To Fix or Not To Fix: Consideration Before Making Your Site IE6-Friendly

May 9th, 2012 by Search Influence University

If you surf the Internet casually, you probably don’t particularly care what browser you use. Internet Explorer is the default on most people’s computers, and friends I love dearly and don’t judge have told me they just don’t feel like downloading and installing a new browser. Laziness is also probably the same reason people don’t upgrade their browsers, though if you’ve managed to avoid upgrading Internet Explorer 6 for the last decade, I’m going to assume you don’t actually use the Internet (or your computer) for much of anything at all.

But for people who make and play with sites, an elderly browser can create massive design headaches. The people who hate IE6 the most are website programmers. The quality assurance department that has to send tasks back to the worktable because of IE6 also hate it. And really, on some transcendental level, everything that has gone extinct because of natural selection should resent it, because IE6 is proof that people are willing and capable of prolonging the lifespan of something that, left in the wild, probably would’ve died out.

But I digress.

IE6 Specific Tasks

Every website programmer who works for a company has probably had to, at one point or another, spend a stupid amount of time on an IE6-specific fix, because, in social terms, IE6 is not hip or relevant. It doesn’t understand the new terminology and slang that younger browsers bandy about with ease. It does the best it can, but it needs to be catered to and pampered. It needs its own stylesheet (those other browsers can share one), and in the world of IE6, those darn tootin’ whippersnappers can just go fly a kite; IE6 will be IE6, and it’s way too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Because — and here’s the shocker — if you teach it new tricks… it upgrades to IE7.

So are we going to whine IE6 into submission?

The thing is about angry programmers is that they can come up with spiteful, vengeful solutions. Recently, I found a WordPress plugin that will intentionally crash a person’s browsing session if he is using IE6; while that titillates the seething jerk itching under my skin, it’s a fairly invasive and unprofessional response to someone’s personal preference. Nobody can MAKE anybody upgrade their browser, no matter how frustrating it may be to walk by and see a stodgy citizen cautiously wading through the Internet one slow click at a time.

So the real answer is this: let them do as they will. Let them use their antiquated browsers to their heart’s content.

But let the companies and powers that shape the Internet stop enabling them. We need to be more selective when deciding to put unnecessary programming time into making an site Internet Explorer 6 friendly. Unless your site caters to clientele who are apt to stick to IE6 and older browsers, you may be wasting time and money for your web designers and yourself.

Let’s take a look at a site’s analytics and see if it was worth the hour spent here and there on Internet Explorer specific fixes.

Look at the numbers to make your decision.

Screen Shot 2012-03-15 at 5.46.28 PM

We’re looking at a total of 907 visits to this website. We would like to note that 22 people were using Internet Explorer 6. We don’t want to discount that ONLY 22 people took a gander at the site; all 22 could end up being paying clients, and that could (though unlikely) be better than the traffic from other browsers.

Now let’s take a look at the average amount of time those 22 people actually spent on the website.

Screen Shot 2012-03-15 at 5.47.21 PM

Yes. You are seeing that the 22 people who were using Internet Explorer 6 to visit your website stayed on average 5 seconds. That’s about enough time to look at your home page and decide that it’s just not their cup of tea.

There’s admittedly the chance that this site has not been configured to be functional in IE6 and that the confusing mess turned these visitors away (though, just to be honest and more vindicative, that possibility doesn’t hold true in this case because I worked on this site and it looks fabulous in IE6). But if you end up getting billed for even just two hours on IE6-specific fixes, you’re probably not really benefiting from the work.

And look. Really look. IE6 can’t render pretty things.

Other things that will probably sway your decision to support IE6 or not is that Google and YouTube don’t want to old browsers — that is, not just IE6, but outdated versions of Mozilla as well. This means that eventually, Google Maps and Youtube videos will not load well (or at all) in outdated browsers. With no directions or videos to idle the time away, maybe they’ll give in to the inevitable and finally upgrade.

IE6 also does not support transparency for PNG images, and if you created your site images recently with Mac, you may have those all over your site. If you’re really concerned about making your site beautiful in IE6, you might have to consider spending some extra time to have all your images switched over to old-school (and lower-quality) GIFs, or spend even more time on hacks and fixes that aren’t really worth the headache.

Making your site functional in IE6 may not take a lot of time, and if your code is sensible and clean from the start, you may never really have to worry about a massive failure. However, if your site is old, or multiple people with completely different styles have worked on it, or if you want to dandy your site up with all the fancy, flashy toys of today, you may end up with a fantastic mess that’ll take a lot of time and effort to fix… in just one browser, for 22 people, who only looked at your site for 5 seconds.

Take the time to research your audience. Decide if IE6 is a priority. And if it isn’t, please — save yourself some money and effort, and let your web designers do something more impactful with their time.