When web 2.0 is on its way out and web 3.0 is tentatively knocking on our cyber door, why—in the modern age of the Internet, are there still corporate websites that still insist on living in the dark ages?
As the web space moves into a more social and open sphere with the realization that the Internet should be accessible to all (regardless of technical or physical ability), these websites—with their outdated practice, still linger. A throw back to the dark days of animated GIF pop-ups and ticker tape style scrollers. Whether it is due to ignorance or the old school philosophy of ‘Build it and they will come’, there needs to be a massive shake up in order to wipe these bad website practices out for good. Below are two main issues that should be at the forefront of this shake up:
Websites that use tables tend to have excess code. This slows down development and raises maintenance costs. There’s a limit to how many lines of code a programmer can produce during a day’s work, and excess code is more complicated for others to understand. Developers may not even understand their own code after a while. Such is the complexity that can develop.
Accessibility is also a major concern when tables are used in this way. Remember that not everyone will be viewing your website the way you are. Some people will be using different browsers, sometimes older, sometimes more advanced. If you’re not creating your website in a standard-compliant way, there’s no way to tell how it’s going to look on different computers. This is even more critical now as more and more of us are going online with a variety of devices (mobile!), with a variety of different screen sizes. The accessibility issue has just got even more important while at the same time becoming more complex.
To still have websites (prominent ones I may add) using tables to layout the design is craziness of the highest order. Tables existed in HTML for one reason: to display tabular data. The fact that border=’0’ gave designers an option to layout their designs should not be an excuse in this day and age.
Using tables for layout purposes makes it harder to separate the content from the design. The border, width, cellpadding and cellspacing tags are used in about 90% of all websites that use tables. This adds code to the HTML that should really be going into a separate stylesheet.
While the above may sound like I have an inner dislike for tables, this is not true. I am most certainly not a tableist! HTML tables are wonderful, as long as they’re used in the way in which they were intended, which is to display tabular data. As long as you use tables for tabular data only, and never nest a table inside another table, you’re using them correctly and as intended.
Alt—An overlooked property
Images are becoming more and more important in SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The ALT attribute is an important step in this process and is often overlooked. Not only can this affect accessibility from a visitor’s perspective; but it can also be a missed opportunity in terms of search engine visibility.
In Google’s webmaster guidelines, the advise on the use of alternative text for the images is:
“Images: Use the ALT attribute to provide descriptive text. In addition, we recommend using a human-readable caption and descriptive text around the image.”
Search engines have the same problem as blind visitors. They can’t see the images. Using the ALT attribute to describe the image helps the search engine make sense of your website’s content.
This doesn’t mean that you should abuse the ALT attribute and stuff it full of keywords in the hope of trying to achieve a certain keyword density. On the contrary, high keyword density can—on some search engines, trigger spam filters, which may result in a penalty for your site’s ranking. Even without such a penalty, your site’s rankings will not benefit from this tactic. Keywords are not as relevant as they once were.
This method also puts people who use screen readers at a massive disadvantage. Screen readers actually read aloud the contents of what’s displayed on the screen. In browsing the web, the ALT attributes of images are read aloud as well. Imagine listening to a paragraph of text, which is then followed by a mass of keywords, read out one by one. Annoying? Not half! The page would be far from accessible. And, to put it bluntly, would be highly frustrating for the visitor. A lost customer or potential investor? Quite possibly.
The words used within an image’s ALT attribute should be its text equivalent and convey the same information or serve the same purpose that the image would. The way to think about it is like this: If you were to replace the image with text, would most visitors receive the same basic information, and would it generate the same response?
If you have a search button that is in the image of a magnifying glass for example, your ALT attribute should be something like ‘search’ not ‘magnifying glass’. However, if an image is meant to convey the literal contents of the image, then a description would be fine. It really does depend on the usage of the image.
Many corporate sites still don’t use this attribute in the correct way. And they really are missing an opportunity to not only increase their ranking potential, but also to create a truly accessible experience.
Accessibility is king now and corporate sites need to be aware of this. Creating a truly accessible experience to visitors (I try not to use the term “users” it makes them sound like drug addicts) as well as search engines will be one of the main battlegrounds on which your website will either live or die.
*)If you’d like to know more about how your web is doing, you can always contact email@example.com. He’d be happy to help you out.