CSS and Standards-Based Website Development

In recent years, a revolution has taken place behind the scenes of your favorite web pages. CSS and standards-based web development has gradually taken over from the formerly popular table-based layout method.

Now, we freely admit, the average site visitor may never know (or care) which type of layout is used. But on the back-end, there’s a big difference. If your website still uses table-based layouts, you could be facing some serious disadvantages.

The old way: Table-based layouts

For years, many web designers relied on tables for producing pixel-perfect layouts. Table-based layouts can provide consistent and reliable page designs across many browsers and platforms.

The problem is that tables weren’t invented with web design in mind; they were designed for tabular data. Table-based layouts are code-heavy, which can make them slow to load – and for heavily-trafficked sites, it makes them big bandwidth hogs.

Now, if your table-based pages load quickly and you don’t get enough site visitors to tip the bandwidth scales, you might be saying “so what.” But there’s more…

The biggest problem with table-based design is that it doesn’t separate your page layout from the actual content. Behind the scenes, your content is buried in code – which is a major disadvantage when it comes to search engine indexing.

What’s more, practically every new electronic device, from your TV to your toothbrush, is becoming web-capable. So while you may have no problem reading your web content in tables, all those non-human, web-capable devices are having a hard time figuring out what’s what.

The right way: Standards-based design

The alternative is standards-based design, produced with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). The biggest advantage of CSS is that is allows you to separate layout from content. This means that more browsers, more search engines, and more of these other non-human devices have a much easier time finding and delivering your content. This makes CSS the best forward-looking design practice.

It wasn’t always the perfect option, however. A big problem with CSS had been the “standards” part of “standards-based design.” The standards themselves were changing faster than browsers could keep up with, making things very…non-standard.

Worse yet were the different ways that the standards had been accepted and handled by different browsers. Widely-used browsers (most notably Internet Explorer) were slow to adopt these standards, so CSS page displays could be wildly inconsistent from browser to browser – and even from browser version to browser version.

IE6 has been widely despised as the biggest offender. Thankfully, improvements in later versions have now put most browsers (roughly) on the same page, and this concern has mostly been put to rest.

While this article gives you a good foundation in understanding some basic website development principles, we know it can be pretty heady stuff. If you’d like to know more about how these issues might affect your own website, please contact us with your questions. We’re ready to help!

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