The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organisation for the World Wide Web and is headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the man credited with “inventing” the Internet).
W3C’s sole goal is to ensure that the World Wide Web and Websites all work as well as they possibly can. Their guidelines are extremely strict and are purely based on the concept of “accessibility for all”. Whilst it is not official (Google keep the criteria they use for ranking websites a closely guarded secret) it is widely agreed amongst website developers that following these guidelines will help your website list higher on the search engines.The W3C themselves state “Following these guidelines will also help people find information on the Web more quickly.”
Therefore if you wish to compete effectively on the Internet then your business needs a website that the W3C approve of – one which is web compliant.
You should test websites against these guidelines using W3C’s free online validation service -To do this you simply enter the web address of the website you want to check.
If a website “validates” then the website complies with W3C’s guidelines. If it does not “pass” the validator will declare the errors and also any warnings. These errors and warnings can be used to identify the problems in the website’s coding so that a web developer can fix them. Often these are highly technical detailed descriptions which are unintelligible to a lay person.
From a developers point of view a W3C error report is very useful because it also includes a description on how to fix the problem in a way that should result in the website passing validation.
The most common error declared by the W3C Validator is know as a “Syntax Error”. HTML and XHTML are languages used within the coding of the website and W3C produce an approved list of commands (words that are used in the language). If a website developer has used a non-approved command (word) then a Syntax Error is produced. The website may still appear to work and display properly but it does not achieve the levels of accessibility required by the W3C.
Unlike errors, warnings are produced when the W3C validator is unable to make sense of the coding the developer has used in the website. It is sometimes the case that the commands used are so different from the list of approved HTML and XHTML commands that the W3C are unable to give the developer advice on how to correct the problem. Even more seriously, this could mean that the website has the potential to crash or not function properly.
This guide is a relatively simplistic overview of an extremely complex and highly technical area usually reserved for well qualified website developers. It is therefore important that we bring to your attention some further details about W3C guidelines that may, on occasion, also be relevant.
Levels of Validation
There are actually different levels of validation and all of our own websites conform to at least level 1 of the Guidelines. You can also work to higher levels if you want to, which may include providing visitors with the ability to increase the size of the font on the website to make it more legible. You can also ensure your website is “screen reader” compatible (screen readers give the website a ‘voice’ and read the content of the site to the visitor).
Content Management Systems and Validation
Many websites now support the use of a Content Editor (also known as a Content Management System) which enable people with little to no web development skills to create and manage content on their website quickly and easily.
This means that what was once the preserve of those with considerable technical expertise is now open to anyone with basic computer skills.
Content Editors, do, however, have a very tough job on their hands as they have take all the raw text, images, links, tables, bullet lists, etc. that you throw at them and by using lots of formulas and processes, convert this raw data into HTML and/or XHTML code that is approved by the W3C.
Whilst this is easy for a web developer to do, because they have prior knowledge of what is and what isn’t “valid” code, it is very difficult for an automated system to do and often leads to shortfalls. For example, about 95% of validation errors on our websites originate from a content editor. Much of this can be avoided by not cutting and pasting copy directly from Word for Windows into the Content Editor.
This is because Word for Windows contains huge amounts of hidden information that can interfere with the HTML and/or XHTML code on the website.
We always recommend that you first cut and paste from Word into a more simple word processor such as Notepad. You can then re-cut and paste from Notepad into the Content Editor and avoid many validation errors. This is perfectly normal and an issue that is often experienced by many website designers across the world.
It is therefore important that whenever you or your client add or change content on a website you also check that it still validates. It it doesn’t, then your website designer should be able to fix it for you.