The University of Wisconsin System’s presence on the World Wide Web is essential to its mission of teaching, research, creative work, and public service. Thus, the UW System’s web guidelines and policies seek to establish standards that will:

  • support the vision, mission, goals, and traditional academic values of the university;
  • assist web developers and content management system users in developing sites that comply with UW System and Board of Regents policies and rules, as well as local, state, and federal laws; and
  • facilitate the official business of the UW System and appropriate online transactions.

All policies and guidelines apply to:

  • websites located on and, the official website of the University of Wisconsin System, and
  • websites conducting UW System business.

General Guidelines and Policies

  1. All web pages published within the UW System domain must comply with the criteria below for every type of user. In addition to these criteria, web pages will be consistent within the following existing laws and policies:
    1. Federal and State laws
    2. Applicable copyright, licensing, and personal privacy laws
    3. Board of Regents policies and procedures
  2. UW System Administration’s web presence serves as a vital communications and outreach channel. It must effectively:
    1. Reflect the UW System brand and strategic goals
    2. Broaden UW System’s reach to all citizens and new demographics
    3. Offer intuitive navigation to dynamic, compelling content and accurate, up-to-date information.
  3. Each department is responsible for appointing and supervising a web content editor and a web content owner who maintains the departmental website.
  4. Content communicated via the UW System Administration’s web presence should emphasize the value and positive impacts of its member institutions – the colleges, universities and extension networks that serve Wisconsin citizens.
  5. All website content within the UW System domains is representative of the UW System, and therefore must follow standards of appropriateness. Content must present a unified and consistent image of the UW System and adhere to guidelines approved by the Website Governance Committee regardless of where the site is hosted.
  6. All web pages should be compliant with the W3C Accessibility standards, including compatibility with screen readers. Users and developers are encouraged to create pages that are low bandwidth sites to allow audiences without the latest technology and low bandwidth to use the site.
  7. Effective websites for UW System must be functional, transactional, and interactive.
  8. Web development projects will be prioritized based on the needs of the UW System and the workload of the web development team.
  9. Planning for official Web pages (those representing offices, departments and programs of the University) will implicitly or explicitly prioritize audiences and include a statement of purpose, and content for all pages will be determined accordingly.
  10. Navigation and information architecture for the UW System website should primarily be based on function and process as it relates to the audience, and not on the University’s organizational chart or internal processes.
  11. UW System web pages will meet or exceed standards and best practices for accessibility across the widest possible variety of platforms, browsers, and devices.
  12. Departments must streamline internal flow of work through the use of industry practices and processes. This includes assigning user roles, including a web manager, content writer, content editor, and content approver.
  13. Web user accounts are provided for the purpose of academic and administrative purposes only. Using UW System resources used for commercial or personal use is prohibited.

File Retention on the Web Policy

The UW System Web Governance Committee recognizes the need to effectively manage its dynamic, complex decentralized organization, while at the same time preserving its history. Therefore, the committee seeks to manage the retention and disposition of its records in order to

  • document our management decisions,
  • provide historical references of transactions and events,
  • demonstrate regulatory compliance, especially with Board of Regent policies, federal and state laws,
  • and enhance our organization’s operational efficiencies,
  • and provide transparency for all our stakeholders.

The website is not a records management/retention tool. All UWSA offices will need to have a primary records retention plan that follows records schedules outlined at Please contact the Office of General Counsel for help and guidance on internal (departmental) process for storing and archiving documents and files**, include those featured on the website. General web retention guidelines include:

  • 5 years: Meeting agendas, meeting minutes, award notifications, memos, publications, blog entries, departmental news, presentations, event publications, images, and newsletters*
  • 10 years: annual plans and annual reports, student statistic reports*

Departments are encouraged to indicate on the website when there are more archives available, and include the contact information on how to obtain documents archived within the UWSA department. In order to maintain content that meets this policy, all content should be reviewed by CMS editors and authors annually. Outdated content will need to be removed and archived.

*All exceptions need to be approved by the Web Governance Committee and documented by the Web Team.
**This is not a complete list, but rather serves as a guide.

Max File Size Upload Policy

No file larger than 32MB can be uploaded into the CMS. Exceptions to this policy will be handled and documented by the Web Team. Multimedia files such as videos and extensive photo collections, as well as excessive archival data will be stored on a third party server. The web team will provide training on best practices for reducing file sizes, and will work closely with DoIT to address storage space issues and server capacity. Make sure multimedia file formats are conducive to using space efficiently, using third-party resources when possible. Third-party resources are chosen at the discretion of University Relations, who would work with General Counsel to ensure legal compliance.


  • Do not post any copyrighted material (videos, text, images, graphics, etc.) in any form unless permission from the original copyright owner is explicitly granted.
  • All UWSA departments must use UW System templates in Zuse, our content management system (CMS). No other website development software (i.e. Dreamweaver) or other CMS (i.e. Drupal) can be used.
  • The WGC will set the strategic direction for the overall information architecture. All UW System pages must follow the navigation structure.
  • UW System web pages will conform to broader standards for communication and branding, and standards in all other areas as defined by established policies or guidelines set by the University Relations Team.
  • All content on the website must be reviewed annually. Static (undated) content must be reviewed by content owners for continued accuracy, and dated content must be updated or removed. If there is no one to review the content, the Web Governance Committee can remove or simplify the site.


  • All text should portray the UW System and its constituents, events, programs, and faculty, staff, and students in a positive manner. Content should be mindful to avoid innuendos, double-meanings, and other potential accidents that could be harmful to the image of the UW System.
  • Text font, size, and color will follow all UW System branding standards.
  • Text displayed on websites should be written specifically for the web as a medium. Text that has been written for print does not always translate well to the web. The following are some ways to optimize your text for web:
    • Keep it brief. Short sentences without extraneous words work best. If the topic warrants, use the pyramid structure by keeping summary information on primary pages, then linking to pages with in-depth information.
    • “Chunk” content into categories, and display the different content chunks on separate pages or clearly separate them on one page.
    • Make text scannable by breaking text out into bulleted lists, bolding important terms and using headings.
    • Make it as easy as possible for your users to find information on your site—keep content on an individual web page relevant to its page title. Avoid including additional information that is unrelated to a page’s main topic—create a new page and link to it.
    • Do not publish links to pages that have not yet been constructed or upload pages that are “under construction.” Every page should contain useful information, and pages should be fully formed before they are uploaded and linked.
    • Keep your web pages up to date. Remove time sensitive information promptly after it expires. Where applicable, use a date of last update mark so users will know that content on your page is fresh.
  • All text should be professional and consistent with the rest of the UW System’s web pages.
  • All headings, sub-headings, and text will be left justified.

PDFs and Documents

  • PDFs and documents should open in a new tab or window.
  • All PDFs and documents must be accessible.
  • The website will not serve as a document repository, but rather document archives will be housed by each department internally. Review the File Retention on the Web Policy above for form information.

Blogs & News Feeds

  • Blogs and news feeds need to be kept up to date.  Different sites may have different timelines, but news and/or blogs should have new content added regularly. If it has been more than 6 months since a post has been made, the blog will be reviewed by the Web Governance Committee.
  • A content management plan, including update timing and plan for generating content, is needed from the CMS user to start a blog.

Multimedia and Videos

  • Multimedia should be used as a content element, not as a design element. Examples of multimedia as content include:
    • Sound files for instructional purposes
    • Podcasts
    • Interactive training and instructional videos
  • All videos should portray a positive image of the UW System and its actions, programs, events, activities, and faculty, staff, and students.
  • Departments must have consent from the videographer to use video on the website.
  • Please review the Max File Size Upload Policy.

Photography and Images

  • Departments/units are encouraged to use photography on their sites. Photography should be appropriate to the subject matter of your website.
  • Images should portray a positive image of the UW System and its actions, programs, events, activities, and faculty, staff, and students.
  • Photographs should include labels depicting the people, places, objects, or events represented in the image.
  • Departments must have consent to use images and photographs not owned by UW System Administration.

Social Media

Social media links must direct to official UW System-affiliated accounts.


  • Links are considered a type of content.
  • Links must relate to the purpose of the web page.
  • Carefully consider what 3rd party website UW System is endorsing or “vouching for” by linking to that product, service, or entity. Non-governmental private organizations or businesses, unless under contract with the UW System, should not be endorsed by the UW System without careful consideration.
  • All email addresses should be hyperlinked.
  • Editors and authors should use SiteImprove QA reports to monitor for broken links, and update all broken links within a week.  Without notice, the web team will remove all broken links that are published for more than 7 days.


  • A website’s design can enhance or hinder the user experience. In addition, the design assists in bringing continuity across the entirety of the UW System websites.
  • Color, logo usage, UW System seal, fonts, and branding standards should all comply with UW System branding standards.
  • All UW System pages are required to use the standard design/theme. See below for guidelines about Featured Theme implementation.


  • The foundation of a well-designed website is the ability to find desired information quickly.
  • While content is the most important part of the web, visitors will not be able to easily access content if the site has poor navigation.
  • Consistency is the most important factor in ease of navigation and effective communication.
  • To ensure a positive user experience, the following steps are recommended:
    • Use a menu that directs users to the main topics of your site. Repeat the menu consistently throughout your site.
    • Do not include every page on your site in the menu, unless your site has a small number of pages. Too many links can overwhelm users.

Analytics, Metrics, and Quality Assurance

SiteImprove analytics has been embedded in all site pages, so departments wanting to track page views will not embed codes (e.g. Google Analytics) on their own. Editors and authors will be given access to SiteImprove reports and dashboard, and are required to monitor quality assurance data on a weekly basis. Without notice, the web team will remove all broken links that are published for more than 7 days.

Featured Theme

The UW System website offers a dynamic alternative design theme, the “Featured Theme,” for use by certain specialized web pages. The Featured Theme gives editors more flexibility and opportunity for highlighting specific content, while offering visitors a more vibrant visual experience.

The guidelines below must also be followed during the development, design and implementation process of a new Featured Theme web page. These characteristics encourage engaging and specialized content that differentiates the web page from others without the new theme.

Departments interested in implementing a Featured Theme must also develop a content plan for their web page, including the use and direction of graphic elements, written copy, fill-in form needs, etc.

See the full Featured Website Deployment Policy docx for more information.

Updated: 03/06/2020