Most of us spend hours on the Internet every day. If we’re going to dedicate that much time to an activity, doesn’t it make sense for us to make sure that we’re doing it right? As it turns out, you may be sabotaging your own web browsing experience with a few simple mistakes.
When I say sabotage, that means everything from slowing down your browser to leaving yourself vulnerable to viruses and hackers. The sad truth is that “proper browsing habits” don’t require all that much effort, yet people still neglect them — and the only people they’re hurting are themselves.
Don’t be like them! A few tweaks is all it takes to maximize your enjoyment and safety when surfing the web. Less lag, less risk, and less inconvenience all around. Here are the mistakes you need to avoid.
Disregarding Browser Updates
You know the notice that pops up every once in a while asking if you’d like to update your browser to the next version? Chrome users probably don’t know what I’m talking about (Google handles it automatically in the background), but for the rest of us, that little notice is important.
Browser updates exist for two reasons: 1) to add new features and 2) to fix flaws in previous versions. Big features are normally added in major version updates, so most of the time these browser updates are minor tweaks and changes that can be applied in just a few seconds.
What kind of changes? Patching security vulnerabilities, for one. Another common example is improving on issues of user experience, such as memory leaks and performance bottlenecks.
Unless you have a good and purposeful reason for sticking with an older version — e.g. it’s the last version before a critical feature was removed — it’s always best to stick with the latest version of your browser.
Allowing Cookies From Everywhere
You’ve probably heard about cookies before, but maybe you don’t understand exactly what they are or why they’re so important. You can get by without knowing much about them, but if you want to best maintain your privacy while browsing the web, you should learn what cookies are.
In short, cookies are files created on your computer when you visit a website. These files are meant to store information that must be available from session to session — such as login data — and aren’t inherently harmful. However, they can be used in harmful ways like tracking your web behavior.
What you should do is allow first-party cookies (which are cookies set by the actual site domain that you’re visiting) and disallow third-party cookies (which are cookies set by other domains, like advertising networks).
Note: Some sites might need third-party cookies to operate properly. For example, online banking sometimes require these cookies for user verification. A more mundane example is Disqus comments, which can break when third-party cookies are disabled.
The “It Won’t Happen to Me” Mindset
On the whole, security is more about mindset and attitude than it is the specific tools you use (though the right tools can certainly make it easier to stay secure). That is, you can do all the right things and still be at risk due to an arrogant approach to the web.
Want to stay safe and secure? Change your security habits.
The first thing to do is install antivirus software if you haven’t already. There are plenty of free antivirus solutions out there, and while Windows Security Essentials isn’t the best choice, it’s still better than nothing — so turn it on!
The next thing to do is use a strong password. Learn the characteristics of a good password and make sure you use a different password for every site to prevent the problem of a hacker who cracks one password gaining access to all of your accounts.
If password memory is a nuisance to you, consider using a password management tool. They’re convenient and effective.
The last thing to do is watch out for scams. It’s incredibly easy to be tricked on the Internet, which is why you can never let your guard down. You’ve got eBay scams, Craigslist scams, Facebook scams, and even fake reviews plaguing nearly every online marketplace in existence.
Learn the warning signs. If an online offer ever seems fishy or too good to be true, don’t hesitate to turn the other direction. Even when everything looks legitimate, always verify everything two or three times.
Cluttering Up Space With Tabs
“Open now, read it later.” That’s been my web browsing motto for several years now. Whenever I come across interesting links, I open them all as new tabs. You can imagine how they pile up over time, filling up the browser with dozens of tabs that can impact performance.
The easiest thing to do is use tab groups. The tab group is a minimalist approach to tab overload on Firefox, allowing you to categorize tabs according to topic and only have tabs of a particular group open at any given time. Chrome users can emulate this behavior with the Tab Bundler extension.
Or you could always store it for later. We’ve compiled a list of web tools that make it easy to clip pages and websites that you can return to later, eliminating the need to keep tabs open until you get around to reading said tabs.
Using Horizontal Tabs
Speaking of tabs, you should consider switching from a horizontal tab bar to a vertical tab bar if you haven’t already. The tabs themselves stay horizontal, but they’re stacked vertically on the side rather than lined across the top.
The absolute best plugin for this is Tree Style Tab, which is one of several amazing plugins that are unique to Firefox. Chrome users can get similar behavior with an extension called Sidewise Tree Style Tabs, but it pales in comparison to the real deal.
Why do this? Because it’s a more efficient use of screen space. It will feel strange for the first few days, but it’s one of those changes that will make you wonder how it took so long for you to see the light.
Relying on Too Many Plugins
Despite all of the addons and extensions I’ve just recommended, keep in mind that you should actively avoid installing too many plugins on your browser. That goes for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, and even Internet Explorer. Plugins will slow you down.
It’s a tough line to walk, however, because plugins are so darn useful. You’re probably using some form of adblock (please whitelist us if you can!), right? Reddit fans can’t live without Reddit Enhancement Suite. And that’s not to mention all of the security and privacy plugins that are available.
My advice? Uninstall everything, figure out what you absolutely cannot live without, and keep it at that. Then again, if your computer is top-notch and can handle it, feel free to install whatever pleases your fancy.
What other mistakes do people make while browsing the web? Share your wisdom with us so that we might all benefit from a better web experience! The comments are right below.