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The Importance of W3C Compliance

Many people today are confused by the need for standards of Web design. Surely a site that is attractive and functions well is enough? Why should all sites be forced to conform to these same standards? Well, while there are no actual 'rules' for Web design, and you can technically design a site in any way you want, there are several compelling reasons why you should comply by the standards set out by the World Wide Web Consortium, otherwise known as the W3C. In this paper, you'll learn how these rules benefit you, the webmaster, the viewers of your site, and the Internet as a whole.

What is the World Wide Web Consortium?

The average Web user is probably not aware of the international World Wide Web Consortium or the role they play in regulating and developing the Internet. This is despite the fact that the W3C are responsible for the very face of the web today. Their mission is to lead the Web to its full potential, and they do this by developing specifications, guidelines, software and tools.

The W3C have an idealistic yet not unachievable view of what the Internet can be, and what it can mean to human interaction and society. They recognise that it has already changed the landscape of human relationships, and that its potential is limitless;

'The Web has transformed the way we communicate with each other. In doing so, it has also modified the nature of our social relationships. People now "meet on the Web" and carry out commercial and personal relationships, in some cases without ever meeting in person. W3C recognizes that trust is a social phenomenon, but technology design can foster trust and confidence.'

But what does this mean in practical terms? Well, in order to understand the practical implications of the guidelines of the W3C, you have to understand Web standards.

What Are the Web Standards?

The World Wide Web Consortium W3C, along with other groups and standards bodies, has established technologies for creating and interpreting Web-based content. 'Web standards' refers to the current technologies that are in use, and the way that they should be used. For example, while HTML used to be the standard way of coding a website, technology has advanced so that HTML5 is becoming the more standard way of coding a site.

There are various pieces of website coding that will function in some browsers, and either not function or function differently in others. Because the Web is continually evolving, there are also various pieces of code that were once in common use but are generally not used today. Frames, for example, were once the most popular way of structuring a website. Today you were very rarely come across a website that utilises frames to a major extent.

The WWW consortium is working to ensure that obsolete code is no longer used , and that all designers use code in the same way, so that corresponding technology can be developed, and to ensure stability of the user experience.

The Web standards are also concerned with accessibility, both in terms of less-able viewers and viewers from across the globe.

What this means in practice is that the W3C promote and try to make 'as standard' websites which are fully translatable, and can be viewed all over the world, websites which are compatible with all browsers, websites which are user-friendly and friendly for users with disabilities, websites which are adaptable to all mobile devices and which encourage the use of mobile devices, websites which are safe for users to use, and websites which do not promote spamming or fraudulent practices. Basically, the W3C standards are here to make the Web safe and enjoyable for everyone, all over the world. They are here to prevent the abuse of the Web and to make sure that its development continues and its potential can be reached.

In order to have a W3C compliant site you should conform to these coding and visibility standards. So, yes, some of your design control will be sacrificed, but the usability and compatibility of your site will be enhanced.

Why Should I Have a W3C Compliant Website?

Of course, not all webmasters are overly concerned with either the accessibility or browser-compatibility of their own site. But there are many reasons why adhering to the Web standards can be beneficial to you as a webmaster too.

For example, if you're looking to optimise your website for search engine crawling it's always best to stick to accepted Web standards. Because the search engine algorithms are changing all the time, there is no way of knowing what will be penalised and when. What you can rely on, however, is that a fully compatible site will avoid any possible trip-ups that could mean penalisation. A Web standard compliant site also has an air of respectability that is sure to be regarded as a sign of quality by the search engines. In terms of SEO, you can't go wrong with W3C standards.

But also, if you want your site to last more than a year at best, you'll need to make sure that it is future-proof. Just as with search engine algorithms, you can't predict what changes will be made in upcoming browser updates, which could end up making part of your code redundant. What you can be sure of is that Web standards have been created to avoid this. Sticking to them therefore means that your code will be respected by every browser for many years to come. All browsers and search engines reward websites which adhere to the Web standards because it makes their job so much easier.

Compliance with web standards also means that you don't even have to think about the development of apps and other mobile devices that is currently happening at an incredible pace. These are designed to be compatible with accepted Web standards, which means that by using these Web standards, your website will already be compatible with new forms of internet access. Use an old piece of code, on the other hand, and you may find that your site isn't even visible on newer mobile Internet devices, which could mean losing a lot of potential viewers.

Not to mention, perhaps you don't mind if your site doesn't look exactly the same on all browsers, but were you aware that certain sections of your site could be completely invisible to certain browsers? Without following Web standards, your site may not function at all or could function very poorly and unprofessionally on browsers other than your own. Most Internet users use a browser other than Internet Explorer these days, so it really is vital to ensure that your site functions equally well on every browser.

Lastly, having a site that is W3C compliant is a sign of professionalism that will be recognised by other webmasters. Remember that building relationships with other webmasters is absolutely vital to the link-building process, so it is in your best interests to be viewed in a positive light. Cutting corners and using shabby coding, on the other hand, is seen as a mark of an amateur.


  • My site looks right and works fine – isn't that enough?
    I would argue that in the current climate it is only enough if your site looks the same and functions equally as well on all browsers and mobile devices. Also, bear in mind that Google (just as one example) updates its algorithm around 500 – 600 times a year and that at any point this algorithm could be changed in order to penalise websites that use obsolete code or technologies.

  • But lots of websites out there don't validate , even some household-name companies don't .
    I would estimate that it is only a matter of time before they become aware of the importance of W3C compliance and adjust their sites accordingly. It's also important to bear in mind that most household names don't have to rely on SEO techniques because people visit their sites anyway. They often don't have an SEO strategy at all. Smaller websites need to bear search engine results in mind or they risk becoming completely invisible.

    Not to mention, do you want to risk being on the wrong side of a lawsuit if your site proves inaccessible to – for instance – a disabled person who cannot use a 'conventional' browser? Accessibility is the law in many countries. Whilst validation doesn't guarantee accessibility (there is no substitute for common sense), it should be an important component of exercising 'due diligence'. It is now nearly a decade since a court first awarded damages to a blind user against the owners of a website he found inaccessible (Maguire vs SOCOG) .

  • Doesn't validation mean boring websites?
    That might have been the case a decade ago, when validation was the tool of choice of people more interested in harnessing the power of the markup languages than creating beautiful designs for their content; when many designers were not taught basics of Web technology back then and would create beautiful but fragile and unreliable web sites.

    This argument is completely moot today. In the past decade, most of the stunning, content and design-rich Web sites were built with standard (X)HTML, CSS and scripting.

  • Does this mean that I need to pay someone else to redesign my website?
    If you don't have the skills to design your website yourself, why not use a content management system such as Wordpress that can be used with themes? There are plenty of beautifully designed and SEO-ready website designs available for free on the Wordpress website, and the system itself is intuitive and can be learned by anyone.

  • Isn't simple HTML enough anymore?
    Simple HTML still functions as it always has done, but it is becoming obsolete and is beginning to look old-fashioned. Both search engines and viewers will consider the contemporary relevance of anything they are viewing, and if it looks out of date, they are likely to click 'back' very quickly. Whatever your reason for having a website, it is always more effective to have a professionally designed, accessible and quick-loading page. Bear in mind that the reason new technology has been developed is because it actually makes Web design easier and makes for a simpler and more stream-lined user experience.

Zanity Web Development

It can be difficult to know what's involved with W3C compliance if you're not an expert. But the benefits are clear in terms of accessibility, user experience and search engine optimisation. If you're looking for a professionally designed and fully W3C compliant website that is SEO ready and designed with your specific brand identity in mind, contact Zanity for more information today.

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