Web design has come a long way in the last decade, as far as front-end development technology is concerned. Gone are the animated GIFs, scrolling banners, and flashing ‘Click Me!’ buttons of yesteryear. In their place, we now have sleek, eye-catching designs and well laid-out navigation menus and interfaces. However, many designers still neglect to ensure that their HTML is valid and standard-compliant. Some don’t see the importance of valid HTML. As long as their sites display more or less properly in the browser, they assume their job is done. But proper coding in web design is fairly important for a number of reasons.
Search engine optimization
While meta tags, keyword density and link-building are all crucial components of SEO, valid HTML also has a role to play in boosting search engine rankings. For one thing, properly formatted header sections allow search engines like Google to index and catalog your site thoroughly and efficiently. That means your latest content shows up search results more quickly. In addition, valid HTML throughout the body of your various pages increases the likelihood that search engine spiders can thoroughly crawl your site without error. That will help you get higher organic rankings for the keywords you wish to target.
On large websites with hundreds and even thousands of pages, it’s nearly impossible to test out each individual page to make sure it’s functional. Using tags improperly, or having deprecated tags, can break your site in certain areas or serve up garbled content to visitors. Ferreting out these errors can be difficult. If your code is valid by current standards, you have a much lower risk of getting usability issues than if you leave it to chance and neglect to validate your HTML. Also, people with disabilities who use reading technologies online may not be able to experience your site correctly if the code isn’t standard-compliant.
Although it somehow overlaps with functionality, user experience is a far more subtle ball game. Web-savvy readers often show strong loyalty to certain layouts and navigation systems. Change something seemingly insignificant, and it can throw off the entire feel and flow of your site. When popular how-to site Lifehacker changed its design this year, their traffic dropped by a large margin, and the site still hasn’t entirely recovered. Without valid HTML, you’re facing the risk of breaking your design and your user interface for many of your visitors. And that’s not a position any webmaster wants to be in, when revenue depends on how well your traffic interacts with your home page.
Yet another compelling reason to stick to valid markup in web design is the thorny issue of cross-browser testing. Though HTML code remains the same, every browser interprets the source markup of each webpage a bit differently. For most elements of a web page, it’s not usually that big a hurdle to dodge. But having to hack your code with fallback and conditional code to accommodate each browser is time-consuming and frustrating. Starting off from a baseline of valid HTML that can be more or less interpreted in the same way by all major browsers makes for smart website design.
Hopefully, you’ve gained an appreciation for proper coding practices and valid HTML. If you want to make sure your site is properly coded, the first step is to head over to the W3C Markup Validator. It will let you know if your pages are compliant to current standards. If you run into a lot of invalid code, it’s probably best to contact a proven and experienced web design professional to overhaul your site. Because web design has become more complex in the past few years, you’ll thank yourself if you let the professionals do the tricky work for you.