Web Design, Browsers & Website Success

November 2, 2004 by Diane Vigil in

Browsers — programs that display websites — impact a website's success. It's important to understand why.

browser is the generic term for a computer program one uses to surf (browse) the Internet (example: Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator). Browsers are the "interface" through which people view websites on their own computers. "Browser" is not a commonly known term because most computers have one pre-installed — which, in most cases, is never identified as a "browser". As well, some Internet Service Providers (e.g., AOL or Earthlink) also furnish their own browsers (usually an altered version of another software maker's browser), but refer to them by their own version numbers (e.g., "AOL 9") — again, no identification of these programs as "browsers".

There are many different browsers available, not to mention earlier and later versions of each; the browsers most commonly in use today are:

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer
  • Netscape Navigator
  • Mozilla and related Mozilla-based browsers
  • Opera

Why should website owners care about browsers?

Two reasons: because browsers are the interface through which your website is viewed by visitors on their own computers, and because all browsers do not display pages identically. You and your web designer need to know this, as it is vital to ensure that your website looks — and functions — in the ways you intended.

In essence, website pages are simply a bunch of text code that browsers display so as to look like web pages. To view the underlying code for this page:

In Internet Explorer

In Netscape & Mozilla

  • View (top menu)
  • Source
  • View (top menu)
  • Page Source

What you see when you surf the Web is your browser's interpretation of the underlying code — but, again, not all browsers display this code the same way, nor according to Web standards.

Isn't Internet Explorer the most popular browser? Yes, and it has been for some years. However, "IE" didn't start out that way, and its popularity is falling. As of October 2004, some 20% of Internet users employ other browsers — browsers that are more compliant with Web Standards than is IE. While this percentage may vary by website topic, the non-IE percentage is expected to increase due to IE's known vulnerabilities (and the U.S. Government's warnings against same).

Web Design and Browsers. Unfortunately, due to perceived difficulties in making web pages display correctly in Internet Explorer, some web designers have opted to "design for Internet Explorer" only. Many even go so far as to make websites that work correctly in Internet Explorer only; and the kindest of these will present users of non-IE browsers with a page explaining that they'll need to download and install the browser of (the web designer's) choice. Others will simply present non-IE users with a disjointed design and/or a website that doesn't function properly. If this doesn't sound like a sound marketing plan to you, you're right.

While "designing for IE" does support the currently massive IE user base, what is not said is that:

  1. such sites are designed for Microsoft products, not for the Internet
  2. it is entirely possible to design websites so that they display and function well not only in Internet Explorer but in all modern browsers.

The numbers are key: if your website gets 1,000 visitors a month, you may lose 200 of them if your site was designed only for Internet Explorer.

Web Design for Multiple Browsers & Wider Markets. Regardless of the popularity of any browser at a given time, it's important to know that such popularity can wax and wane (in the late '90's, Netscape was the most popular browser — and Netscape was purchased by AOL). If your website does not display well in multiple browsers (called "cross-browser compatibility"), if your website detours non-IE users to a page that tells him or her to download and install a new browser or — worse — if your website simply does not work in non-IE browsers, your website is losing customers for you. It's as simple as that.

One Comment for "Web Design, Browsers & Website Success"

  1. » Website Stats - What are Hits? » DianeV web design blog

    […] When you click on a link or type a website address into the address/location bar on your browser (the program you use to surf the Internet), your browser sends a request to the website for that particular page. The page is then sent across the Internet to your computer, where you view it in your browser. Technically, the page is being downloaded to your computer, for viewing in your browser. […]

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