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Digital Standards for NCI Websites and Social Media

The Digital Standards for NCI Websites and Social Media provide guidance to content managers and developers concerning the visual and content standards, 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

The American people expect to interact with government through digital channels such as websites, email, and mobile applications. The Digital Government Strategy was developed to meet the public’s need for high-quality, effective digital services. Other guidance includes:

Some additional helpful resources include:

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 four links in their footers:

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 (NCI Staff Only). 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."

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, X, 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 (NIH Staff Only) 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

Responsive Design is a responsive site. This means that all content on's desktop website can flow to any device (smartphone, tablet, printer) and the content's display will adjust to fit the size of the screen or output. This was achieved by using media queries in CSS to set rules based on screen width or device type, also known as "breakpoints." To speed development, we used the Zurb Foundation framework which provided predefined classes for controlling the layout of columns in a responsive environment. To get media queries to work in IE8 we use a JavaScript solution called respond.js.

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.

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