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Although few mainstream Web users fully understand how much strategic, behind-the-scenes effort is required to make a website function properly, all are intolerant when broken code causes a website to malfunction.

All the beauty and elegance in the world will never compensate for the ugliness of improper rendering.

Lost user confidence is but one cost of sloppy code. Attempts to fix it can rack up thousands of dollars in consultant fees. And poorly coded Web assets can hinder marketing-campaign performance.

Because coding practices directly affect marketing, they should also be considered in that context. Accordingly, this article illustrates the importance of correct coding practices to marketing strategy and describes four of those practices.

Coding and the Committed Marketer

The Web browser, operating system, and hardware landscapes are an ever-evolving mush of disparate technologies that will always share one commonality: the Internet.

With the variety of technologies being used to display Web marketing assets (websites, landing pages, ads, email campaigns, etc.), presentational coding best-practices are becoming impossible to ignore.

Faced by a client or project that requires Web assets, marketing professionals must take real business objectives and translate them into a creative and technological solution that will wear well over time and provide the largest return on each marketing dollar.

Although nonvalidated code may look and function very similarly to validated code, the devil is in the details, along with those last drops of ROI. Establishing proper code-work as a priority in the beginning of a campaign ensures decreased scaling costs while maximizing present-effort punch.

Four Coding Best Practices

1. Validate Your Code

Validated XHTML and CSS just work better. By spending the time and money to get your team up to speed on XHTML/CSS validation, you guarantee that your customer's Web assets will render correctly 99.9% of the time. As one Twitter user (@Zeldman) states, "[The] Client who saves $5,000 buying cut-rate non-semantic HTML will later spend $25,000 on [an] SEO consultant to compensate."

Finally, validation ensures proper use of often overlooked HTML attributes and tags. The best example is the ALT attribute of the HTML image tag; this attribute is often excluded, and the result is suboptimal search performance.

2. Perform basic search engine optimization

Although the ongoing practice of SEO is intended to optimize a website over a certain set of keywords or phrases, SEO in its basic form begins with the proper use of HTML metatags, header tags, image ALT attributes, and so on.

Such baseline SEO attentiveness may well make the difference between being found via a targeted search or being lost among hundreds of pages of search-result clutter.

3. Ensure graceful degradation of code

What happens if a user's browser doesn't allow Javascript or Flash? Worse yet, what happens if that user's in-office network hasn't allowed updates to Internet Explorer for three years, and he, along with his colleagues, is forced to use the dreaded IE6?

Graceful degradation takes into account such possibilities and provides graceful fallback solutions that allow your customers' websites to still display properly, with only minor losses of animation or functionality.

4. Use Flash carefully

Flash's viability as a valuable Web authoring tool is under intense debate. Proponents argue that it allows a richer experience along with security, stability, and lightweight code. Opponents criticize its lack of SEO capabilities (though certain HTML measures can be taken in compensation) and its mobile-device unfriendliness.

The growing popularity of the iPhone and iPad is another strike against it. Because neither device supports Flash, Web professionals are being forced to rethink the way they build websites.

Flash has its place as a Web technology, but audience and medium should be carefully considered when choosing whether to include it in your online marketing efforts.

Plan and Map Ahead

When my team is approached with a project, the first thing we do is step back to consider the technological possibilities, scope and scale potential, and design implications. Only after careful technical mapping and planning does the creative process begin.

Such planning ensures that clients get beautiful execution throughout and permits scaling as their businesses grow (and growing a business, of course, is what marketing is all about).

* * *

The scope of this discussion has been limited to the code that is rendered by customers' browsers. Though the presentation of online assets (HTML/CSS) is just one piece of a well-oiled marketing campaign or online brand presence, if done properly it will set a foundation for a stronger, more scalable campaign that serves to maximize returns on marketing dollars.

Continue reading "Four Web Coding Practices to Maximize Marketing ROI" ... Read the full article

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Ryan Frederick is a principal and VP of interactive design for Engage Marketing Group ( Reach him via

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