When most people talk about “web standards compliance” they’re usually just referring to the validity of HTML and CSS markup (the building blocks of the web) but this really isn’t the whole story.
In fact, the W3C standards actually comprise several sets of technical guidelines for the display and usability of web content. Those relating to HTML and CSS markup are certainly in there but they’re not, arguably, the most important consideration.
Website accessibility versus markup validity
A key part of the W3C standards are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). I say, “key”, because they come with the added encouragement of being a regulatory requirement under the Equality Act 2010.
There’s also a very good business case for website accessibility, of course. After all, the more people who can comfortably access your website (regardless of abilities or technologies used) the more potential customers you’ll have.
The markup validity guidelines, on the other hand, have no such regulatory backing. In addition, since it doesn’t necessary follow that a validated website will be compatible from browser to browser or that its markup will be efficiently written, strict adherence to these guidelines won’t result in a better search engine performance, increased site speed, improved browser compatibility etc.
The big problem with markup validity
Whilst there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having validated markup (if it’s not going to cost you or your visitors anything – go right ahead), the problem is that not all web browsers fully support the guidelines, so rigidly sticking to them will quite often mean sacrifices either to user experience or to browser compatibility. Not so good.
Also, if you’re not in the business of building your own website, then you may find that your web designer’s quoted project cost increases in line with the extra testing requirement. Even less good.
So, DOES markup validity matter?
Unsurprisingly, I’m going to say “no” here. I’m not alone though. It doesn’t seem to matter to these people either (links show sample validity test results – failed at time of writing):
- Marks and Spencer
- The British Monarchy
- WH Smiths
- UK Parliament
- The Guardian
- The Times
- British Airways
- London 2012 Olympics
The above are just a (very) few high profile examples. Probably the best example though, is the W3C themselves (again, HTML test failed at time of writing):
I’ll let you make up your own mind though.