Nine months ago, when I first interviewed at Zillow for a position on the design team, I was asked how to design a site so that it is lightweight and loved by search engines. I remember getting on my miniature-sized, but sturdy, rock star pink soap box (which matched my hair) about the importance of designing sites to Web Standards, set forth by the guidelines of World Wide Web Consortium (aka W3C in the biz). My interviewers were intrigued, but didn’t really comprehend the multiple huge benefits of a site built using structured semantic markup. Additionally, building a site this way (and I’m only speaking of presentation layer and design) is also a way to show your users that you care about their experiences while using your site.
So as soon as I started working at Zillow, I started my “Everyone-Benefits-from-Web-Standards” mission by chatting with key people about all the great things that building the site this way offered:
- Pages load faster because they are smaller in size
- Lower hosting costs
- Redesigning becomes more efficient and less expensive
- Better search engine results since there is much less code to parse through to get to the content
- Helps maintain visual consistency
- Makes the site accessible to all viewers using different browsers and devices
Not only did the key Zillow stakeholders see the value of building our site this way, we even hired and dedicated a couple of presentation layer developers that specialize in doing only this, and doing it well.
With the larger-than-expected traffic levels we’ve been getting on Zillow.com, I am so glad that we were able to build our site to Web Standards. The server cost would be probably be 18.77 times as huge, which would have caused more problems with people accessing the site and us serving up more “Zillow at rest” haikus.
There are many resources on the Web on how to build a site to Web Standards, but rarely any that discuss applying the method to a site our size. There are still some tweaks here and there and we are definitely learning lots, inventing lots, and working at it lots. By removing presentational markup from our pages, it really has increased the creative design possibilities. This is just one of the many doorways to enhance user experience design and I’m glad we’ve made the right decision by entering it.
OK, I’m off my pink soap box.