The Building webmaster advises how to maximise your site's visitor reach by boosting its browser compatibility
Do design for all browsersInternet Explorer (IE) is the browser that ships as standard with most PCs and it is likely that you are one of the 74% of our visitors that use it. The reality is that IE isn't the be-all and end-all of web browsing, and there are a lot of browsers out there that perform better (or worse) that it does.
The problem is they all don't play nice together and all render your web page with subtle differences. This can make web design a bit of a nightmare if you want to be browser agnostic. Lots of web designers make the decision to get their site working in IE a primary concern, and leave all other browsers as desirable but not essential. Here at Building we would not want to alienate one in four of our visitors – and you shouldn't either.
Whether you're designing the website or you're the man that signs the big cheque at the end of the day, you should test it in as many browsers as you can get your hands on. The big four outside IE are considered to be Firefox (my primary browser), Opera, Chrome and (for many of our Apple fans out there) Safari.
Mobile web is a big emerging market at the moment too, so if you get the chance to test your site on a mobile phone browser then I would recommend you do so.
When adding extras to the Building site that may cause an issue in other browsers, my favourite cross-browser testing tool is BrowserShots. This allows you to make screengrabs of your website in a plethora of browsers (including earlier versions of browsers to catch the late upgraders).
Don't build a pure Flash siteFlash technology has been around for a while now and enables you to deliver content in innovative and snazzy ways. This makes it very appealing to more design-focused businesses. (A good example sent to me recently is the new Carey Jones website.
The trade-off with heavy Flash use is not having your content exposed to search engines as well as a plain HTML site would. Being indexed by a search engine as “This site requires you have Flash installed” is detrimental to your efforts of getting organic traffic to your site. Google did recently announce that it has improved its efforts to index Flash. This, however, is only one search engine making these efforts and the technology is in its infancy. I would still abide by the rules above for the time being to increase your chances of being indexed by those inquisitive search engine spiders.
As previously mentioned, mobile web is starting to pick up – growing nearly 30% in the second quarter of this year alone. Barring rumours that Flash is on its way to the Apple iPhone, full Flash is not something that we've seen in standard mobile devices, as they are generally not powerful enough to run it. It all adds up to more members of your audience that you're potentially alienating.