Probably as a consequence of my recent article on how webmasters can make use of web statistics to improve their sites, a visitor asked me whether the browser stats in a web statistics report served any purpose. This article briefly describes how such stats can be helpful in the creation of content for your site.
I'm sure everyone reading this realises ("realizes" in US English) that the web browser statistics do not really yield an accurate picture of the browser usage for the world at large. Each website attracts a different type of audience, and different types of audience have a tendency to use different browsers.
Take the case of thesitewizard.com. The breakdown of browser-usage over the last couple of months, November and December 2007, is as follows:
(Only the major browsers are listed. "IE" stands for Internet Explorer.)
In general, thesitewizard.com tends to attract people who are more technically savvy. These people tend to be either webmasters, web developers or people aspiring to create websites — ergo, they are more likely to be people who are comfortable with the computer, and are able to install programs, change default settings, and so on. Although there are exceptions, these are not the sort of people who will call their browser "the Internet" and think that the entire "Internet is broken" when they cannot start a browser.
This general technical ability is seen in the browser usage. Such people, that is, the technically savvy ones, are more likely to install an alternative browser like Firefox.
Contrast these statistics with those from another of my websites, catering to a more general audience. This other site does not deal with any topic related to the computer.
Notice that while Firefox is used by some 37% of the visitors on thesitewizard.com, it is only used by about 11% on the general site.
Take a look at your own statistics. If your site shows a high percentage of people using alternative browsers (ie, browsers other than Internet Explorer and Safari), then chances are that it is attracting a fair number of technically capable people to your site. You can then adjust your content accordingly so as to cater to such people. Conversely, if your site shows IE users as the majority, chances are that you are attracting a general audience, not necessarily technically-savvy (although some of them may be). If your content assumes too high a level of competence on the computer, you might lose a large portion of your audience who may not know what you are talking about.
Over the course of the year, the number of IE 6 users seems to be falling on my sites. The number of IE 7 users, on the other hand, is increasing. It may be a good idea to keep an eye on this trend for your site as well, since it bodes well for your site's web design. Although, IE 7 still contains numerous bugs that makes it tedious to design for, it is much better in its support for web standards than IE 6. If the usage of IE 6 declines so much that it becomes no longer significant, you will be able to drop support for it on your site. This allows you to write cleaner web pages, without having to apply workarounds and hacks to deal with the IE 6 rendering bugs.
Browser statistics are useful to a certain extent to the webmaster. They give you a glimpse into the technical competence of your visitors, if you did not already know from the content you were publishing. Similarly, observing trends in browser usage allow you to optimize your website to be more efficient and lightweight. They probably do not have the same level of usefulness as some other web statistics reports, but they have their place.
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