Published: 01 June 2010

In February, following years of fierce debate, Microsoft finally accepted a ruling by the European Commission that it had abused its dominant position by forcing customers to use the Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system.

Microsoft’s decision to start fairly promoting other mainstream browsers means that, for the first time in a decade, millions of Windows users across Europe now have a choice of up to a dozen alternatives.

It’s good news for Web users of course but for businesses reliant on their website, it’s thrown up a dilemma, writes Nick Towers of Sagittarius Digital.

In the good old days you only had to worry about your company’s website being compatible with the big two browsers – Internet Explorer (still used by around 80% of Web surfers) and Firefox – but now there’s arguably a big five, a following pack of a dozen and then the myriad of mobile and smartphone browsers that we all use day in, day out.

What it effectively means for businesses is that if your current website went live before the start of 2010 then there’s a good chance it’s not ready for this latest wave of browsers. And in an age when an increasing amount of business is done online, that could prove costly.

There’s never been a wider range of ways for potential customers to connect with your business. So fierce is the war for custom among browsers that Internet Explorer 8 and new-kid-on-the-block Google Chrome have even turned to TV advertising to grab market share, a relatively unprecedented move for seemingly ‘free’ products.

When you combine the mind-boggling choice of Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Netscape, to name just a few, with the many and varied mobile browsers available, it’s increasingly difficult for businesses to ensure that visitors to their websites are getting the best experience of their brand, products and services.

Your website might look fine on Internet Explorer 5, but how does it look on Safari, or Firefox, let alone on Google Chrome, or the lesser known Sleipnir and K-Meleon?

You might think that because your server log shows only a small percentage of your Web visitors using Netscape, for example, it’s not worth making minor changes to improve their experience. But it’s not just Internet Explorer users who buy goods and services online. And what about Apple Mac customers? Are you willing to turn them away too?

Even if you do decide to target your site to a particular brand of browser, you still need to contend with different versions of that brand. Web pages can look totally different between one version and the next.

Unless you try out your website using different browsers, your Web visitors could be experiencing a whole range of problems that you’re simply not aware of. These can range from your site looking unprofessional, with poor alignment of images and content areas, to being totally unusable, with visuals missing or in completely the wrong place.

Ultimately, if a visitor has a bad user experience then, at best, they’ll try one of your competitors’ sites instead and, at worst, they won’t bother visiting your website again and you’ll lose them for good.

The answer is to tailor your website for cross-browser compatibility. It might seem daunting but it’s actually quite simple, if a little time-consuming. We regularly carry out browser testing for clients to make sure their customer experience is as sharp as it ever was.

The benefits are obvious: by ensuring you’re getting your key message across to as wide a customer base as possible, you could ultimately secure extra sales and make a real difference to your bottom line. For many businesses, it’s worth the effort for happy customers and better placed search engine rankings.

Author: Nick Towers
Director of Digital
Sagittarius Digital

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