Web standards can save, and make you money

Steven Champeon
2003-03-06
Reprinted from Triangle Tech Journal

Migrating your Web site to modern standards can have a powerful business impact, both in terms of cost savings and revenue generation.

How?

First of all, modern site construction allows you to save on bandwidth used by your site. If your site is nearly saturating a T1 line, and you need to upgrade, a standards-based redesign can cut your usage in half, pushing out the need for a costly new circuit or bandwidth upgrade. And most site hosting companies charge for bandwidth allocation by the slice and at a premium for overages.

Secondly, by targeting a wider range of visitors, on a broader range of devices, such as cell phones and PDAs, and by making your site more accessible to those with disabilities, you increase your audience and reduce their frustration.

In addition, if you're responsible for a government site, or a vendor supplying state or federal government employee's tools to build or maintain a site, you may fall under the requirements of Section 508 - the portion of the Rehabilitation Act amended by Congress in 1998. Moving to a modern design makes accessibility much easier and less costly to achieve.

Once the new architecture is adopted, subsequent costs of redesigning are reduced, if not eliminated, as is the need to redesign to handle new browsers. This is because the established baseline set of standards is now several years old and will likely be supported far into the future.

Many who use the Web every day are unaware of the standards bodies, such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), that govern the creation, documentation, and maintenance of standards for the file formats and protocols that make up the Web. And yet, without the common baseline standards they publish, the Web would not be as interoperable nor universal as it is today, and would be far less powerful as a platform for commerce and information. Instead, every site would have to pick which browser to support, and the Web, whose power comes from its interconnectedness, would be fragmented and largely useless.

In the nearly eight years since the W3C was formed, by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web itself, the Web has undergone a variety of changes to its basic formats and protocols, and Web browsers have achieved ever higher compliance with the W3C's dictates. This is often only visible to the ordinary Web surfer as favorite Web sites offer more and more complex and powerful functionality. The sad fact is that most businesses have not yet embraced many of these innovations and developments, and continue to waste money and ignore possibilities for revenue.

As Web browsers come ever closer to the goal of a common, powerful platform for publishing and development, those responsible for creating and maintaining Web sites can make use of those capabilities to ensure universal reach, fast downloads and rendering of pages, and to cut their costs for maintenance and redesigns.

Some businesses are already taking advantage of these new approaches. Back in October of last year, Wired News (a division of TerraLycos) redesigned their site to use the most recent versions of XHTML, a more robust markup language based on the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). They explained at the time that the adoption of such modern approaches brought “consistency, predictability, and accessibility to both Web browsers and the content produced for viewing in those browsers".

Wired did it because it made sense, and because it started saving them money the day they launched. Early estimates for cost savings on bandwidth alone run from 30 percent to 60 percent per page. This is possible because modern browsers can separate a site's presentation, or look and feel, from its content, allowing presentation rules to be cached locally rather than delivered across the network every time a page is requested.

This approach makes maintenance easier as well, as redesigns can be immediately propogated across the entire site by updating the CSS stylesheets that determine the site's look and feel. Every page can use the same stylesheet, allowing for single-point updates, rather than lengthy, error-prone, and painful modifications to every page on a site.

This approach also allows Wired to be accessible to a far wider range of devices, including PDAs and cell phones, while reducing the need for comprehensive redesigns to meet the needs of future browsers. When the time comes to update their look, they swap out a few stylesheets and the entire site is reborn. They were so successful that their sister site, Hotbot, a search engine, redesigned soon after, using the same strategies.

Advertisers also benefit from the decreased download times; making Wired a more attractive advertising target. This is in addition to the wider audience Wired can attract, with its more flexible service offering and broader support for more varied Web-enabled devices.

Taken as an aggregate, this adds up to enormous savings on current and future bandwidth requirements, costs of maintenance and redesigns, and increases revenue possibilities.

Finally, these factors combined contribute to a better overall user experience. Stripped-down designs made possible by modern strategies also speed up download and rendering time, making for a more pleasant experience for my mother and her AOL dialup. So, if you don't do it for me, think of my mom.