as descriptive text used to enhance search engine optimization (i.e., a decorative image of students in the bleachers at a football game might have an alt text such as, “No football game is complete without its sea of red and black, proud Huskies cheering enthusiastically in the stands.”)

View more information about alt text at

5.9.4 Image Storage and Management

Images uploaded to Cascade must be in use. Images that are not in use or that haven’t been updated in more than two years should be deleted. Images must be unpublished before deleting.

Don’t store multiple versions of an image in Cascade. Rather, replace existing images with their updated versions.

5.9.5 Approved Image Sources

The Creative Services Image Library is a catalog of images taken by the university’s photographers. For access to the image library, register on the site as a user. To limit duplication of images on different NIU websites when downloading a photo, add a comment listing the page/site where you expect to use the photo. You may also tag images and create a shared gallery to organize your photos. If you cannot find what you need in the Image Library, please contact Institutional Communications for help or to schedule a photoshoot.

Photos used on NIU web pages must meet the guidelines for photos established in the NIU Communications Standards and have adequate image resolution. Always select photos that reinforce NIU’s brand personality and narrative. Imagery should convey student engagement that is authentic and creates an emotional connection with our audience. Look for photos that are warm and full of spirit and energy. Photos of people interacting with each other are preferred over photos of buildings.

Page managers should take the time to check whether an image is being used on another page before uploading it to their site.

Personal photos taken by a member of the department/office should not be used, nor should images available through the public domain or Internet image searches like Google or Bing. For assistance in locating copyright-free photos, please contact the Office of Web and Internal Communications.

5.9.6 Rotating Banners and Slideshows

Rotating banners, or slideshows, should appear only on the homepage of a site and are limited to three banner images. Each image should relate to an event, department or program and should link to the appropriate page on the site. Captions are optional. The Office of Web and Internal Communications has several default rotating banner scripts available and will help set up the banners upon request.

Slideshows/rotations should not be used solely for aesthetic appeal, rather they should serve a purpose. Only use a slideshow/rotating banner if you have specific content in mind that you’d like to highlight.

Best Practices for Banners and Slideshows

Current research in user experience and best practices find that slideshows add little to the usefulness of a web page and that only a small percentage of users click through to view each slide.

Even fewer users remain on a web page long enough to view each banner rotation for banners that don’t have advancing slides.

Thus, rotations and slides are limited to three elements, and websites are limited to one rotating banner/slideshow per site.

We recommend having unique, diverse and engaging static banner images for each of your site’s index pages rather than using a slideshow/rotation.

A slideshow is most useful for highlighting pages in the site that are not otherwise featured, such as student success stories, recent news appearances or featured faculty profiles.

5.9.7 Icons, Buttons and Graphic Text

Don’t use image files as icons or buttons. Instead, use Bootstrap compatible glyphicons and button classes. There are many options to choose from. To see examples, check out how we’ve included icons in buttons.

Don’t embed text inside a flattened image or use an image as word art. This is for usability and accessibility purposes. Assistive technologies, such as screen readers, will not be able to recognize text in images as text. Additionally, embedded text is neither searchable by browsers nor able to be translated for non-English speaking users.

Best Practices for Graphic Text

Image files as icons and text present numerous problems, not only with storage and maintenance difficulties in Cascade, but with usability in responsive design as well as many accessibility issues. There are more accessible options to choose from dependent upon your needs, including custom CSS, web fonts and html text overlays. Please contact the Office of Web and Internal Communications and we will be happy to assist you.

5.9.8 Photo Galleries

Cascade does not have a native photo gallery option. Therefore, photo galleries may be hosted on a third-party site, such as Flickr, Facebook or Wordpress. Page managers can link to the photo gallery from their NIU site. Modals may also be an option. Please contact to discuss the best solution.

Don’t create a makeshift gallery by adding rows of images to a page in Cascade. Instead, use one of the options above.

5.9.9 Social Media Icons

Use social media icons provided by the Web Team. Do not modify or use alternative icons. If an icon is needed that is not already provided, contact

5.10 Video

Videos for educational purposes should be uploaded to the MEDIAL video server accessible through Blackboard. Videos for promotional purposes, or shorter than five minutes, should be posted to NIU’s official YouTube channel, which is managed by the social media team in Institutional Communications, or the college or division’s YouTube channel (when applicable). All videos embedded on NIU websites must be closed-captioned to meet accessibility law. Contact the social media team in Institutional Communications for guidance on how to closed-caption videos.

5.10.1 Embedding Videos on NIU Websites

Videos hosted on MEDIAL Video Server and YouTube may be embedded onto an NIU page in Cascade. All videos added to an NIU website must be approved by the Clearinghouse. Videos posted to NIU websites that do not meet the video standards will be removed.

Videos embedded on NIU web pages should be added only to the Main Content Area, not the right column or column below left navigation.

A single embedded playlist is preferable to multiple video embeds.

For embedded YouTube videos, “Show suggested videos when the video finishes” option should be deselected.

Best Practices for Video Embedding

Make sure the YouTube URL in your iframe src attribute has


added to the end of it. This does two things: disables the suggested videos that display after a video finishes playing (which don’t always show NIU videos), and fixes an issue where dropdowns appear behind embedded videos.

So for example, instead of this:

<iframe src=""> </iframe>

You will want to use this:

<iframe src=";wmode=transparent"></iframe>

5.10.2 Full Video Banners

Full width video background banners for web pages will be reserved for recruitment-focused pages on the NIU site and must be made in conjunction with Institutional Communications and Photography and Videography.

5.11 Blogs and News Sites

Cascade does not support blogs. Depending on your specific needs, we recommend using a Wordpress-based blog hosted by Web and Internal Communications through a third-party vendor. This will help to ensure necessary system updates and support are available for the blog should the primary content owner/s be unavailable. Free blogs containing ads will not be permitted.

Departmental blogs must be maintained by the department and updated with fresh content.

Additional guidelines for creating an NIU blog can be found in the Social Media Toolkit.

5.11.1 Blog Branding

Any blogs affiliated with NIU must be properly branded and contain top navigation with links for the following:

The footer should contain copyright information and the following disclaimer stating the persons or entities that maintain the site:

Copyright © 2017 Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University. All rights reserved. The [Name of News Site] is maintained by [College or Division.]

The college or division name in the statement should link back to the contact page on the division or college’s primary website.

5.11.2 Access

Any college/division/departmental WordPress blog must have at least two associated user accounts designated as admin, as well as access provided to

5.11.3 RSS Feeds

An RSS feed may be used to pull story headlines from a WordPress blog onto your department’s Cascade website.

If you use a blogging platform other than WordPress, the use of an RSS newsfeed may be possible but is not guaranteed.

Contact Us

For more information about web support and development, contact: 

Holly Nicholson
Still Hall 110