More web standards

Want to learn more about web standards? Read on!

Source order

There are a few other important web standards techniques, such as having the content in as logical an order in the source code as when it is viewed in your web browser.

Some newer web browsers are more capable of displaying CSS correctly than others, but by having your content in a logical order in the code, your web page can still make sense even for older browsers

This is even more important for blind users who listen to your web page rather than viewing it. As mentioned before, with a table-based design, a web page can seem all out of order and be difficult to follow. With a logical source code order, your content is still available to those who can’t see it.


Semantic coding is another important technique: this means using the right bit of code to describe your content. There are types of code that define headers and lists, and using code correctly helps your website to still display correctly in older browsers and to make better sense for blind users.

Choosing the right type of code to use is a bit like choosing the right word to use: there’s only one word difference between lightning and lightning bug, but that one word makes a world of difference.


In an ideal world, even users with the oldest web browser would be able to see websites created today in exactly the same way as those using the newest web browsers. In reality, older browsers didn’t understand CSS all that well. Current CSS layout techniques will work for the vast majority of your users, but if someone hasn’t downloaded a new version of a web browser in 6–10 years, your site might look funny, or might not display at all.

Rather than trying to make a site look exactly the same for every browser ever created, which can take huge amounts of time and thus money, it is better to use CSS layout techniques for current browsers and provide a more basic appearance for older browsers that can’t handle the newer techniques. That way the majority of your users get the benefits of modern web standards, and the minority using older browsers still get to see the content on your site.


One other technique to keep in mind is judicious use of Javascript. You may have heard of Javascript as a scripting language that can make your site more interactive. A recent trend is a set of techniques called AJAX, which use Javascript.

The important thing to note is that 5–10% of users have Javascript disabled in their web browsers, typically due to corporate security policies. Because of this, Javascript is best used as a way to enhance the usability of a website: it’s important to make sure your website still works if a user has Javascript disabled.

Unfortunately, even when browsers have Javascript turned on, some browsers interpret Javascript differently than others. Unobtrusive Javascript tests to see if the browser will be able to understand the type of Javascript being used. If it does, it moves forward; if not, there’s a fallback, so that your site still works.

Just like with CSS, Javascript should be stored in external files, so that it can be more easily updated and allows your pages to be loaded faster. Separating the code used to create behaviors from those used to create your content and presentation is an important principle of web standards.

Sometimes Javascript is used when the same effect could be created using CSS. I tend to favor CSS over Javascript to avoid problems for the 5–10% of users who do not have Javascript enabled.


One other technique you’ll hear about is Flash. Flash is a tool originally created for animation, but which has been common for creating dynamic websites. In the past, one could assume that nearly every web browser was capable of using Flash. Now, however, the most common mobile web browser in use is on the iPhone, which does not currently support Flash, so care must be taken if you want iPhone users to be able to access your site.

In the past, there were concerns with Flash about accessibility, or how blind users and search engines could access Flash. There have been improvements made on both fronts in recent years.

One of the biggest challenges in Flash is just to ensure that it’s being used for the right purpose. Flash can often be used to create unique interfaces for a website, and with any design, it’s important to ensure it is easy to use and clearly understandable: with web design, familiarity is our friend.

For example, there are plenty of creative ways to design a car, but most tend to use familiar features such as a steering wheel, brake pad, and emergency parking brake, that are all in roughly the same place.

Similarly, there are certain standards for how to do site navigation, and while radically different methods are available with Flash, that can be as confusing for a website user as it would be for a driver to get into a car with a joystick rather than a steering wheel.


PDFs are a way to put documents online, which is especially convenient for long documents that are intended for printing. Too often, important web content is put into PDFs, when that content could just as easily appear as content on a web page, which is easier for users to read and is more accessible to a wider audience. Sometimes, using a PDF is unavoidable: it’s just important to think carefully before putting a PDF on a site.

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