Is Your Site “All-Browser” Friendly?
How Poor Design Makes a Good Site Look Bad
For most owners of an online start-up, their sites must be works of art. They spend hours and hours (or thousands and thousands of dollars) to develop a sharp-looking site that immediately catches the visitor’s eye. But is all of this really necessary?
And what about site visitors who still use dial-up connections on their 10-year old systems? They’re still out there and they still buy things. So, what can you do to make your web site picture perfect for any visitor using any operating system on any computer (except Coleco, which died in the early days of the personal computer era.)
Keep it simple, stupid. (No offense.)
Most first-time site owners want to use it just because they can, whether it’s a useless Flash demo or looped clipart stills that fade in and out every 10 seconds. If it exists and it looks cool, new owners want it because they’ve seen the feature on other “professional sites.”
But is simple better? All you have to do is go to the Google homepage for your answer. Plain white background, company logo, a few links to the back office and a search box. That’s it. No razzle-dazzle. Simplicity itself. Oh, and it’s one of the most visited sites in the world.
You may think all of that “web bling” looks hot, but it’s not. It’s so last week, it confuses first-time visitors (shock and awe online) and it slows download times by up to 300% - longer for dial-ups – and nobody wants to wait that long to see your cool/hot homepage. It may be your baby, but to visitors, it’s just another web site.
Site Usability for All Browsers
Somebody had the idea of the horizontal navigation bar across the top of the screen 20 years ago and it’s still the main means of navigating a web site. Originally, the only information you got was the actual link’s name – Our Products, About Us, Terms of Service and so on.
Today, navigation tool bars employ mouse-overs. Simply move your screen cursor over a link on the navigation bar and a flyout or dropdown menu appears, providing additional navigation options. Scroll. Click. You’re there.
When Good Sites Go Bad
What happens in these cases? First, some of your site’s features won’t function at all. What good is a Flash demo on the home page if the user hasn’t downloaded a Flash player? What good is audio if the visitor’s system doesn’t have speakers or (this is true of older systems) that the speaker batteries are dead?
Second, older browsers will make substitutions based on what it “thinks” you had in mind. It will substitute colors from the outdated 8-bit, 256-color spectrum and you don’t know what will end up on screen since your site design is based on 32-bit Truecolor. Posterized junk images with major color shifts aren’t unusual. And, if the visitor’s system doesn’t have the cool type font you use, and you fail to include the font as a separate font file, the browser may substitute something that looks just plain awful.
Looks Matter, But Not Too Much
Sure, a web site should look attractive and grab visitors’ attention – quickly. Sites should also read well, i.e. no typos. And sentences actually written in English. That’s not too much for any visitor to expect. But don’t get so hung up on the look of your new site that you forget about usability issues – how easy and comfortable is the site to use, i.e. read, navigate, access specific data and so on.
How do your programming conventions and latest tools in your web site builder kit translate to older systems, older browsers? Overall site usability, and accessibility to content, are more important considerations. And, remember, there are still web users who own computers with older CPUs, less RAM, limited color selection, terrible audio, no Flash player, no PDF reader and pokey dial-ups to the AOL portal.
Those older systems, with dial-up connections, are going the way of the rotary dial telephone and buggy whips. Even so, if you set the bar low enough to reach these borderline Luddites, you’ll expand the reach of your site. Even better, visitors with the latest systems and software will notice that you’ve simplified your site. Load times will shrink as conversion ratios expand.
Everybody wins – especially you.