Nobody likes being ripped off – especially if they’re in business.
Yet most businesses are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to their web designer for shoddy, substandard work. Are you?
Luckily, there’s a quick and easy way to find out.
Go to:http://validator.w3.org, type in your website address and click on the “Check” button.
If the page you see says “failed validation” in red writing, you might need to speak to your web designer – especially if there are more than a handful of errors.
Is your web designer one of the cowboys?
Unless you own a cattle ranch, you probably don’t want to employ cowboys. You certainly wouldn’t put up with substandard work from a builder or electrician, would you? What about an accountant that didn’t understand tax laws, would you want them handing your finances?
Well, most web designers produce websites that are shoddy and substandard – and worst of all they don’t even know it.
How can I tell if my site isn’t up to standard?
Many professions and industries have standards. With some professions, like medicine or law, you need a qualification before you even start doing it. Other industries, like food processing or construction, aren’t so strict about academic qualifications, but they do have standards that have to be met – like health and safety or food hygiene standards.
There’s no academic qualification you need in order to become a web designer. All you need is a computer with internet access and the confidence (or in some cases arrogance) to call yourself a web designer.
However, although many people (and most web designers) don’t know it – there are standards for websites.
What’s more – it’s really easy to test your website to see if it’s up to standard. All you need to do is visit a website (http://validator.w3.org/) and you can test your site.
What are Web Standards?
Websites are programmed using a computer language called HTML. There’s a right way to program HTML and there’s a wrong way. The right way to program HTML is called “Web Standards,” anything else is the wrong way.
The difference between the right and wrong way to program a website is technical – so if you’re a business owner you don’t need to understand the details.
However, you do need to understand that if your web designer hasn’t used Web Standards it means:
Your site will do worse in Search Engines – so you’ll get less visitors
It will take longer to download – so you’ll lose more of the visitors you do get
It could cost you more to maintain the website
It’s harder (and more expensive) to make changes to the website
Up to 40% of people might not be able to see your website properly because they use different type of computer or web browser than your web designer.
Your site is probably not going to be accessible to people with disabilities – which could mean you could fall foul of your local disability discrimination laws
Of course, you might not have all these problems if your web designer hasn’t used Web Standards – but you’ll certainly have some of them.
If my site fails to validate does that mean it doesn’t use Web Standards?
The W3C validator (http://validator.w3.org/) is a useful tool for checking if your site uses high-quality HTML. However, it’s not a 100% guarantee.
It’s possible for a site to fail the validation on one or two minor points. If this is the case it’s not a major problem, although you could ask your web designer to correct them.
However, if your site has dozens of hundreds of errors this is bad news.
It’s also possible to for your website to pass the validator and still use out-of-date techniques, however this is much less likely.
Should web designers use Web Standards?
To put it bluntly, if you don’t know web standards, you’re really not entitled to call yourself a “professional” web designer.
There are some occasions when it’s acceptable to use non Web Standards techniques for practical reasons, but it has to be an informed decision.
How many web designers program websites the wrong way?
Unfortunately, most web designers program websites the wrong way. The sad thing is that many of them don’t even know about Web Standards.
There are plenty of web designers that do use Web Standards, but they’re in a minority.
Because there are no entry barriers to web design, anybody can set up as a web designer. That means there’s plenty of choice but it also means there are plenty of cowboys producing badly-programmed websites.
What do I do if my website hasn’t been created using Web Standards?
Well, you’ve got a couple of choices.
Firstly, you could contact the web designer that created your site and ask them why they didn’t produce your site with Web Standards.
If your site is more than 1 or 2 years old it isn’t reasonable to expect your site to have been created with Web Standards, as they weren’t a well-known technique then.
You might find that your web designer now uses Web Standards and would be able to redesign your website so that it uses them.
They may be willing to do this for free, as a courtesy, or they may charge you for this.
Can’t I just sue them?
I’m not a lawyer and couldn’t offer legal advice.
However, I suspect that unless you have a written contract with your web designer specifying that the site should be built using Web Standards techniques you would find a legal route difficult.
What are my other options?
If your current web designer is unable or unwilling to change your site so that it uses Web Standards you could find another web designer who is able to redesign your site using Web Standards.
Use Google or Yellow Pages to find web designers in your local area and then contact them to see if they use web standards.
What if I don’t have a website yet?
If you don’t have a website yet, or are planning a new one, make sure you choose a web designer that uses Web Standards to create their websites.
Richard Quick is the author of the forthcoming book “Web Design in easy steps.”