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Web Standards: A Business Perspective

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Making web sites with web standards is all about following good practices and applying code according to certain independent rules. Their application is technical, but the end results are clear and impressive from a business perspective, ultimately increasing positive user responses and decreasing costs, with a substantial potential for significant return on investment.

This is a non-technical article that highlights how your business can benefit from using web standards.

Decreasing build time, decreasing development costs

Sites built with web standards take less time to develop. Whereas, with non-standards based methodologies, you may need to build different versions of your web site for different platforms or different browsers, with web standards, which do not rely on any proprietary technology by their very definition, one size fits all.

There is no need to make an Internet Explorer-only version, excluding 8% of the market or to undertake the massive and costly task of developing multiple-versions of a web site to accommodate multiple-browsers. In these cases, using web standards will increases the potential market share while at the same time decreasing development time and costs.

There isn't even any need to create "printer friendly" versions of a page because web standards allow you to present the same page completely differently when it is printed (just try to print out this page and you'll see what I mean).

Due to the fact that building pages with web standards means that they can be validated against a set of rules, it is also much easier to locate and fix errors, in a similar way that code in a strict programming language simply won't work unless it is put together correctly. Bugs can be found quickly and dealt with effectively, reducing the time needed for testing.

As well as the initial development of a web site, maintenance, too, should generally be much less painful. Presentation-free content can be slotted into place without having to worry about consistency - all presentational aspects are controlled by a separate global source. And because the presentational aspects are separate, changes to design can be achieved quickly and easily from that single source. It is even possible to completely redesign your site by changing just one file - no need to rebuild pages or overhaul content management system templates.

Taking into account how much it costs to pay an employee or an agency to build your web site, this reduction in necessary work means savings of thousands, possibly even tens of thousands of pounds depending on the complexity of your site.

Decreasing file sizes, decreasing bandwidth, decreasing hosting costs

Perhaps the most immediately noticeable and spectacular benefit of using web standards is the extent to which they tend to slash file sizes compared to other non-standard methods.

Compared to the old-school (yet all-too common) methodology of table-based layouts and messy, bulky HTML, a streamlined web standards approach will tend to dramatically reduce page-weight, typically by at least 50%. This is achieved through factors such as the following:

Add all of these factors together and you end up with much smaller file sizes. Smaller file sizes mean lower bandwidth, substantially decreasing hosting costs for popular web sites.

As an example, if you are paying $1000 a month for bandwidth, the amount of data that needs to be downloaded by users can be decreased by such an extent by switching to web standards that you could see savings of anything between $4,000 and $8,000 a year.

Increasing usability, increasing positive responses, increasing custom

Another benefit of smaller file sizes is an increase in speed - smaller web pages will download faster.

An important usability edict is that the less time something takes, the more likely it is that a user will respond to it.

The less time it takes for someone visiting your web site to be presented with the information or product they want after hitting a link or typing in a web address, the more favorably they will respond, creating a better impression and ultimately driving more interest in your business and therefore more custom.

Increasing accessibility, increasing potential market and decreasing the chance of legal action

Talking of usability, how usable is your web site to people with disabilities? One in five people in the UK is disabled. Although not all of those 10 million people will be directly relevant when it comes to web accessibility issues, it is clearly a large figure and that's just taking into account the population of one country!

Web standards help you tackle accessibility by laying a logical foundation to a web page and then adding special structures so that they are easier to use and to understand by a wider, disabled audience.

Making sure that your web site makes sense to a blind person or can be navigated through by a person with motor disabilities, for example, are considerations that not only open up your business to a large demographic that is overlooked by most other businesses online presence, but moral considerations that are backed up by legal obligations.

Increasing search engine placement, increasing visibility

Search engines love web standards. A well-made web page, with titles and headings correctly structured and content strategically placed will be seen by a search engine as a content-rich document that appears most relevant to a search query. Needless to say, the more likely it is that your web site comes higher in search results, the more likely it is that more people will visit your site.

Increasing consistency, increasing brand awareness

It isn't unusual for a business to have a web site that runs into hundreds or thousands of pages or even to have a number of different sites, such as an e-commerce site, a corporate site and various micro-sites. Just like printed materials, the more online material a business produces, the more difficult it becomes to keep track of it all and maintain a strict adherence to branding and style guides.

Using web standards, you can control site-wide, even multi-site-wide presentational aspects from a single source, which ensures consistency. From the version of your logo to the line-height inside a paragraph, there is no need to change individual pages, but rather just one small part of one small, simple file.

The Bottom Line

An investment made in web standards will ultimately reduce development time and costs, and at the same time increase revenue through a widened market and positive user responses.

What are web standards?

Web standards are exactly what you would think they are - they are, in a sense, the rules, or standards of the internet. They are the driving force of the web - its own set of protocols.

A web browser, the program you (and the rest of the world) use to view a web site, is used to interpret these standards and accordingly display the results. Different browsers interpret coding differently, but all generally follow the same basic layout - web standards. The purpose of these standards is to provide uniformity in developing a web site, so that all browsers will know what you're trying to convey in your web page.

Were there not standards, communicating data via a web site would be a terrible predicament. Different browsers, using different protocols, would display your web site, well, differently. While your browser might display your web site correctly, and in the way you expect, your neighbor might view your site and find something entirely different, or something that doesn't work at all.

Web standards prevent the internet from becoming a jumbled mess. They provide conformance, unity, and consistency within the world of web development.

I guess the big question is, "What's the big deal? Everyone seems to be viewing my web site without complaints; it seems to be working fine. I must be using standards correctly." Well, this holds some truths, at least for the present.

A few years back, most browsers offered very shabby support for web standards. Were a bunch of people to do something that didn't comply with the standards, the browser creators would notice the trend and write it into the program to be accepted. Standards still existed, but were mostly ignored. In essence, the browsers were programmed to forgive our mistakes. With new technologies, such as PDA's, web phones, and even newer browsers, standards are becoming more strict, and more required. Eventually, there will even come a day when sites not compliant to web standards simply aren't tolerated. And all those developers from the old days are still using their "broken" standards.

Why Us them

There are several important reasons for adhering to standards.

First of all, if not reason enough, standards are the right way to develop a web site. From close to the beginning (about ten years ago), the people who created the internet have suggested using standards when creating a web site. From the very start, there's been an instruction manual with details on how to do it step by step. The purpose for creating standards was so that they could be used to create the most efficient web site possible, while maintaining uniformity.

Using web standards promotes accessibility. Developing a site with standards gives your page defined structure. This structure can be used to make your site easy to find in search engines. This structure is beneficial for blind people who use a screen reader to read your web site's text. When you develop with standards, more users are able to view your site.

Using web standards promotes durability. A site developed with standards will last longer. A site without standards may work today, but as standards progress, the incompliant site will be left behind and will render incorrectly in newer browsers. When you develop with standards, you develop for the present as well as the future.

Using web standards promotes efficiency. When you develop a site using web standards, it cuts down on code, which in turn cuts down on bandwidth, which in turn can dramatically decrease the amount of money you're paying to keep your web site running. When you develop with standards, you increase the size of your wallet.

Using web standards promotes reusability and simplicity. The beauty of web standards is that they make your code much more simple. A site developed with standards will work right the first time, and, should you need to make changes, you mustn't scroll through those eight pages of cryptic code that you developed three months ago and no longer comprehend. When you develop with standards, your site coding becomes simpler, and is therefore easier to manage.

Using standards, in a nutshell, is the way to get the absolute most of out your web site.

Improved Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Potential

Many SEO experts agree that having important content near the top of web pages results in higher search engine ranking. This is a concept called "relevancy". The CSS layout technique used in OSC-CSS results in the important "middle column" content coming before the content of either sidebar. Furthermore, the ratio of actual content to presentational markup is achieved, further increasing the potential for better rankings.

Increased Accessibility

While having accessible sites today may be viewed by some as a badge of honor and super-geekdom, there is no question it will increasingly play an important role in the future. In fact, the US Government already requires that certain vendor web sites adhere to accessibility guidelines for disabled persons.

This is called Section 508 compliance, and it's literally now the law. There's a good chance that if your state or country already has laws mandating buildings have handicap accessible features, similar laws will apply eventually to web sites. CSS-based layouts make it infinitely easier to accomplish this requirement with minimal or no code bloat. One of OSC-CSS's goals is to be accessible to this degree upon its release.

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