CSS, Standards, Semantic Markup, and the Bottom Line: Money

One of the challenges in creating, maintaining, or redesigning a website, especially with larger companies, is that all too often the people making the major decisions are clueless about what matters the most with websites behind the scenes. Content is what truly matters the most, but the way it’s delivered can cost a whole lot more with bandwidth, page load times, visitor satisfaction, and ultimately with lost revenue. [Book cover: More Eric Meyer on CSS (Voices That Matter), by Eric A. Meyer, Pearson Education, 2004]

In the real world, you and I wanting a website based on current W3C Recommendations doesn’t mean it can happen at the company where you work, at least not very easily or very soon. Creating or redesigning a website that’s standards-based can be blocked by inside politics, a kludgy CMS that isn’t standards-oriented and won’t be changed any time soon, and a multitude of other factors.

Talking about pages loading quicker and websites being easier to maintain may not make much of a dent, especially for those who’d need to learn a few new tricks instead of continuing on with what they already know just fine. Maybe the company owners are clueless about what’s involved in creating or maintaining a website, they may not think it really matters much how a website is developed, or they paid a fortune for that kludgy CMS so they have no interest in spending more money to make changes.

But, hey, wait a minute—what about the money part again? Read on for a terrific story about saving money and making more money due to a standards-based redesign. Money talks, after all, doesn’t it? Hmmm... well, we’ll see.

Real life savings through Web standards, by Richard Rutter, was posted earlier today, providing an inspirational real life story about the recent website redesign of - online maps to everywhere. You may not be surprised to hear that redesigning with current W3C Recommendations and improved semantic markup would reduce page file size, reduce bandwidth, and be easier to maintain. I’ve experienced this many times with websites I’ve redesigned, too. What I hadn’t seen documented until I read Richard’s story, though, was how the impact of those improvements increased the website’s generated revenue. They’d anticipated saving a lot of money on bandwidth; however, since pages load faster now, visitors are sticking around and visiting more pages. The increased page views increases banner ad impressions and generates more income for Multimap. So, as Richard states,

My final statement regarding the bandwidth (and hence money) savings did not quite pan out as expected. Bandwidth consumption has certainly decreased with the declining page weight but not by the proportion we were expecting. What actually happened was that people starting using the site more. It seems the faster pages (both in terms of bandwidth and rendering) resulted in more page views as people panned, zoomed and searched significantly more than they did before. So not only did the switch to CSS layout save Multimap money, it made Multimap money (page views = banner ad impressions) and quantitatively improved people’s experience (more page views per visit).

Wow! Now that is indeed impressive to me and certainly stands out as another important reason to use current W3C Recommendations, including the use of CSS for presentation. But that’s not all. There’s more.

More: CSS, Site Makeovers, Bowman, Zeldman, More [Book cover: Designing with Web Standards, by Jeffrey Zeldman]

Within my last post, CSS, Site Makeovers, Bowman, Zeldman, More I quickly mentioned several new posts and a Wired News article, but I didn’t have time right then to write my thoughts.

First, if you haven’t read Doug Bowman’s recent post, Throwing Tables Out the Window, I wholeheartedly recommend it in addition to Richard Rutter’s article that I noted above.

  • Doug uses the Microsoft website as a real-world high-profile company website example, writing about its kludgy tables-based layout, its fairly standard 3-column layout, using CSS “for little more than FAC (fonts and color),” and serving different versions of its pages based on visitor’s browser in a truly absurd way that makes no sense in reality.
  • Doug then converted their main page to more semantic markup and a CSS-based presentation to duplicate their look. Doing so decreased the page file size by 62%. Read on to see how that translates into huge real-world money savings.

Plugging in the numbers, here’s what that could translate to in saved bandwidth, which then translates into real money savings:

According to a public Microsoft page titled “Inside Microsoft”, Microsoft’s published traffic numbers state that got 1.2 billion page views during the month of May 2004. In this presentation, I showed how to decrease the markup from one page by 62%, or 25 KB. I also predicted that about 25 KB is a fair savings estimate per page if Microsoft was to get more aggressive about using CSS site-wide. If multiplied out by an average of 38.7 million page views per day, that 25 KB savings per page could add up to about 924 GB in bandwidth savings per day, or 329 terabytes per year.

That’s a fair chunk of savings, don’t you think? Companies ought to have a breakdown of bandwidth costs, so plugging that in would give an idea of how much money could be saved in bandwidth alone. Then there’s the other factor that Richard Rutter wrote about regarding Multimap quite unexpectedly increasing revenue due to the redesign’s faster-loading pages. So can individuals, small businesses, non-profits, and big corporations afford to not create leaner, more accessible, more user-friendly websites?

Well, you’d think more would have jumped on the bandwagon long ago. Many of us have seen for years how much better sites can work when they’re created with current W3C Recommendations. However, to date I haven’t seen an abundance of solid facts and figures to show how much money can be saved by using current W3C Recommendations effectively. How can we tell the boss how much better the website can be without facts and figures to absolutely back us up? Tough sell, that’s for sure. Additionally, most or all of us have seen how tough it is to get individuals and companies to consider making changes, even with plenty of solid documentation. As Jeffrey Zeldman pointed out the other day,

These unassailable business benefits of standards-based design (save thousands of dollars in hosting and bandwidth costs, reduce load times for all users, look and work better for more users) have been raised many times—here, in DWWS, at, A List Apart, and in numerous other places since early 2001.

As more facts and figures start to appear that solidly prove the monetary gain by using a more semantic, CSS-based approach, I hope more websites will make the switch. In the real world, it’s not enough that you and I want to build and maintain websites based on current W3C Recommendations. Money talks, though, and maybe increasingly more solid proof of saving money will help speed up what feels like a painfully long process.

More on Website Optimization

[Book cover: Speed Up Your Site, by Andy King. New Riders, 2003.] A copy of Andy King’s Speed Up Your Site will help anyone create a leaner, speedier website. Whether you know nothing about website optimization or already know quite a bit, I’m sure you can pick up plenty of helpful tips in Andy’s terrific book. I have my copy sitting on my desk here for reference.

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Categories: Accessibility, Books, CSS, Design, Development, Standards, Usability


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  1. Here is a look at CSS, Standards, Semantic Markup from a business perspective. Looking at the bottom line is a reality that has to be considered. It is interesting that what may seem to be standard for a designer may...

    02 Aug, 2004Trackback from Lockergnome's Web Developers

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