Testing Your Site in Different Browsers

Not too many years ago, virtually everyone who surfed the Web used Internet Explorer, with the AOL browser lagging slightly behind as the world’s second surfing utility. The rise of Mozilla shifted the tide significantly, as Firefox fans showed the world other browsing possibilities indeed existed. These days there are literally dozens of ways to surf the Web, and the odds are good that your blog traffic is divided among multiple browser users.

Why does this matter? Because each browsing application is engineered with a specific feel and function in mind. Different browsers will often present a dramatically different Webscape from everyone else. There’s considerably greater uniformity today than that which existed a couple of years back. Still, it’s not at all uncommon for a WordPress theme to behave differently from one browser to another.

Before we get to the subject of managing this phenomenon, let’s take a brief look at what browsing software actually does.

Browser Basics: How Web Surfing Works

In simplified terms, a Website is an arrangement of digital files and data, stored on a server machine and organized through an assortment of coded instructions. When you open your default browser and click over to your favorite site, your computer is reaching out across the Internet and connecting to the IP address of the domain and host machine of the site you’re visiting.

The browser then turns the jumble of coded entries and data connections into a recognizable format. In essence, browsing software translates languages like HTML, PHP, etc. into the appearance and function the Web developers had in mind when they created the site. Without this tool you wouldn’t be able to view nice graphics, read entertaining text, enter your details into a contest form, order a great product, or anything else; every connection would amount to a raw display of code.

Every team of programmers has a slightly different idea of what qualifies as the optimal Web experience, and each browser is likely to handle the coded instructions of a given Website in a slightly different manner. Even minor variations in code interpretation can result in substantial changes in the look and conduct of a site.

For instance, you might open Firefox and see a WP blog that’s centered on the screen, has three columns, and shows links in bright green text. The same blog in IE could be left-aligned, arranged in only one column, and display links in the standard shade of blue. It’s even possible that a theme or template won’t work at all in one or more browsers, making your blog entirely unavailable to a whole segment of the potential market!

Now that you understand the problem, what can be done about it? Plenty, and you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s all really straightforward stuff.

How Do Your Viewers Cruise The Web?

The first thing you should do is find out which browsers your audience are using. This is a simple matter of checking out your visitor stats and taking note of the browser data provided. You can install Google Analytics or you can keep tabs on browser stats and other critical traffic info the old fashioned way, via one of the Web stats programs in your hosting control panel.

Most Cpanel hosts provide free access to Analog and/or AW Stats applications. These interfaces are totally self-explanatory and very easy to read. Even if you’re not plugged into Cpanel, your host almost certainly provides you with some sort of access to your domain’s traffic logs, which will most likely give you info on browser interaction.

Achieving Cross-Browser Consistency

In order to know how your blog looks in the major browsers, you’ll need to take a peek and see for yourself. It’s probably unreasonable to presume you’ll install dozens of browsers and test them all, but checking in with Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, and Internet Explorer will give you a broad handle on the situation. Most browsers will adhere to the functional properties of these core systems, so go ahead and install them and spend some time reviewing your site through each one. Safari and Chrome use the same web rendering engine and therefore most of the time will display in exactly the same way.

Be thorough! Check out each unique template, pay attention to the alignments, link appearance, link behavior, and interact with all your buttons and forms. Take notes and list any discrepancies. Do your link hover functions respond in each browser? Do all JavaScript, PHP, and other dynamic components work correctly across the board? Check everything the first time so you don’t have to keep going back and correcting problems as you find them.

Once you identify the problem areas, your final step is obviously to fix them. If you’re a skilled Webmaster you might simply tinker with your code format a bit until you achieve cross-browser consistency. Alternatively you can hire a professional developer to address the issues for you. If you lack the technical expertise and don’t have the budget for hired help, there are a few online services you can take advantage of.

A good browser testing system will quickly examine your site in the major browsers, and even on a variety of operating systems. In addition to showing you any existing issues, some of these programs will provide you with specific, clear cut details on how each problem can be fixed. A few services to check out are:

Adobe BrowserLab: https://browserlab.adobe.com (free)
BrowserCam: http://www.browsercam.com (paid)
AnyBrowser: http://www.anybrowser.com (paid)

It’s also possible to use a Javascript code to promote multi-browser consistency. Such scripts help to make sure your page format and style elements display properly when viewed in any browsing window. Scripting tutorials are beyond the scope of this article, just be aware that this is an option; you can ask your Webmaster or host about this, or you can do a few Google searches on “cross browser fix”, “cross browser compatibility”, etc.

Putting a little time and energy into your browser compatibility now will save you a great deal of headache and work in the future. Go ahead and address any issues and you can avoid the dreaded support tickets from readers complaining that your blog won’t display correctly in their browser. Every visitor counts, and it would be a shame to lose a sale because a serious buyer can’t get your order button to work, or can’t even read your content due to formatting bugs.

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