The Business Value of Web Standards

Written by Lee Micai on August 29, 2008 – 10:59 am -

The below article was written by Jeffrey Veen of Adaptive Path all the way back in 2003. I completely agree with everything Jeff said. It’s just the right thing to do.

I hope you enjoy…

I’ve been involved in the Web standards community almost as long as I’ve been working on the Web, and I’ve long felt that designing to W3C recommendations is the Right Thing To Do. When it came time to redesign the adaptivepath.com site, my partners agreed that we should approach the project from a standards perspective. But before we started, we discussed whether the effort — and it was a lot of effort — was really worth it.

Certainly, the redesign increased our credibility with Web-standards aficionados. But industry accolades aside, how important is standardization to an individual business like ours? Do Web standards give organizations a return on investment? Does the transition to XHTML and CSS make financial sense? The answer to those questions is yes.

Speed Development

Though the sheer ease of creating HTML pages has clearly been beneficial to the Web’s growth, it’s also been a curse. Because they’re so forgiving, Web browsers have facilitated a system of seudo-code that breaks countless best practices in the programming world.

So many of our clients have been building multiple versions of their sites, attempting to present a perfect design for as many users as possible. For our company, we wanted one set of HTML pages, one stylesheet, and far less development work. With over 95 percent of Adaptive Path’s audience now visiting our site with standards-compliant browsers, we knew it was time to make the switch.

Web standards force you to error check. Simply declaring which version of HTML (or, for that matter, XML) you’re using will let you validate your pages against those specifications. Validation turns HTML into something like a scripting language.

Running your pages through a validator shows you exactly where your errors are. This reduces the time developers spend on QA, and gives your site incredible consistency between browsers. While current browsers still have rendering bugs, they are far less severe than they were five years ago.

Simplify Maintenance, Increase Opportunity

For years, the standards community has been extolling the virtues of keeping visual design separate from content, but logically linked to each page. This means your HTML becomes ridiculously simple. Most XHTML pages are little more than a collection of semantically rich and tags, with a pointer to a powerful CSS file.

This clean separation makes it much easier for you to develop and maintain your pages, primarily because the division corresponds to most teams’ distinctions between design and editorial work.

Recently, we hosted a CSS file for a client on our development server while they began production on content and backend systems. As we continued to iterate the design, we were able to simply edit the file without having to integrate with their versioning and release system. By working in parallel, we dramatically reduced the time to market.

Speeding development is a competitive and financial advantage. Shorter development times not only reduce costs, but free resources sooner, thereby increasing opportunity.

Open Up Access Options

Clean code pays even more dividends. Browsers that don’t offer compliant CSS implementations can now simply skip the style. In other words, semantic XHTML markup can be rendered in any browser — including non-traditional clients like mobile phones, PDAs, voice interfaces and screen readers, and anything lse that supports the most basic tag set.

A standards-compliant site that is coded for simplicity solves problems with mobile access, Section 508 accessibility, and past-version browser compatibility.

So you get all that and it’s easier to develop and maintain? Indeed. You can even eliminate some hard costs in the process.

Reduce Bandwidth Costs

When we stripped away the fonts, tables, and little images used as design elements on our home page, we reduced the size of the code from 20.9K to 9.2K. Now, this may not seem like a lot, but it would aggregate to quite a bit if our site generated heavy traffic.

Our 56 percent reduction in bandwidth usage is hardly relevant to a site that gets a few thousand page views a day, but large commercial sites get that much traffic in a minute or two. The most popular sites often get tens of millions of page views a day.

Saving 30K to 40K from each page view — plus a cached stylesheet that never needs to be downloaded again — can save you thousands of dollars per month. Ever see an IT guy get excited about a new design? You will.

Improve User Experience

Cold, hard cash is easy to quantify, but there are additional benefits to slimming down code. It’s no secret that a faster, more lively site will nearly always translate to a better overall user experience.

Huge interfaces squeezed through plodding modem connections have been a plague since the Web’s inception. The increasing dominance of broadband has only helped a bit. A hotel phone line plugged into a business traveler’s laptop may be the only tenuous link you’ve got to a new customer. Adopting clean, standardized code gives users a shortcut to accomplishing their goals at your site.

Justifying the Switch

These aren’t formulas for determining the ROI of migrating to standards, but they are some pretty good financial justifications. “It’s what all the cool sites are doing” shouldn’t be your only point when arguing for a switch to XHTML and CSS.

The economic benefits of standardization are tangible. Once we can quantify them, businesses will begin realize the true promise of the Web — interoperable content freely shared.


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How do people find out about web sites?

Written by Lee Micai on August 28, 2008 – 10:04 am -

Search Engines 87%
Other web pages 85%
Printed Media 63%
Friends & Relatives 53%
Newsgroups 32%
Television 32%
Email 32%
Books 28%

(Multiple response answers)

How do people find out about web sites

How do people find out about web sites


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10 Common Mistakes that Plague Most Web Sites

Written by Lee Micai on August 25, 2008 – 12:06 pm -

INTRODUCTION

You need a Website!

It’s that simple. If you work in any type of business today, your Website is literally a 24/7 representative to a worldwide audience.

This article illustrates 10 Common Mistakes that Plague Most Web Sites! I’m sure they’re hundreds more, but based on my experience, here are the 10 most common problems that I’ve found.

1. Ignoring Web Standards and Accessibility

Web standards are basically following the best technical practices to ensure your site is accessible to the most people. Your web site will be lighter (less code), load faster, easier to manage and maintain, and be accessible by everyone.

Using Web Standards means every web user will have a better experience on your web site because:

  • Visitors with browsers other than Internet Explorer on a Windows operating systems will be able to use the site.
  • Visitors that have CSS disabled or do not support it will get an unstyled well-structured fully usable page.
  • Visitors that do not support JavaScript will still be able to use the site.
  • Your site will be usable in mobile and handheld devices.

Imagine never having to see “Best viewed with Internet Explorer at 800×600.”

2. Not Updating Content

If you’re web site is not updated on a regular basis (atleast once or twice a month) you will loose serious search engine points, PERIOD!!

Search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN have certain standards, one of which is fresh content. Basically, your site will slowly descend in the search engine results.

I’m not concerned with search engine rankings, why should I update my web site?

Simple! Your current visitors and customers will not return! Returning visitors expect to see fresh and updated content. If you visit a web site and nothing has changed in 6 months, would you return next week?

3. Complicated Navigation

Your navigation needs to be extremely simple and easy to, well, navigate.

The 2 common places are at the top and left of the page. Wherever you place your navigation make sure it is clear and loads quick. NEVER use flash for your navigation, I would also steer away from using images. If at all possible use plain text. There are a ton of great CSS (cascading style sheet) menus available and they load quick and anyone can view them.

4. Obey the “8 second rule”

If your web page does not load within 8 seconds, most visitors get frustrated, and move on to other pages or sites.

Think about how long you wait for a page to load. Count the next time, I bet it’s not more than 5 or 6 seconds and that’s if you really want to see what’s on the page.

5. Web Counters

No more web counters! Stop putting those little mileage-readout type thing’s on your web site. They were cool in 1996, but counters actually make the web site look unprofessional. Also, if the numbers are low a visitor may think your web site is not good enough to attract many visitors.

Almost every single web hosting company provides detailed statistical information that you can use. You may also open a Google Analytics Account.

6. Bad Color Choices

Black is probably the worst color to use as a background for text. There’s a reason newspapers and books use white backgrounds with black lettering!

Having a dark background behind your text makes your pages hard to read. I have trouble reading white text on a black background and I’m definitely not alone and don’t even think about red text!

Dark text on a light colored background will insure that everyone can read your pages with ease. You can use colors to accent words or headings, but avoid using bright colors for the entire content.

7. Uncommon Fonts

There are only a few safe web fonts that all visitors can see: Arial, Arial Black, Comic Sans, Courier, Courier New, Georgia, Impact, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS and Verdana. This means you’re probably the only one that can see the cool spray paint font you just used. Also, choose a font size that is at least 10pt.

Make it something that you can easily read yourself.

8. Flash Intros

No, no, no!!! Although they may be cool to look at once, Flash Intros get really old if you have to see them every time that you visit that particular site. Plus, most people don’t have broad bandwidth and can’t even enjoy the flash because it takes so long to load! The same can be said for Java Applets and Animations.

Don’t do it! You’ll loose current visitors and potential customers!

A little flash header or side accent is ok, but NEVER use flash for your navigation. I cannot stand when I go to a site just to find the address and have to wait for the navigation to load. I just leave and forget about the site!

Flash also makes it impossible for the search engines to find your Website because they just see the code for the flash movie instead of actual text.

9. Entry / Splash Pages

Like flash intros, Entry pages are equally counter-productive. An entry page is a huge graphic which takes 3 minutes to load only to cleverly offer you to “click here to enter.” Most visitors will leave before it loads and as a result, will never have the ability to enter your site to learn about you and your products. I know I most certainly leave when I see one of these monstrosities loading! It’s almost frightening!

Entries are for buildings, not Websites.

10. Use SPELL CHECK

Everyone is guilty of disregarding the use of SPELL CHECK from time to time, but it is an integral factor that can not be overlooked! It shouldn’t stop at spell checking either. Proof read the content of your web pages to make sure that you don’t miss the little things. I am guilty of this a lot. For example, using “You” instead of “Your.” Little things like this can be very damaging and will display a grossly low level of professionalism to your current and potential customers.

Conclusion

Basically, it all comes back to usability. Make sure your web site as user friendly as possible. Creating a great looking, easy to navigate Website is a necessity for anyone who is serious about making money the internet.

Remember: You must create reasons for your visitors to return to your web site!

As I took a break from writing this top 10 list, I unfortunately came across another massive and extremely annoying mistake; Automatic Music!

Remember you never know where a visitor of your web site is located. They might be at work, or it may be 1am in the morning while the kids are sleeping. Having music screaming from the computer is usually frowned upon and quite terrifying.

I know there are a few web site owners that are going to get a bill from me for new boxers.


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