If you run any business today, chances are that you have a website that helps you bring in customers. Creating a great experience for your website visitors – your customers – is both an art and science that you usually leave to the experts. Unless you are a trained web designer and programmer, you want to give the task of building your business’ website to people you hire. In this post, I highlight an excellent tool that gives you, the business manager, the ability to direct your website designers just so, so you can have them build a great website. This is a Cloud service called CrossBrowserTesting and it helps you understand how your website operates for users on computers, smartphones and tablets.
When you hire home construction experts, you need to hire or yourself play the role of the general contractor. The general contractor – in addition to finding the right professionals and overseeing the project – ultimately is the assessor of quality. The general contractor ensures that what’s being built works for the many people who will visit the home – you and your family who use it daily, your friends when they come to visit you briefly, or family who stay longer. Sometimes this simply means looking at the proposed design through the eyes of the people who will use the home – and making adjustments to make their experience better. In the kitchen, for instance, the general contractor might observe that not just adults use the amenities, but also kids who enter it to forage for snacks. For example, lowering the shelves in the kitchen just a little can make a big difference to their experience.
It is the same with your website – you can play the role of the general contractor to ensure that the site is being built so that its visitors have a great experience. When designing your website, a question you must ask your website designers is: will the site work acceptably for visitors using different web browsers, mobile phones, and tablets? Let me give you a real-world example. A local San Francisco foodery, Indian Bento, just redesigned its website after a year so that it was more usable on smartphones and a variety of different computers. When you look at the website before and after screenshots on a typical web browser, the results look pretty good:
The good news is that the Indian Bento website works well on most web browsers, or at least the popular browsers – Internet Explorer on Windows 7 PCs, in this case. However, the Internet Explorer, or IE, browser has a worldwide share of about 50%. The other half use browsers like Chrome, Firefox, or the browsers on the iPhone or popular smartphones. That means that half your website visitors may be arriving on one of the other browsers.
So how well does your site work on other popular browsers? For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Firefox is commonly used by the technology crowd, and around the world, the Google Chrome browser is rapidly gaining in popularity. Also, it should be no surprise that, with more people owning smartphones like the iPhone, Samsung, or even the latest Nokia phone, website visitors fire up the browser that’s on their mobile phone and visit your website. This is where CrossBrowserTesting comes in – it helps you understand the consistency of experience of users on popular browsers and mobile phones.
We tested the same website, above, to see how it works for users using a smartphone (an Android phone, not an iPhone, in this case), an iPad, and using a PC running Internet Explorer versions 6 and 7. Here are the abridged results from CrossBrowserTesting:
While the Indian Bento website looks good on an Android smartphone and on the iPad (the first two screenshots on the left), the site looks definitely inconsistent, even broken, on older Internet Explorer browsers (see the screenshots on the right). Those browsers are older versions of Internet Explorer – versions 6 and 7. The latest version of Internet Explorer is version 9, IE9, but large segments of the population are using older browsers like IE6 and IE7. One reason is that people are not necessarily upgrading their Windows PCs or laptops to the latest version of Windows, Windows 7, which is required if you want to use IE9. And of course, if you have visitors from parts of the country or world where computer replacement happens at a slower pace, older PCs, and therefore, older browsers, will proliferate.
Once you have determined that there’s a problem on a particular browser, your website designers can do a deep diagnostic. For example, they can fire up the IE6 browser on Windows XP running Service Pack 2, and see if they can replicate a problem. This will help your designers fix these problems, and ultimately result in a better experience for all users.
CrossBrowserTesting is a remarkably easy service for non-technical users. You can sign up for a plan that starts at $29.95/mo that allows you to test your website on dozens of browsers:
Not every business owner needs to have a monthly plan to test a website, so there are other options you can look into. Browsera has a free service and a $39 plan for 14 days, for instance, Mogotest is $35/mo, and Browsershots.org is free. Use a service that fits your budget and skills – some of the services can be harder to use than others. And like me, if your time is money and better spent in other areas of your business, having a reliable, fast, and easy to use browser compatibility testing service like CrossBrowserTesting is priceless.
A good user experience with your website builds your business brand, and a bad experience can work against your brand goals. Your website must operate consistently and well for your customers on smartphones, Windows PCs and Mac computers. You can win crucial business if your website works for every one of your customers, and, conversely, if even that one experience on your website is bad, your competition is just a click away for your customers. At Dossier, we wholeheartedly recommend using CrossBrowserTesting to understand and optimize your users’ online experience across three screens – smartphones, Macs/PCs, and tablets.