Should I build my website in HTML5?

When every third clients asks if you’ll be using HTML5 to build their website, it’s time to write a blog.

Most discussions in our office about HTML5 – and indeed, on the wider Web – have been around three key HTML topics, all unrelated to whether HTML5 is a viable option for everyday client websites:

  1. HTML5 is amazing, and what it can do is a revolution when compared to today’s HTML4 standard.

  2. HTML5 will kill Flash (the iPhone/iPad debate).

  3. HTML5 won’t be ready for 10 or so years; or at least it won’t be ratified for 10 years or so.


Suffice to say, these discussions are surely over: HTML5 is amazing, Flash should die anyway and market forces and the speed of adoption will make the formal ratification process irrelevant.

And so the question remains… is it safe, feasible and sensible to start developing websites in HTML5. After all, there are plenty of HTML5 demonstration websites out there that seem to indicate that all is ready.

The answer really depends on your audience.

Let me explain.


Your Audience

There is already support for many HTML5 features in a number of browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari. There is even scant support for HTML5 in Internet Explorer 7 and 8, though scant is the operative word.

Support for HTML5 features is growing continuously, and Apple recently launched an HTML5 showcase to demonstrate just how far Safari had come.

While the HTML5 Specification has some way to go, most browsers support some or most of the Specification as it stands today.

Indeed, the up-and-coming launch of Internet Explorer 9 is meant to see widespread adoption of HTML5 by that browser and that really will mark the tipping point in terms of HTML5 browser support.

There is a caveat however.

Just because you and I have Chrome 5.03 doesn’t mean that the users of your website do. In fact, more-then-likely, they don’t. More than likely, they don’t have a browser with any useful level of HTML5 support.

As a starting point, half the world runs Internet Explorer, and an unfortunate – though thankfully dropping – number of these users runs the dreaded Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

While you could certainly write your website to take advantage of HTML5 and include plenty of Internet Explorer workarounds, what’s the point if most of your audience will gain no advantage from your HTML5? It’s costing you money and nobody sees it.

So there you have it: it is your audience that will determine whether HTML5 is right for you. It is no longer a technology or time decision.

If you’re dealing with a tech-savvy audience running the latest versions of Firefox, HTML5 offers some immediate, exciting and practical features. If however, your audience is mainstream and unlikely to know the difference between the Opera browser and Outlook, HTML5 is not a practical technology to be using.


My audience is the right audience. Now what.

Unfortunately, all browsers aren’t created equal. Safari’s support for HTML5 is different than that of say Opera’s support.

In utilising HTML5, pick the features and functions you’re after such that they’re commonly available across all browsers. When Can I Use is a great resource for understanding browser support for different HTML5 functions. The HTML5 Test also a good resource for testing your own browser, and getting an HTML5 support score out of 300. (I scored 204 with my version of Chrome).  

As with any web development project, define and document the features and functions you’re after. Ensure there is benefit in utilising HTML5 over say HTML4 or Flash.

Have your web developer scope the work as they normally would.

Ensure that where necessary, there are workarounds for older browsers (and especially Internet Explorer).

Finally, test, launch and boast to your friends and audience that you’re cool because you’re using HTML5.

Viva la HTML5!