Creating Modern, Responsive Websites With Web Standards

Website Standards and Clean Code

It isn’t that difficult to create a modern website based on current web standards. If your website was built using the latest technology, your site will be super-fast, modern, clean and responsive.

Everyone wants their website to cost less, work better, and reach more people in today’s browsers, screen readers, and wireless devices. The inescapable technological advancements that are happening as we speak are breaking websites all over the internet. A modern website built using the latest coding practices ensures that your website will function properly across all devices and help individuals with disabilities who are using special devices to access and interact with the internet – and stand the test of time.

You don’t have to spend money on trendy, short-sighted, proprietary solutions that will end in disaster. No one can afford to piecemeal a website that will ultimately break sooner than later.

Coding several different stylesheets might have seemed like a great idea at the time, but it is not a rational solution to problems that are continuing to plague site owners and builders.

FORWARD COMPATIBILITY

WaSP (www.webstandards.org) advocates standards that reduce the cost and complexity of site creation and ensure simple, affordable access for all. Today, every browser supports web standards as a matter of course. They work with the designers of development tools such as Dreamweaver. You can find a myriad of web standards educational tools and this information can be found in most languages today.

Apple’s latest WebKit based Safari browser, which powers the iPhone’s web browser, Mozilla powered Firefox, Opera, the WebKit based Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 7+ understand and correctly support XHTML, CSS3, JavaScript, and the DOM.
*Internet Explorer 6 does not support many of the latest web standards, and we can only hope that everyone has moved passed this version of IE. Developers know that we can fix IE6 to some degree, but there comes a time when you have to move forward and not look back. We’ve stopped overkill fixes because newer phones are equipped with the latest browsers and it just doesn’t warrant the extra time and expense anymore to work out ALL the fixes needed for IE6 to view properly.

WHAT IS WEB STANDARDS COMPLIANT?

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JavaScript creates action.  JavaScript is the bomb. This language has given us the ability to create action!
In a perfect world, browsers perfect their support for every single standard. Considering that most software doesn’t come out bug-free, and standards are sophisticated and complex, cross-browser support is actually pretty solid enough that we do develop using the latest standards. HTML5, more accessibility, CSS3, structured markup and deeper DOM and JavaScript function calls are becoming the progressive-enhancement that is pushing the internet into the future. All the big companies such as Apple, MSN, Wikipedia, and WordPress have embraced web standards. Of course, they don’t always achieve perfect validation or pure semantic markup, but a trained developer can make these markup fixes very quickly, and let’s face it, modern browsers are lenient.

STANDARDS ARE THE TOOLS WITH WHICH ALL OF US CAN DESIGN AND BUILD SOPHISTICATED, BEAUTIFUL SITES THAT WILL WORK TODAY AND TOMORROW.

OLD BROWSERS ARE INCOMPETENT, INCOMPLETE, AND HAZARDOUS TO THE HEALTH OF THE WEB.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT.

More than 90% of all websites are obsolete. They might look good on desktop browsers, but outside of that, the symptoms of decay are starting to appear. Carefully constructed layouts have begun to fall apart, and expensively engineered behaviors have stopped working. As browsers evolve, site performance continues to deteriorate.

Modern browsers are not merely newer versions of the same old thing. They differ fundamentally from their predecessors, and in many cases, they’ve been rebuilt from the ground up. They have a new job: to comply as well as possible with the web standards. As the newer browsers comply with web standards, they are becoming increasingly intolerant of broken code and markup.

THE KNOWLEDGE OF WEB STANDARDS IS A NECESSITY FOR ANYONE WHO DESIGNS OR PRODUCES WEBSITES

BEST WEBSITE NOW ENSURES THAT SITES DESIGNED TODAY WILL CONTINUE TO WORK IN TOMORROW’S BROWSERS AND DEVICES – INCLUDING DEVICES NOT EVEN BUILT OR IMAGINED YET

We believe in “write once, publish everywhere”. It isn’t wishful thinking. We are proud of the fact that our mission statement is “Because it matters”. Our mission follows some basic rules:

Control layout, placement, and typography in desktop browsers while allowing users to modify the presentation to suit their needs.
Develop and support sophisticated behaviors that work across multiple browsers and platforms.
Comply with accessibility laws and guidelines without sacrificing beauty, performance, or sophistication.
Redesign quickly – reducing costs and eliminating unnecessary work.
Support emerging devices from wireless gadgets and smart phones to Braille output devices and screen readers used by those with disabilities with one website.
Offer sophisticated printed versions of any web page.
Stay educated and ahead of the curve to always use real semantic markup.

PAGE RANKING AND SEO

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SEO and Analytics go hand-in-hand.  Believe it or not, companies do not have to spend a lot of money for SEO or Analytics. Well thought out SEO makes your website findable. Content is king. Focus on lean, keyword-rich, buzzword-free content that’s relevant to your customers, and use semantic markup. Copy, CSS layout and HTML5’s latest coding practices are the golden keys to findability.

COMPANIES THAT KNOW THE SIMPLICITY OF GREAT SEO ARE PROSPERING. THOSE THAT DON’T ARE FALLING BEHIND.

ACCESSIBILITY – THE HEART OF WEB STANDARDS…

Accessibility makes sure your content can be read and your site can be used by everyone, no matter what device they browse with, and regardless of physical ability. Innovation is the soul of accessibility. Accessibility is legal standard for judging and enforcing the accessibility of sites. This is great news because the world is being pushed into one single standard.

If you use standards-based designing principles, you not only make your content easy for search engines to find, it will also enable visually disabled people who use screen readers to navigate your websites content.

Screen reader users navigate web pages by tabbing from h2 to h2 and from section to section, just like sighted users navigate by visually scanning. When structuring your site semantically, pay particular attention to forms and tables. Provide keyboard access for those who are unable to use a mouse. Keyboards and assistive devices are the gateway to online user experience.

WELCOME MILLIONS OF VISITORS TO YOUR SITE WHO ARE LOCKED OUT – YES – THERE ARE MILLIONS OF DISABLED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

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Google web crawlers look for relevancy of content when a user types in an inquiry.
Think of web crawlers as blind users – Google is the biggest blind user on the web. Dish out appropriate content, well written and well structured, and you not only serve the blind folks in your audience, you also attract millions of sighted ones.

It wouldn’t be smart to exclude disabled Americans. This demographic would take up a city the size of Los Angeles or New York City. Millions!

If you think blind people don’t buy products online is missing the point and the boat. Don’t be blind yourself to the true nature of the audience you reject – you are still reaching the non-disabled populace this way by conforming to access guidelines and many others who would have ordered your products over the phone if only your site let them.

Section 508

Section 508 requires all websites under its jurisdiction to provide “equal or equivalent access to everyone” to accommodate the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, the physically disabled, and people who have photosensitive epilepsy and it spells out what accessibility really means. This law covers computers, fax machines, copiers, telephones, transaction machines, and kiosks, as well as other equipment used for transmitting, receiving, or storing information. It also covers many websites. Section 508 became U.S. law in 2001 and applies to the following:

  • Federal departments and agencies (including the U.S. Postal Service)
  • Deliverables from contractors who serve them
  • Activities sponsored or funded by the Federal government
  • Activities sponsored by states that have adopted the regulations
  • This is just skimming the surface and you can find plenty of resources to explain what the exact standards are and how to apply them along with specific things to do to make your site 508 compliant.

The bottom line is that if you design with web standards and follow the guidelines, your site should be accessible to screen readers, Lynx, mobile devices, and old browsers as it is to modern, compliant browsers. Standards and accessibility converge in agreeing that one web document should serve all readers and users. Even Flash and PDF’s can now be made accessible.

MYTH: ACCESSIBILITY IS EXPENSIVE

Most tasks to bring a website to its best take minutes to accomplish. Simple tasks like adding a label to your web form or writing a table summary. Type a brief alt text for each image – which is a no-brainer. High level conformance is going to obviously fall under another category and will cost more. If you want to author closed captions for web videos or to caption live streaming media news feeds in real time see Joe Clark’s “Best Practices in Online Captioning” . (www.joeclark.org/access/captioning/bpoc)

I highly recommend the following cited book for anyone who builds things for the internet. Web Standards is such an exciting concept that ties us all together. Where we go from here who knows, but right now we are accomplishing a great thing using Web Standards, and this book is a must have.

You can find the latest Standards and beta versions of some brilliant new concepts existing on the W3C website. Their HTML5 Validator is a great place to find semantic errors within your page. Go to http://validator.W3.org/ for the latest information.

Jeffrey Zeldman with Ethan Marcotte (2010). Designing with Web Standards, Third Edition. Berkeley, CA. New Riders.

CSS3 – Design with Color Control and Opacity

CSS3 has the ability to control color opacity.

There are many degrees of translucence between total transparency and total opacity.  Web Designers often use opacity for visual appeal in conjunction with mouseover events for pop-up photo galleries as well as drop-down and flyout menus.

hex_colorsColor is a big part of a website, and you can color anything and everything using CSS.

There are 16 valid color names:

black, silver, gray, white, maroon, red, purple, fuchsia, green, lime, olive, yellow, navy, blue, teal, and aqua.

Hex Codes

Virtually all modern screens can show at least 16.7 million colors, and CSS provides several ways to define all those colors.  The most common method of defining colors is to use a hex code.  This allows you to define a color using three pairs of hexadecimal numbers representing red, green and blue.  A zero indicates none of that color.  An ff indicates that color at full strength.  Example: #000000 is black – none of any color; #ffffff is full white – full strength of every color; #ff0000 is red – full strength, no other color; #00ff00 is green – no red, full strength green, no blue.

You can also use a three-digit shorthand syntax to express colors where each pair of digits has matching characters.  The browser actually doubles each of the digits to translate to six digits.  Example:  #000 is short for #000000; #0f0 is short for #00ff00.  The letters aren’t case-sensitive, so you can use uppercase or lowercase.

RGB Codes

rgbRGB is another way to express any of the 16.7 million colors.  Like hex, you define a color using a combination of red, green, and blue, but you use the 255 decimal range of 0 to 255, and you don’t need the # character.  The syntax used is rgb(red,green,blue).  You replace the red, green, and blue each with a whole number in the range of 0-255 to indicate the amount of that color.  Or, optionally, each number can be a percent in the range of 0% to 100%.  You can’t mix percent and numbers though.  Example:  rgb(0,0,0) is black, and it is the same as saying rgb(0%,0%,0%) or hex code #000!  There is no technical advantage or disadvantage to any particular method, it’s your call.

HSL Color

hslAnother way to express any of the 16.7 million colors available to you is Hue, Saturation, and Lightness (HSL) which is based on the concept of a hypothetical color cylinder.  The syntax for expressing color using HSL is hsl(hue, saturation, brightness).

Hue is the basic colors of the rainbow, and all the colors circle the hypothetical cylinder.  The cylinder is round, so 360 degrees around.  Red is at 0 degrees, green is at 120 degrees, blue is at 240 degrees.  At exactly 360 degrees, it goes back full circle to red.

Saturation increases as you move out from the center of the cylinder.  It is how much of the color there is.  Picture a bottle of perfectly red ink.  That would be 100% saturation, near the outside of the cylinder.  Take a drop of that ink and drop it into a glass of clear water.  It’s red, but it is at a low saturation, maybe 1%, near the inside of the cylinder.

Lightness is how much light is hitting the color.  No light is 0 (zero) and would render it black near the bottom of the cylinder.  Too much light (100) would render white at the top of that imaginary cylinder.

So looking at hsl(hue, saturation, brightness), you replace hue with hue expressed as a number indicating degrees around the cylinder with red at 0 (zero), green at 120, and blue at 240.  You can use any number in the range of 0 to 360.  You can express saturation as a number the range of 0% (no saturation) to 100% (full saturation).  Lightness, too, ranges from 0% (totally dark) to 100% (totally light) with 50% being the standard lighting.

It is important to keep in mind that hex, RGB, and HSL are just different ways of expressing the same 16.7 million colors.  There is no right way or better way.  It is up to you, the developer.

Translucent color expression is made using rgb() or hsl() coloring methods and using a fourth value for opacity.

Opacity, or transparency, and translucency all describe how much you can see through something.   The syntax for transparency is rgba(red, green, blue, opacity) or hsla(hue, saturation, lightness, opacity).  The “a” stands for alpha transparency.  The opacity value is new to CSS3 so some older browsers won’t handle them correctly.  You will want to set a background color as the default for the older browsers followed by the hsla() or rgba() values, including the opacity value.  The newer browsers will read the second value in this statement:

#wrapper {
background: white;
background: rgba(255,255,255,.8);
}

The opacity value is a number between .01 to .99 – the larger the number, the more opaque the color.  Zero is no opacity (transparent) and 1 is opaque.

Opacity property

The opacity property also has the syntax opacity: value;.  The value can be any number in the range of 0 to 1 where 0 is totally transparent and 1 is opaque.  This property is great because is applies to images and entire containing elements!

<td style=”opacity: .1″>
<image src=”images/felix.jpg” alt=”felix the cat” />
</td>

You can give each cell its own opacity value using an inline style.  You can have elements on a page that are completely invisible by using the syntax visibility: value; with either hidden or visible for the value.  It still takes up the space although it is not visible.

Use the syntax display: none; if you want to remove an element from the flow entirely. Use display: block; to make it visible.

By default, block elements are however tall they need to be to contain their content.

So, this has been a great lesson for me and I hope it helps someone else down the road.

Christina Descalzo
Kennesaw State University – HTML5 & CSS3 Certified

5 Questions to Ask Your SEO Provider

WHAT IS SEO?

Here are 5 questions to ask your SEO provider to help you get what you are paying for.  If you have a website and include your email or phone number anywhere within the site, you will receive emails and phone calls from any number of companies offering this service.  It is big business right now.  Many of them are scams.  They make it sound very intriguing and like most scammers, promise you the world.

First, let’s get some of the terminology that SEO companies are using:

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS  – look at your competitors and where you rank on searches.
KEYWORD RESEARCH – what power words reference your business or service?
UNIQUE TITLES, DESCRIPTION, AND KEYWORD TAGS  – browsers look at titles of pages, articles, etc., description and meta tags and should have been built into the site from the beginning.
MANAGE KEYWORD DENSITY – measures the number of times a keyword or phrase appears within a page against the total number of words on that page and needs to be related to the products or services.
KEYWORD PROMINENCE – indicates how many significant keywords are used in titles, meta tags, or anywhere near the top of the page and should have been built into the site from the beginning.
KEYWORD FREQUENCY – measures the number of times a keyword or phrase appears within a web page but DENSITY matters because it also measures frequency but also as it appears within the other content on the page.
LINKING – usually links that are internal to your site like anchor tags and should have been built into the site from the beginning.  Also includes submitting your site to the browsers and perhaps some directories.

These are great terms and certainly need to be understood if you have a website.  If you built your own website, you should consider using a service or any number of optimizers that are out there.  If a professional built your site, they should already be aware of how content, meta tags, conscientious linking and keywords work, and also know that your site’s code should be validated and submitted to the browsers – then you will be truly optimized.

1.  What does the SEO package include?

Consultation:  The provider should ask you questions about your business and get to know your website.  They should ask about your target customer, target market, locations, etc.

Keyword Research:  What keywords are your target customers asking a search engine to find?  Website should contain these keywords not only in meta tags, but should be written within the content of your website.

Content:  A good SEO content writer will write content not only to appeal to search engines,  but makes sense to your visitors.

Link Building:  Your site needs to be submitted to directories and added to the growing number of business profile sites which have a description and link to your website.

Reporting and Tracking:  You should receive some kind of report where you see traffic results, search engine rankings, etc.

2.  When will I see the results?

Search engines must crawl your site – and thousands others – to determine what each site is about.  It may takes three to six months.  If someone tells you they can do this within days or weeks, this is a red flag.  They are either very inexperienced, scamming, or may be using “black hat” methods that could result in your site getting banned from the Google index and not rank at all in other search engines.    Ranking reports should be sent to you on a regular basis.

4.  What SEO techniques do you use?

Honesty is always the best policy.  SEO techniques should be transparent, focused on content that is engaging and informative to readers.

5.  What is your experience?

Websites should be designed and built with a focus on all of the above right from the beginning.  A professional Designer or Developer with a few years of experience should have a total understanding of the issues mentioned in this article.

Christina Descalzo
Web Design and Development
770-316-1654