Web Design Rules: 18 Rules the Best Web Developers Follow

Posted by Jeremy Schooley

There are many practices that web developers follow.  The best Web Designers & web developers though, set themselves apart by staying on top of the latest trends, maintaining a high level of credibility, and establishing a diverse and robust web presence.  Following the 18 rules listed below will surely get you closer to being one of the web’s best web developers, if you are already not one.

1. Don’t push information on your visitors. Let your visitors choose and decide what they want to read. Giving them the control over their viewing experience. Ask yourself: what would be my reaction to a dozen of pop-ups and tons of ad blocks?

2. Poor advertising is evil. Don’t focus on the ad revenue side of your site.  Visitors start forming opinions about your website within seconds of visiting your page.  If it is loaded with ads, it may actually have a negative impact on your visitors, which can hurt your ad revenues in the long run. Try to balance your ad placement and quantity with the flow of the content and page layout.

3. Be a source of information. Virtually everyone on the web is looking for specific information.  Whether it is for a product, service, or just educational, sharing your expertise and experiences sets your business website apart from the others and adds value to the content.

4. Develop your own style. Never ever “copy” someone else’s efforts.  Try to be as original as possible.  This will make your site and its content unique and fresh.  A fresh spin on something that has been done before is acceptable because having a new take on existing material creates unique content.  So, surf the web and let it inspire you.

5. Obey the standards. Standards may seem like a pain, but sticking to them will save you headache in the future.  Code that is written in compliance with web standards has a much better chance of being rendered properly in the various browsers people use on the web these days.  It also has a better chance of being rendered properly for the various versions of these browsers; older and newer.

6. Be clear. Your website needs to communicate as clearly as possible to its visitors. You only have a few seconds to make that initial impact on the visitor.  Telling them exactly where to find things and exactly what product or services you offer help the visitor feel comfortable in using your site to gather information and/or make their decision.  If it is something that is complex, break it up into digestible chunks.

7. Use Internet Explorer as a baseline. Don’t design your code for special browsers or special resolutions. Regardless of how you feel about Internet Explorer, it still used by more than 85% of web users; and that demands a web developer’s respect.  In most cases, getting your code to render properly in IE6 means it will probably render properly in most browsers.  There are, of course, exceptions.  One day IE6 will be ancient and there will be a new baseline, which is determined by the most popular browser used.

8. Content is king. Some of the most successful websites bring something new and useful to the web.  There are millions of cookie cutter websites out there and users get bored with them.  Fresh, useful, and entertaining content is in high demand and you will find visitors to your site thirsty for more once you give them a taste.

9. Web-crawlers and SEO should be an afterthought. Don’t think in keywords; unless you want your website to seem artificial.  Time spent on SEO would be much better spent on creating more useful content.  Creating great content and sharing it through the web will naturally help your search engine rankings improve.

10. Share content naturally, don’t spam. Sharing your content naturally means, you are sharing with people who would actually be interested in it. Think about the sites they are likely to visit.  Keep in mind that you are writing to a human being, who can effectively spread your content across the web by sharing it or using social media to bookmark it, etc. Don’t spam or advertise, offer useful content for the potential readers of the content.

11. Answer your e-mails immediately. Quick personalized responses are a must with communicating through email on the web.  Make the person you are communicating to feel important by giving a personalized response and show them that you think their time is valuable by responding quickly.  Automated emails feel cookie cutter and can leave a negative impression of you.

12. Engage in Social Media. Gain visibility for your site by using Digg, Reddit, Mixx, del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia, StumbleUpon and hundreds of other social media websites. The great thing about social media, is that it is word of mouth advertising for the web.  Once social media users find useful content, they often share it across the web using other social media sites, linking to your content from their blog, and more.

13. Make connections, and nurture relationships. The best web developers often write guest posts on other blogs.  They are active in developer forums.  They are administrators for comments on blogs and more.  Doing these thing helps build key connections that will increase your credibility as well as build on your list of relationships with other developers who have strong credibility.  This can open many doors.  Make sure, when forming strategic relationships on the web, balance the give and take to make sure there is something in it for both parties.

14. Take advantage of the “worldwide” web. The world is a big place and more and more people are coming to the web.  Don’t be afraid to expand your web presence beyond your local niche or country.  As long as the information you are providing is useful, the visitors will come to learn more, regardless of where they are.  Ideas transcend borders.

15. Build sites for “users”, not the site “owner”. This can always be tricky when dealing with clients.  Most developers have had the experience of clients who envision a site that is really meant for them and not for users.  It is our job as developers to educate our clients to ensure that the websites we create are built around the user’s experience.  Most clients are grateful when you share this information.

16. Always keep learning. The landscape of the web changes fast and developers have to change with it or else their skills run the risk of being outdated.  The best way to do this is to subscribe to blogs using RSS.  Social media is now playing a big role in the way informational pages are tagged and shared.  Check out our List of 100 Web Designers to Follow on Twitter.

17. Find inspirational resources for creativity. Sometimes all you need to do is browse through other people’s work to get ideas.  Sometimes you just need some coffee.  If you still can’t shake the creativity block, take a break to clear your mind or get some exercise to get the blood flowing in your brain.

18. Beautify the Web. Most web developers realize CSS designs are beautiful; not to mention more efficient on the coding side of things.  Even if you don’t know CSS very well, you can still get ideas from CSS Table Gallery, CSS Zen Garden, Comment Design Showcase, Typography, and Form Assembly Garden.

Some of these rules may seem very basic, but remember that it is the combined implementation of these rules that make the web’s best developers stand out.  Please feel free to provide with any feedback or any suggestions of what should be added to this list.

70 thoughts on “Web Design Rules: 18 Rules the Best Web Developers Follow

  1. First off, great post! I agree with everything except #7, IE 6 *is* ancient; it’s older than the iPod. If it works and is usable in IE 6 that’s good enough in my opinion.

  2. I agree with these rules especially number 9. If you are up on current trends then this should come naturally. First and foremost is to deliver an experience to the visitor because ultimately it will be people and not search engines that truly drive your site to the top.

  3. I actually disagree with #9 – SEO should never be an after thought. Good SEO is much more than just keywords stuffing. If your content is not keyword specific, how do you ever expect to rank for those keywords. The key is to not overdue it. You content should be written so that it is natural to read for a human. Yes, content is important but wouldn’t it be better to do it right from the start as you are creating the content and not have to change it later?

  4. I’d suggest #19: Make it very very easy for people to respond and to take the action you want. That means a very obvious “Contact Us” link, that tells visitors how to reach you by phone, address and email. And a button to “Subscribe” or “Click Here for more information.”

    Too often, it’s a real effort to find the contact info on a website – when that should be the first thing a developer thinks about. I know, it can be overwhelming if a site gets busy and there is an onslaught of emails or phone calls to deal with. But (especially in Web 2.0) site visitors expect to be able to respond, and it’s far better if you give them an easy way to do so.

  5. i agree with shelly. i get the point you are trying to make, but ultimately if you spend time up front structure the template correctly, keyword usage in tag attributes is much easier. plus, with enough forethought on a dynamic site, its easier to make the tags consistent and refreshed with relevant keywords.

    for the most part, i liked the list, though. even the IE comments. i have mistakenly forgotten about IE on quick projects, only to find out later what a site looked like in IE6. itd be nice if everyone was standards compliant, but the fact is they arent so you have to sometimes tailor to not leave the lowest guy on the pole out.

  6. Shelly is right about #9… SEO should be included during the website design process other wise you take the risk of not being search engine friendly. SEO is much more than just the keyword density of a page, it’s about making your website crawlable and accessible.

  7. All true. Our personalsecurityzone.com site gets compliments and increased sales due to use of practices like these. Number One though – have something to say or sell that is in demand. Your customers and readers will let you know.

  8. I disagree with #9 as well. SEO is very important these days. While it’s important to mostly focus on content, it is also very important to tweak content for SEO keywords while writing it…. not writing it, then changing it again for seo purposes.

    Other than that, some great tips!

  9. I’m actually going to disagree on alot of the points that were raised in this article. I feel that the term ‘Web Developer’ has been mislead in this article, and is trying to cover a broader range of occupations and roles that don’t fall under the ‘Web Developer’ umbrella.

    Web Developer: A web developer is a software developer or software engineer who is specifically engaged in the development of World Wide Web applications, or distributed network applications that are run over the HTTP protocol from a web server to a web browser. (cited: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_developer)

    I feel alot of the points you’ve covered in your article are directed more at content producers, content managers, or bloggers. #8 is an awesome example. A few of your points encompass web developers, but it isn’t the sole responsible of the web developer to bring up. #15 is a great example. I think this point really is a rule that should be followed by a web designer or user experience analysis, but web developers can and show have a say if they have experience in User Experience.

    #7. Where did you get this statistic from? I don’t think IE should be a baseline. I think the W3C standards should be the baseline for all web developers to develop from, which you have pointed out in #5. All browsers should be tested, including IE6, as that still holds a good percentage of the web browser market.

    #16.Such a brilliant rule.

  10. Well written article… yet I won’t call them “Rules”, the article is definitely a basic guideline of useful points for webmaster to develop a more reliable social image.

  11. “getting your code to render properly in IE6 means it will probably render properly in most browsers.”

    IE6 does NOT have 85% saturation. In fact – its likely closer to 40% imo. I typically use the w3c to point out browser stats – according to them – 20.2% are ie6. That said – there is absolutely no way to really tell.

    But – there is no way making code render properly in ie6 means it will work in other browsers. Thats is the exact opposite of how it really works. If you build for ie – be prepared for every other browser to be broken. Ignoring the obvious proprietary “features” of ie – it simply doesnt do what its supposed to (ex. box model, form styles, absolute positioning etc).

    any coder/designer etc should be coding with web standards in mind. You can work it for ie6 after the fact.

    And the beautify the web portion throws me. CSS does not mean a beautiful website. NO more then HTML means excellent content. Beyond that – most studies show that users rarely care about the looks of a site (ex. craigslist) – they care about the content/usability/accessibility. Make sites that are easy to use – then you can add pretty to it. Since so few sites can do that correctly – making it beautiful should really be an afterthought.

  12. Hum, I’m not convinced! Most of those are just common sense, and some have nothing whatsoever to do with web design and development — important points, but they’d apply to almost anyone.

    I also disagree with #7. Decent designers work in Firefox, then get their code to work in IE. Firefox offers the productivity tools you need, and you have way less hassles porting from Firefox to IE than vice versa. Plus if it works in Firefox, you can be almost guaranteed it’ll work in everything else but IE.

  13. #5 and #7 are contradictory. You can’t code to standards using IE as your baseline. I use Firefox as my baseline and code as close to standards as possible, then test in IE and make minor adjustments where necessary. IE6 is a headache, but IE7 works well enough with some tweaking. IE6 did not follow standards. There are things you could do by accident in IE6 that would work there and not in any other browser including IE7. IE6 is a bad example.
    Code to standards for all browsers, then make adjustments where necessary. NEVER code specifically for one browser no matter what it’s market share. Make tweaks to your base code to accommodate those cases.

  14. “7. Use Internet Explorer as a baseline.”


    No. No. No.


    Professional designers develop using standards code as their baseline, targeting Gecko+WebKit.

    Conditionals for IE6+

  15. This is how many do it:
    – Develop with Firefox (because of its extensions)
    – Test with Opera (for standards support superiority)
    – Make sure it’s usable on IE (significant marketshare*)

    *: marketshare still quite high cause it comes pre-installed on most computers bought, but dropping marketshare because of poor quality. For example, only 23% of half a million visitors of eyesonobama.com used Internet Explorer:

  16. Great article. Most of it appears to be common sense, but it’s not. Running a website pulls you in so many directions it’s tough to hit all your marks.

    Do we really need to nit pick with the FF/IE debate? It will probably never be settled, and in doing so, you overlook the rest of the article.

  17. Two things:
    1. You seem to have mistaken the word “web developer” to mean “blogger”

    2. You are also wrong on a number of points. Frederick is right when he says that professional designers develop to the standards as a baseline then add conditionals for IE, or better still they have it all down to an art so they are developing for all at the same time,.

  18. I wonder how the best web developers split up their time when it comes to coding vs. design?
    What sorts of exercises to developers use to squeeze more productivity out of their day?

  19. “7. Use Internet Explorer as a baseline. Don’t design your code for special browsers or special resolutions.”
    Seeing as how IE has known rendering bugs, I check my code in FF first, then IE

  20. Rule #19: When citing or referring readers to another website, don’t just mention it, link it!

    […] Even if you don’t know CSS very well, you can still get ideas from CSS Table Gallery, CSS Zen Garden, Comment Design Showcase, Typography, and Form Assembly Garden.[…]

    And now a curious reader has to Google these sites if he doesn’t already know them? Shame on you.

    And SEO as an afterthought? Don’t get me started!

  21. Thanks, I really like the point of answering the mails. A lot of webmasters don’t even answer their mails after weeks. That’s sad…

  22. What a great post! 🙂

    I don’t agree with this one. Web developers and designers should push the boundaries towards standards to build a better user experience. If we continue to fix things for IE, we’ll never get rid of this thing. Microsoft must come into sense and do things the right way.

    So true. I see these people building a blog/business thinking just about the ad sense revenue. It’s ridiculous. There’s no shortcut to success, just hard work. Other day I met this guy, he spent 85% of his time tweaking WordPress for ad sense. Content? He didn’t seem to care. Just keywords and that’s it.

    Hum, I used to answer my emails immediately and I realized that I was wasting a lot of valuable time instead of working and getting the job done for my clients. Nowadays, I usually answer my emails with some time gap. I mean, I give my clients a fast and real response, but not so fast, like receiving and answering right away. If you do that, you’ll be answering emails all day long. If it’s not urgent, they can wait a couple of hours. Believe me. 🙂

  23. I like your list and the thing I’d like to know more about is point 15. User-centric design is very important to me, but I find it difficult sometimes to get the point across to clients who are only thinking of how much data they can mine and how big they can grow their mailing list. An article on how to educate this type of client would be fantastic.

  24. I agree with #9 regarding keywords (not really that necessary). However, SEO of URL structures, titles and headings IS important.

    Actually this is more “user optimisation” than “search engine optimisation”. titles and heading make it easier to see instantly what the page is about (and switching tabs/windows in your browser!). Simple URLs make it easier for users to find their way back from their browsing history, and makes it easier to post URLs in blogs, forums, etc.

  25. @Steve+@frederick: Actually, designing a *standards-compliant* site (using the strict doctype) in IE6/7 *will* work in every browser most of the time. Once the base is done you can add a few flourishes to better browsers (I’ve been using a few CSS3 rules recently, like border-radius and text-shadow).

  26. Cool post – although I do think that web developers and web designers/usability experts/webmasters might be confused/mashed up into one.


  27. I don’t know where you got the percentage for #7, but as of October 2008, the number of users who use IE is 47.1% (source: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp ). A number that has slowly been dropping over the past 18 months. Additionally, I’d have to agree with the others that developing in Firefox or webkit browsers is always the best choice. IE is the exception when it comes to standards compliance, and hopefully turning into the exception when browsing (*don’t want to jinx myself*). I mean: IE6, IE7 and IE8 ALL display compliant code completely different! Each one! /brief rant over

  28. I disagree with #7, developers need to ignore IE now. We need to move onto the fact it’s 2008. Design your site with Firefox as the baseline and tell your users to stop using garbage browsers if they have issues.

  29. I think you were stretching to get a long list. You have mixed “Development” issues with “Content” issues.

    Most of the basic points I would make have already been made. But I want to particularly agree with one.

    On the one hand, once you’ve decided what article to write, just write the article. Google in particular will figure out the keyword thing.

    However, prior to writing the article, you’d better do a little keyword research. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing an article no one is interested in reading.

    So, in a way, you are right, “Don’t worry about the SEO.” But, it’s incomplete.

  30. Great post but #5 and #7 conflict. In actuality, you should build in a standards-compliant browser like Firefox, and then make it work in IE. 9 out of 10 times, everything you build in FF will work in other standards browsers leaving you with the occasional tweak in IE7 and moreso in IE6.

    I work among the best developers and we are in agreement about this.

  31. Thanks for the great feedback everyone. I’m glad to see there are some debatable points on this post.

    @Shelly, @Chris, @ mark

    #9 – “Web-crawlers and SEO should be an afterthought.” Just to be clear, I do believe SEO to be a very important part of maintaining a strong presence on the web. The point I’m making is, creating great content can bring SEO like results naturally. Creating great content consistently overtime can help a site achieve authority status, generate links and, often, these links are using keywords that reflect what the content is about; which can benefit SEO. Given a set amount of time, spending that time on creating new, useful content is more beneficial because it creates a better user experience. If you can maintain a healthy balance, as Shelly has suggested, there should be no major problems. But there are many out there who’s content will sound artificial if they write it focusing on certain keywords instead of focusing on what inspired them to create it. But SEO is still important; that is why I say it should be an “afterthought.” Thanks for shedding light on the finer points of SEO everyone.

    @Steve, @Rob Chant, @keith, @frederick

    #7 – “Use Internet Explorer as a baseline.” I personally love and use FF and I don’t know any designers/developers that don’t use it either. But that is the problem; the majority of web surfers aren’t designers/developers. Many people still use IE because it is the standard browser for their home computers. Thanks to Steve for pointing out my flaw in the numbers. It seems that I was using grossly outdated information. Even if IE only represents about 20% of market share, that is still a big number and the best web developers wouldn’t want to miss out on it. I personally know people who use IE6 (and yes I am constantly making fun of them for it); some of which were clients of mine. I am confident that one day soon, IE6 will be to ancient to care for. IE7 though will probably be the new baseline from all the people who simply upgraded their current IE6. 🙁

    To those of you who don’t think this post had much to do with web developers, you are right. It has to do with the best web developers. The best web developers are the swiss army knives of the web. All of us follow people like these on Twitter. We read their blogs. They stand out because they demonstrate a wider range of knowledge that covers the full scope of developing a website that has specific goals and a specific audience.

    @Tim Gleeson

    Thanks for the well thought out comment. I think it added to the quality of this post.

  32. @Tim – I think your reasoning for #7 is a bit suspect. I also know many folks using IE 6. But will they be using IE 6 six months or a year from now? Looking into the future, even the near future, are more folks going to be using standards-compliant (or close to it) browers or will more people not?

    I think we’d all agree that the shift to standards-compliant (again, or close to it) browsers is well underway and inexorable. Therefore it makes much more sense to develop first and foremost to those browsers and then correct for the others.

    Personally I develop simultaneously for FF and IE 7 and then make corrections for others as needed.

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  34. My boss just walked in & saw this article.

    He firmly believes that we follow each and every rule in this list (I beg to differ – but what can you do when you always follow rule number 15 in opposite)

  35. i do not agree with making SEO an after-thought. if you can optimise whilst developing, then why not. assuming of course you understand on-page SEO. If you want to be on the web, then why not be ON the web from day one?

    i also do not agree that 85% of all web users are still using IE. Mozilla is slowly performing a landgrab and I estimate they have 20% of the browser market by now. Then there is Chrome that was launched late in 2008. Those who swear by Google would use which browser again?

    I have found that the tag sometimes don’t work in IE whilst it would look perfect in Chrome and Firefox. there are a good few other tags that do the same. Hence my argument against this.

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