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NC Department of Health and Human Services
Office of Public Affairs

Web Standards for DHHS Public Websites

I. Purpose

 The intent is to provide minimum standards and a minimum level of consistency for all N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) websites that are publicly available. Policy is provided in “Public Websites in DHHS”). Editorial standards, including file format recommendations and more information on URLs, are provided in the DHHS Website Style Guide. For web application standards, see DHHS Web Standards for Web Applications (pending finalization).

II. Scope

This applies to all North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) World Wide Web public websites (that is, not password-protected application websites).

III. Guidelines

A. New Websites, New Redesigns

Before a new website is created for the department or any division/service/program in the department, or before a redesign is undertaken, a request must be made by the division director to the Office of Public Affairs, per departmental policy. In most cases, it will be more appropriate to integrate the new website material into the DHHS website rather than to create a new website. See the "branded website" exception in the policy: “Public Websites in DHHS.”

For any new website, content and a basic website plan should be reviewed by Public Affairs before investing extensive resources.

Requests for new URLs must be cleared with the Office of Public Affairs.

Any contracts for new websites must allow the State to elect to take over the maintenance of any website and, if desired, have the ability to relocate the site to a State-hosted location. Reliance on proprietary or non-standard software developed and/or hosted by a vendor is discouraged. If it is used, the contract must spell out that this software is owned by the State. At the end of the contract, the application must be turned over and maintained either internally or by another contract.

B. Web Governance

Every division and office shall have a single Web Content Manager who oversees the content of all division websites on behalf of the division director and who collaborates with the Office of Public Affairs. For larger divisions,  Content Coordinators at the section or program level may be required.

The Office of Public Affairs is the final signoff on all web content. All new content should be reviewed by the appropriate public information officer. For revisions, individual divisions and offices must negotiate with their public information officers on the level and type of revisions that require review.

Review procedures are spelled out in chapter 1 of the Website Style Guide.

C. Web Registry

The Office of Public Affairs maintains the official website registry for the department. A “website” is defined as any distinct portion of the web with a unique navigation structure and format, and usually a unique URL. All DHHS public websites must be registered. The webmaster and content manager for each website are recorded. For a copy of the Web Registry, go to .

D. Publishing Language

Current websites should adhere to a recognized industry standard publishing language and validate using the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) validator ( Cascading style sheets should validate to . Any new websites should follow the current W3C standard for markup and publishing language.

E. Browsers

DHHS websites must be compatible with any browser that comprises at least 2 percent of the traffic to the DHHS home website. As of July 2007, that means Internet Explorer versions 6 and 7, Firefox version 2 and above, and Netscape 7 and above.

F. Monitors

The best viewing of web materials for much of our audiences is on an 800 by 600 pixel screen. Websites should be designed to accommodate those users. A best practice is to use a liquid layout that stretches to the current user's window size (that is, avoid frozen layouts that are always the same size), especially to accommodate 1024x768 as well.

G. Accessibility

The Department strives to have DHHS web pages that are accessible to persons with disabilities. See the departmental policy, “Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities.” Some coding basics include ALT tags for all images, and using heading tags in order (that is, not skipping from a Header 1 to a Header 3).

The W3C website has a List of Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools available at, many of them free.

Reasonable attempts should be made to make Acrobat documents accessible when they are placed on the web. Adobe Acrobat Professional has extensive tools for ensuring for accessibility. Some documents pose unique challenges to accessibility; if so, use the following guidelines:

  • Any document that is vital to how a DHHS employee performs his or her job, or is made aware of departmental policies and concerns, must be accessible.
  • Any document that is essential to service delivery to North Carolinians who apply for or are recipients of our programs must also be accessible.

If a document meets one of the above criteria but cannot be made accessible, an accessible format for that information must also be offered.

H. Search

The DHHS search tool will be placed on every website in the department, with the words “Search DHHS.” If it is impractical to place the search on every web page of any given website, it should be placed on the home page and top navigation pages.

Sites designated as "branded" may exempt themselves from using the DHHS search tool. A free search utility is provided by the U.S. Government Services Administration.

I. META Tags

The use of the title tag and keywords in meta tags will enhance the search capabilities for all DHHS web pages, both within commercial search engines and within the DHHS search engine. Page description tags will enhance search results, since paragraphs written as page descriptions appear in the search results. Webmasters must work with the writers of web page content to create meaningful lists of keywords and page descriptions, especially for key pages in a website.

For division and office websites, the Title tag should follow this convention: “NC Acronym: Page Title.” For example:

  • NC DPH: Asthma Contacts
  • NC DSS: Work First Home Page

More detail and instruction on administrative division title tags can be found in chapter 1 of the Website Style Guide.

J. Department and Division Identification

All DHHS public websites will have clear departmental identification on all web pages. The DHHS logo and the words “Department of Health and Human Services” must appear together, and the logo must be a link to the DHHS home page at

Logos should be of good quality and not pixilated, distorted, or skewed. The Office of Public Affairs graphics staff can assist with logos.

All DHHS websites that exist within a division must also include the name of the applicable division and a link to that division’s home page.

K. Page Maintenance

The “Date modified” should be kept updated and available on all web pages. If the modified date is obtained with JavaScript, the code should degrade gracefully if Javascript is not enabled in the website visitor’s browser.

Links should be validated and corrected on all pages of a website on a monthly basis. Webmasters should supply a report to the division/office web content manager. Link checkers such as Xenu ( can assist.

L. Images on DHHS Websites

DHHS staff who create and/or maintain web sites must maintain files of purchase receipts, permissions and licensing of all photographs used on these web sites. Further guidance is provided in the style guide, chapter 2.

M. Video on DHHS Websites

Videos displayed on any DHHS website must be accessible to the disabled. That means:

  1. For those with mobility impairments: Links to videos must be able to be operated with a keyboard, not simply a mouse.
  2. For the deaf and hard of hearing: The video should be captioned. If captioning is not possible, an alternative is a link to a transcript. Captioning is highly preferred.
  3. For the blind and visually impaired: If the audio is not descriptive enough to understand the message of the video, a transcript with the missing information must be provided. For example: information is written on screen but is not read aloud; or a procedure is demonstrated but not fully described in the audio.

The Office of Public Affairs maintains the official DHHS YouTube Channel. No other YouTube channel is authorized for any division or office without written permission of Public Affairs. If you wish to submit a video to the DHHS YouTube Channel, see the video submission standards.

N. Blogs

No DHHS employee shall maintain a blog that promotes their official capacity in the office, division or department, or provides any advice or guidance on behalf of the department, unless it is first approved by the division director and the Director of Public Affairs.

O. Electronic Customer Surveys

All electronic surveys placed on the web must follow the DHHS policy “Electronic Surveys.”

A customer survey on a website must always be voluntary. Do not make your site visitors perform a survey in order to view any page in the site. The option to not participate must always be highly visible and easy to choose. Ready NC Connect NC