How is your site doing? How does it stack up to the competition? What do you need to know to improve?
There are a lot of questions we should be constantly asking ourselves as website owners. Unfortunately there are often few resources to help us in answering those questions.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time trying to grade my website and learn where I need to improve. These tools, some of which are new and some of which have been around for quite some time, offer a glimpse into what you’re doing right and what you can improve on. In addition, they can also be used on the sites of your competition or any other site you want information on. In this regard they are just as valuable in figuring out where you want to go as they are in helping you get there.
Website grader, by Hubspot, is an excellent tool for grading the effectiveness of your content. It looks at factors such as search engine saturation, the availability of various features such as a feed and a mobile version, and various social media metrics to grade your site on the effectiveness of its marketing efforts.
Website Grader gives your site a score on a scale from 0 to 100. After using it for the last 2 years or so a well constructed site will usually start out with a 90 or so when launched and increase toward 100 as it builds its readership. While it’s metrics are a good starting point they do tend to be a little generic offering little in advice on how to improve.
Overall Website Grader is a good metric of the overall effectiveness of your sites’ marketing efforts. However while it can definitely tell you if you’re going in the right direction it offers little in advice on how to actually improve.
WooRank works a lot like Website Grader but offers more comprehensive analysis of a site. While Website Grader relies heavily on social media to generate a score, WooRank looks more at offsite SEO to judge your site. As a result newer sites without many back-links tend to score lower than a more established site with links throughout the web.
Also like Website Grader, WooRank offers almost no advice on how to improve any errors it finds. Due to the nature of most errors however it is easier to fix the errors reported as most of which are the result of omissions from various directories such as DMOZ and missing semantic content such as dublin core and geotags.
In my own efforts WooRank is a relatively newer tool in my toolbox. I have found its value in seeing how effective my link building efforts are as well as getting a quick picture of where my site is in traffic, content, and other important factors. It’s scoring mechanism is similar to Website Grader with a 0 – 100 range but most sites seem to score far lower than they do in Website Grader presumably due to WooRanks much heavier weighting of links back to your site.
Unlike the Website Grader and WooRank, Pear Analytics strongest point is in the advice it gives you in fixing the problems it finds. The catch is, it really doesn’t check a whole lot of attributes. Most of its metrics involve things like the number of inbound links and Google PageRank which while useful are not things that can be fixed immediately.
For more basic items such as the presence of a sitemap and proper www domain redirect Pear Analytics really does a good job in not only identifying the problem, but in helping you figure out ways to fix it. For a new website owner or a quick glance at a competitors site this can be a good way of determining some of the very basics. I’ve found it most helpful as a resource to check when launching a new site to make sure nothing basic was overlooked.
For a developer WebPageTest is one of the more useful tools out there. It works like YSlow and Google Page Speed to tell you how long your site takes to load and provide insight into how to improve load time. The advantage however is that it’s results page is far more detailed than that of YSlow, Google PageSpeed, or any other similar tool I’ve found. It breaks your site down file by file and looks at factors such as compression, browser caching, and others to see just how well your site performs not just on the first load, but on a second visit as well. It can help determine server bottlenecks, caching effectiveness, and even details such as whether or not a new plugin or other content is worth the overhead.
Results are presented in 6 categories with a letter grad from A to F assigned for 5 and a check mark indicating a CDN is in use for the 6th. For most good sites I’ve found a load time from 3 – 8 seconds is normal and can vary substantially due to various factors such as server load and others. Sites that take more than 10 seconds however are still common and indicate a problem somewhere on your site. For a very highly modified site without external links such as Social Media buttons and others it is possible to get a load time of 1 – 2 seconds however this is unrealistic in most situations as the cost of the extra performance in terms of hosting and other factors simply is not worth the payoff to many site owners.
I use WebPageTest almost daily on my major sites and I have been doing so for quite some time. It has helped me optimize the code, determine caching strategies, and even troubleshoot server problems (notice the current F on the thumbnail, it looks like I’ll have something to work on tonight). Considering the weight placed by Google on page performance this is one of the best ways to optimize the actual code of your site to get the best possible search listings.
Whois.sc by DomainTools is a tool to determine who owns a website. When used on your own site it can be handy to make sure the information displayed for your domain name is the information you want the public to see and only the information you want the public to see. When looking at a competitors site it can be handy to see who owns the site and how long they have owned it.
Due to the ability to hide the results and other factors Whois.sc is not the most reliable service out there. In my own toolbox I use it for 2 things. First, I tend to look up sites of others I find interesting. Every once in a while I find something very interesting such as the blog I thought was owned by a person is really a company blog, etc. Second, I use it on my own domains every few months or so to make sure that nothing has changed or wrongly displayed. Currently I hide my information on Whois.sc from public viewing and I like to check periodically to make sure it stays that way.
Whoishostingthis.com is a site to tell you who is hosting a given website. For all practical purposes this is probably the simplest tool in my toolbox yet one of the most important for someone who is just starting or looking to grow their site. It provides the only objective answer on the web to the question “Who is the best website host?” by showing you who hosts the sites of your most prominent competition.
This summer, while preparing this site for launch, I used it a lot to find out who hosts some of the sites I used as inspiration for Bit51.com. It lead me to my current host, Amazon, while pointing out some major shortcomings in other hosts that seemed to have many good reviews on forums and other places. Simply put, if one of my favorite sites is down, I look at who is hosting them. It is amazing how many times some of the big names in hosting can come up on this list.
Since launching this site I still use it as a tool to evaluate a new site or blog. Over time I have been able to find patterns with better sites such as VPS and other hosting that simply isn’t there on the newer or less experienced sites.
Builtwith is a great service for telling you what software a website is running. It can profile technologies such as server, content management system, and even some of the plugins in use on a given site. Unfortunately however it is not the most reliable. For example a good WordPress install can hide the fact that it is on WordPress entirely and a good server admin will never reveal any unnecessary details about their server setup. In addition, the tool itself will only profile a given site once about every 4 weeks or so.
Regardless of its shortcomings however Builtwith.com is still very useful to see how the competition is running their sites and to help find both trends and new software. I use it regularly to check out new and interesting sites and to try to help identify features I like on other sites. Like many other tools regular use of Builtwith will help you form a pattern to help distinguish well run websites from the not-so-well run websites. I also check my own site on it periodically to make sure that I am not giving out information that may be used against me such as software versions and various other information that an attacker may be able to make use of.
While all the other tools so far can help you grade how well built your site is in relation to your competition, none of them tell you just how well you’re doing at reaching the users that matter to you. Alexa.com assigns a numerical rank to your site to measure its popularity to all other sites on the internet. In addition, it provides a way to leave reviews on sites and compare traffic between multiple sites allowing you to find trends and other information to measure your effectiveness.
In many ways Alexa works in a similar fashion to other website analytics platforms such as Google Analytics. The difference is that Alexa is very stripped down allowing you only the broadest measure of traffic to your site and also allows you to see the same traffic to the sites of your competition. Unfortunately however it isn’t necessarily the most accurate measure of traffic as it does not receive data directly from the websites it measures. It does however provide an effective picture of traffic to a given site and can be handy to determine whether a site is growing or shrinking.
Like most of the tools in this article I use Alexa to look at both my own site for general trends as well as to get an idea of the traffic to other sites I find interesting. Over the years I’ve found many surprises when looking at various sites and have been able to use the data to help find models to help when building my own. In addition, I use it on my sites regularly to make sure the general traffic trend is in the direction I want it to be. If I’m expecting a site to grow and the trends show otherwise I can easily see that there is something I am missing.
While all of the tools above form a great toolbox to help you grade your website and those of the competition they are nowhere near all the tools available to do so. What tools do you use to grade your own site?