Feb 21 2008

Web Standards in Layman's Terms

You: “My sites comply with current web standards.”
Potential Client: “Eh, ok? Don’t all web-sites? ’sides, what’s it matter?”

The above conversation has availed most freelancers. You know why they should pick you over that cheap-o that offered them work at 5 bucks an hour. Of course, web standards aren’t the only thing that makes a good web-site. But it is an important selling point. So, really, why are web standards important to Potential Client?

Bandwidth / Loading Speeds

Good web standards involves keeping the content and design files seperate. The content is kept in the HTML file, and the design is taken care of by the CSS file. When someone visits your web-site, they have to download files from your site to their computer to view them. By splitting the design and content, they only ever have to download the design (CSS) file once. Once they click a link to another page on your site, they download the new content (HTML) file, but can refer to the already downloaded design file.

Without proper standards, when a visitor views your home page, they download a bigger HTML file that contains all the design also. When they click over to another page, they now have to download the new HTML file, which contains all the same design information. That means individual pages download slower, and since they are bigger in size, it means more bandwidth used per page view. Not good.


Most people who view web-sites don’t have too many disabilities. But without standards, you’ve basically blocked your site to all people who might have them. There are programs that will read through an HTML document and say outloud the content, so that blind users may still “view” the internet. Now, if that program has to wade through design information, it can greatly hamper that person’s experience. Other software translates the content into Braille through similar techniques.

Keeping your site to standards also allows those that view your site from their mobile phone’s browser to see the content of your site. The graphics and design aren’t essential to reading the content, and so if a mobile phone doesn’t include the design information, the viewer will still be able to read the basic content.

Browser Compatibility

There’s lots of different internet browsers available today. The popular ones are Firefox, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Safari, and Opera, to name a few. These browsers all have their own programming to interpret web-sites how they see fit. The developers of these browsers have (mostly) agreed to display things that are standards-compliant the same across the board. If you venture out of the standards, you can expect to see your site vastly different in the assortment of browsers.

Keeping within the set standards helps to make sure all visitors have the same experience. (Though some browsers are rogue and don’t want to behave *cough IE*)


Keeping the design seperate from the content help decrease time to make changes and insures changes will happen site-wide. For instance, say you want to change the font size of your headings. Without CSS, you would need to open each and every HTML document you had, and change the size in every place you had a heading. Imagine the monotonous work involved! And a danger with doing it this way, you could forget a heading or 2 or 5. With CSS, you change it one place, and it makes the changes in every place.

Search Engine Optimization

Designing a site to be standards-compliant does not mean your site will have great rankings. It does mean it will have better rankings than without standards. The crawlers that are used by Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Dogpile and the like read your web-site’s HTML for relevant content. So without standards, you’ve piled a whole bunch of tables, images, and spacer gifs in front of the content, and crawlers don’t want to work that hard. With standards, all the crawler reads is what it cares about: content.


Why should Potential Client care that we code according to current standards? So they’re site loads faster, is accessible to anyone, is easier to maintain, and has a better chance in search engines. Is that a good thing to have? Obviously, that’s up to him to decide.