February 4th, 2014

A Standards-Compliant What? 10 Web Design Terms Explained

confused businessman

photo courtesy of CNBC

So, you’ve signed on to have VIUS build you a responsive, W3C-compliant site built on an open-source CMS. But, what does that all mean?

The people who build, maintain and optimize websites speak a language all their own. And, unfortunately for those unacquainted with this lingo, there’s no Rosetta Stone program for tech speak.

Generally, we do our best not to bore anyone with too much of the technical terminology that goes along with designing and developing a website. That said, as a proponent of lifelong learning, I put together a list of 10 web-centric terms (and explanations) that you might hear from our team or see on our website.

The best part about this mini vocab lesson? You won’t be quizzed on these terms later on, I promise.


Broadly defined, the term analytics means leveraging raw data to draw conclusions and create actionable goals. Analytics are used in a range of industries and allow organizations and companies to make better informed decisions using information mined from existing data.

At VIUS, this word is most commonly heard or seen when we talk about Google Analytics, the most widely used website statistics service and a powerful tool for the folks who work on our SEO services. Google Analytics measures the behavior of web users and generates detailed reports about a website. When properly interpreted, data from Google Analytics can provide valuable insight into the what works and what doesn’t from your website.


Short for content management system, a CMS helps users manage the content of a website. Specifically, a CMS allows users without much knowledge of HTML to create, modify and publish content to the web. Using a CMS, content is published with templates, which maintain uniformity among pages and throughout the website. A CMS can also track revisions of site modifications and allow for adding additional functionality to the site with relative ease.


Open-source software is software that can be freely used, changed and shared by anyone. This means that the design and source code (the part of a website users don’t see but is the site’s foundation) of an open-source software is publicly accessible and readily available for anyone to use. The open-source movement encompasses all kinds of projects and strategies that adopt open-source principles, including transparency and community development.

Sound familiar? VIUS builds websites primarily on open-source technologies like WordPress and Drupal, so we’ve covered the topic on our blog before. For a more in-depth explanation, check out this introduction to open-source CMS software from our lead developer, Brian.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design is a term for building a “flexible” website, so to speak. Contrary to the initial interpretation of the phrase, it doesn’t simply mean that the website functions properly. The images, text and buttons on a responsive website will adapt or respond to the user’s environment. If a responsive website is viewed within a browser on the computer, the site will respond to manipulation of the window’s size and shape. If a site is pulled up on a mobile phone or tablet, a responsive site will still be easily viewed – the images, text boxes and buttons will be resized and, in some cases, repositioned for that device. Responsive web design improves the overall user experience and help supports any SEO marketing efforts you may have in place.


A search engine result page, or SERP for short, refers to the list of results from a query on a search engine, such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. SERPs consist of three main components.

  1. the user’s search term: whatever word or words the searcher uses in the search engine.
  2. organic search results: produced by the search engine using a series of algorithms that determine the relevance and credibility of a site.
  3. paid search results: advertisements or “sponsored links,” displayed by the search engine through a pay-per-click (PPC) search campaign.

Fun fact: A 2012 survey showed that users clicked on the Top 3 search results more than half – 68 percent, in fact – of the time. The same study, conducted by GroupM U.K. and Nielsen, showed that searchers click the No. 1 result disproportionately more often – 48 percent of the time.

Web Accessibility

Web accessibility means making sure that every web user can take full advantage of the web and allows web users with disabilities to navigate, interact with and contribute to the web.

Web accessibility addresses a range of disadvantages that users might have to overcome. This means everything from visual and auditory disabilities to temporary disabilities, such as a broken arm. Adhering to the principles of web accessibility allows websites to benefit everyone, including users with poor internet connections and others who might have changing abilities due to aging.


W3C is shorthand for the World Wide Web Consortium – an international group of folks who have made it their mission to make the internet a better place. The W3C includes more than 450 member organizations and four host institutions around the world. Started in 1994, the W3C has developed a sort of utopian model of how the web should serve its users and calls that vision “One Web.” To support this aim, the W3C community comes up with rules and suggestions to improve the quality of websites. These guidelines are standards that designers/developers should adhere to when developing on the web.

The web is a vast space, so the W3C has a lot of ground to cover with its guidelines. Yet, its main objectives include goals like ensuring that everyone has access to the web and encouraging interaction among its users.


This term refers to websites and browsers that follow the tried-and-true guidelines of the W3C. A standards-compliant website employs techniques that aim to make the site more powerful, more accessible (available to everyone on the web) and more convenient to maintain. To encourage standards-compliance, the W3C maintains a list of tools that developers can use to evaluate a site’s adherence to the W3C guidelines.

For more information about web standards and why they’re important, check out this FAQ from The Web Standards Project – a group of web developers whose mission is to promote and defend the key W3C standards.

Content Strategy

Developing a proper content strategy is often one of the very first steps to planning a great new website. A content strategy means knowing what to say, and how and when to say it – and understanding why. The goal is to use research to create meaningful content that encourages action or sparks a conversation. And, like a good ping-pong swing, the follow-through is important. Once content is created and published, an effective strategy identifies the measurable impact of the content and continues to foster engagement through the website.

Information Architecture

Not all too unlike content strategy, information architecture (IA) is about making decisions about the structure of a website based on research. Designers who employ concepts of IA first use experimentation and analysis to understand the (often inherent) behavior of the user. Then, they apply that knowledge to the organization and navigation of a website to best meet the expectations and feelings of the user. The end result is a website that allows users to find information quickly and accurately.

So, what did you learn? Which terms related to website design/development still have you scratching your head?

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