insight

Future-proof your site

How web standards can
save you money.

The past
The present
The future

Future-proof your site

To the present, and how we're doing things better: web standards.

So what are standards? Briefly, it means using XHTML code for actual document content, CSS for presentation, and the DOM for functionality.

You don't need to know what these terms mean; that's my job. (But just in case you want to, you can.) Suffice it to say that, in combination, they represent a way of building sites that all modern browsers recognise, for a more consistent, predictable display of those sites, as well as a way in which sites can be made faster to load and easier to manage.

The key to the astonishing streamlining capabilities of this system is the effective separation of content and presentation. All code defining a site's layout and design is contained in a style sheet file that is external to the web page itself; in addition, that one external file can be referenced by tens, hundreds, or even thousands of web pages, making management a breeze. So you'd like all your subheadings to be green instead of blue? Easy. Change just six characters designating the colour in the style sheet, and the entire site is updated—in seconds. Tired of last year's colour scheme? Your site can be updated to a fresh, new look in hours, not days.

Coding sites using XHTML and CSS means an end to extra work on the part of the developer to produce parallel, browser-specific versions of web pages—which you pay for. Modern browsers display the site in its full, graphics-rich form, but the text content is still available to the broadest range of browsing devices, including those that don't understand the presentational instructions. These include speech and Braille browsers for the visually impaired, as well as smaller devices like PDAs and mobile phones.

Separating content and presentation also means leaner code, so pages load faster. Always something your site visitors will appreciate, even if they don't know it (although they sure notice when they have to wait forever for your site to load...). And the smaller file sizes mean a significant saving in bandwidth—which to a large corporate site with heavy traffic could mean a saving of thousands of dollars annually.

Content is marked up in a semantically correct fashion—headlines as headlines, paragraphs as paragraphs, images as images, and so on—so that, even with no presentational styling at all, the pages still make sense. Pretty boring to look at, sure; but usable.

Take this site, for example. View it in Netscape 4.x, or on a Palm Pilot or similar. You'll see a text-only version, without the page layout or illustrations that appear in a more modern browser—but the content is still accessible. You can navigate through the site, read the articles, get the meaning. You're not locked out, just because you don't have the most recent version of a browser.

Anyone in the world who has access to the Internet can see the content of this site. Wouldn't you like to be able to say that about yours?

Web standards means "write once, publish anywhere". Writing once means we save time, so you save money. Publishing anywhere means maximising the reach of your site—and increasing the possibility of business being generated by it. Here's how.

Next: The future

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