Web development, as an industry, is all about constructing websites with secure, stable, and definitely functional infrastructures that would drive in more traffic, increase sales, boost companies’ brands, and contribute to expanding businesses. In fact, consumers pretty much make their purchase decisions based on their experience with e-commerce websites in particular. If everything functions efficiently and smoothly, they are more likely to make a purchase. The opposite is also true.
Now, there are two basic methods to build a website. You, as a business owner, can hire a web development company where highly skilful web developers manually write the code for your website and literally build it from the ground up. The other option is to use a user-friendly web-building service, like WordPress, where you customise a pre-built website template by just dragging and dropping elements the way you want your website to turn out.
No matter which way you use to build your website, you must ensure that it is following the web standards put forward by the World Wide Web Consortium or the W3C. This is an international organisation that developed technical guidelines and standards to regulate web technologies all around the world. These guidelines ensure not only that your user gets the best experience possible but that your website remains accessible, functional, stable, and secure at all times.
Well, this is precisely the core focus of today’s article. So, bring a cup of coffee, and let’s explore some of those web standards.
As we just mentioned, web standards are essentially rules and guidelines established by the W3C and are constantly developed to promote consistency in the design code that makes up a webpage. Guidelines basically define how a webpage displays in a visitor’s window.
There are lots of web standards out there. There is cross-browser compatibility, for example, which ensures that your webpage works across as many devices and browsers as possible. Then there is accessibility, with related concepts such as diversity and inclusion, which means that your website is usable by as many different kinds of people as possible.
This includes people with any visual or hearing impairment, cognitive or physical disabilities, as well as people of different age groups, people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, people using mobile devices, or people browsing with unreliable or slow Internet connections. All of those fall under the umbrella of accessibility, and you need to make sure that your website complies with the accessibility rules.
The list of web standards can go on and on, but for the sake of making this article readable in under 15 minutes, we are going to address three of the most important ones, especially the ones that guarantee improved functionality for your website.
1. Responsive Web Design
The first of the three web standards we are exploring is responsive web design. This is the practice of making your website functionality and layout flexible so that it can automatically adapt to all browsers.
A clear example is a website that is laid out one way in a wide-screen browser on the desktop but displays as a more compact single-column layout on mobile phones where the layer is slightly different, yet everything stacks, keeping the content the same.
Responsive web design then guarantees that the user can still see the same information clearly on their mobile phone as it is on their desktop and have a similarly optimised experience. Nothing is too tightly packed in, squished or missing.
Responsive web design makes your website faster, more accessible, and easier to navigate so users can quickly find the information they are looking for. This, in return, encourages them to stay on your website longer.
OK. We hear you asking, “What is the deal with websites not loading faster in the first place?” Well, the thing is, more and more people are coming onto your website using their mobile phones. So, if it is not loading fast enough or if it looks untidy or unclear on the mobile interface, it is very likely that users will click off and go to another site. This is known as your website’s bounce rate.
A website’s bounce rate is initially the percentage of visitors who pull out of the site after only viewing one page. So, if you have a particularly high bounce rate, then you know that the page the user is currently landing on, whether this is the homepage or any other one on your site, is either not well designed, inaccessible on mobile, or too slow to load. Whatever the reason why your visitors bounce from your website, it just means there is something you need to improve.
A particularly high bounce rate puts websites at risk of ranking lower on search engines because it lets Google know that these websites are either unuseful to the user or hard to navigate.
That is to say that responsive web design not only makes your site accessible on multiple devices but also helps improve its SEO ranking and pushes it higher in Google’s search results pages, which consequently increases traffic and, eventually, revenue.
The first option you have to test your website for responsive web design is quite simple and free. That is Inspect Element. All you have to do is just right-click on your website from any browser and click Inspect. A code window will open on the right side of the page, and your website interface will be minimised on the left.
If you click Dimensions: Responsive in the bar at the top of the page, you will be able to view your site on multiple devices, including iPhone SE, iPhone XR, iPad Air, Surface Pro 7, Galaxy Fold, Nest Hub, and many others. You can also set your own dimensions and see what the website will look like on them.
By seeing how your website is viewed on different devices, you can spot if there are any problems with resizing, zooming, or scrolling.
That being said, Inspect Element might not be the most accurate tool to test responsive web design, one of the most critical web standards. But at least, it will give you an overall idea of what might be going wrong with your website and point it out for you so you can go ahead and fix it.
BrowserStack is another tool that you can use to test responsive web design. It is essentially a web and mobile testing platform that provides you with the ability to test your websites and mobile applications across different browsers, operating systems, and mobile devices. It is also much more accurate and reliable.
Unlike the Inspect Element tool, BrowserStack is not free. They do offer you a demo to learn how to use it and then a free trial to try it. If you find it as feasible as claimed, you can go ahead and purchase it.
BrowserStack offers five plans with different features that match various requirements and budgets. So, there is the Desktop plan, the Desktop & Mobile plan, the Team plan, the Team Pro plan, and the Enterprise plan, all ranging in price between $29 to $199 per month as of September 2023.
In general, BrowserStack is a great software to use if you want to really thoroughly test your website’s responsiveness across different browsers and platforms and make sure it is following the W3C web standards. It allows you to test from anywhere and at any time on the cloud and to connect tools used to capture bugs or file any issues.
So, another one of the fundamental web standards is performance. Performance means getting your website to load as quickly as possible but also making it intuitive and easy to use so that users do not get frustrated and draw back from it.
As all websites, like yours, are changing constantly, getting updated, or receiving new plugins or content, their performance speed may increase or decrease. So, you need to test your website’s performance as often as possible to ensure nothing has gone wrong and that loading time is still short. So, here are a few tools that can help you closely monitor your website’s performance.
One of the best performance testing tools out there is GTmetrix. GTMetrix is a website performance analytics tool that analyses your website, monitors it for speed, and essentially provides you with a list of actionable recommendations that you can make to improve the speed of your site.
Using this tool is quite simple. All you need to do is go to gtmetrix.com, enter the URL of the site that you want to test, and then hit Test your site. GTmetrix will then run its analyser to fetch your website and will give you a report of how it is performing at the moment.
The GTmetrix report is quite comprehensive. Your website is given a grade from A to F on how fast its performance is. It is also given a performance percentage, which describes how well it is doing from a user’s perspective. This percentage is made up by testing things like website interactivity, visual stability, and loading performance.
GTmetrix is quite thorough, for it also lists the top issues with your website at the bottom of the report in order of importance and gives you in-depth insights into what is causing each of them. This is very helpful as it precisely pinpoints what you need to fix in order to improve the performance of your website.
For example, one of the issues that GTmetrix can highlight could be something like “Avoid enormous network payloads.” This means that there are some elements on your website that are contributing to a large page size, and GTmetrix does tell you what those elements exactly are. Some of them are videos or image files. So, GTmetrix is basically telling you to reduce your page size, which you can do using any of the many plugins available on the web, and to optimise your web pages’ speeds as well.
One of those many plugins available on the web is one called Smush. It is a free image optimiser plugin that you can install into your WordPress website. It will bulk all the images on your site and compress them without losing quality. So, Smush will help reduce what they call ‘network payloads’.
Yet, the best way to ensure that the images you are using are optimised and not too big is to optimise them first before uploading them onto your website. One website that can help you do so is TinyPNG.
TinyPNG is a free online image compressor that uses smart lossy compression to reduce your file size, but it will not decrease the quality. So, you can upload all your images onto there first, compress them, and then upload them to your website already optimised.
As Mentioned Before
It is really vital that you are continuously testing your website performance. When you first run a test, you will be given a list of improvements and recommendations. What you should do is go through each of these one by one and try to fix as many of them as you can, whether that is by caching plugins or compressing images.
Once you are done with these improvements, run the GTmetrix test again and see if the issues are actually fixed and then react accordingly. Then, every so often, maybe once a month, rerun the report as plugins update.
As you add changes to your site, there will be new issues, there will be new fixes, and there will always be load times to decrease as well. So, it is imperative that when you audit a site, performance should always be something that you are continuously working on.
The third and last of the web standards we are discussing today is security. Security refers to constructing your website in a secure way so that malicious users cannot steal the information contained on it from you or your users.
Depending on what type of website you are building, you might be handling sensitive information like passwords, credit card or debit card information, or even email signups. All of those can be considered sensitive information. So, as a website owner, you have a responsibility to ensure that it is being collected and stored securely and is not being shared pointlessly.
There are loads of steps that you can take to make sure that your website is secure. If you are running a WordPress website, for instance, you can install a WordPress security plugin to protect your website from malware and boost force attacks and hacking attempts. Security plugins, in general, are designed to prevent attacks and provide complete security reports. So, here are some of the most popular and efficient ones.
Sucuri is the industry giant in WordPress security and one of the best plugins on the market. They offer an essential free plugin that can help you harden your WordPress security and scan your website for common threats.
But the real value is actually in their paid plans, which come with one of the best WordPress firewall protections out there. A firewall will help you block force and malicious attacks from accessing your WordPress dashboard. Sucuri firewall filters filter out bad traffic even before reaching your server. Their own CDN servers also serve static content.
Apart from security, Sucuri’s DNS-level firewall with CDN gives you a tremendous boost in performance and speeds up your website, too, and most of that is included in one of their paid plans.
More importantly, Sucuri also offers to clean up your WordPress site, even if it gets attacked by malware, at no additional cost whatsoever. You can even take a website already affected by malware, and they will clean it up for you.
Another top-rated tool is iThemes Security. So, iThemes Security is a WordPress security plugin that offers a really nice, clean user interface with so many options. It comes with security hardening, limit login attempts, file integrity checks, strong password enforcement, 404 detections, and brute force protection.
The only difference between iThemes Security and Sucuri is that it does not include a website firewall, nor does it have a malware scanner. Instead, it uses Sucuri’s SiteCheck malware scanner.
WPScan is a unique security plugin for WordPress because it uses its own manually created WordPress vulnerability database. Additionally, it is updated daily by dedicated WordPress security specialists and community members. They will scan your website for over 21,000 vulnerabilities, as well as WordPress plugins, themes, and core software.
You can schedule automated daily scans and get email notifications of the results. They have a free security API suitable for most websites, but you can also upgrade to the paid plan if you have a larger site and use a lot of plugins.
As well as the security plugins, you also want to make sure that the hosting provider that you choose is reliable and secure enough because a lot of attacks can come from a weak hosting provider or server.
For WordPress, one of the best hosting providers, especially for security, is WP Engine, which offers VIP hassle-free hosting. They also provide fast and robust servers that can handle anything. In other words, your website being stored on WP Engine is practically hacker-proof. In addition, they also have excellent customer service. Since they are a WordPress hosting provider, you essentially have a team of WordPress experts on your side for assistance.
One of WP Engine’s main strengths, though, is that they have very advanced security tools to guarantee that your website is protected as much as possible. WP Engine offers a number of premium security features. For instance, the WordPress core is automatically updated to the latest version for you all the time. WP Engine also thoroughly tests any major core updates before upgrading their customers.
It is unquestionably vital that you abide by the web standards issued by the W3C because they ensure that assistive technologies and browsers together have the best chance of rendering content in an accessible and meaningful way to all kinds of users.