The Client Guide to Web Standards

Published on 16th September, 2008

The term “Web Standards” covers several related guidelines and technologies, which together define the best way to build a web site.

Web Standards separate a web site into three elements:

  1. Structure and content.
  2. Appearance.
  3. Enhancements (for example, automatic form validation).

This separation is sometimes referred to as the “Three Legged Stool”, and has many advantages. Here are just a few:

  • Easy maintenance. Changing the colour of the links or headings on your site requires a single update to the appearance “leg”.
  • A wider audience. Devices that don’t understand the appearance and enhancements “legs” (such as most mobile phones) can still display the content “leg”.
  • An accessible web site. The separation of content from appearance and enhancements is a great first step to making a web site accessible to people with disabilities. As well as being a legal requirement, an accessible web site means more potential customers for your business.
  • Search engine friendly. Search engines such as Google are only interested in the content of your site. Web Standards remove the distractions of appearance and enhancements, which can improve your search engine rankings.

Common terms

Chances are you’ll hear the following terms mentioned a lot when discussing Web Standards:

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is used for the “structure” leg.
XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language) is an alternative to HTML.
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used for the “appearance” leg. HTML and CSS can be mixed in the same document, but this is to be avoided wherever possible.
Finally, something that isn’t an acronym. JavaScript is used for the enhancements leg. Important functionality, such as site navigation, should not be reliant upon JavaScript.

Further reading