Apart from the 10 million Disabled people in the UK and 50 million in America, accessible websites will be easier to use by older people, people with slow connections or older technologies and people with low literacy. Older people are the fastest growing group of new users in many countries. As many older people have multiple impairments, accessible sites are likely to be more attractive to this group.
Pages built using web standards tend to be smaller and they tend to load quicker. This leads to the first and most obvious saving – lower bandwidth costs.
What is not so obvious, however, is that faster loading pages can also generate additional traffic and revenue. For example, when Multimap.com redesigned their site using web standards they estimated they saved 40,000 Gb of bandwidth per year – but they also found that their advertising revenues increased. The quicker loading pages encouraged people to spend more time on the site.
Production and maintenance costs are lower when content is packaged in highly structured ways, for example, when standard (X)HTML is used. Separating the structure of content, i.e., headings, lists, images, paragraphs, from the way that content is presented opens up opportunities to create multiple ‘views’ of that content.
As a result, content can be optimized with less effort for delivery on hand-held devices, formatted for printing or delivered to assistive devices such as screen readers.
When the time comes around for a new design, it is easier to substitute a new style sheet than to spend hours changing hundreds of font tags and background colour attributes.
When using Web standards there is no need to produce multiple versions of pages to cope with the quirks of different browsers. The time and effort previously required to create and maintain ‘browser sniffing’ scripts can now be re-deployed to add value to the site for visitors.
Using Web standards can free organisations from being captives of browsers dependent on proprietary tags and rendering behaviour. For example, IBM’s move to Open Source desktop clients has reportedly been held back due to their web based systems being built on top of the non-standard Internet Explorer web browser.
Without working to standards – it is not possible to check for markup errors; there are no rules to check against. Standards base web pages can be checked against code validators such as the W3C validator – highlighting any errors – and allowing you to get those errors fixed. If you website works for more people on more browsers you won’t have to spend time replying to emails from people complaining your site doesn’t work.
Content is future-proofed and compatible with older browsers. Pages built using web standards will display more consistently across browsers and platforms, including older browsers. Your content will not necessarily look the same in old ‘non-standard compliant’ browser but the bottom line is that the content will still be available.
Search engines are able to index web pages more accurately if the content on those pages is well structured. For example, when keywords appear in page headings many search engines give extra weight to those words when indexing the page. A web page where headings are improperly marked up is likely to suffer in the search rankings compared with a page with the same content that is marked up correctly. An accessible website will have alternative text for images and multimedia – and this will provide more text be indexed by search engines.
Accessible websites designed using Web Standards leads to real measurable benefits: more visitors, increased income, decreased cost, greater search engine visibility, faster loading and easier to use pages. Sell the benefits to websites commissioners, not the ideology.
This article was written by Jim Byrne, a Web site accessibility specialist since 1996.
Contact us now if you are interested in having your own accessible website built using Web Standards.