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Why Should a Web Site be Standards-Compliant?

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

By Molly Holzschlag

If we re-examine the concerns that standards attempt to achieve in the light of Web sites, we can see easily the advantages of having a site be compliant.

Consistency and Interoperability

One of the greatest challenges faced by Web designers and developers today is achieving consistency. It's ironic, too, because one of the prime directives that Tim Berners-Lee had in mind when creating the Web was to ensure interoperability.

The browser wars put a distinct crimp in the Web's interoperability. With so many browsers competing by adding proprietary features that did not conform to any existing specifications, life became very difficult for those of us attempting to create Web sites that look good across browsers and platforms. With the inconsistent conformance in browser technology, it becomes a challenge to conform to not only standards, but implement best practices, too.

We're now at a crossroads as designers and developers. Web browser manufacturers made a lot of progress in the past years in terms of adding standards support. Some browsers, such as Opera and Mozilla, work especially hard to ensure that their browsers conform to standards. Unfortunately, Opera and Mozilla are not used by the critical mass of people, so ongoing troubles ensue. A prime example of this is the incorrect box model interpretation in Microsoft Internet Explorer. As we move ahead using CSS for layouts in attempts to comply with standards, we have to incorporate workarounds and work with new browser technologies such as DOCTYPE switching to address these concerns.

But consistency is our goal, and as such, learning the problems within browsers and effective, standards-compliant workarounds becomes part of our responsibility in order to create conforming Web sites.

Quality and Reliability

Another advantage of Web standards is that the better conformance we achieve, the higher the quality and reliability of that site becomes. Even if workarounds are in use, if we are authoring our documents to adhere to the most contemporary Web standards, we end up with more accessible, faster-loading, more flexible Web sites. This means a better experience for the end user, certainly a very important part of the standards puzzle.

Improved Workflow

A standards-compliant Web site will by nature have improved work flow because instead of the "tag soup" pages of the past, conforming to the rules of HTML, XHTML, and CSS means that document markup will be more consistent, making it easier to have more than one person work on that document. Debugging documents becomes much easier, too, because you can run a compliant or near-compliant document through the validator to find out what's awry without having to dig through tens or even hundreds of other validation errors that a tag soup document could throw you.

Finally, when you use CSS along with well-structured documents, an enormous amount of time is saved when updating or changing aspects of the site. Saving time also means saving money, which makes project managers and clients extremely happy!