Accessibility vs Branding

The other day I came a cross a pretty strange discussion, at least from my point of view, in a web related forum. Some people were arguing that accessibility and web standards advocates do not take branding into account when they make a site accessible to all, regardless of what they use to access the site.

The argument was that users of old browsers like Netscape 4 or IE 4 should not be allowed to enter sites that don’t display well in those browsers. They claim that people viewing a site under less than perfect conditions will damage the site owner’s brand and image more than any badwill caused by banning users of “unsupported” browsers from the site.

To me, this kind of reasoning seems very strange. But then, I am no marketing or branding expert. Still, it would seem that preventing people from accessing your site because they are using the “wrong” browsing device is a really bad idea, for several reasons.

  • Reducing your number of potential customers. By denying access to people using older browsers, screen readers, text-based browsers, mobile phones, handheld computers, and other browsing devices, you will get fewer customers.
  • Risking accessibility lawsuits. In more and more countries around the world, it is mandatory for websites to be made accessible. If your site is not accessible, like when you deny access to all but the user agents you approve of, you open yourself up to lawsuits that could get expensive.
  • Insulting potential customers. Telling people who have come to learn about your products or services, and potentially do business with you, that they are not wanted unless they come back on your terms will be a great insult to many. The vast majority of them will not come back, and they will tell their friends about their experience.

Is the visual impression really that important? Should people that use a browser that cannot display a site exactly as the graphic designer intended not be allowed to access that site at all? Will the good impressions made on all visitors that have perfect eyesight and use a “supported” browser make up for the bad impression and publicity that can be caused by banning users in the name of “branding”? What do you think?

Posted on September 22, 2004 in Web Standards, Accessibility