Why Use Web Standards?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004 at 1:17 am | Comments off

I've often had people ask the question why should I program my site according to web standards? There are many reasons to do so, and I'll try to hit a few of the major ones:

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization is one very important reason to use web standards. Perhaps more important than simply validating your pages, however, would be correct, semantic use of (X)HTML. By using CSS to style your document, you are able to separate structure from presentation. When you do this, your pages not only have visual meaning but also have meaning to non-visual users and programs (such as search engines). Just remember this while marking up your pages: most tags have meaning - be sure what you are using them for conforms to this. It's very beneficial to view your site in a text-only browser such as the lynx viewer, as this will be similar to what a search engine might see. Also, if you are running Mozilla Firefox, you can install the web developer toolbar, which will allow you to disable the styles, viewing your un-styled content, among many other things. It's a must-have, if you ask me.

Page Weight

By using CSS for presentation, you are able to significantly reduce the page weight of your document. This aspect alone could translate into a significant amount of savings on bandwidth for a larger site. Even smaller sites will reap the benefits, as pages will load much faster for users, as once the CSS file has been cached, they will simply need to load your images and (X)HTML, which will be less weighty, once removed of the presentational markup.

Ease of Maintenance

It's an incredible amount easier to maintain a well structured site, as apposed to one that was developed using presentational HTML hacks. Think about it this way, if you were to take over a site from another web developer, wouldn't you much prefer nicely structured code, where the code is self documenting? A <h2>, must be a heading; a <ul>, must be a list. On the flip side you (usually) get to deal with nested tables, non-meaningful, excessive markup, etc.


While having valid code doesn't mean you have an accessible site, it is a good start. Again, by using CSS, you are able to structure your (X)HTML meaningfully, which will help make your site much more accessible. As Tim Berners-Lee has said, [t]he power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.


When clean, well-structured markup is used, amazing things can happen. As the CSS Zen Garden demonstrates (previous link), it is possible to completely change the look and feel of the site, without even touching the markup driving it. Need a printable version of the page? No problem.


Not only do web standards help you as the developer, they also help your clients, and their audience. By conforming to today's standards and accessibility guidelines, you can ensure that the content is available to all users, regardless of the device they use to access it. Combine this with bandwidth savings, ease of maintenance, and extensibility – you can't lose!


Adam Sherry
March 17th, 2004
2:18 AM | #

Very well written article. I've just begun the task of re-writing my existing site using web standards!! As you can see from my website, I don't exactly follow them right now!!

March 17th, 2004
7:26 AM | #

i like your article. i'll be making reference to parts of it when i visit my new client next week. good work.

March 17th, 2004
3:46 PM | #

Indeed, this is a very consice list. I know I've seen it all before, but I find it very useful to see these ideas worded by other people. Maybe someday I'll actually remember them all.

I do have one stuck point. While I, mostly, understand semantic markup I have trouble explaining it to colleagues. I can explain things like use <hX> for headings, <ul> for list and the like. But then I'll get bugged about "do we use <h2> or <h3>?" So how do you determine the hierarchy and expain some of these finer points?

Robert Wellock
March 17th, 2004
4:51 PM | #

"Extensibility" surely you jest, I am one of the few people who has actually used true XHTML eXtensibility none-server-side I assume you meant flexibility or dynamic content generation.

Heading hierarchy is generally based upon ISO-HTML typically with the occurrence of only one <h1> per page as a title; the headings being <h2> and subheadings being <h3> the other levels are used less often.

Nick Waters
March 19th, 2004
7:20 PM | #

Personally, I think the lynx viewer sucks. I have the browser sitting here and it does not display quite like the viewer. Its because the viewer still shows images. But I guess the viewer is good for showing people that their markup is terribile when It displays poorly.

March 26th, 2004
7:22 AM | #

Thanks a lot, Ryan. This is very helpful.

All the other explanations of why to use Web Standards are fairly long. They tend to bore people I know.

Greg Burghardt
May 12th, 2004
8:17 PM | #

We should also mention that tableless layouts display faster too because each block of content is not tied to the inefficient table algorithm.

Browsers display entire rows of a table at one time - even if the browser has downloaded the markup and images for two of three cells, the browser will not display all the cells until all the markup and images are downloaded.

This makes sense for tables. Each cell is part of a complete record (row). But the columns on a Web page are not related in any way.

Since tableless designs use DIVs to position elements, the browser can display each DIV as it is being downloaded. A DIV has no relation to it's surrounding elements if it is not bound to the table algorithm, and therefore elements will be displayed as they are downloaded, and not after everything has been downloaded within the DIVs containing block.

Edward Clarke
February 6th, 2006
3:24 PM | #

Unfortunately, web standards are difficult for the majority of web designers. Developers focus on the server and is a seperate layer. The browser manufacturers don't all agree on what standards are and CSS forums have to be the biggest growing online community base there is due to it's inconsistency.

The practicalities and economics of using standards based design make it a hard transformation even if the benefits are so blindingy obvious.

Good summary.

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