What do web standards really mean?

The buzz has been around for years now, but increasingly more common is the proclamation that web standards is essential. It’s not just a good practice, it’s an essential requirement when designing and building great websites. Designers and developers definitely like to note that they design and code with web standards. However, do clients really understand what that means? More importantly, do they know what it means for their bottom line – that ultimately they are going to save money and get a better website in the end?

Given that it is such a buzz word, it’s important to define what web standards really means. In conversations with clients I never go into detail about technical aspects or pure theory of why we should do the right thing for the industry because I don’t think clients really care about that. Web standards are the rules, regulations and guidelines for working on the web. Professionals should follow the standards like in any other industry and your clients probably assume that anyway. But are their assumptions correct?

The web industry is young and there’s a lot of evolution and growing taking place. Standards are still being made and they evolve through time as technology progresses. The fact is that many websites are not built according to current standards because they were built years ago and never updated. The other fact is that laymen often can’t tell the difference from their point of view, so it doesn’t seem to matter that there’s garbled code underneath the surface. In fact, many designers and developers don’t bother either, because they are just trying to get the job done now, not thinking about the future or repercussions of their shortcuts. When it comes to the online environment there seems to be a lot of room for error because the general public doesn’t know any better.

I like to explain to my clients why they should care about web standards by noting how it affects their business. That’s what they care about in the end. Design and development accordingly to web standards means that your website is coded cleanly resulting in faster access for your viewers and less bandwidth costs from your pocket. So often we see a seemingly simple website take forever to load because of the garbled code underneath. Viewers’ attention spans are short – don’t make it harder for them to access your website.

Clean code also means faster development time and troubleshooting in general. Your website will be easy and quick to update as well. When code is clean and design is separated from content, making edits or adding content will not suddenly break the site. There will definitely be less room for error and when a redesign is needed, it’s truly a redesign effort and not a rebuild every page from scratch effort. That means you save money when it comes to updating, editing, future additions and improvements to your website and business.

Your website will also be accessible to more viewers because inherently it will be built in a way that allows graceful degradation in older browsers, accessibility to text-readers, mobile phones and who knows what other devices that may access your content. Gone are the old-fashioned methods of building multiple versions of the same site or restricting access because a viewer doesn’t have the most updated browser. You want your content to be available to as many viewers as possible, in the best way or most sensible way possible as well.

It is important to note that your website can be as beautiful and intricate as you want it to be. There’s certainly the need for people to realize that the online space is not a static print document, so designs and layouts don’t necessarily appear exactly the same on different devices. But that isn’t the goal of your website is it? You want viewers to access your content, information and business offering in a usable manner, no matter what device they might be using. The point is that web standards doesn’t mean a boring site with boxes and text no matter what restrictions there might be.

So in the end, your website can be aesthetically pleasing as well as usable and accessible. The bottom line is that you save money in the short term and long term with a better product overall in the end. Why wouldn’t you want a website with design and development inline with the current web standards?