The Importance of Web Standards

Web Standards is generally defined by a set of principles that are meant to make websites more accessible, more usable, more findable, and easier to update.  There are many factors that contribute to web standards and there are a few different organizations or groups that attempt to define them.  For the purpose of this article I’m going to focus on a few of the most common and important implementations of web standards.

1.  CSS Instead of Tables – For years websites were built using tables.  This was because many early web developers came from print design backgrounds and tables provided a familiar way to layout a page.  As the web evolved and websites became larger and more complex a new way of building sites was needed.  That’s where Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) entered the picture.  CSS provides for more flexibility in a design.  It allows you to place any element at an exact point in a design rather than having to fit the element into a series of boxes, which is what tables required.

2.  Less Code = Less Load Time = Happier Users – One of the benefits of using CSS instead of tables is that CSS reduces the amount of code needed to generate a page.  Previously a complex site would require hundreds and hundreds of lines of code in order to create enough tables to fit the content into.  CSS requires very little code to accomplish the same goal because of the freedom the designer has in manipulating the elements in a design.  Moreover, the CSS is kept external from the main HTML page which means the browser has less code to load which results in the page itself loading faster.  Internet users have short attention spans and anything you can do to make your site display faster is a good thing.

3.  Accessibility and Usability – With more and more users viewing your website in ways other than the standard monitor on a desk it becomes necessary to build sites flexible enough to display properly in many different formats.  What if someone wants to view your site on a cell phone?  With CSS you can create a separate stylesheet that is only visible to those types of browsers.  What if a blind person comes to your website?  At least 1.5 million blind people use computers.  That is a sizable audience.  Web standards requires a site to be built using code that can be read by screen readers.  So if a blind person views a web standards site they won’t be bogged down with too much unreadable code and the imagery on the site will be replaced by a short description of that image.   This results in a more pleasant browsing experience for everyone.

4.  Findability – A website built using web standards is more easily indexed by the search engines.  This is an important part of Search Engine Optimization.  You can fill your site with keywords but if Google chokes on the code then it won’t matter.  Using less code, by using CSS and following web standards, will help you on your way to becoming number one in the search engines.

Conclusion –  If your website is more than a few years old or was created by a firm unfamiliar with web standards then it is likely holding you back.  As we’ve said before in this space, there are many different factors that contribute to a successful website and following web standards is an important one.

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