Digital Standards for NCI Websites and Social Media

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The Digital Standards for NCI Websites and Social Media provide content managers and developers guidance on  visual and content standards, as well as policies and procedures, in effect for National Cancer Institute (NCI) digital media – including traditional and mobile websites, as well as social and new media channels. Policies include federal accessibility requirements and best practices in web design as well as NCI’s own visual and content standards.

These policies apply to all digital communication channels from NCI Divisions, Offices and Centers. If you have questions about these guidelines, send an email to

Federal Best Practices

Follow all federal best practices for digital communications. Some helpful resources include: 

Clearance Policy

Any time that a new website or a major revision to an existing website (e.g., new design or different navigation) is undertaken, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (OASPA) must review the site and approve it before it goes live. Minor content revisions (e.g., a couple of pages, following the existing navigation and look-and-feel) do not need review. Clearance by OASPA is necessary for some web-only products, including:

  • Reports
  • Brochures
  • Web-based training materials
  • Newsletters
  • New fact sheets

NCI staff can find more information about clearance on myNCI or contact:

NCI Clearance Office
9609 Medical Center Drive, Rm 2E-548
Bethesda, Maryland 20892-9760
(FedEx, UPS and courier services, use Rockville, MD 20850)
Fax: 240-276-7679
Main line: 240-276-6600
Mail Stop Code 9760

Domain Name Standards and Registration Policy

NCI’s Center for Bioinformatics and Information Technology (CBIIT) and Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL) are developing standards for new NCI domain names. Requests for new NCI domain names must be reviewed by OCPL and CBIIT. NCI Divisions, Offices and Centers and their staff should notify their OCPL Communications Lead to request a new domain name.

NCI’s domain name standards will comply with the HHS Internet Domain Names Policy, which regulates the usage, approval, acquisition, and registration of HHS Internet domain names.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget requires federal agencies to post or link to certain information on their principal website and on major entry points to their sites. To satisfy this requirement, NCI websites must include the following three links in their footers:

  • Disclaimer Policy (linking to
  • Accessibility (linking to
  • FOIA (linking to

The footer must also include cross-agency links listed in the order below. NCI's footer standard is to spell out agency names instead of using logos.

Accessibility Policy (Section 508 Compliance)

All NCI websites must be accessible to users, as described in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. Section 508 requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technologies, including websites, conform to certain accessibility standards.

Everyone working on or providing content for NCI websites should be familiar with these resources:

All NCI websites must include a link named "Accessibility" from any web page that may contain known accessibility barriers or that links to information inside your site that may present accessibility problems for users with disabilities. The link must go to the NCI Accessibility Policy ( The "Accessibility" link is not an alternative to making your site accessible. It is to be used in addition to your best efforts to make it accessible.

NCI staff can access more information about Accessibility on the NCI Intranet. For information about NCI's continuing efforts to make its web-based products accessible to all users or to report an accessibility problem on any NCI site, please e-mail us at

Plain Language Standards

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to write "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." President Obama also emphasized the importance of establishing "a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration" in his January 21, 2009, Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.

NCI is committed to writing new documents in plain language using the Federal Plain Language Guidelines. For more guidance, go to

Visual Standards and Branding

All websites and social media created by NCI Divisions, Offices and Centers must use the NCI branding that follows the NIH standard. All graphical elements created by NCI Divisions, Offices and Centers that will be posted on must follow our visual design standards.

For additional information about NCI's identity standards or to obtain a complete set of visual design standards for this website, please send an email to:

Content Standards

Uniformity in content style across NCI websites helps visitors to better understand and interact with information on the site. These guidelines are intended to be a quick reference for NCI web content owners to create new content or edit existing content. The term "content" encompasses both within-page content (the words readers see on your page) and meta content (the metadata that help locate and describe your pages within the content management system and that help search engines find and display your pages). NCI follows the Chicago Manual of Style and the AMA Manual of Style for biomedical terms.

For more information about NCI's content standards, please send an email to:

Social Media Standards

NCI's Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL), in cooperation with the Center for Bioinformatics and Information Technology (CBIIT), has developed a set of NCI Communications Guidelines that include minimum requirements and key recommendations for all NCI social/new media activities—specifically blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and video/YouTube.

The guidelines are in accord with any that may be in effect for NIH and HHS, and should guide the work of anyone managing an NCI social or new media channel. The NIH Social and New Media Policy forms the basis for NCI’s social and new media guidelines and includes appendices that provide guidance for use of social media for recruitment of subjects to clinical trials as well as a social and new media checklist.

NCI Communications Guidelines for Social Media (NCI Staff Only)

Mobile Website and Application Standards

Developing a responsive site is our standard but if a stand-alone mobile website is needed or if you are building a mobile application, please email for information on our standards.

HTML Standards

Developers should separate document structure (HTML), styling (CSS), and functionality (JavaScript). By modularizing these three main components of front-end code, websites are more easily maintained and interaction behaviors are enforced across the site.

We recommend using HTML5, which allows the use of more semantic page structuring through the introduction of new elements; article, header, footer, nav, aside, figure, and section. These elements give more meaning to the content contained inside them, particularly for people using assistive technologies. To get these new elements to work in IE8, we used a JavaScript solution called Modernizr.


In addition to Section 508 standards, follows WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 AA standards and WCAG 2.0 AAA standards for color contrast. Additionally,  implemented Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA). ARIA is a set of accessibility attributes which can be added to HTML markup to provide more cues for people using assistive technology on websites with more advanced user interface controls. For instance, as a volume bar is moved on a video or audio file,  ARIA markup allows assistive technology to read the volume level.