In the web industry, we tend to be obsessed with the future: mobile devices will outpace desktop users by 2014, tablets will forever change the way we watch cats ride skateboards, Facebook will take over the world within three years. But the imagined future is far less important than the actual present. The success of a website depends on how well it serves real people, right now—and that means taking a hard look at what’s really happening out there.
Web nerds hate to admit this, but most people are nowhere near the cutting edge. Every site is different, of course, but your analytics will show a significant amount of people visiting your site with very old browsers.
StatCounter has Internet Explorer 7 as the fourth most popular browser in the U.S. over the last three months—and Internet Explorer 7, released in 2006, is three versions old (Internet Explorer 8 is by far the most popular U.S. browser over the same period; Internet Explorer 9 is still just a blip). Furthermore, mobile users likely account for only a fraction of your site’s total visitors (over the last three months, mobile users accounted for under 10% of the traffic to orbitmedia.com). And according to a recent Nielsen study, only 4.8% of consumers own a tablet.
At Orbit, it’s very important for us to keep up with the latest technology, especially because a lot of it can be implemented without requiring users to upgrade. But we have to be realistic about adoption rates, and we have to anchor every decision in real-world data about what (non-web-nerd) people are actually using.
Technology is important, but your visitors are people, not devices. Which means it’s even more crucial to be realistic about the human behind the browser.
Over the years, we’ve watched a lot of real people use real websites. We’ve supplemented this data with research from other groups doing the same thing. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing detailed recommendations and making specific decisions. Ultimately, however, what we’ve learned can be reduced to a single sentence: Real people don’t give a damn about your website. If this sounds insane coming form a web design company, please, keep reading…
Visitors come to your site looking to do something specific. They move really fast. They’re not going to read all of your beautiful marketing copy, and they’re not going to stop to admire that stunning rollover effect in your navigation. If your visitors aren’t able to accomplish their goals, they’ve got no problem going somewhere else.
Here’s where it gets tricky: not giving a damn doesn’t mean people will use any site. It just means they don’t want to think about it. If the design is unprofessional, people will assume the product or service is too. If it’s difficult to place an order, people will go to a different site where it’s not. Being successful means working hard to provide a pleasant and easy experience that meets the specific needs of your visitors. You need great design to inspire confidence and convey your brand without getting in the way. You need great writing to communicate in mere seconds. And if you do a great job, people still won’t give a damn about your site. But they will come back.
We were supposed to have personal helicopters and robot servants by now. We were supposed to be walking on Mars. And we were definitely supposed to be done with Internet Explorer 7. But the only people who will ever visit your site are the ones who are real. So embrace them. Talk to them. Learn about them. You may find you like real people more than some ridiculous flying car.*
* Also, we have the Internet. Popular Science didn’t see that one coming.