Our goal is to find the most common settings, and to deliver web sites which match settings with a majority of users viewing the sites. Also, we need to mitigate any problems which might arise if the user doesn’t have their environment settings similar to the development team’s in-house settings. Let’s face it, not everybody uses Firefox or Chrome.
Testing on multiple browsers, multiple versions, multiple settings and platforms can greatly increase chances of uncovering issues. Also, coding to W3C standards is vastly important. Having a solid QA process you can stick to is a fine idea as well. Still… there are a lot of variables out there to manage.
These multiple variables bring up all kinds of questions while developing and designing web sites. What if the user doesn’t have Flash? What size should the main font be? What if they’re using IE6 (the horror!)?
However, the “big daddy” of all variables we deal with is: screen resolution. It used to be enough to simply consider what a majority of web users had their screen resolutions set at. Commonly heard and well-known in tech support and Internet geek-speak are all the old standards: six-forty by four-eighty, eight-hundred by six-hundred, ten-twenty-four by seven-sixty-eight. Nowadays, it isn’t so cut-and-dry, as new monitor sizes in wide screens and fancy-pants resolution (2880×900?!?) settings are everywhere. We still have to keep tabs on what the majority of resolution settings are, but now we also have to think like advertisers. We have to ask the question: what do my visitors see when they arrive on my web site? What is “above the fold”?
Google hopes to help web developers and designers answer those questions with this nifty little tool (currently in Google Labs) called Browser Size.
Browser Size provides you with overlay statistics, in terms of percentages of users, on top of your site (or any site you choose to enter). This data reflects visible area, not actual window size. That is, it subtracts all the toolbar fluff and lets you see what your users actually see.
Using the tool is simple: type a URL in at the top of the screen, and the site will load your web page in the background. It will then overlay a semi-transparent graphic depicting how much of the web’s population can view each section of your page without scrolling. Even with the overlay on, you can still click around the web site as a small block around the mouse pushes through the colorful layer.
Google says that it found that the install rate for Google Earth increased by a whopping 10% simply by moving the “Download Google Earth” button 100 pixels higher on the page.
Take a look at your web site inside Browser Size. What are your visitors not seeing?