Turn Your Website Into A Web Profit Center
The *Crucial* Basics

Browser Compatibility Issues

It is crucial that your web site be as easy to access, navigate, and use as possible.   In many cases, web sites that work and look great in one browser are difficult or impossible to view or even to access in another browser.  The end result:

Sales Suicide

If 10% of your potential audience can't even access your web site because they have an incompatible browser, you just lost 10% of your sales.  If 25% can't view it, you just lost 25% of your of our business.  I can give you 98 more percentage examples if you need them, but I think the math is fairly straightforward.  :-)

Things That Can Make Your Site 
Inaccessible, And How To Fix Them

1)  FRAMES

Frames allow more than one web page to be viewed at a time.  This evil crutch usually manifests itself in the left-hand bar or top of the screen remaining static while the rest of the screen scrolls.  If part of the browser screen scrolls while another part doesn't, you are viewing frames.

Many web designers like frames because:
a) Their clients don't understand how they work so they think their web designer "must really have a handle on that advanced web stuff".
b)  Once the frames are set up it's actually easier to add pages because less formatting is necessary on each page.
c)  They spent many hours learning how frames work, and they'll be darned if they don't use it!

The problems with frames:
a) They're just plain inaccessible by some older browsers.  There's nothing sadder than your potential customer trying to visit your site and getting the message, "Sorry, but you must have an advanced browser to access this site."  It's sad for him, but sadder for you!  (After all, you're the one who's losing a potential sale!)

It is possible to create a completely alternate site that doesn't use frames that older browsers can default to if they can't access the framed site, but that defeats the whole purpose of frames for most designers, which is less work.

b)  Pages inside frames cannot be indexed by search engines, which gives web surfers fewer 'points of entry' to find your site by.

c)  Frames make pages take longer to load, one of the cardinal sins of the web.

d)  In 99% of the cases, they're just no good reason for them.  If you want to argue by saying that your site is too big and frames make it easier to get around, I'll refer you to www.amazon.com or www.microsoft.com or www.cdnow.com .  These sites are enormous, very functional, very easy to navigate, and they don't use frames.  - And neither should you.

2) CHECK YOUR PAGES IN ALL THE MAJOR BROWSERS

I always check my web pages on Netscape 4, Internet Explorer 3, and AOL 3.   Netscape 4 and Internet Explorer 4 are very similar, and if your pages look good in one they probably look good in the other. 

Netscape 3 can be tricky.  There are certain HTML commands it just doesn't like, and the one I've noticed causes the most trouble is assigning a table width a percentage width of the browser instead of a specific number of pixels.  In other words, if you create a table and define it's width as 80%, Netscape 3 will scramble that command and create some weird horizontal problem that is 4 screens wide.  Anyway, check it.

AOL 3 also has a touchy side.  Right off the bat, it assigns the background default as gray instead of white, so if you don't officially assign your background to be white, you can wind up with a very unattractive combination of images that were meant to blend seamlessly into a white background stuck on like graceless squares on a gray background.  AOL 3 also runs into a lot more Java errors and is more likely to completely crash (freeze up and force you to have to re-boot your internet connection).   Trust me, people aren't in a big hurry to rush back to your web site after you've crashed their browser.  You can download Netscape 3 off of their web site if you want it.  http://www.netscape.com

3)  Use technology sparingly.  Using ANY Java applets at this point is a potential hazard to some browsers.  If you really want to use it, here's a neat trick to keep the browsers that aren't Java-capable from stumbling on it:

Build a normal page without using Java (in this example let's say it's your index.html page).  Between the two <head> tags at the top, put the following script:

     <script LANGUAGE="JavaScript">
     <!--location.href = 'index1.html';
     //--></script>

- That script will send Java-enabled browsers to the alternate page 'index1.html' , which will be chock-full of every Java toy you can cram in there.  (Easy now, don't forget about load times!)

I pretty much like to use that script every time, because even when the Java works in all the browsers I test it in, it can still freeze up Mac machines, etc.  It's better to be on the safe side.

4)  Use 'alt' tags for any important images, links, etc.  Alt tags are text descriptions that show up instead of images if someone is viewing your page with an extremely old browser that doesn't show images, or is just turbo-surfing the web with their browser images turned off voluntarily.  (Reports are that a larger % of people than you'd like to think do this:  They can't be bothered with download time of graphics, so they simply turn them off.)  In these cases, your attractive bank of descriptive buttons that say:

Click Here To Return Home

Click Here For A Special Report

- They look like empty boxes to those not viewing images.   To combat this, you can add the alt tag line, which is placed like this:

     <img src="navigationbutton.gif" width="100" height="50"
     alt="Click Here For A Special Report">

5)  Design your web pages to fit into a 640x480 browser.  Just because you've got a 17" monitor and use 800x600 or higher doesn't mean your potential customers do.   It's pretty annoying to have to scroll side to side just to read a sentence.   Not only that, but it makes your site look unprofessional. 

The opposite also holds true:  Your web page that looks beautiful in a 640x480 browser looks strange and junky in a 800x600 or higher browser.  How do you fix that?   Put your entire web page into a one-cell table with a fixed width of about 590 pixels.  That way it holds it's shape in larger monitor configurations instead of spreading out to fill up the entire width of the screen.

A lot of other pointers regarding page appearance will be covered under the design chapters, but these browser compatibility issues are crucial!  If your web site just looks amateurish, visitors still have the option of buying from you.  But when your web site is literally incompatible with some browsers, you take that option away, which is a loss for both of you.

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