Sunday, July 4, 2010

Checking Web Design Changes in All Possible Browsers

I was looking at one local web designer's portfolio a while ago. I noticed that a lot of his websites looked fine in Firefox, but not in Internet Explorer. He was obviously testing only in that browser. Then suddenly the situation reversed as newer sites looked fine in Internet Explorer, but not Firefox.

And there is also a local fancy dress shop who's website you must look at in Internet Explorer, because the images of the costumes do not show in Firefox. Seriously, and these examples are genuine, this is a major problem as many customers will just see the problems, fail to navigate the website and move on.

What do we need to do?

So what do you need to do? Well the answer is very simple. Install the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome onto your computer and check that the website works in all of them and make the necessary changes to get them displaying correctly.

But, this is not enough. My own website statistics that I have accumulated from the visitors to several websites last month show that although these three browsers will only cover about 72% of visitors. You need to be also testing in older versions of browsers, especially Internet Explorer. If you can also test your website on the 2 previous versions of Internet Explorer then you are covering over 90% of website visitors. But for this, you need old versions of the browsers installed on other machines. Not always that easy, but with 20% of visitors using the 2 old versions of Internet Explorer, a necessary task.

Is this enough? There was one last well represented browser in my statistics and that was Safari, for the Mac. Thankfully there is a PC version of this as well that seems to perform the same on both the PC and the Apple Mac.

How do we do this?

Now I am not saying that this is easy, but to get the best from your website you probably need at least three PCs - with current, previous and older versions of the browsers installed on each. For more extensive testing, each should also have a different screen size, from 1024 pixels wide right up to 1600 pixels wide.

Are your visitors the same?

How would you know for yourself whether these figures are accurate for you? Well, I would doubt that another website would exactly match my experiences. More technically targeted websites probably get more technical people, who are more likely to use Firefox and up to date browsers. On the other hand, certain niches of websites are more likely to attract people on older browsers who are not maintaining the security through updates.

There is a simple answer and this also shows you if you need to test on other browser than those listed above. You install a tracking system such as Google Analytics and every quarter or 6 months, review the browsers that your visitors have been using and check that you are testing the experience on the popular browsers. Also look at your bounce rates by browsers and if any are particularly high, that could indicate that there is a problem with that browser.

Moving forward

The big problem we have is that there are new versions of browsers being issued all of the time and we just cannot keep up to date with every change. Instead, we should cover the vast majority of users and watch for trends developing in our traffic.

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