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Mastering Business Website Usability

Navigation is just one of several usability factors that might dramatically affect the success of your business website. A site that is obvious and easy to use gives viewers a positive impression of your company. A site that doesn’t run on their browsers does just the opposite!

Generally, you don't know how any specific users have set their browser options — whether they block all pop-up windows, which plug-ins they’ve installed, how accurately their monitors display colors, what screen resolution they use, or how fast their Internet connections are. Some high-end application developers purchase software like BrowserHawk to detect users’ browser settings.

According to a Pew Internet research report, only two-thirds of American adults in 2010 have a home broadband connection. Most of the others go online elsewhere; about 5 percent still use dial-up. This varies with age: The younger the users, the more likely they are to have broadband. While adults over 65 don’t seem worried about a lack of broadband access, minority Americans see that lack as a major hindrance.

These statistics have a direct impact on whether you provide rich media and how you design your site.

You can garner some browser-use statistics for your site over time, and by all means, research configuration across a more narrowly defined group of users in your target market. Because that still doesn’t tell you what will happen with a specific user, you might need to provide links to plug-ins with automated installation. If you’re targeting a rural or low-income market, offer dial-up or non-Flash alternatives for those with slower connections.

Test your site on all popular, current browsers and versions for compatibility and download speed. In August 2011, slightly less than a quarter of all users run some version of Internet Explorer; about 40 percent use Firefox, 30 percent use Chrome, and the remainder use a variety of other browsers such as Safari or Opera.

Sites such as NetMechanic or BrowserCam sell software to developers for use with multiple clients or offer versions for one-time, limited use, often for $20 or less.

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