Should I have a W3C HTML / CSS Validation button on my website?

If I’m amazed at how often I see the W3C html or CSS validation button on a website, I’m gobsmacked at how many times I click it and the validation fails.

These widgets check the quality of your code against the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium - the closest thing to an official industry body) standards and tell you whether you’re following all the rules perfectly or not. If you’re not, it indicates how many broken rules there are and where they are, so that you can correct them if you wish.

There are several issues professional web designers have with putting this code on the website.

Who cares?

The first one is the same as the hit counter – it’s self-indulgent. No visitor gives two hoots whether the website is standards compliant or not. They’re only interested in their experience, and whether the website is easy to use and helps them achieve their goals, or not. 

Plus, normal mortals don’t have the first idea what that button is about or what it means. So the only people who are interested in having such a thing displayed on the site are: the person who designed it and possibly the person who owns it. And if you’re prioritising these people above your audience, you’re losing your noodle.

What does it prove?

The second issue is that ‘standards compliant’ does not equal ‘excellent website’.
Meeting the W3C standards is basically a box checking issue, and as anyone who’s used any document spellchecker knows, dogmatically following algorithmic rules is still nowhere near the level of the complexity of the human experience. Spellcheckers are excellent now, but if you blindly followed their rules, you could still end up with a garbled mess.

The same goes for standards compliance. It might help some web designers to keep their code tidy and cross-browser compatible, but it won’t stop them building a terrible websites with, for example, a confusing structure, busy pages, jarring colours or misleading navigation.

And by the same token, some of the best websites out there will NOT be standards compliant. You may wonder how this could be the case, but the reason why is quite simple.

The Internet is Alive

The Internet, computing and coding are modern technologies which are constantly moving, constantly updating and always changing, improving. Organisations that have to set industry standards are slow, plodding things. 

With its priority on only approving technologies that are completely robust, reliable and work in pretty much every context, W3C standards compliance is about five years behind the cutting edge.

That means that if you stick to the standards, you greatly reduce the options that are available to you.

Now, if your website is a community service website for the hard of hearing, for example, you probably will want to make sure your website is as solid and accessible as possible, and those with ancient computers aren’t going to have trouble. Plus, you’re providing a service, so you don’t need to convince anyone to visit your website.

However, if you’re running a high-fashion online clothing store, sticking to the standards will frustrate your target visitors and give the impression the company is ponderous and old fashioned, because the website can’t do any of the little flourishes and quick responses to make their experience sexy – because the technologies that do those things are too new to have been approved yet.

Crossing the line

And to finish with the ‘failing’ point – next time you see one of those buttons, try clicking on it. About 95% of the time, it come up with a big red warning that says ‘ERRORS!’, often with many of them being ‘fatal’. The absurdity of including this button when the site doesn’t even pass is beyond words.