What Browsers Should My Website Support?

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What are the most common web browsers? That’s easy – the big three, collectively holding, on average, around 90% of the market, are Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox – with Safari and Opera rounding out the playing field as the only others that are even worth mentioning. Now that we have a simple answer out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the question. If you want to know what browsers your website or web application should support, you first need to identify your target audience, how they are coming to your site, and where they are located.

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Understanding Web Browsers and Your Target Audience

When someone asks which browsers are the most common, what are they really trying to find out? Do they want to know what browser is most commonly used from a desktop computer in a big corporation, from a laptop at the airport, from an iPhone at a Starbucks, or from an Android tablet on a park bench? As you can see, depending on the context, the answer can vary a great deal. For instance, Apple’s Safari browser, while hardly making a dent in overall desktop browser market share, is usually the most common browser for those surfing the web from an iPhone or iPad. However, if we’re talking about the average corporate employee in the United States, the answer is probably still some version of Internet Explorer. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in the guys in the IT support department at those same corporations, or the developers that work for your favorite website, you can almost bet that they’re surfing with Google Chrome or Firefox these days. In fact, based on browser statistics from the logs of W3Schools.com, one would think that Google Chrome and Firefox have been way ahead of IE for years, but it turns out that’s only because most of the people who are pointing their browsers at W3Schools.com are web developers and designers, and most of them only open IE when they need to make sure that their website functions correctly on that type of browser.

Where is Your Target Audience Located?

Even after determining who we’re talking about and what device they are using, there is still the question of geographic location. For example, most statistics still seem to show IE with a small lead in the United States, while Chrome or Firefox have taken the lead in most other countries around the globe over the last few years. Statcounter, one of the primary sources of browser usage data, recently announced that Google Chrome had become the most popular browser in the world overall, finally taking a lead held by Internet Explorer for many years. If this isn’t already confusing enough, to make matters worse, different sources of statistical data are based on different techniques for gathering this data, so even the “experts” disagree about what browser has what market share, simply because the question is difficult to answer without getting into very specific segments that have very particular rules about what constitutes browser “usage” in the first place. Is it a page hit? Is it a unique visitor to a site no matter how many page hits they have? Should a virus scanner that is fooling a server into thinking it is an IE 6 browser count towards the numbers? In the end, perhaps the answer you need is actually to a completely different question.

What Browsers Should Your Website or Web Application Support?

As it turns out, most of the time when someone asks this question, they are trying to determine what browsers their website or web application should support, and the answer to that is even more simple. You should aim to have a website that works for any browser available on the market. Does this mean you need to spend twice as much on development costs so that you can have rounded corners on your buttons in IE6? No, it does not. In fact, with today’s robust JavaScript libraries, it is a relatively simple task for a good development team to get your site working in any browser, even if there may be some minor (or even some relatively major) differences in the way that it appears or functions. As a matter of fact, when Segue builds a website or web application for a customer, it is almost a given that it is going to work in any environment.

The bottom line is that whether your site is selling widgets, consulting services, or even if it’s just a pedestal from which to deliver your own personal tirades, you should be able to welcome any person, on any device, from anywhere in the world, to your little slice of home on the web.