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Making Websites What S Your Target Audience

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Navjot Pawera

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User since: 07 Aug 2006

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When asked the headlined question, most web entrepreneurs would serve an answer detailing a certain demographic of people. A website that sells computers might be targeting people who are in the IT industry, or even home users, while a college website might be catering to the students studying in that college. Every business has a target audience, even if it is "anyone and everyone". The might of the Internet is such that targeting any kind of demographic, be it a local group or even a global community is totally up to the discretion of the website owners. For a majority, this is the deciding factor to step into the on-line world with a website, but most end up being exceptions to the fact themselves. When a website is built that only serves people using a specific combination of web browser and platform, the website is forcing upon itself a demographic that does not always match the audience the business aims for.

Multiple browsers, platforms, media devices

When people started making websites, they were made to work in Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. But over the time, the Internet has evolved in ways more than one. The way Internet is used has changed, the way people access the Internet has changed, the technologies used on the Internet have changed. People have started using newer platforms like mobile phones, televisions, and gaming consoles to access the Internet. The web browsers have changed, the older ones have evolved and they keep evolving on a daily basis. We now have not just two, but a number of web browsers. We have different web browsers for different platforms and media. This means that people are now using various different combinations of web browsers and platforms to browse websites, and thus the number of people using the "specific combination of web browser and platform" your website is optimized for, has also decreased.

Bringing order to chaos

So, does this mean that you keep track of all new web browsers, platforms and their combinations and optimize your websites to work in all of them? No, the constant evolution of Internet has led to the development of web standards - a central set of standards for various technologies. These are aimed at helping web browser vendors implement these technologies and web developers to use the same technologies. These web standards aim at making the various technologies work the same way on all different platforms, and user agents. In practical terms, web standards eliminate the need to follow the market for newer web browsers, web browser updates, and to update your websites to work with them. They form the converging center, being followed by web browser vendors and web developers alike.

Keeping pace

Hence, these web standards have also led to the evolution of the rules of doing business on-line. Instead of targeting web browsers or platforms, they give you the freedom of targeting the end customers, the real market of your on-line business. Making your websites compatible with web standards rather than a specific web browser would make sure your web sites work not only with majority of the web browsers but are also accessible by people browsing the Internet from various different platforms and media. All this said, there is however still work to be done. As we update our ways of making new websites, web browser vendors are also updating their browsers and tuning them to the latest web standards. So in this stage of transition, we need to make sure that the websites we make, work for all users. Also, we need to make sure the websites work, not only right now but in the future versions of various browsers as well. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while developing websites today, and making sure they work tomorrow as well:

  • Develop websites using latest standards, and be wise enough to make them fully compliant to the respective standards as well. First make the website web standards compliant and then make alternative workarounds for non-standards-compliant browsers. Not the other way around.
  • To make sure that the websites work for all different users, provide fall back mechanisms for various technologies used on the website.

    e.g. if your website uses extensive JavaScript, then make sure that users who access your website from sources that do not provide JavaScript compatibility are served an alternative "JavaScript-free" version of the website.
  • When making provisions for fall-back mechanisms, do not filter your users on the basis of the browsers they are using. Instead, your filters should look for the specific properties/ technologies that your website uses.

    e.g. if different browsers right now support different JavaScript properties, then set up filters detecting for the specific properties and not different browsers.
  • Do not unknowingly cut out users by writing filters such as:

    if (browser is IE) {code for IE}

    if (browser is Netscape) {code for Netscape}

    With this code, users with browsers other than IE or Netscape will not be served anything.

    Instead, a better filter would be:

    if (property A is not supported){ code for browser not supporting property A }

    else { code for all other browsers }

Making sure your websites validate to latest standards is the easiest way to ensure that you are on the right path. This becomes even more essential when you are not a web developer, but are getting your website developed from someone else. Make sure your website is designed for the right target audience, the end customers, and not web browsers.

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Navjot Pawera is a web standards and accessibility advocate. He works for Opera Software as a Web Evangelist. He maintains a personal-professional website at

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