The internet is a strange place. In some respects it is constantly evolving and nothing ever seems to stand still… but in other respects it is incredibly conservative. Take the example of browsers. A large percentage of people (because they just aren’t IT literate enough – or because they simply don’t care) are still using Internet Explorer 6. IE 6 was first released almost 9 years ago, and is two versions behind the current browser offering from Microsoft, Internet Explorer 8.
Internet Explorer 6 is an appalling browser. It was unfortunately rushed out as the web standards of its day were being finalised, and as a result it is laden with bugs and mis-interpretations of the HTML and CSS standards that a web designer uses to develop websites. It caused a lot of frustration for developers and a huge amount of extra work to ensure websites displayed correctly within it. And yet, almost 9 years on, people are still using it.
If you don’t believe me look at some of the stats from a typical site (gathered by Google Analytics):
These figures, and bear in mind that they do vary according to your customer base (look at your web analytics and see what they tell you), show 24% of visitors still use a 9 year old browser to access this site. So, if you’ve got the latest cutting edge browser, and you think you website looks great, then you’d better check it in Internet Explorer 6, because up to a quarter of your customers might be disappointed with the way it looks or – worse – simply not be able to see things like drop down menus.
So how do you do that? Well, you could find an old machine running Windows XP and IE6 or, far more technical, use something like Windows 7 professional running multiple virtual machines with installs of IE6 and IE7 in them, and run IE8 ‘natively’ in Windows 7. That’s quite technical, so it might be something you want to ask for some technical help with.
At WebSanity, when conducting a website Search Engine Optimisation audit (and during development of our in-house developed SEO friendly websites), we always check how well a site works in a broad spread of browsers (including IE 6) – although it isn’t strictly part of SEO, it diminishes the impact of SEO if a quarter of the new traffic generated by the optimisation process can’t even use the target website!