The Business Case for Semantic Markup

A friend, Geoff Thompson, started a software testing consultancy last year. His business is picking up nicely, and things are looking very well for him. However, the design of the company website always bothered me. At first glance, it looks corporate and professional. However, looking closer, I could see that it exhibits a lot of the common usability and accessibility gotchas, such as use of framesets, non-semantic markup, reliance on javascript for basic navigation, and many other problems.

Geoff was interested to hear my views. He explained that their website is effectively an on-line brochure. He and his colleagues will hand out business cards with the website address printed on it, and clients can discover information about their business from the website at their leisure. The chance of people finding the website by other means was not an consideration.

I briefly described an alternative viewpoint, and told Geoff that I’d put together a few points as to why he should consider upgrading his website to semantic markup the next time he revamps his website. With the help of the usual suspects, I put together the following the following points on the business case for semantic markup:

Improved Accessibility Makes Money

Semantic markup is naturally accessible, meaning that it does not make assumptions about who is reading a page. This has the following implications:

  • More people will be able to access your website (think of blind people, people with poor eyesight, people with colour blindness, and so on)
  • More flavours of browsers, computers and other devices will be able to access your website (think of Macs, Linux, PDAs, phones, older browsers, future browsers, and so on)
  • You can protect yourself from complaints regarding the Disability Discrimination Act.

Increasing the number of people able to view your website must will necessarily have a positive effect on sales leads, hence an accessible website should be a hard requirement for any business website.

Semantic Markup Costs Less

A standards based site is cheaper to develop and maintain for a number of reasons:

  • A standards based site is cheaper to develop and maintain, due to simpler markup that can be easily understood by the webmaster. Complex combinations of framesets and nested tables are generally not used
  • Centralised styles mean that site-wide changes can be applied trivially in the style sheets. This is another cost saver for maintenance.

Semantic Markup is Smaller and Faster

  • A website authored using standards based semantic markup can be anywhere from 40% to 60% smaller than a look-alike site using obsolete layout techniques.
  • Smaller files means faster load times, quicker browser response and a better user experience, which can be a easy way to give a positive response.
  • For a high usage site, the smaller size translates directly into cheaper bandwidth costs.

Semantic Markup Improves Findability

People can’t do business with you if they can’t find you. Word of mouth and advertising campaigns can have a certain level of success, but search engines bring a new dimension of visitors to a website.

  • Search engines are by far the dominant way that interested clients can find your website.
  • Accessibility in a website is closely related to findability. This is a well know white hat search engine optimisation (SEO) technique. An accessible website with semantic markup and relevant content will be rated very highly be search engines. This can have a direct effect on sales leads.

Semantic Markup is Future Proof

By basing a website on public web standards, future access to content can be guaranteed. Unlike markup targeting a particular version of a specific browser (which can become obsolete the next time the browser is upgraded), a website with standards based and semantic markup will always be readable in any browser.

Conclusion

Accessible, cheaper, smaller, faster, findable and future proof. What’s not to love?