I come across many people posting on forums asking questions such as:
- Should I used fixed width or a fluid layout for my website?
- Should I design for a 1024×768 or a 1280×1024 screen resolution?
- Should I go for some great looking Flash, or keep things lean and fast loading?
There really should be no need for an established website developer to be asking other developers these questions – all the answers are in your traffic logs and what is more, those answers are tailored and customised for your site.
Your site may not be part of ‘the norm’
Just because people are telling you that the majority of Web users are now using a screen resolution of 1024×768, it doesn’t necessarily mean the majority of your site’s users are. Just because people are telling you that most people are on broadband now so image optimisation is less important, it doesn’t mean that most visitors to your site enjoy a broadband connection.
I am not saying you should ignore Web trends – of course you should be aware of how the online world is developing in order to ensure you don’t fall behind. What you mustn’t lose sight of though, is the fact that you are developing your site for your visitors – not necessarily for the ‘average’ user.
Keep your visitors happy – nobody else matters
Community websites rely on retaining visitors and converting them into long term members. Sure, you want (and need) to attract new users so you should be aware of current Web trends when it comes to user tastes and capabilities. This should never be at the expense of your current, loyal member base, though.
At the end of the day, all your decisions should be based on keeping your visitors happy. Visitors to other websites don’t matter. You need to ensure you cater to the majority of users that come to your website. The only way of finding this out for certain is to pay attention to your own traffic stats.
There is no excuse nowadays for not having a decent understanding of your visitors. If your server doesn’t have a stats package, sign up for Google Analytics – it’s free, and it’ll provide you with a remarkable amount of data to study.
So before you ask someone a question about generalised Web trends, see if you can work it out for yourself! The answer you come up with from looking at your own traffic stats will be far more accurate and far more valuable.