From the January 2010 issue of Entrepreneur

When I consult with a business about its website, I start by asking if it has ever viewed its site's source code. For the uninitiated, source code--which can be generated by many different computer programming/scripting languages and is accessible under the "View" menu of most web browsers--is what makes your website operational.

Comprised mostly of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and JavaScript, source code looks more like a mangled car wreck than anything resembling a website. But trust me. That mangled wreck, when coded according to universally accepted web standards, makes your website hum like a well-tuned race car.

But if your code doesn't meet minimum standards for the web, your business will suffer an increase in cost to maintain the site--as well as a decrease in usability, which almost always results in a loss of customers.

To guarantee that your website runs according to the most basic of expectations and is optimized for indexing by search engines, make sure your webmaster is up to speed on the latest standards and recommendations from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Founded by Timothy Berners-Lee, the computer scientist credited with inventing the web, W3C is recognized as the driving force behind the standardization of programming and design protocols and guidelines that ensure both long-term growth and stability for the web.

Before W3C's creation and distribution of standards, conflicting versions of HTML were the norm. Before that, web users experienced significant inconsistencies between websites. As a result of W3C's efforts, with few exceptions, the web operates consistently.

W3C offers free validation services for website owners. These open-source services, which are popular with web programmers and designers, provide valuable insight into the soundness of your website's source code.

To check the validity of your code, visit the W3C Markup Validation Serviceand enter your website address using the "Validate by URI" tab. The results should be shared and discussed with your webmaster. Keep in mind, though, that the overwhelming majority of websites--including W3C's--contain some errors and operate just fine as is.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. When he's not working or ghosting blog entries for clients, Belicove can be found musing about the world on belicove.com and can be reached atmikal@belicove.com.