Google Chrome is Google's newest web browser, released on 3 September 2008 with much fanfare all over the world. Whether or not you actually want to use the browser for your daily browsing, there are 6 things about Chrome that you need to be aware of as a webmaster, since they actually affect your website.
No webmaster should underestimate Chrome. When Firefox wanted to increase its user-base, it had to launch a massive publicity campaign, involving probably millions of volunteers, paid advertisements in newspapers and so on. When Chrome launched, Google didn't have to bother with any of that. Everybody on the Internet spontaneously talked about it. It was big news. The launch even made it into many newspapers without Google having to pay for any advertisements. Within a day or two after the release, some technical sites reported that their web statistics show that between 5% to 10% of their users were using Chrome.
There are a few things to be said about this:
The exact percentage will probably stabilise over time. Right now, the sudden jump is probably because there are a lot of people curious about Chrome and are trying it out. They may or may not continue to use it. Only time will tell. And the fact that these are technical sites should also tell you that the users are more likely to be people who are willing to try out new technology. It doesn't necessarily mean that they will stay with it.
However, don't fool yourself with this and be lulled into complacence. The huge publicity, and the fact that the publicity is not just through official channels (like some press release) but from ordinary bloggers and webmasters, will have long term effects. I have a feeling that Chrome's rise through your website's statistics will be nothing like the glacial rise of Firefox, Safari and Opera.
What I'm saying is that you will probably need to add Chrome to the staple of browsers you test your site with.
Since Chrome was built using WebKit, the rendering engine used by the Safari browser and inherited from Konqueror, sites using purely HTML and CSS that rendered fine in Safari will probably appear the same way with Chrome.
If your site's visitors search your site from a search box on your main domain, Chrome will automatically add your site's search facility to its internal search engine list. After that initial search, those visitors can search your site directly from Chrome's address bar.
For example, if you search for (say) "how to a register domain name" on the main page of thesitewizard.com, and later in a new tab want to search for "the fine print in web hosting", just type "t fine print in web hosting" in the address bar, and the address bar's drop down box will provide you the option of searching using thesitewizard.com's search box. (The initial "t" followed by a space is merely the first letter in "thesitewizard.com".)
What this means for webmasters is that if you have not added a site search engine to your site, now is the time to do so. A handy shortcut to search your website directly from the user's machine is a fantastic way to remind your visitors of your site, and perhaps give them an incentive to return to it.
A couple of things to note, though:
For this to work, the initial search must be done from a search box on your main domain. That means if you don't have a search box on your main page, put one there.
I'm sure you've seen those "404 File Not Found" error pages in the course of surfing the Internet. Those error pages are displayed when you enter (or click) a web address that does not exist on the website in question. Some websites customise their 404 error pages so that it is less unfriendly.
If you want your own custom 404 error page to be displayed when a visitor reaches a non-existent page, you need to make sure that your page is larger than 512 bytes. Otherwise, Chrome will ignore your page and use its internal 404 error page. Its internal error page will include suggested alternatives to your visitors. Depending on the URL your visitor typed in, the page may show a link to your home page, as well as other possible alternatives. It also displays a Google search box, prefilled with what Google thinks the visitor is looking for, so that your (now former) visitors can try other sites to find the information they want.
(Before you rush out to condemn Google for this practice, you should note also that Internet Explorer also provides its own error page if your site's error page is smaller than a certain size. So this behaviour is by no means restricted to Chrome.)
Although Chrome's error page is (at this time) free of advertisements, and seems to provide relevant suggestions, the page is neutral with regards to your site. In other words, a visitor who arrived at your site originally intending to find Widget XYZ on your site, may well be distracted by the (pre-filled) Google search box and try searching for the widget elsewhere on the Internet. Not creating your own 404 error page in such a case, may lose you potential customers.
I personally think it's best to create your own customized 404 File Not Found page. Your page doesn't have to do anything fancy. Just point your visitors to your main page and provide them a way to search your own site for the missing page.
(For those who want to see an example of the 404 page that Google Chrome shows when you reach a non-existent page, try this link to example.com. You should, of course, be using Chrome when you click it, otherwise you'll just get the site's 404 page.)
For those of you who do browser sniffing in your scripts, or need to adjust your web statistics software, Chrome identifies itself on my Windows XP test machine as:
(A script that does "browser sniffing" is one that checks what browser the visitor is using and works differently depending on the browser used.)
In other words, you can check for Chrome specifically by scanning for the word "Chrome". If you want to classify browsers that use WebKit together in one category, it looks like a check for "AppleWebKit" or "Safari" should do the trick, although I don't know if all browsers utilising WebKit place those words in their user-agent string (other than Safari and Chrome).
Chrome is new. But its features present both opportunities for webmasters as well as potential problems that they need to look out for. As a web designer and developer, this is not a browser you can ignore.
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