Luke Johnson
Author:
Luke Johnson
Date:
October 6, 2017
Reading time:
5 minutes
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Google and Apple are on a mission to make the web easier to use by controlling how we experience ads, how we are tracked, and how we consume web content.

Some big changes are coming for the way we experience the internet, and websites everywhere will feel the effects.

Google and Apple both confirmed recently that their web browsers, Chrome and Safari, will be taking major steps to make the internet faster and less distracting for users. This is a big deal because Chrome and Safari together account for over 80% of the world's internet traffic.

For a long time, browsers have been simple windows that allow you to look out onto the internet, faithfully rendering whatever code a website delivers to them.

But as the web fills up with ads, cookie consent messages, popup windows, and so many new kinds of user-tracking scripts, browsers have started to ship with built-in protection against some of these things. Firefox has long been a leader in championing user privacy, but holding only 4% of the market share, they just don't have the influence to cause web publishers to change how websites work.

But Google and Apple do.

What will be affected?

For starters, both Safari and Chrome will block popups automatically, will silence videos that are set to auto-play, and will block videos that require users to watch an ad before viewing the content.

Chrome will start blocking obnoxious ads that display in duplicate across a page, and will be taking a hard run against advertisers with messages that sounds like spam.

Safari plans to go further by auto-hiding ads completely (even Google ads), and will even give users the option to load web pages in “Reader View” by default so they don't need to sift through busy layouts for the content they came for.

This is a significant change in how browsers work. For years, browsers have simply displayed content. Now, they will actively shape how you experience the web.

Why this matters for your website

These changes make “semantic markup” more important than ever. If your website's HTML code is poorly written, your pages may not perform very well for users in “Reader View”.

HTML is a “markup language” made up of hundreds of uniquely named tags that describe your content to the browser.

For instance, by using the <h1> tag, the browser knows this is the most prominent heading on the page and should be treated as the article's title. <main> says, “This is the main part of the page.” <ul> and <ol> indicate bullet point and numbered lists. <article> means, “All the stuff inside this tag belongs together and should be displayed as a unit.”

A lot of website templates fail to use these semantic tags and use non-descriptive ones like <div> and <span> for everything, and rely on styling to make these elements behave the way semantic tags would.

The problem is, these non-descriptive tags give almost no instruction to a browser's “Reader View”, and will display as blocks of unformatted text that will be laborious and irritating to read.

Designing your website with semantic HTML is vital to ensure that users will be able to interact with your website without ever seeing its original layout.

How to prepare for a browser-shaped web

Ads

If you run ads on your website, you might need to reconsider how they are delivered to your pages.

Are they on Chrome and Safari's hit list? If so, it is wise to diversify how ads are presented. Chrome will leave ads alone if they don't dominate the page or offer images or text content that alert spam detection. Do your video ads rely on audio? Then you might need to prepare video ads that can stand on their own when muted, as has been the case on Facebook for some time already.

Regardless, Google and Apple's treatment of ads presents a significant obstacle for advertisers, since an enormous percentage of the internet's users will see far fewer of the ads displayed for them. Advertisers will need to find new delivery methods, such as the industry-inversion idea presented by Firefox and Brave founder, Brendan Eich, who envisions ads served by browsers instead of by websites.

Website templates

Preparing your website is much more straightforward. If your website isn't already written with semantic HTML, it will involve some template rewriting. Things might get a bit more complicated if your website depends on javascript that targets the old elements you swapped out for semantic ones.

But hey, that's what web developers are for :)

If you need help improving your website's performance, or want to enhance your site's accessibility, please get in touch  I'd be glad to help your website keep pace with the evolution of the web