Reason to Believe: Why C–levels Should Care About Web Standards

I’ve been known to throw around a lot of technical terms in casual conversation … XHTML, CSS, W3C. I go on and on about how the separation of content from design and adherence to Web standards are The Right Thing To Do. Then I pause. I notice that my audience looks markedly disinterested. No quickened pulse. No zealous grin. Just glazed-over stares.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that most people — from my mom to my client’s CFO — are not going to be won over by The Beauty of the Code and the Joy of Web Standards. So instead, I’ve put together a list of five reasons why Web standards matter. They’ll make believers out of anyone.

1. You can re–use your content.

You worked hard to develop your content; now your content can work hard for you. Since the content and design of a standards–compliant site are separate, you can easily deploy that content to mediums other than a Web browser: mobile phones, kiosks, PDAs.

2. Everyone can read your site.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a growing concern for organizations maintaining a Web presence, and accessibility is the buzzword. In a nutshell, section 508 says that access to your information by individuals with disabilities should be comparable to access by individuals without disabilities. Separating your content from its visual presentation makes your site more accessible by users of screen–readers or other assistive technologies.

3. Your site will be future-ready.

New browsers pop up every day, as do new technologies for displaying Web content. These new technologies are going to be built to work according to Web standards. The trick that worked last week — even though it looks great in Internet Explorer — probably isn’t going to work on that new cell phone that came out last week.

4. Your site will be search–friendly.

Did your pulse just pick up a bit? If you’re like many of my clients, the thorny topic of search engine optimization (SEO) is one that keeps you up at night. I’m here to tell you it’s time to stop worrying about how Google’s page-ranking might change next week. A standards-compliant site fares much better with the search engines than one that is not. In many ways, the same things that make your site accessible also make it easily digestible by search engine indexers. In the long run, standards compliancy will outpace the latest trick to boost search engine rankings. You’ll sleep better, to boot.

5. You’ll save money.

You knew I had a ringer, right? Sticking with Web standards is cheaper. Let me be clear here: when I speak of dollars, I speak of total cost of ownership. Up front, you may find building to Web standards to be a bit more costly than building plain–Jane HTML that will look just fine to the untrained eye. But your benefits from that upfront cost will start the first time you make a change, from correcting a typo to adding a new product or a service. When properly implemented, code that adheres to Web standards separates the business logic from design and the design from content, making it possible to change one without disrupting the others. The look of your site can be changed drastically without making a single change to your site’s content or any of the processes that deliver that content. Without standards compliancy, it is common to find the Web programming that delivers content to be littered with information describing how that content should look. Sticking to standards can make it simple to treat them and update them separately.

Where to start?

Make sure your site validates. Validation means that the code for your site confirms to the rules. The litmus test for validation is

Your site should also be section 508 compliant. There are several tools for testing for letter–of–the–law compliancy; the most popular are and Even if your site passes muster with these sites, the only surefire way to guarantee that your site is accessible is to use an accessibility consultant.

I’ve covered only a few of the many benefits of standards compliancy, but you’ll find the payoff is immediate. Talk to your Web development team. Make sure they care as much about standards as you do.