What It Is
Do you remember the days when web pages had banners announcing that they were “best viewed with browser X”? Veteran web developers and designers certainly do, because they had to consider numerous exceptions for certain browsers and their versions. Today, building websites isn’t as challenging and that’s because developers are moving toward standards.
Why It’s Important
Developing with standard-compliant code—that is, using code as it is intended—will help you build your website so that it can be viewed and accessed on more web browsers, platforms, and devices than developing with browser-specific code. Using standards will most likely increase your site’s search engine ranking, and you can even easily convert your web pages into other formats or “mash up” the content into other web and desktop applications. Most of all, your site will be easier to maintain, update, and redesign.
The institution that develops and publishes certain standards for the web is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). On the W3C website you will find technical documents that explain a variety of standards related to web development languages, such as HTML, CSS, XML, ARIA, and other technologies for web applications (“WebApps”). The W3C also provides access to free tools that will assist you in making your websites comply with web standards.
The most important tools to check your code are the HTML validator and the CSS validator. The result is sobering for most web developers because few websites pass without errors. If your code is valid, but you receive reports from your audiences that a page still doesn’t display properly, then the fault may not lie with your site. Settings controlled in the user’s environment can affect their experience.
Another benefit is that valid code is an important—but not sufficient—condition for web accessibility. While the HTML validator does not replace a check for 508 compliance, it does cover many of the accessibility requirements, such as mandatory alternative text for all images.
How to Implement
Implementing web standards may seem daunting at first, but if you start with small improvements, such as redoing basic templates for your site, it can be easier than you may have thought. Additionally, if you need help convincing management of the benefits, Adaptive Path has some helpful advice on the return on investment of implementing web standards.
As new devices and platforms continue to be developed, it’s more important than ever for government websites to be flexible and able to be accessed through as many means as possible. Implementing web standards will help agencies meet this need.
Websites display the W3C validator icons on their home pages:
Websites that use standard-compliant code: