Validation — to validate HTML or XHTML — is the process of tidying up the syntax of a web page to conform to standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium, the group that develops the standards and guidelines of our beloved mark-up languages.
Valid pages retain a horde of benefits over non-valid counterparts, upto and including lower bandwidth due to optimised code, greater chance of cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility, and often backwards compatibility too. However, this article is not about the benefits of validation. It’s a frustrated rant aimed at those who either take on validation, or ignore it completely, for the sake of being trendy.
My Pages Are Valid! Trend
Validating your pages for the sake of showing a yellow W3C button on your page, while for a mighty cause, undermines the very point of validation. Strict syntax rules should come into play to ensure our pages are properly structured and that content is marked-up appropriately and semantically. Often those who wish to validate choose to ignore these rules and simply pick the most valid HTML tag for the job.
Problem: Semantics, Semantics
Take for example:
<b>. The “b” tag, while not deprecated, should not be used in a valid page. It is a presentational tag designed only to alter the appearance of text and not for any semantic meaning. To combat this minor problem, most users simply switch to
<strong>, which has an identical default behaviour. The problem is,
<strong> is designed to give strong emphasis on an item (and does so in screen readers).
Solution: Pick the Right Tag for the Job
Instead of changing to visually similar tags that actually have a set meaning, use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to customise the appearance of your page. Where this is redundant or over the top, simply ask yourself whether the tag is needed in the first place. Does there really need to be a bold word in every sentence? Can you use headers (
<h6>) to structure your document instead of fake bold text?
Problem: Table-Based Layouts
The initial step into CSS-based layouts can seem daunting, so many users choose to stick with
<table> based modular layouts often constructed in Frontpage or Dreamweaver. The code can often be bloated with redundant attributes, is slower to load and can often have a negative affect on search engine rankings (search engines can more easily index lean code).
Solution: Find a Simple Tutorial
With an ever-increasing understanding of CSS and
<div> based layouts, there is no excuse not to get stuck into the code and have a go yourself. If you’re determined that you just can’t do it, there are plenty of sites with free CSS templates too.
I Refused to Validate! Trend
On the other side of the fence there are plenty of webmasters refusing to validate their pages because they think that standards are a fad. While the interest in validation of many may be described as such, validation and standards themselves are not. The Web Standards Project have been campaigning for a standardised web since 1998 — over ten years! If standards are a fad, that’s the longest fad I’ve ever seen.
Aside from the “it’s a fad” shouters, there are those who refuse to believe that standards can do anything for them. Sure, if your code is 99% valid and all you’re missing is an unescaped ampersand, you’re not likely going to make a difference by changing it to its entity reference. On the other hand, if your pages are a mess of table based design and presentational code you could be costing yourself both money and visitors.
The difference between a trendy valid page or trendy non valid page and a decent, well-coded website are many. It boils down to more than just a valid page. What the web really needs are webmasters, designers and web developers taking standards by the balls and using them to their advantage. Accessibility, usability and semantics are the future.
Of course, you don’t have to listen to me. Why not listen to the experts instead?