Ignoring standards in Web Development is like raising a child in the jungle. That child will not perform well in normal society when mature.
When you build anything, it must be adapted to the fundamental features of similar products. At least to some degree.
When I started building websites over 15 years ago, it was mostly by trial and error.
Like many Professional Web Developers who are self taught, I didn’t know much about conversion optimization, typography, vertical spacing, and the countless other ingredients that make a great website.
These are some of the standards that are critical to the success of a modern site or application.
Design and programming best practices were developed mostly through testing, experimentation, and analytic reviews. This is what gives it strength.
Industry tested approaches and techniques that are proven to work should be fairly reliable, right?
Most big companies didn’t know much about this as well, and many still don’t. Back then there were no major college level programs focusing on website development.
Don’t get me wrong, there still is room for breaking the rules, and pioneering new solutions.
Adhering to basic standards on the other hand most often results in a professional and high quality experience by the user.
In this article I will outline a series of items to consider when developing your website. These provide a solid foundation for your internet business.
Maintaining W3C Standards
What does the term Standards Compliance mean?
Sparing you the technical details, the W3C is the organization that oversees the Open Source development and maintenance of the HTML software. This organization is responsible for setting the standards that normalize compatibility of the technology across different platforms and devices.
Similar organizations exist for all major web languages. We are always given basic and advanced guidance on the best use of the language.
HTML especially needs to be broadly accepted in order to perform it’s functions.
Many Browser Developers have violated these principles. But because of the power of Open Source, most major players like Microsoft and Apple are often forced to conform.
Common Design Principles
Design is a mix of science and art. Most self taught designers may ignore common practices like space rhythm, correct font usage, and color usage. This is a critical mistake.
There are specific principles that apply to all designs. These include readability of fonts, navigation markers, space usage, color usage and combinations, audience culture, and much more. I will attempt to explain the few I just mentioned to you, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Font size should be big enough for most people to read, especially much older people who often have bad eye sight. The contrast of the font color and background must also be chosen with care, as this affects readability significantly.
Adding a font resize feature like some major sites now have, will allow anyone to adjust for their own viewing convenience.
Navigation has always been important on roadways. That’s why there are signs everywhere. On the web we have more options to track a user and indicate where they are, where they have just visited, and what still needs to be visited.
These features must be coded properly and functioning across various platforms properly.
A visitor to your site may be confused if there are several pages of content, but no indication as to which pages were visited, or what navigation item refers to their current location.
Using CSS, breadcrumbs, and images for example, you can help the user get well oriented as to their location in the site or application.
If a page has been visited, show that by changing the style of the link to a different color or background image. If the site is deep with many pages and sub-pages, a breadcrumb link set can allow much better navigation through the sections.
Spacing is the first thing people notice that makes a site look unprofessional. At least it is for me – on a subconscious level mostly. Vertical and horizontal spacing must be distributed correctly.
There is something in our brains that doesn’t sync well with sites that have irregular spacing between its elements. This makes the site look amateurish.
The same applies to wrong color choices, mismatched color combinations, and ugly contrast. People in general have the same taste. Especially people from the same culture. When using colors, stay within the norm.
Design must consider the user at all times. If the age group of site users is above 50 years of age, then a style that pleases them should be used. This will be based on your own experiences with different age groups in your culture/niche.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed Developers make is writing complex code with little or no documentation.
Most developers don’t even know a format for this. Another mistake is badly presented code that is difficult to read. Many developers do not use hierarchical indentations that are collapsible and expandable.
The reason it’s important to use proper code commenting and also present that code in an organized format is simple – other developers may need to work on the code and it must be compatible with a wide range of experiences.
Another critical component to almost any website or application is change history or backups.
Even experienced developers work on complicated applications and do not use a code repository or backup system like Git or SVN.
It’s important that new changes that are invalid or are dead ends can be removed or skipped without losing days or weeks of progress.
It’s not enough to design it according to standards and program it for future upgrades. A site needs to have a proven sales conversion model. This is where most new site owners fail.
Conversion requires knowledge of the customer’s psychology in relation to the offer. You must focus on what the customer is thinking when they encounter the product/offering.
For example, some products require gathering more information than others. Often multiple touch points are needed, including static content, emails, and phone before a sale can be made. In other cases it’s impulsive and only requires trust in the merchant, or brand recognition.
Conversion of sales must be approached like a funnel is used to add oil to a machine. At the top of the funnel is a broad reach area where many people are exposed to the product/offer.
They then pass through the funnel while filtering out those who are not interested, don’t qualify, or have no use for the product yet (and more).
What’s left in the sales funnel are those visitors who are ready to buy.
Each part of the funnel – the phases of the sales cycle – must be analyzed for improvement and continue to improve sales performance.
Search visibility is one of the best ways to grow a business on a shoe string budget. A base set of features – really these are standards – should be used at the development stage that allows a site to get crawled effectively and regularly by search bots like Google Bot. These base standards alone can get a site ranked on many terms that will drive traffic right out the gate.
Some examples of Crawlability features include heading tags formatting, xml sitemap creation, no dead links, relevant interlinking of pages, advertisement designation, navigation placement above all other content, and low HTML validation errors.
Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools are two platforms that must be used. These are provided specifically to help webmasters manage and monitor their sites. They are invaluable and packed with useful features. These tools also send out reports if there is a problem with your site. A great way to monitor traffic without spending any additional funds.
Privacy is always important when someone accesses a website. It’s illegal in some countries to track IP addresses for example. The compliance requirements are often different across countries.
Additionally, some transaction types require SSL installation where the site is secured with encryption. This is often used to secure exclusive content, payment transactions, communications, and more.
There are many other legal factors to consider when running a website business. I’m sure you can imagine the horror stories that can emerge if your bases are not properly covered.
Some of you may choose to ignore development standards. You may feel risky innovations are what will set your site apart. I agree to a certain extent. But I feel a proven foundation is always more important for running a successful business in the long run.
Consider these recommendations above carefully. There are countless other requirements to follow as well, I just covered a few in this article that are low hanging fruit.
Never forget, some of the responsibilities of a website owner is to insure a good user experience, maintain a proven sales model, and adherence to regulations.