How not using Internet Explorer put me out of touch and cost me dearly

It’s never good to scare away your customers.  It’s even worse if you don’t realize you’re doing it.  That was me.

Like most folks in the developer community, it’s been years since I last used Internet Explorer as my daily browser.  Oh sure, we all keep copies around for web development work, but Firefox, Chrome, and Safari now rule the web roost.  Unfortunately, that was not the case with the Blurity userbase.

I had long known about a steep drop-off between the number of people successfully downloading the Blurity installer and the number actually completing the installation.  Roughly 50% of downloaders were abandoning the product after downloading it but before trying it.  Was the installer crashing? Were they forgetting about it?  I wasn’t sure.  My peers told me that a 50% drop-off wasn’t out of the question.  Months rolled by.

Then two days ago, I was testing some changes to the web site in Internet Explorer and decided to try downloading the installer.  A big, scary, red warning box popped up:

That's kind of scary!

“Oh no!” I thought.  The scary warning and lack of clear options to proceed were alarming.  Also, I was a bit miffed by the assertion that the Blurity installer was unpopular.  So I clicked “Actions” only to have another scary warning box show its face:

Harm my computer? I don't want that!

Dang. People would just be trying to remove the blur from their blurry photos, and they’d get smacked in the face with messages that my software would destroy their computers.

Turned out I’d been snared by IE’s SmartScreen filter.

I wondered how many of my users were coming in with Internet Explorer. It turned out that 43% of the visitors to were using IE.  But it was worse than that, since Blurity runs only on Windows, and 86% of visitors were using Windows, so almost 50% of the eligible visitors were using IE. Shoot.

Distribution of visitors by browser

I then wondered how conversion rates were suffering.

About 80% of non-IE users who downloaded the Blurity installer successfully completed the installation.  However, only 20% of IE users who did the download actually got through the install.  That’s an expensive bug.

Here’s the worst part. About half of my sales were coming from IE users.  That’s right: those 20% of IE users, representing 10% of my total traffic, were accounting for 50% of my sales.  That’s a REALLY expensive bug.  I was forgoing many, many hypothetical dollars.

So how do you fix that problem?  One way is to wait for the installer to “age” a sufficient length of time, but the specifics are murky, and the problem comes back when a new installer is released.

The better solution is to get a code-signing certificate and sign the installer.  StartSSL had what appeared to be the best prices, so I parted with some money and got a certificate.

No SmartScreen warnings now, thanks to the certificate

Success!  Internet Explorer no longer complains when a user tries to download the Blurity installer!  No scary warnings. About 85% of IE users are now going from download to installation.

Will that translate into increased sales?  I’m not certain, but if I get just two additional sales from the certificate over the next two years, it will have been money well-spent.

Going forward, you can bet that I’ll be more in tune with my users’ habits.


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