The Browser Statistics That Matter

Have you ever had a web development related conversation discussion where someone brought up global browser usage statistics? I might be a little weird, but I’d say I at least overhear a conversation like just about every day:

 

“I’d love to use FANCY NEW FEATURE, but it’s not supported SOME BROWSER (probably old Internet Explorer) and GLOBAL MARKET SHARE of it is still 7.62%”

 

Good on ya for considering the spectrum of browser usage on your web site. But there is a bit of a logic breakdown here. The global market share of any particular browser is irrelevant to whether you can use a feature or not. The browser statistics that matter are the browser usage statics of your web site, and nobody else’s.

 

 

There is quite a bit of variance

 

The reason you can’t use global statistics as a stand-in for your own is because they could be wildly wrong. Even keeping a wide angle lens here, different continents (and even countries) have different breakdowns in usage. Zoom in a little and different industries and markets have different breakdowns. Zoom all the way in and your website will have browser usage statistics totally unique to you.

 

Sites like StatCounter that track the worldwide browser market are fascinating, but I’d argue largely exist as dinner party talk.

 

I’ve talked with plenty of folks who design for intranets where the browser usage is very specific because of the computers that company provides to employees. Just recently, I heard of one with over 50% IE 11 use. The global statistic of 3.71% is irrelevant to them.

 

I’ve talked with folks who have sites so hugely skewed to mobile it’s their obvious top priority. On CSS-Tricks, I see about 6% on mobile, which has been that or less since mobile was a thing. I’d say it’s OK if we have a little different of priorities based on our individual data sets.

 

What if you don’t have the data?

Google Analytics is free. Slap it on the site for a few days. That’s enough to get a good idea of what’s going on.

 

If the site doesn’t exist yet, make educated guesses, and adjust as you go. You could probably ask around from folks who work on sites with some similarity to your new one.

 

Remember, there is always some degree of chicken-or-egg. If you build an excellent mobile website, you’ll see higher mobile traffic. Some people see increasing mobile traffic and then build a better mobile website to accommodate. Which came first? There is no obvious answer.

 

And so…

  • If you’re working on a project that has a large IE 10 user base, then support the heck out of IE 10. That’s your job.
  • If you’re working on a project with a lot of traffic from the UC Browser, you should support the heck out of the UC browser. That’s your job.
  • If you’re working on a project that has 0.0001% of traffic from Safari 3, you should drop support for Safari 3 and stop your team from spending any time on it. That’s your job.
  • It’s also your job to consider trend lines. If there is a new browser that is on the up and up, that makes more sense to support than and old browser on the decline.

 

Progressive enhancement factors in here

We should be careful not to conflate “support” with “is exactly the same everywhere”. The principal of progressive enhancement is about building from a baseline set of functionality (and aesthetic, you could argue) and layering on functionality as browsers support it. That way even if you drop support for a particular browser, it doesn’t mean nothing works there, it just means their experience is different. Probably worse, to be fair, but usable.

 

It’s tricky though. Say a ticket comes in for a browser you’re not explicitly supporting. Something is broken in an older browser, even though you’re largely using progressive enhancement techniques. Do you fix it? That’s up to you, but there is always a nahhhhhhh line.

 

Helpful tooling

I don’t know of any tool as good as Google Analytics for collecting and looking at browser usage statistics. The default implementations are all JavaScript-based, so if you’re concerned about skewed data in that regard, you might want to web search around for “Google Analytics without JavaScript” as it seems possible.

 

Here’s a month of data from CSS-Tricks.

 

cssbrowserdata

 

Of course, data above is useful to nobody but me and people who work on CSS-Tricks.

 

The amazing browser support website Can I use allows you to import data directly from Google Analytics. That way when you’re looking at support percentages, it’s based on your own data (hip, hip, hooray!).

 

caniuse

 

There are other tools out there that make use of browser usage statistics to make decisions. For example, the popular tool Autoprefixer processes CSS adding prefixes and alternate properties when necessary to support the range of browsers asked for. Babel, the popular tool for processing JavaScript into a format older browsers can use, can be configured to a certain set of browsers.

 

Fortunately, there is an effort to reign in how these tools are configured called Browserslist, which you can read about here.

 

It’s all a dance

Clearly I’m advocating for making discussions based on your own site’s browser usage data. And on the flip side, attempting to stop conversations that try to use global usage as an indicator for your choices.

 

But, of course, real world development is always a dance of business requirements, making people happy, developer skill and convenience, and available tooling. You might go deeper with support (than the data shows is necessary) because it’s part of your brand or it wasn’t that hard to do. You might lean more modern and shallow with support (than the data shows is necessary) because of your progressive enhancement base, polyfilling, and a stakeholder on a super old browser.

 

Dance on.

 

Comments

  • Thomas Williams

    Google analtytics is great but you won’t get any statistics from the majority of Mozilla Firefox users who have tracking protection turned on. You see there are two types of user. Those who use Internet Explorer and those intelligent people who use Mozilla Firefox which block Google analytics as a matter of course. So really GA is only gathering information from stupid people who don’t block it. So all your statistics are based on the stupid people and not people who know how to disable tracking protection.

  • Browser statistics make me cry. I see numbers like 40% Safari on some sites (which is actually the browser I encounter the most issues with, and they tend to be the hardest to debug), 30% IE on some (IE in itself isn’t a bad browser per se, but its slow release cycle means waiting for support for interesting stuff or bugfixes means you might as well wait for a glacier to pass by — and now that even Microsoft is trying to move people over to Edge, seeing consistent double digit usage statistics for IE is torture).

    • Thomas Williams

      Safari is a nightmare especially if you have no access to a Mac and your Boss uses one LOL. I have an emulated Mac for this purpose, but that isn’t strictly legal apparently.

      • Alex McCabe

        Oh man, the Flexbox quirks in Safari… at least IE is predictable in how Flexbox fails.

    • Vladimir Tolstikov

      “move people over to Edge” — I like how it sounds 😀

  • Ryan Malayter

    Our main SaaS application is still at 79% IE11 usage, with Chrome a distant second. Banks don’t change anything unless they’re forced to (we couldn’t remove support for old IE versions until about a year after MSFT dropped support).

  • I don’t think developer’s job is just to blindly follow users statistics. People use various software – often outdated, insecure versions of OS or browsers and then got hacked. Their hacked computers are then used to spread malware, etc. We shouldn’t contribute to this. The fact is there is no such thing as secure IE10, IE9 or IE8 anymore so we shouldn’t support these browsers. I wrote about it almost 1.5 year ago https://www.xfive.co/blog/stop-supporting-ie10-ie9-ie8/

  • Csongor

    If you don’t support Browser “A” then you will have no visitors using “A”. It will encourage you not to support it at all. Vicious circle.

    So, it is better to support all the relevant browsers to at least the level of usability, or even more. You can make a decision beyond that level only, I think.

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