There have always been web development “standards,” a way developers should construct websites. These standards have changed over time, and it’s important for developers to stay on top of the changing landscape. Organizations like the W3C are responsible for making sure that the proper standards are adopted, and then making recommendations to browser makers like Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Opera for how their rendering engines should interpret the code in the webpages you visit.
In the early days of the web, designers and developers built each page in one file. If they wanted one paragraph to have red text and the next to have blue text, that was declared in that file. If they wanted the page to have two columns, they built a table with two columns. This worked for a long time, but people started to realize there were problems in going that route.
Table-based designs have a lot more code in them than other alternatives, and all this code makes the page take longer to load completely. Also, if the client decided that they wanted all that red text to be changed to green text, the developer had to go through each and every pages and change those paragraphs one-by-one. Imagine the billable hours that would create with a site that contained hundreds of pages! A third problem relates to the many other devices that can read a webpage. If you try to view a three-column page on a mobile phone, the page will be very small or require a lot of horizontal scrolling.
The solution to these problems was Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Style sheets are a separate file where all the details of how a page looks is stored separately from the actual page content, like text and images. Developers can create different style sheets for different devices, allowing every user to see the page in the best way possible for their device. Global styles can also set up for pieces of webpages, e.g. every primary page header can be 18pt, bold, and red. If the client wants to change that to 16pt, italicized, and green, it only requires one quick change to the stylesheet, rather than parsing through all the pages of the site. Style sheets also allow for many different types of layouts without using tables. The same layouts that were previously built with tables can be created using CSS at only a fraction of the filesize.
So why should you be sure your site is built using web standards?
- We’ve already covered that they are easier to edit. Those easier edits translate to dollars in your pocket, because your developers will have fewer billable hours wrapped up in any edits that you ask for.
- Your pages will be faster loading and use less bandwidth. No one likes to wait for a page to load. Faster pages mean less people leaving your site because of load times.
- Your pages will be more accessible. Certain screen readers for the blind and other special needs browsers have a much easier time translating valid code. Pages that use nested tables and improper markup are more difficult for these browsers to read. Also of high importance, well coded pages allow much easier readability on mobile devices. The number of mobile internet users is growing very rapidly. You don’t want to miss out on that traffic or give those users a subpar experience.
- Websites built following current standards will work forever. Future standards are built on top of current standards, so any site that follows the current standards will always work, no matter what changes come in the future. Search Engine Optimization comes along with following standards. Google and Yahoo send spiders to read through your website. That’s how they determine where to put you in their search results. They have an easier time understanding your content if it’s properly marked up, which can lead to better search placement for your keywords.
So, there’s a few reasons why standards are a big deal, and why we are sure to follow them on any website we build. If you’re in the market for a new website or a redesigned website, make sure whoever you have building it is following these standards.