Choosing the right website scanning and benchmarking software for web development projects
When building websites, our industrial web development team tends to test them with as many website graders and page analysis tools as possible. Some of these website grading and web development helper tools have proven so incredibly useful and powerful that we were compelled to purchase the nearly-unlimited use licenses for them. Many web developers still do without these, and use a large collection of free online website assessment tools to find the information they need. This makes sense when working on only one site, especially since a lot of the for-pay utilities are geared toward agencies who will use these website evaluation tools regularly, on many website development projects, throughout every month for years.
The early days of SEO analysis and website assessment
Our old way was reading pages for content, visually scanning source code for every element, tag, keyword, key phrase, or block of content that could be either useful or detrimental. We used search engines and other online tools to count and quantify inbound links, check domain records, test & scan servers, test site performance, and to search for blacklisting, and possible results of negative SEO campaigns. The information we gathered was incredibly useful to our clients, but the process was very time-consuming, leading to prohibitive costs. We knew that we needed to automate this process, or parts of this process if possible.
Testing new website optimization software and services
We spent a very long time trying out different services, figuring out which applications were better for which aspects of optimization, and which services were the most reliable in terms of scoring and scrutinizing websites for real assets and real issues. To us, it was not good enough to just automate this process – we wanted scoring that was every bit as accurate, thorough, and in-depth as our previous, more manual technique.
Now we have a handful of tools that we have tested against our own assessments for over a year. They are big time savers. Though we will still go and manually check their results, we find that 99% of the time the information we receive is entirely accurate and decision-making from there is a matter of assessing and setting priorities for fixes.
Considering the results of website reports and website optimization utilities
When it comes to most of these utilities, PageSpeed included, we find that the better sites tend to score in the 75 to 85 range for most any of these tests, which is good. That level of scoring shows that the site’s designers probably paid a lot of attention to factors such as site speed, server performance, accessibility, design, content, and SEO. A good score like that isn’t a random thing – especially when a site scores well across the board.
So how important is page speed?
Generally speaking, sites aren’t going to suffer as far as search indexing goes for having a score of 75 or 80 out of 100 in page speed or performance (even if their competitors are putting in the work to stay at 90 to 100).
If your website is scoring well enough, there are often more important factors to focus on than page speed, such as content, proper use of tags, good coding, site-wide keywords, mobile-friendliness, and inbound links.
The big reason it is good to check your website for page speed is that if you are scoring a 60 or below, you could be suffering a loss of indexing or a loss of search preference. If you are scoring below 50, you are certainly going to have trouble with indexing and search engine placement – no matter how incredible or content-rich your website is.
So what about other website development benchmarks?
There are a *lot* of them out there, many of them are free, but only for a limited time. Others limit the amount of information they share to free users, or even add pricing tiers to the amount of information you can receive or the number of queries you can run per month. For a person or company developing and maintaining only one or a handful of websites, these may not be worth the investment. Since each of the free services gives you different bits of useful information, you can assemble a decent picture from using a combination of them. We did that for a while, which led to us finding the paid services that were perfect for us and or clients.
How important are the results of SEO and other website scans?
As far as our best and strictest web development and SEO assessment tools go, a lot of sites, even the websites of our web development and SEO competitors, tend to score between 50 and 65. I think that is why we like our tools of choice – one of which we fought tooth and nail to climb from 78 to 92 on (the best score we’ve ever seen from anyone else, ever was 85, and our best competitor came in at 78).
When considering your edge over the competition, most would agree that every edge is an important one. Having a better performing website may give you an advantage. Having a well-optimized website may offer you an advantage. Having a site that does poorly at either will definitely be a disadvantage. Such disadvantages could lead to wasted advertising dollars, and make it very hard for you to evaluate the success or failure of any Internet marketing efforts or investments.
These scores are of particular importance to us. We feel that if you are going to sell SEO, website design, content services, website maintenance, and web development, you should at least be able to walk the walk and talk the talk.
So, how do SEO and web development companies stack up?
We decided to find out, on a whim. This decision came after reading a local competitor’s blog post about the importance of Google PageSpeed ratings. From there, we just had to scan their site (and several others) for comparison.
This company seemed to be having some issues with page speed, and some *real* problems with all of the other website and SEO rating systems.
It is entirely understandable that a company can slip in score over time. A score of 70/100 could be from a once 95/100 or better scoring website being updated “in-house” / by novices. In other cases, developers and clients might find a need for functions and features that are more valuable than scores. Others might purposefully decline to optimize images out of a desire to give a better visual experience to visitors with retina displays and 4k monitors.
That said, we find that our best-ranking competitors to come in around 75 to 85 on Google PageSpeed Insights. It is likely that (like us currently) they have at some time been at 90 to 100 and had to make choices on the importance of plugins, the need for higher-resolution images, or the need for certain scripts to be within in the head of their website’s HTML. 75 and up, to us, shows that good work and best practices apply.
Below are some screenshots from scans of the local competitor:
So, how does the Industrial Web Development Team stack up?
That is exactly what we sought to find out. We already knew we had decent ratings on our chosen systems, so we decided to give a handful of other services a try. For the sake of our results being visible to the reader, we decided to use some of the free services that are out there so our screenshots could be compared with current results, and to outline some free tools available to those wanting or needing to do this work on their own.
In this quest, our Cincinnati web development team decided to push these tests to the limit, see how close we could come to getting 100% on all scales, whether this was even possible, and of course whether this was even necessary.
When it came to it being possible, I found what I expected to find. I concluded that there were goals on some tests, which contradicted goals on others. This finding was especially true when it came to inlining scripts or CSS, which could be good or bad depending on whether you are testing for speed or whether you are testing for SEO best practices. All other finds just led to the conclusion that the site your are reading now should move to better web hosting. Not being able to configure DNSSEC and not having IPV6-ready hosting cost some points on the last test (I think I would have had a 96 instead of 92 on that one), and this is not something one could develop a way around.
When it comes to whether it is even necessary – With some of our benchmarking tools, we find a lot of essential things as far as search preference goes – things that are much more important than page speed. These things are as basic as the proper proportions of text to code, optimal distribution of heading object tags, consistent and ideal use of alt tags, inviting (and well-formulated) meta tags & title tags, mobile-friendliness, and of course the quality and uniqueness of the content itself.
Conclusion: Recommendations for Your Company’s Website Assessment
Be aware of your website’s ranking for as many factors as possible, but also be aware of what scores are standard, passable, or negative. If you plan to use any of the more in-depth for-pay website evaluation tools you may actually save money by having an agency do these evaluations for you. Consider the difference between their rates and the monthly rate plus the value of your time or your employees’ time before purchasing a monthly plan.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to grade your site. Don’t freak out or even worry a bit if you score above 80. Even 70 is decent (though 70 could quickly become 50 with unskilled content additions through blogging or page updates).
Use Pingdom too for different data and insights on site speed (and the ability to compare speed and response times from several locations). Try to get 100% because doing so means you are satisfying very basic but important requirements for hosting environment.
Use Hubspot’s grading tool for the most basic website assessment (but consider that it fails to fetch half the time, is hyper-critical when it comes to render-blocking content, and sometimes misses sitemaps every few checks). It lays out the very basics, and this is a good place to start.
Use Moz if you would like a simple way to assess your inbound links (but don’t expect a high score or any score at all if your website is as new as this one is)
Use MX Toolbox for most anything network related can think of, plus second opinions where applicable, but especially to check your domain or server IP for blacklisting.
Use SEObook for checking your site’s overall keyword density. This feature is no longer available through Google Search Console.
Word Count Tools is also great for website content keyword checking. It is great for fine-tuning blog post word usage by keywords and key phrases weighed against used (and overused) words.
Also be sure to use Google’s Search Console to monitor your site for malware, check traffic from organic search, and to keep track of and have control over website indexing.
Myke is a full-stack web developer for The Industrial Web Development Team at Lohre & Associates, Inc.. He is also a fine-art painter and engraver, best known for his steampunk fantasy illustrations, and his “Infernal Device” project at Artprize.