How Review, Evaluate, Critique a Web Site

Web Site Review Procedure

Web Site Critique, Web Site Evaluation
for Site Design and for Competitive Intelligence

Web site review procedures and search engine placement comments below can be used to critique and evaluate web sites, especially corporate web sites. They can also be used to review websites and collect competitive intelligence. Most of the website evaluation tools below can also be applied by website designers for designing company and personal web sites. The procedures and comments below are our opinion, some may not agree with all of our methods. Web site design is an ongoing process, not an event. As search engines, spiders, target audiences, products, culture and traffic levels change, sites will need to be modified.

"Web Site Review Procedure" is a Polson Enterprises Web Site. If you have any comments about the site or the procedure, please email them to us.
Those using this process for market research and competitive intelligence may also find some of our other sites helpful:

Preliminary Steps for Conducting WebSite Reviews

  1. Record the URL and date of the web site review.
  2. Review the website with popular browsers (Netscape, MIE, webtv, etc), both recent and earlier versions. Be sure to select browsers most frequently used by the sites visitors. Record the specific browsers and versions used. Make notes of any "browser specific" problems (problems specific to a single browser or a single version of a browser) during the review.
  3. Search for other URLs owned by the company. Also look for Intranets and Extranets.
  4. Search for existing reviews of the web site. Try googling for "company name" "website review" or "company name.com" "web site review" and other variants.

Web Site Review Process / Web Site Critique Procedure

  1. Site Purpose
    1. Does the site have a distinct, easily recognizable purpose? (educating users, providing news, corporate image branding, supporting existing customers, gathering information, auction site, banking, government, political, social issue promotion, banking, community site for those with similar interest, club/organization, mall, subscription service, e-commerce, investor relations, distribute products or service literature, customer service, host online courses, search engine, bookstore, internet provider, etc.)
    2. Is that purpose reinforced throughout the site?
    3. Does the site prominently feature the company's Unique Value Position (USP) on the home page and primary entry pages. You only have a few seconds to capture a customer/visitor. You need to rapidly tell them why you are different from other similar companies / sites.
    4. If the purpose of the site is to make money, what is their business model (sell subscriptions to the site, sell advertising, sell products, etc)?
    5. Is it extremely obvious to viewer why they should do, what the company want them to do? (purchase items, read you site, subscribe, etc.)
    6. See if you can find a press release (printed or online) announcing the launching of the site. It should put forth the major goals of the site. Are they being met? Have the goals changed?

  2. Finding the site

    1. URL
      • Is the URL logical (companyname.com)?
      • Company Name - Many companies have been formed specifically to capitalize on the opportunities of the Internet. Amazingly, several of these companies chose their company name very poorly. Their name include dashes, underscores, special symbols, apostrophes, hard to spell words, long phrases and other characteristics making it difficult for users to correctly input "companyname.com". If this company uses companyname.com, does their company name lend itself to errors in typing "companyname.com"?

      • Do they also have thing.com? For example if their company name is Joes Machine Shop and all they do is manufacture staplers, do they have joesmachineshop.com AND staplers.com?
      • Does the URL contain dashes or underscores? (more difficult to guess the URL)
      • Have other relevant URLs been reserved? (product names, major brand names, trade names)
        • Dotster finds and suggests unregistered domain names (search for availability of a domain, then select "Alternate Domains"). The names it shows as being registered are also worth following as you may wonder who has registered them.
      • Is a separate URL used for a dealer portal or extranet?

    2. Search Engines & Search Engine Placement
      • Has the site (and its primary entry pages) been submitted to the Open Source Directory (DMOZ.org). This one step may hold more "bang for the buck" than any other step it gaining traffic. DMOZ is used by many search engines as a source of listings and sites listed in it often also receive a boost in their rankings. The description used when submitted to DMOZ.org is also used by some search engines. If you do one thing to improve traffic levels, do this. If a company has not submitted their site, they are not search engine savvy. Many now think being listed in DMOZ is less important than it once was, that may be true, but we believe it is still important to be listed. Be prepared to wait - it can take months or even years to be listed.

      • Do the base URL or other primary entry pages require Flash, Shockwave or other viewers. We think this is a very bad idea. First they prevent many visitors from retrieving the page if they have a firewall with the security levels set fairly high, Second they prevent visitors from seeing the page if they do not have the viewers/plug-ins, Third, they can prevent the page from being indexed by the search engine spiders (crawl the web like spiders finding pages for the search engines. Flash or Shockwave should not normally be used on the entry pages. There are certain audiences and situations for which they are appropriate on entry pages, but they are few and far between.

      • Similarly, does the site use "Frames" on its base URL or primary entry pages? We (and many others) feel they interfere with search engine spiders and should not be used on primary entry pages (many feel they should not be used at all).

      • Is the site easy to find, if you do not already have the URL? (listed high in search engines by company name, brand names, trade names, product category)
      • Are several links to the site provided by most of the major search engines?
      • Is the site listed high in the search engines when you search for application words? For example if the site being evaluated is that of a tire manufacturer, when you enter the word "tire" or "tires" in search engines, is this company's web site prominently listed? Mike's Marketing Tools provides a free tool that allows you to rapidly check the position of your URL in many popular search engines for a given search word or search phrase.

        • The Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool can be used to identify the best "key words" / "buzz words" for a specific site based on their target audience.

        • WordTracker has a somewhat similar tool with some additional features that is fee based, but offers a free trial.

        • Digital Point Solutions has a tool that combines some of the results of both Overture and WordTracker.

        • Google has an AdWords Keyword Suggestions Page that suggests key words. It also includes some relative frequency information and some historical data.

        • KW Map has a keyword map of the Internet that can be helpful in generating keywords and preventing overlooking important ones.

        • Google has a collection of links to Key Word Tools that may be helpful in determining which keywords to focus on.

      • If the site has two or more "must have" keyword audiences, do they have separate pages setup to compete for each major key word? For example if a site is selling or talking about slip on shoe covers to protect your shoes during rainstorms, they might want to draw people searching for "overshoes", people searching for "galoshes" and people searching for "rain shoes". If these three key words appear to be pretty important in the key word tools above (Overture, WordTracker), they should be setting up pages dedicated to each keyword to bring visitors to their site. Each of these focused keyword pages would be include a link to the main content of the site and "funnel" all three groups of users into the same area.

      • Sometimes hyphenated words - The same approach holds for words sometimes hyphenated. Some searchers will use the hyphen, some will not, some will enter separate words, some will enter it "all together" as one word. Either list the word in multiple ways on your page, or create separate pages to capture the audience, then direct them to the general area. Band-Aid is a good example. List it as band-aid and bandaid.

      • Plural and singular - Do they cover important terms both ways? For example, if they sell plates, do they prominently list the key word as both plate and plates? This is even more important on words that do not plural with "s", such as goose and geese.

      • Frequently combined words - Some words are often combined by some searchers (for example weight lifter / weightlifter, weight lifting / weightlifting, boat builder / boatbuilder, web site / web site, key words / keywords, stern drive / sterndrive). When creating pages for words that are frequently combined we use them both ways on the page so the search engines will see both formats. In cases where the frequency is very high, separate pages for each ("weight lifting" and "weightlifting") can be created. Each page can then funnel its visitors to the main content of the site.

      • Commonly misspelled words - Many words or combinations of words are frequently misspelled. When creating pages with key words that are frequently misspelled, we often misspell them a few times on purpose to make sure that spelling is also caught by the search engines (for example accoustical/ acoustical, receipt / receipt). The Band-Aid example used earlier is another example; Band-Aid, Band-Ade and versions without the hyphen may be attempted in searches. In cases where a word is very frequently misspelled, it may be best to create a separate page focusing entirely on the misspelled version.

      • Anticipation of typographical errors - In cases where each individual visitor in the target audience can be of great value (for example, trying for signup clients suffering from specific diseases or ailments for a legal case worth millions of dollars) it may be necessary to anticipate mistyped words (typos) and include them in the page on purpose or even create a specific site for them. Mistyped words are different than misspelled words. Misspelled words were typed in correctly, the typist just thought they were spelled another way. Typographical errors result when the typist knows how to spell the word, but makes keyboard errors. One or both may need anticipated and planned for in certain situations.

      • Phrases - start small and build. For example if the site sells or talks about acoustical ceiling tile, the site might have "Ceiling Tile" in the 1st line of the heading and then "Acoustical Ceiling Tile" on the second heading line (or create separate pages for each, then route traffic to the general area. Acoustical Ceiling Tile is another example of a site with a lot of spelling problems (acoustical / accoustical, ceiling, cieling, tile / tyle) that may need dealt with.

      • Key words on competitive sites - visit web sites of major competitors (sell similar products, target similar audiences). Do they use additional / different key words. Should those key words be incorporated into this site?

      • Are the key words up high on the page and in larger fonts? Note- the use of tables (used by many sites to control page layout) make spiders encounter text in the left column from top to bottom, then in the next column from top to bottom, etc). Code that may appear high in the middle of the page may actually be encountered after text at the lower left of the page. Are javascript and Cascading HTML code as far down the page as possible (spider encounters more text before it hits them, they devaluate text positioned after them). Some put the codes on a separate page.

      • Does the site include a "Site Map" page? Site Maps with text links are an easy way to make sure the spiders/crawlers can find all the pages of your site, especially if you use javascript links on some of the other pages. Spiders have trouble following javascript links.

      • How much is enough? Covering related key words, frequently misspelled key words, frequently combined words, frequently hyphenated words and related phrases are all ways of reducing the risk (Mitigating Risk) your target audience will NOT find your site in the search engines. You mitigate the risk by being "on the first page" and preferably in the top few sites displayed by the search engine for whatever words, singular AND plural forms of those words, combination of words, or phrase an individual in your target audience might key into a search engine box on purpose or in error. You need to balance the time you spend in adding these variations and the complexity they add to your site against the number of visitors they might attract. Increased complexity on a given page can actually decrease search engine ratings by making each phrase appear as a smaller percentage of the total number of words. The tool on Overture can help you do select which alternatives to add, plus you do not have to add them all at once. If your primary key word gathers half of your target audience and two or three variants get most of the rest, you may choose to stop once you include this second group of words. Other companies may have a much more fragmented target audience.

      • Does the web site design recognize the existence of major competitors for specific key words? For instance, if you have a pizza store, yes, pizza is a keyword, but you better have some more specific keywords because "pizza" is sought after by thousands of competitors. Small players sometimes have to be "bottom feeders" and try to catch the scraps missed by the big boys. In case of a local "mom and pop" pizza store, the name of their store, their location (city, county, state, zip code) , any special items they may have may need more emphasis than "pizza". In the case of a small store trying to nationally sell custom pre-made specialty pizzas (perhaps they make a unique type of pizza not available elsewhere, box them with dry ice and express ship them), they might wish to go for their store name, their custom ingredients AND a portion of the general "pizza" search term This is a case where they might get some customers by feeding off the bottom of the list of search terms furnished by Overture. By structuring specific pages for words not often used to search for pizza (like misspellings Piza, pizza in Spanish, "pizza pie, etc."). They have a much better chance of snagging potential customers searching for these types of words, than those searching for "pizza". (A big slice of a small pie is much larger than no slice of a huge pie).

        In some cases it may be appropriate to list the names of major competitors. In the case of the specialty pizza store seeking customers nation wide, they might create a page comparing their features to a Pizza Hut Pizza. "Pizza Hut Pizza" is very high on the list of frequently searched for pizza key words. By including it and perhaps other well known pizza store names, this small store might be able to increase its audience. This practice needs to be done ethically and in a manner that you would not mind if you were the one searching for "Pizza Hut Pizza" and wound up and their site and not a Pizza Hut site. You don't want to hack off potential customers. Contrary to popular belief, not all traffic is good traffic.

      • Internal links within your web site - use text links and use key words for the pages as the text. This will help your ratings in several of the engines. Some have trouble (or can't) follow text links.

      • Does the site "look" like it was designed for the search engines? The page is relatively short, contains few images, the first dozen words or so look like they were chosen very carefully, primary key words appear early and often, has only a few links on it? Source code for the page can be viewed in Internet Explorer by a command under the "VIEW" command at the top of the browser. Does the source code contain metatags? Are the metatag content codes carefully chosen? Does the code look reasonably efficient or has it been generated using one of the software packages that generates a lot of spurious codes? Do images contain "alt" tags. We do not use "alt" tags for images near the top of the page as they may push keywords past them further down the page (key words may rank lower).

      • Paid placement - Many search engines now have a paid listing service allowing you to purchase certain words and have your listing displayed a given number of times or be clicked on a given number of times (sometimes as part of the normal list and sometimes specifically marked as a paid placement). Personally, I am not real big on this idea. I am a believer in "If you build it, they will come." If you construct a web site with great content for your target audience, maintain it well, frequently update it, make sure it is submitted to the major search engines, and encourage at least a few site with moderate popularity to link to it, it will rank well in the search engines. You will not normally need to pay for placement, however their are exceptions. As mentioned earlier, specific customers can be of great value to some situations.

      • Reference - Where to Submit to Search Engines - you can submit to a zillion engines, but we suggest try to focus on;

    3. Do several sites link to this site?
      • Google has a tool that identifies pages linking to a specific site. The Advanced Google Search Page has a "Page-Specific Search" area with a Links box that allows you to enter the URL of the page you are interesting in finding links to. It will report the number links to the site from currently indexed sites and provide a link to each one of those pages

      • Alta Vista has a tool that identifies sites that link to a specific site or to a base URL. Enter LINK://www.companyname.com for a list web pages with links to their main web page. To search for sites with links to a specific page, go to Alta Vista, then enter LINK://www.companyname.com/companydirectory/companypage.htm. Also check LINK://companyname.com as some firms leave off the www. Is the company's web site really integrated into the net or do very few sites link to it?

      • Are the site AND pages on back into the site easy to link to? Several sites create dynamic pages that are difficult or practically impossible to link to. Some sites using frames have internal pages that are very difficult to link to. Making pages difficult to link to, results in fewer external links.

      • Are the sites linking to the site significant and in similar industries or are they junk sites that are just endless lists of unrelated links, or from unrelated sites? Links receive much more weight in some of the engines when they come from meaningful, related sites.

      • Do they maximize the use of internal links? Does each page contain a link back to the front page? Several companies maintain more than one public web site. Do the other sites frequently link to each other? Do allied companies link to their site? Small companies can improve placement by encouraging their employees with personal web pages to provide a link to the company site. Employee communications can explain how links from their personal web site may improve the company's search engine rankings, resulting in more traffic, more business, and great job security for employees.

    4. Do they publicize their web site URL?
      Is their URL listed prominently on all their product literature, business cards, newsletters. Is their URL listed prominently on all their product literature, business cards, newsletters, letter head, promotional items, printed advertisements, newspaper ads, TV commercials, mentioned on their radio commercials, shown on their actual products? Have they written articles for technical and trade publications that include their URL? Do their press releases include their URL?

    5. Traffic is one of the best indicators of a good URL and good search engine placement.
      • AA9.com has a toolbar that provides access to Alexa data (a report on the relative frequency of "hits" for sites using a specific word or phrase. You can permanently install the toolbar, or those without the toolbar can just type their query into their existing browser URL text box at the top of their screen. Type http://www.a9.com/query (enter phrase w/quotes, etc). For example if you want to know some indication of the relative popularity of sites using the word "boat", Type http://www.a9.com/boat into your browser URL box. A list of sites will be displayed. If hover the mouse pointer over the "site info" box by each listing you will see some data for that site. If you "click" on the "site info" box, additional information will be displayed.

        This tool is also useful in that it list the time taken to display the site. Is the site you are interested in fast? Slow sites are often sites are often bypassed by searchers in a rush. When they don't come up fast, they just try the next one on the search engine list.

        It also lists the first date the site first went online.

      • Alexa can be used to estimate relative web traffic counts for popular sites. Find the site and compare traffic levels to its competitors. For sites of less prominence, you can install their free toolbar and view historical traffic data for each page. They also sell databases of traffic data.

      • Alexaholic another way to view Alexa data

      • Google Trends shows relative search frequency over time, including marking news items on a time line, great for company and industry searches
      • Google has a free tool bar that indicates the relative popularity of specific web pages. You can visit one company, see their rating, then visit their competitors, view their ratings, then estimate the relative popularity of the sites.

      • Some sites may have a traffic counter. Some even post web logs.

      • If you do not already understand the difference in hits, visitors, unique visitors and caching, you probably need to learn how these apply to traffic counts.

    6. Local Search Capability - If a local search feature is used inside the web site, is it effective? Is it easy to find? Who supplies it?

  3. Content is KING

    Many talk about optimizing for specific search engines, but "Content is KING". Content drives traffic! If you build it they will come. Yes it takes some attention to the search engines, but sites "oozing" with great content for their target audience will draw visitors like ants to a picnic. Some companies spend to much time worrying about the search engine and not enough time worrying about content.

    Content is not just a bunch of pictures of their products, content is useful, helpful, interesting and even captivating information for their target audience.

    1. Does the site have a substantial amount of significant, interesting text and visual content for its target audience? Does it have better content than its competitors.

    2. Is the content frequently updated? Are old items archived?

    3. Are bulletin boards, message boards, industry news, RSS news feeds, polls, databases, industry information, and useful links used to make the site a real "hub" or "portal" for the industry?

    4. Can relevant recent articles in current trade magazine and technical publications be accessed from the site?

    5. Are articles that might be printed off available with a "print" button that routes the user to a page displaying the document only, without all the headings, navigation bars, advertisements, etc.?

    6. Are lengthy articles, brochures, specifications and technical articles available in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format?

    7. Are any games on the site? Are they relevant to the audience and branded by the company?

  4. Getting Past the Firewalls, Virus Checkers and Ad Blockers

    1. Does the site display properly when firewalls and other security measures are set to maximum levels? Does it display at all?

    2. Does the site use banners to display text messages that can be blocked by Ad Blockers? Many sites use images as links to return to certain parts of their site and those images are sometimes blocked by Ad Blockers in Norton/Symantec and other Utilities.

  5. Review the ENTIRE site

    Sometimes it is difficult to know if you have seen the entire site. Sometimes the individual/company may be purposefully hide part of the site. The tools / methods below will increase the probability of viewing the entire site.

    1. The Advanced Google Search Page has a means for identifying the pages on a specific base URL that have been indexed by Google. Enter the domain name (Base URL) in the Domain search box and leave the search terms box empty. Click on enter and the number of pages indexed on that URL and a link to each page will appear.

    2. Alta Vista has a tool for finding all the pages they links to for a specific company. Go to Alta Vista, then enter URL://companyname.com for a full list of the company's web pages indexed by Alta Vista (are there some pages that should not be online? old pages?, proprietary info?)

    3. Crawl a company's web site - Quest software provides Funnel Web web stats analyzer AND another program called Funnel Web Profiler. Profiler will crawl a URL and map the links within the site. Very helpful for finding areas of a site you might not otherwise find. They no longer directly provide the software, but it is still available from some major download portals.

    4. Stripping URLS - Following links on a web site typically leads you deeper into the web site. At various places along the path, try going up into the full URL displayed in the browser and remove a portion of it (strip it back the next "/". If that does not work, keep stripping it back. Sometimes you will find a directory to pages not normally accessed.

    5. Sometimes viewing the source codes of pages on back into the site will reveal other locations, directories not normally noticed by casual visitors.

  6. Navigation

    1. Does the site have a consistent feel and appearance or does it feel piecemeal constructed?
    2. Easily Navigated?
    3. Is the site too deep? (Too many clicks to find desired info)
    4. Is the use of scrolling minimized, especially on primary navigation pages.
    5. Are navigation methods consistent and in similar locations?
    6. Are symbols, icons, photos or graphics used for navigation obvious in terms of what they represent?
    7. Does the home page establish the basic navigation methods?
    8. Are places viewers are to click obvious?
    9. Is a consistent navigation bar(s) provided?
    10. Is the color code on the links and previously followed links intuitive? Are they easy to see against the background color and images?
    11. Do viewers become lost in newly opened browser windows? (launches new browser window and you cannot back out of it)
    12. Does the site let you leave, some keep hanging onto you and stoping you at their home page when you click the back button?
    13. When you click on the BACK button are you redirected to another site instead of being allowed to back out? Porn and Gambling sites are notorious for trapping visitors in a endless loop of their own sites.
    14. Is a "Home" icon, button or link present in the same position on every page in the site?
    15. Is mouseover used to indicate which navigation button you select? If mouseover is used to activate a box of additional information about the choice, is this additional information very conspicuous? or could it be overlooked by a casual surfer?
    16. Does the personally recognize you when you come back? Does it tell you that it does?
    17. Is the site customizable by individual viewers (like some search engine and news sites)?
    18. If user id's, passwords, PIN numbers or similar input is required to access to certain portions of the site, is the entry system convenient for the user while still providing the level of security needed? Does it have an option of remembering your password (stored cookies)

  7. General

    1. Would it be considered visually appealing by its target audience?
    2. Are the background colors dithered, did they use browser safe colors that register correctly on 256 color displays? See a safe color chart,
    3. Is the site internally/locally managed or is it operated by and advertising agency or internet provider? Locally managed sites can interact with viewers more effectively.
    4. Width and Length - does the site require you to move a slider to the right to view the full width of the screen? Does it require extensive vertical scrolling?
    5. Updated regularly?
    6. Is the content easily readable by the target audience. Copy some of the text, past it into Microsoft Word and use its Spelling and Grammar Readability Tools to evaluate the text.
    7. Is older content archived?
    8. Is the date of the most recent update provided?
    9. Is a "What's New" type section provided? (list of recent updates)
    10. Is an email service announcing recent major updates available?
    11. Attention to details? Spelling errors, broken graphics, broken links (404 Error)
    12. Do they write to their audience (not talk over them, talk down to them, use their jargon)?
    13. Does the site look nice?
    14. Size of site? small? average? very large?
    15. Does it supply significant content, or is it just a brochure with a bunch of links to other sites?
    16. Is the site viewable with both Netscape and MIE in their latest revisions as well as their last 2 editions.?
    17. Available in more than one language (English, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, etc)? Are the translations well done?
    18. Real content provided or just a catalog site?
    19. Does it generally resemble other sites in the same industry?
    20. Loads fast? (check it on a dial up line, check it at different times of the day and in their peak times / peak season)
    21. Sufficient product information to make a choice?
    22. Provides additional helpful information for users of their products or services
    23. Easy to print information from? Many sites have background colors making printing difficult or no way to print them at all.
    24. How to do they try to build site traffic
      • TV ads
      • Print URL on all business literature
      • Magazine Ads
      • Press Releases
      • Ad space purchased on other web sites
      • Major campaign to get their link listed on other sites
      • Generate traffic with an Associates program (Pay for traffic or sales generated from links from other sites)
    25. Use of Frames
      • Can they be easily navigated (multiple scroll bars)?
      • Can the content of the frames be printed?
      • Can internal pages be effectively book marked?
      • Can search engines log the material in the frames?
      • Tables are often more user friendly, but frames are easier to design.
    26. Use of Cascading HTML Style Sheets, Cascading Style Sheets allow web designers to easily change the basic layout on hundred of pages by changing only one page. Personally, we think it is a nice idea, but are not yet sold on it.

    27. Does the site leave you wanting to come back again?
    28. Have the amount of resources devoted to developing and maintaining the site obviously changed? (more or less investment)
    29. Information about major down times (failed to respond for "x" hours on Dec. 22nd) is available in media for very high profile sites in certain industries (internet providers, auction sites)..

  8. Branding

    1. Besides having a consistent feel throughout the site, is that feel and image consistent with the image and feel presented through other media and the products of the company involved?
    2. Does each page bear the corporate logo?
    3. Are colors consistent with other corporate images?

  9. Primary Sections of the Site

    1. Service tools
      • Online troubleshooting FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions section?
      • Parts Book online?
      • Service Manuals online?
      • Product Service Bulletins online?
      • Email access to service group?
    2. List of local places to purchase?
    3. Provides links to other useful sites?
    4. If Dealer Locators are used, are they effective?, are maps provided to the locations?
    5. If a Job Openings section is available, is the information current? does it post enough detail about the jobs? is it possible to submit your resume online?
    6. Helpful tools - Are charts, tables, calculators, graphics and other tools used to help the viewer completely understand the information being provided, and allow they to apply it to their own situation if needed?
    7. External Links - is a helpful selection of currently functioning external links provided if they could be of benefit to the user? Or are they just internal links and links to their sister companies?
    8. Level of online interaction - is two way communication easy and encouraged?
      • Provides email path to ask questions (see how quick they respond)?
      • Are any special tools provided (deck designers, prop slip calculators, cost of moving calculators, etc)?
      • Any webcams? These are rarely used by business sites, but a great attention getter.
      • Provides a phone number for interacting with the company?
      • If a form must be filled out for access, it requires minimal information, does not feel like you are being interrogated.
      • Several sites now have life interaction with robotic customer service agents and with "real people".
    9. Are they part of Associate type programs? Do they have their own Associate program?
      • Some book programs allow you to help your viewers select the best books for their situation. If you do a good job, they begin to recognize you as an authority in the field.
      • Post ads for Associate Programs to generate funds
      • Offer an Associate Program to build web traffic
    10. Are there other possible sections that could be included in the site to benefit its viewers and purpose? (women, children, beginners, an alert service of major breaking news)
    11. Are other internet tools that could be effectively applied to the site (animated gifs, mouseovers, streaming video, MP3, current date & time, maps, local weather, calendar of events, webcams, etc)

  10. E-Commerce

    1. Provides online ability to purchase (E-commerce) - uses secure site?
    2. Shipping charges and other transaction costs provided?
    3. If you cannot purchase online, is price information still supplied?
    4. Accepts credit cards online?
    5. Uses a shopping cart system?
    6. Accepts foreign currencies?
    7. How easy are purchases completed in comparison to the Amazon 1-Click system
    8. Is your order confirmed by email along with your order number?
    9. Are you notified by email when your order is shipped?
    10. Are the company's logo imprinted products (hats, cups, T-shirts, etc) offered for sale on the site?
    11. Do they sell refurnished, refurbished, rebuilt products online or help their dealers do so?
    12. Can customers purchase items online and pick them up at "brick and mortar" stores?
    13. Can customers return items bought online to "brick and mortar" stores?
    14. Is a return goods / exchange policy in place? Is it easy? Can you return goods locally?
    15. Does the site hold up in peak times (Christmas, after major TV commercials, etc)?
    16. Web site efficiency? How long does it take to search for a well known item (also available from others), locate it, buy it, and wait for it to arrive by the fastest shipping method vs. other similar sites? Reference: "Christmas Toys.com". Wall Street Journal 3 Dec. 1999. Page W12.

  11. Test Their Online Response Times

      Before attempting either test below, you might want to move to a public email server (like Yahoo Email) so the company will not see your real email address. We do NOT encourage for asking competitive information online. Just ask them everyday questions a normal customer might ask and supply your real name.

    1. Study their site, then send them an email with a question not answered about their product or service on their web site. See how long it takes them to respond and how good the quality of their response is.
    2. Find an error on their web site and send them a note about it, see if they respond to you. The easiest thing to do is find a broken link and report it to them. How long did it take for them to respond, how long to fix the problem?

  12. Technical Operations

    1. Method used to create the site? HTML coded, Microsoft Front Page, heavy duty packages and databases?
    2. In-house operation or done by an advertising firm?
    3. Easy to find in the search engines by company name, product names, trade names, industry? Position on the search engine lists?
    4. Metatags
      • Good use of metatags (labels in the code used by search engines)?
      • Metatags are within length limits?
      • Keyword Metatag does not use one word too frequently?
      • Appropriate keywords are used on each page that has a keyword metatag?
      • Keyword Metatags include a limited number of prime "key words", not dozens of words. Some search engines may penalize prime keywords if many words are listed.
      • Proper use of correct keywords, including guessing possible misspellings of them?
      • Lists competitors and their product names in keywords Metatag? possible trademark violation issues
    5. Any comments about traffic level?
    6. Who hosts the site? Service providers can sometimes be found from information on the URL at a "whois" sites, like "Whois.Net and BetterWhois

    7. What kind of operating system are they running and what type of server are they using? This can be answered at NetCraft.Com
    8. Can you detect the existence of site logs? Are they really using them to improve their site?
    9. Are browser types and versions checked for, to insure everyone can view the material presented to them?
    10. Chat boards, bulletin boards?
    11. Uses frames? (top only or top and a side?)
    12. Accesses databases?
    13. E-commerce site?
    14. Accepts PayPal?
    15. Accepts credit cards?
    16. Secure site used for inputting personal information?
    17. Computer languages used (Java, Java Script, Pearl, HTML, etc)?
    18. Use of mouseovers?
    19. Does the site address the differences in browsers both current and previous?
    20. Plug-ins
      • Does it require special software (viewers / plug-ins) for viewing / listening (Shockwave, Flash, Adobe Acrobat, Real Audio, others)?
      • Can it still be viewed in a limited manner without the plug-ins?
      • Are links provided to obtain the plug-ins / viewers from?
    21. Provide machine readable text content for the visually handicapped? See WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative
    22. Do they have off site backups?
    23. Do they have real time backup systems capable of instantly taking over?
    24. You may be able to find a technical discussion of major sites in internet magazines (printed or online).
    25. Graphics minimized for fast loading by minimizing number of colors?
    26. Graphics use internet safe colors?
    27. Provides forms requiring access information from visitors?
    28. Has a guest book?
    29. Offers a sign-up for subscription access?
    30. Does the site use cookies?
    31. Does the site personally recognize people when they return
    32. Does it provide material to viewers based on their past choices?
    33. Does it suggest choices to the viewer based on past choices?
    34. Does it use a shopping cart system? Whose is it?
    35. Are certain incoming URLs rejected (competitors, hackers, others)? May be difficult to determine.
    36. What kind of platform (Windows, Unix, etc) are they operating their server on?
    37. What kind of server software are they using?
    38. What kind of hardware is their server? (Pentium III, Indy, Sun, etc)?
    39. If it is a high use site, is it scalable (can it be rapidly setup for more users using the same basic software by adding more or larger servers and lines? Or can the graphics be rapidly downsized or removed to reduce bandwidth in peak use (CNN does this during major news events.)
    40. Is the source code efficient, or is a lot of extraneous code being generated by the software used to write the site?

  13. Security

    We are not speaking of security in the context of the e-commerce security issues mentioned in the technical issues above, but instead of security issues of the integrity of the website against both natural disasters, acts of God, floods, fires, bombs, tornadoes, attacks from hackers, computer viruses, saboteurs, etc.

    We are certainly not qualified to offer extensive advice in this area, but if you are a major website, you need to find someone who is. You will need a regular program of off site backups and an extensive review in the hacker area if you are a high profile site, a government site, a site with access to secure internal databases, or your site accept forms as a method of user input (forms offer an easy portal of access to your server if they are not carefully used).

    The best known protection against computer viruses is to isolate the system (do not use the server other purposes), regularly run a major virus software package that is frequently updated with the latest virus profiles, and a good off site backup program.

    If the server is connected to internal systems, proper firewalls need to be in place along with proper internal sabotage precautions.

  14. Competitive Intelligence Opportunities Viewing a competitor's website to learn more about them.

    1. Study the product descriptions and specifications
    2. Human Resources
      • Do they post job openings?
      • What kind of people are they looking for?
      • How many people do they need?
      • What plants are they needed at?
      • What kind of benefit packages do they offer? insurance, moving expenses, retirement, education, etc
    3. Is a company history provided?
    4. Is the number of employees provided?
    5. Are photos biographies of major executives provided?
    6. Can you learn something from the URL registration? Try BetterWhois
    7. Do they sponsor any community activities or causes?
    8. Do they sponsor any sporting events, sports teams, race cars or things of that nature?
    9. Does the site include a factory tour?
    10. Press Releases?
    11. Service tools
      • Troubleshooting FAQ? Tells you what their problems have been.
      • Online Parts Book?
      • Online Service Manuals?
      • Online Product Service Bulletins?
    12. Is a list of dealers provided?
    13. Is pricing information posted?
    14. Does the site have an investor relations area? It can be very helpful.
    15. Product and Factory photos posted?
    16. Are product warranty and guarantee information provided?
    17. List of upcoming trade shows they will be attending?
    18. How do they deal with the problem of direct online sales going around their dealer system without infuriating dealers and still provide local service?
    19. Other Country Web Sites and Languages
      • Check for other web sites ran by same company in other countries, especially in their country of origin.
      • Note, Japanese sites are often: http://www.companyname.co.jp
      • Fully review all language versions. More materials may be available in one (usually language of origin) than in others. Even if you cannot read the language, photos may provide useful information.

  15. Review Historical "caches" of the site

    The Internet Archive has captured many historical "pictures" of internet web pages. Most popular sites can be found there. Major changes in the site can be observed as well as possible historical product or business information.

Good Examples

Here are a few sites we think do a pretty nice job for their respective target audiences.

Website Critique References

  • Usability on the Web Isn't a Luxury. Information Week. Jakob Nielsen and Donald A. Norman. 4 Feb. 2000. Pages 65-73.

  • The Art of e-biz, The Good - and Not Good Enough of Web-Site Design. Beth Bacheldor. Information Week. 4 Feb. 2000. Pages 42-60.

  • Christmas Toys.com. Wall Street Journal 3 Dec. 1999. Page W12.

Web Site Review Links

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