Avoid The "Smart Quotes" Trap
Microsoft's word processing, spreadsheets, and page layout software uses what Microsoft calls "smart quotes." Straight double quotation marks are automatically replaced with the fancier opening and closing curly quotation marks. Other non-standard characters are also supported, including:
True Type fonts in Microsoft Windows systems use a superset of ISO Latin-1 to get these special characters. In basic Latin-1, the numeric characters 128-159 are left open, but Windows systems use them to create custom characters that usually are only visible on Windows operating systems - and even there, display isn't always consistent.
Many Microsoft software packages offer users a handy "save document as HTML" option. When you select that, any smart quote character contained in the document gets converted into HTML - but using the Latin-1 superset, not standard Latin-1 characters. Be extremely careful when you convert Word documents to HTML because of system incompatibility problems. Visitors with non-Windows systems may see apostrophes rendered as quotation marks and mysterious empty boxes or spaces where other characters should be.
People even get mystery characters with email when they compose a lengthy message in Word, then cut and paste it into their email package. Recipients using incompatible email systems are likely to see question marks or gibberish where the smart quotes characters should be. This problem can really make you look stupid.
Would you respond to the invitation contained in this email?
We?re the very best SEO firm in the business! You?ll love our attention to every detail of your site!
Solve this problem either by disabling the Auto Format function in Word or converting the smart quotes into ASCII by hand in your HTML code.
Catch Browser Display Problems
The browser display problem isn't just limited to smart quotes. Some Macintosh systems have problems with characters in the basic Latin-1 set, including the broken vertical bar, superscripts, and fractions.
Some HTML editors will alert you when you've used inappropriate characters on your page. More unlucky webmasters will only find it out when a visitor emails them some version of the "why should I buy from you if you're so stupid that you can't spell?" response.
The really tricky part of the special characters problem is that the errors don't display consistently across operating systems or even across browser versions! Unless you view the document in a certain browser or operating system, you'll never realize that you have a problem.
That's why you need to test, test, and test again on every browser and system you can get your hands on. Too time-consuming and expensive? Use NetMechanic's Browser Photo tool to view actual screen shots of your page in 16 different browser and operating system combinations. Browser Photo will show you those mystery characters in all their glory.
It's an easy mistake to fix - but only if you realize you have a problem!