Why You Should Care About Markup

Sometimes when I’m in hurry I’ll write a quick note on my hand instead of on a notepad. I’ve also been known to be too impatient to go hunt down a pair of scissors to open a package from Amazon.com, so I’ll use my a car key instead. Such shortcuts work just fine when you’re in a pinch. But if you are performing an important or very repetitive task, using the right tool is much easier and more efficient. Similar scenarios are played out in the web development world all the time, which is not the place for taking shortcuts or misusing your tools.

What we’re talking about here is semantics.

Semantics

Most tools were designed for a specific purpose, to do a specific job. HTML markup was formulated the same way.

I’m an advocate of clean, standards-based markup. When I talk about markup, I’m referring to HTML. When I refer to standards-based markup, I’m talking about semantic HTML written in such a way as to separate the structure of the page from presentational elements. I’m a firm believer in keeping HTML virtually free of presentational elements and avoid using <br /> (line breaks) and &nbsp;(non-breaking spaces) to position information on a Web page and using HTML tags for their intended purpose, such as using a <ul> (unordered list) to markup a list of items, be they items in a grocery list or a navigation menu. All presentational elements can and should be defined in separate CSS files.

Who Cares Anyway, Right?

The upside to developing Web sites in this manner is tremendous. Depending on your perspective or role in a given Web project, you may appreciate a wide array of benefits – fortunately there are enough to go around for everyone involved.

Web Master: If you’re the guy responsible for updating and making changes to a Web site, you’ll enjoy the ease of maintenance that semantic code provides.

Marketing Manager: Does driving more traffic to your site sound like a good idea? Semantic HTML practices produce well-structured documents that are easy for search engines to read, so developing sites in this manner is good for enhancing SEO.

Owner: If you’re the owner, you’re sure to see all the benefits, but you’ll especially appreciate the increase in performance. Cleanly coded Web pages are usually smaller in file size and make for faster downloads, resulting in less bandwidth waste, which makes this a cost-cutting measure. Who doesn’t like to save money?

The benefits of developing with standards-based markup is well documented and highly recommended for reading.

So the next time you’re in a hurry and reach for the nearest butter knife to turn a screw instead of a screwdriver, remember semantics and how they save time and effort over the long haul, especially if you’re developing Web sites.

No Comments

  1. Alan says:

    Amen to that. Semantic markup makes things so much easier. I have a greater appreciation after working on two different sites that use nothing but bad table-based layouts.

  2. I agree, semantic markup is important. At the moment i am creating a content management system using xhtml and css. This means that the end product can easily be styled to a variety of different designs with just a few lines of css and you never have to touch the code of the page. This allows third parties to create their own visual styles without having to touch a line of my website’s code. It also allows you to crete a printer friendly version of the page without having to rewrite the content.

  3. Sam Kirton says:

    Agreed, and &nbsp; should only be used when structuring large blocks of text. Using to space a layout would result in a change of cross-browser measurements.