A couple of questions about web page standards

Most web sites these days tend to have three primary areas on the page (or at least the home page) for links to other areas in the site: the top, along the left side and the bottom.

Some pages will only use one or two of these areas but some use all three. There seems to be a certain, but ill defined, pattern for what goes on top, side and bottom. From what I can tell, the top typically will have Contact Us, About Us, maybe a site map and site search. The bottom tends to have pretty much the same stuff but tends to dwell especially on the legal stuff like privacy policy, terms and conditions, etc. The side is usually where the links to the real guts of the site are found.

That seems to be the general trend, but I’m wondering if there are any established standards for this sort of thing. Barring that, is there a site that at least makes a case for standards, and lays out their own?

There are typically four layout areas surrounding the main content: top (for identification of site and position within the site as well as main nav links), left (for main navigation), right (for references and other related info) and bottom (for legalese boilerplate like copyright and contact info). Of course, these are convention and by no means standard. There are no standards. Many usability “experts” (some actually qualified, some self-proclaimed) have opinions, but there is no organizing body capable of establishing, much less enforcing, a standard for design.

One very good reference is Steve Krug’s book “Don’t make me think” where he goes into some detail on the usability of different layout and navigation strategies. Another is Jakob Nielsen’s site and books, though I tend to differ with his extremely utilitarian outlook.

IMO, you really wouldn’t want any enforced standards in this kind of design. For good usability, it’s good to either follow convention or break it with good reason, and it’s certainly good to enforce a standard within a site for consistency. But you certainly wouldn’t want some standards body enforcing a layout standard on general websites.

You make a good distinction between conventions and standards. I guess I’m really interested in both. Conventions for the overall look and feel of the site, and developer standards for naming your pages, images variables, etc.

Well there are standards and then there are standards. Theorectically, the W3C sets the standards for web pages. In practice, the developer teams at Microsoft, Mozilla and Netscape have a lot to say about what is going to work on a web page according to how they build their browsers. Multi-platform compatibility gets to be a real problem sometimes.

As far as developer conventions, you already have an idea of how a lot of people do it. For more ideas, just look around. You can also check out places that hand out awards for the best designed websites.

International Web Page Awards

Webaward.org

These are standards for HTML, CSS, and other things that need to be standardized in order for the web to work. They are not standards for visual layout of webpages, which is what the OP is asking about.