The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

Designing for chaos

Google Analytics is a free, quick, and easy webmaster tool that can provide a wealth of practical design and marketing information. It can save you from committing the venial sins of assuming too much and leaving money on the table.

I’m sure everyone already knows that the highest and best use for Google Analytics is conversion tracking. But, there are still quite a few useful scraps of data that can be squeezed out prior to that. Google Analytics can show you the technical characteristics of your web-site’s visitors. Specifically, it tracks the browser, screen resolution, and color depth used by each visitor. With this information in hand, you can tailor your site design to better serve those who visit.

Different Browsers

Screenshot of Google Analytics browser dataClick the image to the left to see a larger version of a screen shot for the numbers and percentages of visitors using different popular web browsers. Google Analytics also tracks the specific browser version for each visitor. With Internet Explorer, for example, the vast majority of visitors used versions 6 and 7 (61% and 37% respectively), but a few used older version going back to version 4.01!

The fact that such a high percentage of visitors to this website used Internet Explorer, and a majority of those were not using the most recent version of IE, tells me that the demographic attracted to the subject matter of this website were not on the cutting edge of technology, and probably never will be.

The most obvious web design issue involved here is testing my use of CSS on different browser versions, for the unfortunate complication that different browsers and different version of the same browser render CSS (or tables for that matter) differently. With the Google Analytic data I know exactly which browser versions to focus upon, and I am happy that Apple has recently introduced a Windows version of its Safari browser.

Color Depth

Screenshot of Google Analytics color dataFrankly, this was an eye-opener for me to discover that nine percent of my sites visitors were using 16-bit color depth. I never would have guessed that anyone would use less than 32-bit color, but I would have been, and was, wrong. The site itself is primarily text oriented, so in that respect it isn’t much of a problem, but my marketing is color graphic intensive, and 9% is a big number to simply ignore.

Note: I checked out the perceptual difference between 16-bit color and 32-bit color displays, and it isn’t really that big of a deal for most web purposes.  I was just temporarily confused.  It’s the handful of visitors (less than 1%) who are using 8-bit color that are a lost cause.

Screen Resolution

screen_res_web.jpgYou’d think that something as simple as how wide to design a web page would be an easy decision, but it isn’t. Generally, it is not a good thing to require your visitors to perform horizontal scrolling. So, to accommodate the lowest common denominator, I try to avoid fixed-width designs as much as possible.

In any event, there are a large number of unavoidable trade-offs and considerations to keep in mind when designing for the web . . . many more than what I’ve mentioned here . . . and using the most basic features Google Analytics will help you to focus upon the truly important factors relevant to your individual site.

Bon appétit, mon cher.

“I asked a priest to perform an exorcism on my television. It seems that it was somehow possessed by the lost soul of Anna Nicole Smith endlessly repeating the boring details of her insipid life. Go to the light, Anna. Go to the light.”

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Written by Tom Fox

09/07/2007 at 10:07 am

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