Welcome to our 20-point, friendly, and technical guide, specifically tailored for NIHR research project managers. This guide serves as your compass for navigating the intricacies of developing outreach websites for NIHR-funded projects. Whether you’re new to managing digital project delivery or not, our checklist will ensure that your project’s digital presence is both impactful and compliant. The points discussed below encompass considerations and industry advice gleaned from our experience in delivering multiple NIHR websites over the years.

1. Informed Website Architecture: Begin by analysing your current website’s analytics, if available. This data is crucial in making informed decisions about your new website’s structure and user experience. We always recommend using a free site map platform like gloomaps.com. It is free to use and easy to share with colleagues.

2. Mobile-First Design: Embrace a mobile-first approach, acknowledging the growing prevalence of mobile users. This ensures your website is accessible and engaging across all devices. When briefing in your project, ensure the agency designs and prototypes the website sharing how everything looks on mobile.

NIHR Mobile First Design

3. Brand Consistency: Review the NIHR brand guidelines meticulously. The use of consistent colors and fonts is vital in maintaining brand identity and recognition. Resist the urge to create distinct sub-brands for your project. NIHR Guidelines can be found here.

4. Domain Selection: If you are starting a new NIHR Project, it is worth speaking to NIHR technical support and discussing what available domain is available. Ensure that is user-friendly and memorable for the public.

5. Adhere to NIHR Design Standards: When designing your site’s content user interface (UI), align with the established NIHR design system. This promotes familiarity and usability for your audience. You can pass on these resources to your digital agency. https://design-system.nihr.ac.uk/component

6. Content-First Approach: Plan your website content meticulously. The website’s content should dictate the structure and page templates.

7. User Profiling and Needs Assessment: A crucial step at the planning stage is to meticulously identify and profile your diverse user groups. Understanding their specific needs is fundamental to ensuring that these are intricately woven into your website’s architecture and content strategy. It is essential for your digital agency to integrate this process from the project’s inception. This ensures that all stakeholders have a clear understanding and are aligned with the user-centric approach of the project.

8. Security from the Start: Prioritise security in your planning. Choose plugins and tools that minimise risks and protect your users’ data.

9. Custom Development Over Themes: For WordPress development, we recommend custom solutions over pre-built themes. While themes are cost-effective, they often lack in code quality and customisation options.

10. Hosting Control: It is paramount for your project or university to retain ownership and management of the hosting services. This approach is widely regarded as best practice. While your external digital agency may maintain the server, granting them access under your ownership ensures enhanced control and heightened security. This strategy not only safeguards your digital assets but also fosters a more secure and reliable hosting environment.

11. Prototyping: When in the design phase, make sure your agency utilises tools like Figma or Adobe XD for prototyping. This allows you to test the site design with user groups and stakeholders, especially on mobile devices, before full-scale development.

12. Accessibility Compliance: Choose a development framework (code base) that supports accessibility. Focus on functionality over flashy effects and use tools like GTMetrix to ensure compliance with accessibility standards.

13. Image Optimisation: Get accustomed to optimizing images for your site. Use free sites like TinyPNG to reduce file sizes and always include descriptive alt tags when uploading to your media area.

14. Image Selection: When uploading images to your website, avoid using images with embedded text, as these can be difficult to read on mobile devices. Allocate sufficient time for sourcing high-quality images, preferring custom photography over stock photos.

15. Social Media Integration: Consider your social media strategy. If frequent posting isn’t viable, opt for simple social media links rather than live feeds.

16. Engaging Content: Develop relatable news stories and case studies. Implement ‘related content’ features on your pages and subject matter tagging to keep users engaged and exploring your site.

17. Resourceful Content: Aim to provide valuable resources for your users, adding significant value to their visit.

18. Data Collection and Privacy: For public engagement requiring data collection, use platforms like Survey Monkey or EventBrite. They offer secure data policies and controlled access. Depending on how your project needs to engage with industry or the public, it is worth having discussions around GDPR and data collection.

19. Accessibility Standards: Meet the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard by December 2023. Consider adding an accessibility plugin to aid compliance. If using a content management system like WordPress, there are a few free plugins available.

20. SEO Enhancement: Conduct a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) audit and optimise your website. Effective SEO practices are crucial for increasing visibility and reaching a wider audience. SEO can carry a monthly fee when working with an external agency, so it is worth checking out what best practices you handle in-house.

By following these guidelines, you will not only ensure compliance with NIHR standards but also create a website that resonates with your audience, embodies your project’s ethos, and stands out in the digital landscape.

Do you have an NIHR website project you would like to discuss? we would love to chat.