If you’re considering getting a website, you’ll either want to do it yourself — not recommended for numerous reasons ranging from security concerns to browser interoperability — or you’ll hire a professional to do it for you. But before you rush right out and get sold by someone, be sure you know what you’re going to be getting. The differences in website quality out there are almost unbelievable, yet from the surface, the part you see, they are equally imperceptible.
Two Good Questions
There are certain things that you should be aware of. Technical matters that you don’t necessarily have to fully comprehend, but you do need to at least have a basic understanding of. Enough of an understanding, and concern about your own website project for that matter, to think to ask your web developer candidate some specific questions. Here are four:
Do you use tables for page layout?
Emphasize layout when you ask. The response should be “no, we use CSS for page layout, tables are for tabular data.” If they answer with that, move on to the next question and feel good. If they don’t know or say “yes” you should stop the interview and keep looking.
If they just say “we use CSS,” be sure to re-emphasize the “for page layout?” part. It’s important. CSS is short for Cascading Style Sheets. CSS a special file type used for laying out pages on modern websites. The file is also used for adding colors and backgrounds — all site-wide — but using it for layout is what you need to know. Some developers will truthfully answer with “we use CSS,” but they will mean for colors and backgrounds, not layout. Specify.
Tables will hamper the search engine and human accessibility of your web pages. It’s not to say using them doesn’t have advantages. People still using browsers like Internet Explorer 4 — from the mid-90s and grossly outdated — will enjoy a more stable page layout. As I wrote, CSS is for modern websites (like those from this century). Tables are great for rows and columns of numbers or text that needs to be organized as such to be understandable — tables are used to organize your shopping cart items for this purpose — but not for page layout.
Will my website be accessible?
If the candidate replies with “in what way?” or “accessible to what?” or “what do you mean by that?” keep looking. If they say “yes,” but explain no further, prod them for details. You might want to ask them “to what level and specification?” If they respond with anything but the “Section 508 Guidelines,” the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG 1 or 2), or the WCAG 1 Samurai Errata, you might want to bring these terms up to see what they mean anything to them. If not, keep looking. If the reply is positive, ask a bit more, Repeat, “and to what level?”
The response should be “A,” “AA,” or “AAA,” but if it’s the latter, be skeptical, very skeptical. A real so-called “AAA” level site is extremely difficult if not truly impossible to attain, yet you’ll find some developers with a borderline interest or understanding of web accessibility will throw those three letters out there with reckless abandon. These developers might actually have some good skills, but hiring them might be a bit chancy. If they walk-the-walk and don’t just talk-the-talk might be indeterminable. Web accessibility is really quite important for many reasons as outlined in the Accessites’ business-case presentation “Why Web Accessibility Makes Sense.”
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