Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Web Browser

Eye of the BeholderIf you’re not testing your website in multiple web browsers, it’s quite possible you are alienating a lot of potential customers. We see this all the time with our ecommerce clients. And it can have serious ramifications on the bottom line. Here are a few examples we’ve seen recently:

  • 1. One ecommerce store had javascript errors in Internet Explorer only. Unfortunately, these errors led to invalid shipping options appearing in the cart, which customers chose. It led to a loss of profit on shipping.
  • 2. A lightbox javascript error in Internet Explorer led to all the pages with images being blank. In Firefox it looked fine. The client was likely losing 50% of all visitors for a few days until they detected this problem.
  • 3. One cart had a problem with CSS that only affected the Firefox web browser. It rendered *ALL* text on the cart page invisible. How many sales were lost due to this glaring issue?
  • 4. Extra hard returns and spaces before the “<DOCTYPE …” declaration line caused Internet Explorer visitors to see shifted div lines, which skewed all the pages. Needless to say, the site looked broken to IE users.

Who’s using what?

Let’s look at the percentage of web browsers in a few different categories for this past month:

W3C global stats:
Internet Explorer – 51.73%
Firefox – 31.69%
Safari – 4.07%

Popular ecommerce website we host:
Internet Explorer – 53.36%
Firefox – 25.94%
Safari – 8.03%

lexiconn.com website stats:
Internet Explorer – 46.5%
Firefox – 38.27%
Safari – 10.62%

Although the above statistics show a general trend, it’s YOUR website stats that matter the most. Each website will attract a different type of visitor. Some sites that are more “techy” will have a higher Safari or Chrome browser crowd. Sites that appeal to an older crowd will likely have heavy Internet Explorer usage, and more towards IE7.

Make sure you are measuring this statistic in your Google Analytics, Urchin, or other web stats software. And re-visit this data often, as trends change over time.

What to test?

At a bare minimum, you need to test your website in *BOTH* Firefox and Internet Explorer. My suggestion for good testing practices would be testing your site using:

Firefox 3.5
Internet Explorer 7
Internet Explorer 8
The latest Safari browser

This will cover 95%+ of all your visitors in most cases. If you make any major changes, try viewing your site in a few different screen resolutions to see how it looks (text wrapping incorrectly, scroll bars, etc…).

When to test?

You should test your site often, especially when you make any changes such as:

  1. Template changes
  2. Adding new images
  3. Adding/editing any JavaScript
  4. Adding/editing any CSS files

If you run an ecommerce store, then you should complete a purchase from start to finish using both Firefox and Internet Explorer *every week*.

One site to rule them all

one_ring_to_rule_them_all

If you do not have the time or resources to test your site using multiple web browsers, or you’re curious what your site looks like for Opera or Konqueror web browsers, then you should check out Browsershots. This website allows you to choose any number of web browser types and versions, and their system will view your website from those web browsers and provide you with screenshots of what your website looks like for visitors using those web browsers.

You can choose the desired screen size, turn javascript or flash on or off, and choose a different color depth of the browser. It’s no replacement for viewing your website in person, but it’s a quick check method for seeing the site from various pieces of software.

Walk in their shoes

There’s no replacement for seeing your website as others perceive it. Continually testing your site using different browsers when you make changes, trying different screen resolutions to see the effect that might have, and placing complete orders starting at the homepage are great ways to maximize the chances every visitor has a pleasant experience when browsing through your site.

What else can be done to test your website?

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4 Comments

  1. Mike Masin says:

    That’s good advice Rob. Testing a site in different browsers and versions is increasingly more important with newer browsers like Chrome becoming more popular. Thanks for the tip about Browsershots!

    A lot of sites that worked correctly in IE 7 are broken in IE 8 and it’s easy to fix them by adding the X-UA compatibility tag but you don’t know your site is broken until you test.

    Mobile e-commerce is also becoming more popular and mobile browsers bring a new level of design and compatibility testing to the table.

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