issues that affect your business
Can't We All Just Get Along?
Why some browsers may be misreading your
website, and what to do about it.
by Heather Gooch, PositiveYarn.com (October 4, 2009)
(Note: Heather Gooch is Vice President
of Gooch & Gooch LLC, an editorial and social media marketing firm.
www.positiveyarn.com, you can sign up for her free monthly
e-newsletter, Positive Yarn's Tips & Tricks, which she
attempts to make viewable on all browsers.)
Retailers who are communicating with their
customers via frequent website updates and email newsletters are to
be commended, because it's not always an easy task. There's a matter
of choosing content that keeps suppliers happy (no playing
favorites) and readers interested ("What's in it for me?"). There's
also the issue of browser display compatibility, or making sure the
design as it displays on your computer screen looks like it should
on all of theirs.
Have you ever opened an email and found it
nearly impossible to read because of question marks or other symbols
where a quote mark should be, or found the text breaking up in weird
places, off to the side or words simply missing completely? Rest
assured, that's not how it looked to the sender when he or she sent
HTML is a programming language, and like any
language, has its own rules. Too often, users inadvertently break
them. Sometimes it's the software that displays the email
newsletters that break the rules. HTML5, a new set of standards
being put forth by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working
http://www.whatwg.org) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C,
http://www.w3.org) is supposed to fix a lot of these problems.
Microsoft has said that it will support HTML5,
which is a huge boon to the potential implementation of the new
standards. Back in the late 1990s, when Microsoft's Internet
Explorer browser was one of the few choices users had, Microsoft
used its own version of HTML. Some of this code, while
forward-thinking, did not follow the then-agreed upon standards of
the W3C. This led to the majority of websites being designed for
optimal viewing only on Internet Explorer. Remember back just a few
years ago when every site you visited had a disclaimer saying
"Viewed best on Internet Explorer"? They weren't kidding.
Now that Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and other
browsers -- including those on smart phones -- are becoming more
popular, there are more incompatibility issues than ever. And
unfortunately, HTML5 has been at the "Last Call" stage of review
since 2008. The Internet is still operating under HTML 4.01
standards, which were issued in 1999 and updated in 2001. That's way
before YouTube, Twitter and other Internet phenomena entered the
If that weren't problematic enough, one of
today's most popular email clients, Microsoft Office Outlook, used
to use Internet Explorer to render HTML-based emails. But with the
distribution of Outlook 2007, they began to use Microsoft Word's
2007 HTML renderer, due to security concerns. That created even more
issues, such as animated gifs not animating, forms no longer able to
be embedded in email, etc. On the other hand, any messages composed
in Microsoft Word's HTML renderer were nearly guaranteed to look the
way the author intended.
So, what's a small business to do?
The best line of defense is to do a
multi-platform test of your e-newsletter or Web page before it gets
mailed/goes live. Is it as accurate on a Mac in Safari, Firefox, and
Chrome as it is on a PC in Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome? How
does it look on an iPhone or Blackberry? See whether some family or
staff members are willing to be your guinea pigs, at least at the
onset. Once you get a template down, it's unlikely you'll have
future issues -- at least until the next browser update debuts.
When you do discover issues, either at the test
phase or by feedback from your customers, you'll have to decide
whether the differences are negligible enough to live with. In fact,
this is where knowing your audience can be a great help. If you know
most of your customers are opening your e-newsletters on a Windows
PC, Mac-related bugs may not be worth wringing your hands over. In
fact, many companies are choosing to limit their Web presence to a Facebook page to reach a wide audience on a platform that's already
been tested to view just fine, regardless of browser.
Blame it on a free market: Different pages are
going to look the best on the browsers for which they're designed.
But by doing some homework and following the rules, you can rest
assured that you'll have mass appeal.
(Note: Heather can be contacted at
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