Public sector websites and web standards

Peter Krantz at Standards-schmandards has performed a mass validation of government websites in the United States. The result, as expected, is not good. Only 14 of the 546 tested government websites use valid markup. More info on the test and the tools used is available in Government web standards usage: USA.

A similar test has been conducted for Swedish public sector websites, with only slightly better results: 60 out of 1015 sites use valid markup. The test results are shown in Resultat från tillgänglighetstest av webbplatser inom offentlig sektor (in Swedish).

It should be noted that out of the Swedish public sector websites that do validate, several only technically pass validation. I say technically because they apparently use a CMS that litters the markup with layout tables, inline styles, attributes only allowed in transitional DOCTYPEs, and generally bad coding practices like JavaScript dependence and fixed font sizes. That kind of invalidates most of the benefits of being valid.

Posted on October 12, 2005 in Quicklinks, Web Standards


  1. I’ve been laying my eye on the portuguese public sector websites, too. Here, there’s only a set of extremely vague guidelines, and an Accessibility sign which denotes the intention of providing an accessible site, not the presence of such.

    On a review (in Portuguese) I did 2 months ago, I found out:
    - not a single h1~h6 element in the 5 sites I analysed (not even a badly used one!)
    - nested tables and presentation img elements, producing useful screenreader outputs like “Table with two columns and one row Graphic star Graphic star Graphic star Graphic star Table end” or “Table with zero column and zero row Table end” — a kind of torture which is further “helped” by the lack of headings and “skip this” links.
    - major validation issues (and even pages that one simply couldn’t attempted to validate)

    In the same theme, I also managed to produce a proof of concept : an accessible (and semantically marked up) fac-simile of one of the aimed websites’ homepage (my goal, when I get the time, is to extend that to more portuguese public sector websites). For those who can’t understand portuguese: the title link is the fac-simile, “site original” is the original site (in its proper location), and “réplica sem estilos” is the fac-simile without the stylesheet (for those who [still] use a browser that doesn’t allow stylesheets to be disabled). The validation links force the enabling of the “outline” output, to better observe the effectiveness of h1~h6 elements.

  2. October 12, 2005 by Michael Hessling

    To be fair, some of us are working on it. The National Archives have already redesigned. ( is not necessarily valid, but is definitely more accessible.)

    Most of the errors from come from the referrer links that our web managers plug into every link on the home page. Those won’t go away, unfortunately, even as we shift to some flavor of XHTML and CSS.

    I’m also not sure how mass validation works on a site that is nearly 500,000 pages. Not all of the pages at are as crummy as the home page.

  3. Try UK Government sites like :)

  4. UK Government sites have a deadline of March 31 2006 to meet Priority AA compliance as I understand it so project teams had better be formed already.

    The challenge is not so much the CMS (at least it shouldn’t be) but the asp.Net functionality that many gov sites will be using. Oh, and the content editors that insist on creating a table as soon as they create a new page from a template….

  5. Very interesting,

    I recently did a big survey of Australian sites (not just government) for their adherence to best practices in development and accessibility. It was presented at WE05.

    Similarly disappointing.

    The slides are here

    the podcast of the presentation is here

    A full article and the data will be available soon


  6. Yes, some of us are working on it. I haven’t checked all of the norwegian sites, but the ones I have seen is bad. I think most public sectors sticks to the ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’, because they have no insight of webstandards. Hopefully there will be a law that changes all of this.

  7. Well, you should check the only website of Slovak Nation’s Memory Institute that not only validates, but is seminatically written.


    or english version:

  8. Of course, I meant semantically…

  9. @Karl:

    It shouldn’t be the CMS, but it indeed is. It’s most likely that those sites’ content won’t be updated by “someone who cares” about the web standards, and accessibility, semantical markup, yada yada — even if you teach someone in the ways of “using ul and li to make a list”, they’ll soon fidn that a dray and get back to the old “newline, dash” list system.

    Given this scenario, it should be the CMS to provide a (yuk) WYSIWYG interface that would generate valid and convenient markup.

  10. Surely validation just means that code follows the syntax in the spec? And thus won’t bork?

    I’d choose a different word than valid if I were dicussing code that’s well-written.

  11. Sadly this is similarly the case with many of the (Australian) Victorian State Government websites, possibly with the exception of the Department of Health (

  12. Update: We are down to 13 valid web sites. A reader informed me of an erroneous splash page the validator caught…

    The ambition with the US government test was not to “expose” individual sites but rather to see if government web site policy guidelines affect standards usage. Test of other countries’ government sites will follow soon.

  13. Tor: In Norway the goverment has an ongoing project called ‘Internett for alle’ (Internet for all), and has set forth quality criteria for all websites in public sector based on WCAG 1.0

    It all sounds very good, but doesn’t help much, as the main problem in Norway is that most people don’t know about them; both designers and clients.

    And there actually are webdesigners in Norway that specializes in websolutions for public sector who know next to nothing about accessibilty, web standards and the criteria set by the Norwegian goverment.

    But since the client don’t know about it either, the webdesigners can go on delivering products that don’t measure up.

  14. A semantically writen web sites are rare today when everybody want to have their own site without even knowing what for.

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