Standards! What standards?
Summary: Websites built to Web standards and tested across browsers usually have better search engine rankings, a larger audience, and compliance with disability rights legislation. They are forward compatible, and cost less to own. The drawback is that a higher skill level is needed to make them.
What are the “standards” in the title?
These are Web standards, that is recommendations made by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The purpose is to define a common way of exchanging information between different pieces of software, making the Web a more flexible place and so more useful to us.
Why should I be interested in standards for Web design?
Because they can bring:
- better search engine rankings
- a larger audience
- forward compatibility with new browsers
- cost savings
Surely standards are already used?
Yes and no. The previous standard for websites, HTML 4.01, is still used but has been superseded by XHTML and CSS because it left too many areas unclear and limited the flexibility of websites.
Further, many HTML documents are poorly written, introducing more discrepancies as well as errors. In unclear situations the browser software has to guess what is intended, so many websites can look untidy (at best) if not viewed in the dominant browser. Unfortunately this “helpful” browser behaviour hides the problems from the authors and their clients.
You can see how well this page complies with Web standards by using the buttons at the right.
Are Web standards being adopted across the Web?
Current Web standards, XHTML and CSS, are increasingly being implemented on the big-name websites. The conversion of some high profile websites has produced spectacular results.
Multimap is a recent example. After conversion, pages were halved in size, and so appeared onscreen significantly faster and this encouraged visitors to use the website more. “The move to Web standards paid for itself within a month”, Richard Rutter, Multimap. EDS is another success story.
You mentioned some impressive benefits. Tell me more.
Adhering to Web standards means, in comparison to older style websites:
- Less cost: the same Web page can be used across devices e.g. the Internet, printers, mobile phones, PDAs, projectors, TVs, etc. So dedicated pages for printing are not needed, for instance. With only one version to maintain, maintenance costs are reduced. Makeovers and redevelopments are easier to carry out, and so cost less. The cost savings increase rapidly with increasing website size and volume of traffic.
- Better position in the search engine results: there is less code in the Web page, which makes it much easier for even less capable search engines to extract all the relevant information from the website.
- More sales - from a wider audience, who view more pages. Websites made to Web standards appear in Web browsers faster (which encourages browsing), often look identical across different browsers, are adaptable for use in the increasing number of alternative browsing devices, and exclude less people with disabilities.
- Forward compatibility: working to (current) Web standards means websites will be displayed predictably and precisely by current and future, increasingly compliant, Web browsers. Because of the benefits, there is considerable pressure to continue this trend.
- Easier compliance with legislation: The situation in the UK relating to the precise practical effects of the Disability Discrimination Act on websites is not yet clear, though compliance with the principle is increasingly accepted. The RNIB claim to have successfully forced some websites to comply. Websites built to Web standards can meet the likely requirements more easily. For more, read the briefing on accessibility.
What are the drawbacks?
Better workmanship is needed. Making websites to Web standards requires:
- stricter coding skills
- a good knowledge of the major browsers’ frailties, and the workarounds
- testing on Windows and Mac machines to check one’s work
This is what we do at romjon.com.
If anything is unclear, we will be happy to discuss the pros and cons of Web standards - the telephone number is below, or contact us by e-mail.
© 2004-17 Romily Jones