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Who’s in the lead? Understanding browser market share statistics: Part 3

web usage statistics
In the famous words of Oscar Wilde, “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.” And that certainly holds for statistics on web usage. In part 2 of this blog series, I listed some of the popular sources of statistics and how they are different. In this last installment you’ll find some guidelines on interpreting the data.

So what can we make of all the numbers, especially when they don’t seem to agree?

The first step should always be to know why you need the information. Are you just looking for a general idea on what is trending, or making the decision to invest thousands or more in developing a new website application?

If you’re someone interested in following trends, knowing what browser is growing, or what device is used most often on the Internet, then the best advice is to look at as many studies as you can. From those draw your own conclusions. You can do that by taking each set of numbers at face value and comparing them directly – such as 4 out of 5 statistics claim IE has been trending downward so it’s likely to be true. Of course you should still use common sense in making your comparisons.

But if you need a more concrete determination, you can take a more in depth approach. Research where the numbers come from and how they are calculated for the sources you choose – a little like we did in part 2 of this blog series. But you don’t have to go overboard.

For example, it’s safe to say that Chrome is the leading web browser globally when all types of traffic are included. I haven’t seen any data to contradict that in the last year or so. But as for who is in second, third, or fourth place it’s kind of a toss-up. The general trend of IE and Firefox declining in market share seems to be consistent across most studies. But Safari’s growth into the top four isn’t. That conclusion depends on what study and data set you believe the most. If any of them.

It wouldn’t be worth your time researching to discover if the fact that Chrome is number one is actually true. The preponderance of evidence makes the case. But if you need to know what number four is, then you’ll have to work hard to decide what statistics you feel are accurate for your purposes. Only by knowing what is behind the numbers can you determine your own conclusions when the data contradicts.

But by far the best practice is to pay attention to your own analytics. The all-inclusive global averages reported by many may not apply to your visitors at all. Maybe your visitors are primarily on mobile using Safari on iPads. Maybe they are using old Windows machines running IE 7. Only your analytics will tell you what is true and what trends occur in your user base.

If you don’t have existing analytics and want to know what to plan for, then try and get as specific data as you can about the types of people that would visit a site like yours. You may need to use these various sources and generalised statistics, but look for the sources that let you set filters to get to the most relevant data for you.

And remember, Internet usage statistics are always changing. Keep asking questions, searching the sources of data, and interpret the data you need to succeed in your projects.

Oliver Burt

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