Website Reviews Free, Really?


SMM has now launched a very useful website mini-review service. In doing market research on other website review services, some interesting aspects came to light that many will find of interest.

Free Is Never Free

That innovative thinker, Chris Anderson, will be publishing his new book, Free, at some time in 2008, we presume. This will discuss giving zero cost products/services away for free and then making money on upgraded versions. That’s one of the opportunities this zero-cost virtual world now gives us. A more important sub-theme in the book is that of course everyone pays for such products or services by investing their personal time in them. This means that you should be even more skeptical in checking the teeth of any gift horses. Looking after that horse could involve major effort and expense.

This is particularly important in thinking about website review processes. Whatever you learn from such a process may well involve you in major effort to implement the findings. Given the importance of your website and of your time, it’s important to make the right choice.

Who can best assess your website’s performance?

Whatever objectives you as the owner may have for your website, they can only be achieved if there are enough visitors to the website and if they can take the actions that you hope for. So it boils down to good visitor traffic and visitors having satisfactory experiences on the website. Both aspects are tough to evaluate. If you do not think so, just spend a little time checking out the excellent research work that Jared Spool, and his team at UIE (User Interface Engineering), do on website usability. There’s more to the way visitors move around a website than the you might have imagined.

Which website review process is best for you?

Assuming that you are not about to invest in a massive program of visitor testing of the website, some simpler process that looks at all aspects of performance must be found. All aspects of performance covers a lot of ground. To get a sense of this, you might wish to review a very long checklist for website review put out by Polson Enterprises. Unfortunately this has not been updated since 2006, but most of it is still very appropriate. It stretches to fifteen pages and includes almost 300, often meaty, paragraphs on different aspects of website performance.

A website review covering that degree of detail is a major undertaking. A better initial step is to take a ‘big picture‘ or ‘helicopter vision‘ approach. This will help to identify where work may be needed. If you are searching for free resources for this big picture approach, there are two main alternatives. Some Forums offer such ‘big picture’ website reviews and some experts will do such reviews but require the freedom to publish their work.

Forums Offering Website Reviews

The type of website review you will get from a Forum depends on the interests of its members and their skills and experience. You should only consider active forums where you’re likely to get a number of members commenting. Three Forums seem to do a reasonable job in this respect:

  • Estetica Design Forum > Graphic Design & Web Design Critique
    Given the fields of interest of its members, you might expect a review that will put much more emphasis on graphic design aspects of the website.
  • Web Design Forum, UK > Web Designing Resource > Website Reviews
    Checking on activity in other threads, although the main emphasis of the Forum is Web design, some attention is paid to other Internet marketing aspects.
  • Cre8asite Forums > Web Site Building, Testing and Support > Website Hospital
    The Cre8asite Forums (where I moderate) covers all aspects of web design and Internet marketing. Reviewers would therefore bring a variety of perspectives in their comments.

Experts Offering Free Website Reviews

If you do not mind an expert giving a public review of your website, then there are a number of experts you can consult.

For example, Jackie Baker at Search Engine Guide offers a weekly site clinic column. As she says:

Small businesses are invited to submit their websites for review. Can’t beat a little free advice, right? I’ll be looking at the design, copy, usability, SEO, marketing, and any technical issues that may prevent websites from drawing loyal, active visitors and meeting goals. Each week, I’ll give the top five issues the website owner/manager can address to significantly improve performance.

Scott Hendison offers a Free SEO Site Review. As he explains:

For a limited time, you can get a video made of your own website, seeing how it complies with generally accepted search engine optimization best practices.

In exchange, all I ask from you is that you agree to allow me to make my information public, so that others may learn from the experience. Selected video reviews will be shared on my site and on my blog.

Such expert views are likely to be well-founded, particularly since the expert is also going public and their reputation will be affected by what they reveal.

Free Website Reviews Come With A Risk

There is a risk in having your website reviewed in public. The UK Web Design Forum outlines this well:

When posing a link to a site to be reviewed remember that some people may not like your site and could leave comments to that effect. These threads can appear on a search engine results for your website or other searches, so if you get negative comments people who search for your site may see these.

Please be sure that you don’t mind that some members may not like your design and may criticise the work you have done. Most of these members will offer opinions on how to improve, which is what this section of the forum is about. So if you are looking for helpful advice and a honest view of your site this is the perfect place to do it.

Really all we are saying is post your sites at your risks, this forum will not be held responsible for any loss of business or negative things that happen due to you deciding to place your site here for a review.

Time Is Money

Each webmaster will decide for herself or himself how to balance the usefulness of the website review, its cost and the time it takes to get it. However it is done, it is important to have your website performing well and that requires knowledge. SMM is now offering a Website Mini-Review service that gives good value in getting the right big picture view. It’s not free, but it may be less costly, taking everything into account, than these other free services.

If you have your preferred method of assessing the performance of a website that you think others might find useful, why not give details in a comment.


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Website Reviews Free, Really? — 9 Comments

  1. Hey Barry, enjoyed your post. Was interested to see where it was going after your Twit-query yesterday. I agree that public site reviews CAN be more trouble than they are worth, and on the risky side. But when you are getting top-notch advice from folks like Scott and Jackie, that could be worth the trade-off. If I needed a review for my own business, I’d probably look to someone like you for an affordable, but private, review, though.

  2. Thanks, David. I thought I would use Twitter to check whether there were other ideas around on this topic, and you were kind enough to respond with an angle I hadn’t thought of. I’m aiming to blog elsewhere on using Twitter for brainstorming. I think it works extremely well.

  3. Thanks for the links about the 3 sites doing website reviews. As you so well said “Time Is Money”. It’s the best thing that i have seen from a webmaster’s post this year.

  4. Website reviews sometimes become important if your website is not bringing in results on expected lines and as pointed out Time is Money , so any advice that comes on the way to boost things is always welcome but as they say, there is nothing like a free lunch in this world so you need to see who is giving the advice and whom should you be listening to .With top-notch advice from folks like Scott and Jackie, i think it is worth giving a shot.

  5. Thanks Barry, for the mention here of my free site reviews…
    Some weeks I get a lot of requests, and others I get very few, but I do try to pick the ones that are going to be the most educational for everyone involved…

  6. You’re welcome, Scott. I believe anything that gets more people aware of what it takes to have a website that really achieves its goals is to be applauded. There are so very many websites that do not do that.