A recent survey that suggests some kind of best practices might be developing.
“This survey compares 10 web sites through elements of their layout: styles, page construction and elements… The survey seeks similarities and differences between those well known web sites… What can be observed is that those web sites agree on implicit, internalized layout and design norms (Consensus rate), and that deviance from these rules (Dissidence rate) is uncommon.”
The survey made the following conclusions, directly quoted here.
Even though thousands of different layouts can be achieved using (X)HTML, web designers tend to stick, explicitly or not, to a set of layout elements. Links must be underlined, even when hovered, and the user must be able to tell which links he has already visited. web designers do not like sidebars very much when placed on the left, right sidebars are much more widespread. Every page should include a header logo and a footer; moreover, a white background is preferred. The main text font should be serif. Last, a header graphic is recommended.
Some elements of content are recurrent in web design: search boxes are quite common, copyright sentences including the designer’s full name are prevalent; 404 pages are quite used too. The habit of dividing web sites into sections is extremely common; such sectioning rarely goes over six sections.
Coding the same way
Although many techniques often exist for the same effect in XHTML or CSS coding, web designers favor some coding techniques, elements, or norms. XHTML is acknowledged as the markup language to use by a majority. When designers decide not to use some code, they massively reject it: access keys, XML prologs. Many cleavages still remain: UTF-8 vs ISO encoding, Strict vs Transitional, use of print style sheets…
Inheritance from print design
web designers share a common print design background and import some of its elements to their Internet creations: a comprehensive use of sidebars and their positioning, footers, graphic headers, typographical knowledge.