Web standards anyone?
A few years ago I attended and reported a Web Standards Group London meeting where Andy Budd gave an interesting presentation about web standards, including why he thought that the web standards ‘war’ [or promotion of web standards] had reached a ‘tipping point’ [the ‘war’ was won], and why modern web designers and developers should be focusing more on other areas like usability. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
It was a thought-provoking and entertaining presentation. However, I have to report that although websites these days might be better than a few years ago, with CSS and better standards-based mark-up used much more extensively, there is still a huge variability in website code…and much of it is very poor. HTML validation is often missing, tables are used for layout, style sheet practices are less than optimal, and web pages do not use semantic mark-up [heading tags anyone?]. Sometimes, I wonder if any progress has been made.
Small business websites in the UK
My perspective is as a web design freelancer who maintains [and designs] websites in the small business sector of the UK market. By ‘small’, I mean websites with less than ten pages [brochure-type websites] for companies and sole traders with less than five employees. Perhaps it is different for the folks at companies like Clearleft or Headscape who work on larger scale projects and who produce carefully crafted websites with great attention to detail. However, for the rest of us who maintain smaller business websites for a living, we seem to be stuck with a wide variability in HTML and website quality. In many cases, web standards are non-existent.
Now, I’m not saying that I am a particular expert here. I have produced my fair share of poorly coded websites in the past but I like to think that my own websites have moved away from some of the worse practices. These days, I endeavour to produce a reasonably well constructed website for every client’s budget.
Websites are a commodity
I think one of the reasons for poorly coded websites and lack of standards is that websites are seen as a commodity that everyone has. Therefore, business owners think they should be cheap to produce and budgets are sometimes very low. Often this means that the cheapest option is taken. This can mean that the website is quickly assembled with a WYSIWYG editor with scant attention to anything other than getting final approval. If it looks OK, that’s all that matters isn’t it?! The code underneath is not important to the business owner.
Well, it should be! It is generally accepted that better coded websites that are built to web standards give better search engine results and are more accessible to a wider audience [see What are the advantages of using web standards?]. Should be important to website owners, right? Perhaps not?! Certainly, a lot of the small business sector in the UK doesn’t seem to have cottoned on.