Wednesday, March 29th, 2006...12:27 pm

Site Evaluation – Part 1: a Checklist

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When running a link building campaign, you want to make sure the sites you get the links from (be it through directory submission, or link exchange, or buying links, or even links obtained through linkbait / viral marketing efforts) are good quality sites. Links evaluation will be covered in part 2 of this mini-series, now let’s look at site evaluation. How do you go about evaluating sites?

I have put together a quick checklist for evaluating sites. These are the things I’d be looking at when evaluating a site:

  • the site’s overall look and feel;
  • the site top level domain (com/org/edu/gov etc.);
  • site age;
  • Google PageRank (ok don’t laugh, I will explain later on what this is good for);
  • number of indexed pages in the main search engines and how it correlates to the actual number of pages on the site;
  • quality of listings of those indexed pages;
  • number and quality of backlinks indexed by Yahoo;
  • the site’s history as seen through Web Archive;
  • the site’s traffic estimation.

Let’s now look deeper into each criterion of this checklist.

The site’s overall look and feel – very often, this will be the only thing you will look at. Think of spam sites (a.k.a. built for AdSense/insert any other ad network here) – you will probably make your judgement as soon as you see the site – but not all sites are so easy to evaluate.

The site’s top level domain – .edu’s are the best out there of course, and .gov are also very good. Country-specific domains might be of importance to you as well if you’re targeting something local/non-English speaking audience.

Site age – you know Google loves old sites, so the older the better. I use either a whois option in Firefox SearchStatus plugin or whois.sc which gives you a lot of information about a domain. You might also want to pay attention to the period of time the domain is registered for – the longer the better.

Google PageRank – ok even if you don’t believe it matters much any more, you still want to look at it. If you see a grey bar instead of any pagerank it might mean the site is not indexed/banned by Google – so that’s a sign you need to dig deeper to find out why it’s grey.

Number of pages indexed by the main search engines – this will give you an idea of a site’s level of exposure in the search engines, and also if there are any problems with the site. If a site is thousands of pages and you only see a few indexed – and the age of the site suggests it hasn’t been launched just now – beware of possible deindexing going on.

The quality of indexed pages listing – are there any supplemental results?

Number and quality of backlinks Yahoo shows for the site – ok you may want to check Google’s backlinks for the site as well but Yahoo shows more (however, there are ways to get Google to show you more backlinks it knows about than it intends to ;-) ) Keep in mind that link: search in Yahoo might not show you all you need to see and you might also want to do a linkdomain: search.

The site’s history in Web Archive – this is especially helpful if there are problems with the site and you want to see whetehr there has been something on the site earlier that could get it banned.

The site’s traffic estimation – I use Alexa for this. Although Alexa’s data is not particularly accurate and is prone to manipulations, it can still provide you with an estimate of the overall tendency (e.g. if the site traffic is increasing over time or vice versa).

The important rule, however, is not to base your judgement solely on one of these criteria. Use all the data you obtained when making a decision about a site’s quality.

This is the checklist for any type of sites. Now, if we’re evaluating a directory, there are some additional criteria that can be considered:

  • I found that using Aaron Wall’s Directory Archives can help you maike sure you’re dealing with a quality directory – if it’s listed there it’s a sure sign you’re dealing with a quality directory. Aaron’s “directory of directories” is all hand checked edited stuff – however, he says he’s not maintaining it any more so some stuff there would be outdated.
  • Consider page rank of not only the home page but also the actual category page your link will end up on.
  • See how many links are already listed on that pagea nd how far from the top your link would be.
  • Find out the terms of submission (free/paid/both options available) and see which one of the available options makes most sense and serves you best.

If you’re evaluating a blog, there are some more blog-specific things to consider:

  • Questions to consider when evaluating the blog: Does the blog look like it’s being maintained by a human or does it look like auto generated content? How many outbound links does it have? How recent are the last posts? How often new posts are added? What’s the blog’s blogroll like? Where did you find the blog? Are the comments/trackbacks allowed?
  • A blog’s age cannot always be discovered through whois as many blogs are hosted on blog hosting servers (e.g. Blogger, WordPress.com, etc.). But a good indicator of a blog’s age is its archives – how far back do they go?
  • PageRank is not necessarily much of an indicator for blogs – a blog can have a large following but a PageRank of 0. The blog’s audience can be estimated through the number of comments – keep in mind, however, that most of the blog readers just read it and hardly ever comment – though this can vary from blog to blog.
  • Technorati data: in Technorati, we can see the number of blogs linking to our blog in question. High profile blogs (A-list blogs) are also included in the Technorati top 100. Blogs that people have been adding massively to their Technorati favourites are listed at Most Favorited.
  • There is a tool that might be of some use as well when measuring a blog’s “influence”: BlogInfluence – it shows links found on Technorati, Yahoo, Bloglines subscribers and Google PageRank. OK, Bloglines is just one RSS reader and this doesn’t give you an estimate of the total number of subscribers – but if you see a lot of subscribers in Bloglines you know you’ve found something of a good value.

When making an estimate of a blog, mix these criteria in with our usi\ual checklist and you’re sure to dig some valuable data. But even if a blog’s current traffic and following is insignificant, the author might still be active enough to be able to become a new A-lister tomorrow – so maybe it’s worth it to make friends with that blogger ;-)

Other people’s posts related to this topic:

Todd Malicoat’s post on figuring a site value when buying/selling sites
ShoeMoney’s podcast on directories


Suggested reading:

A Librarian’s Guide to Finding Web Sites You Can Trust – from Google’s Newsletter for Librarians
Purdue University tutorial on Site Evaluation
Google’s Spam recognition Guide for Raters (a Word document, provided by Henk van Ess)

Be sure to catch the next part of this series where we will talk of link value.

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