How Do You Evaluate the Blogs and Websites You Visit?

If you’ve been in school in the last decade or so, you were probably given a handout at some point explaining how to evaluate internet sources. These documents usually give a list of criteria to inspect on a website so you can determine whether it is authoritative and reliable.

I remember being told to investigate the author’s credentials and affiliations, scan for any potential biases or commercial motivations, and tread with caution if there is advertising prevalent.

First off, I think these handouts tend to be a bit out of touch with the current state of the web, as they often don’t address that media organizations and trustworthy organizations are often forced to display advertising, sometimes of a rather intrusive nature, to stay in business today.

They also don’t acknowledge that in certain emerging fields, such as social media or digital age writing and publishing, an advanced degree or university teaching experience is not always going to be the best indicator of a true “expert.” According to these handouts, it would be a red flag for the author to offer an information product for sale on his or her website, but this is now such a common model among authority bloggers that it certainly should not discredit the rest of the website’s content.

Overall, though, this is not a problem, because the main point of these handouts is to determine whether an internet resource is scholarly and appropriate to include in a research paper. And the handouts typically serve this purpose well.

But What Are Your Criteria for Blogs and Everyday Browsing?

I’m curious what such a handout would look like for evaluating everyday websites (either personal or smaller scale) for personal information needs, whether it be finding the answer to a burning question, or just worthy blogs to add to your RSS reader.

I think this is important because today, most of us immediately turn to Google for just about anything, and its algorithm is evolving so that it is starting to favor sites with a good “user experience” rather than solely relying on metrics that can easily be manipulated.

In general, of course, you’ll use common sense to filter out websites that are riddled with spelling, grammatical or organizational mistakes. And the best people to verify the author’s expertise are others in the same niche.

But even more pressing, in my opinion, is the necessity to evaluate whether it’s commercial forces or a genuine desire to spread information that controls the author’s motivations.

Here are a couple of the things I think about when evaluating blogs and websites.

1. How Do the Authors Introduce Themselves?

I will almost never trust a website without an identified author, and in the blogosphere an About page has become pretty much a requirement. But have they put time and thought into it? Do they share personal experiences or skills that make them qualified to talk about their topic? As previously stated, this by no means needs to be academic or professional in nature, but the authors should explain clearly why they are the best choices to write in their chosen areas.

On the occasions I click on a page only to find This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself or your site so readers…” I make a pretty quick exit.

2. Is the Author an Affiliate?

If the blog discusses products or services, you’ll want to make sure to know if the writer is a member of affiliate programs. There’s nothing wrong with being one, but the blogger must disclose this information. Be aware that there are numerous ways to hide affiliate links, including url shorteners and domain redirection. If you follow links to external pages, take note of where you end up and what the address bar reads.

It’s a big difference to blog about products you regularly use and trust, and promoting any product under the sun that might bring in a commission.

In order to determine the credibility of a website with affiliate links, I like to examine the writing style of the content.

Does it come across as personal, honest observations or recycled corporate sales copy? If nearly every post seems to be a glowing review of a different product, I’m probably going to leave.

3. Do They Use Social Media? And If So, How?

It’s becoming more and more expected for bloggers to have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, and most other informational websites are also jumping on the social media bandwagon. If there is no clear way to connect via Facebook, Twitter, another social platform or RSS, my impression is that the site is behind the times, and possibly on the road to abandonment in the future. This might not be completely fair, but it is what goes through my head.

If the websites are active on social media, how are they using their accounts? Do they have a community of Twitter followers, and if so, are they real people the same niche or random bots? After looking over their tweets, do they have two-way conversations, share others’ content and build relationships? Or just repeatedly tweet out links to their own pages.

Also, are there social sharing buttons on the website’s individual posts? How many times have they been retweeted, shared on Facebook or Google +1’ed across the web? Is it easy to leave comments and do the authors respond to their readers?

These are just a few of the ways I filter the countless sites I come across on the web.

What Criteria Do You Use to Evaluate Blogs and Websites?

photo by sqback

11 Responses to How Do You Evaluate the Blogs and Websites You Visit?
  1. Ben Bulben
    July 15, 2011 | 2:46 am

    Hey this piece really made me think! Some great suggestions for evaluating websites that will be very useful when I’m clicking around on the web! Thanks!

    • Andrew Walsh
      July 16, 2011 | 2:07 pm

      I’m glad you found it useful!

  2. Eric P
    July 16, 2011 | 6:38 pm

    Your #3 section is right on the money. A person’s Twitter followers (Facebook being pretty irrelevant, really) says a lot to me about how respected they are, and whether they participate in conversation. Chances are, if a blog or site is good in an area I’m interested in, I will have already had a few links from it shared with me via some service or other.

    The “how to judge a website” handouts are almost always outdated. Judging by domain name, really? Like deserves to be treated as an educational institution? And how do I evaluate the new .me and .ly sites cropping up, or the custom names that ICANN just allowed? That’s just bad advice these days. We need to update our methods.

    • Andrew Walsh
      July 18, 2011 | 2:28 pm

      Thanks, Eric. You definitely learn a lot about a blog by checking out the extent of engagement on its Twitter profile. And I think the links shared from other services you mention are only going to get more visible all around the web as social recommendations continue to develop.

      That’s a really good point about the domain names. A .org also can be problematic, as they’re intended for nonprofit organizations but actually have are no restrictions for registration. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that fact in one of the handouts.

  3. Genie
    November 25, 2011 | 2:10 am

    Well I definitely am lacking a few of your criteria on one of my website and blog.

    The first thing I look at is presentation. If the website is neatly organized, and free of spelling and grammatical errors, that website or blog will get some good credits from me. These things tell me that the author cares about his or her readers and also takes pride in him or herself. They also tell me that the website is valuable to its owner, and he or she is treating it as such.

    The second thing is how interesting the article is to me. If an information site, is it new information? Is it engaging? If an entertainment site, is it delivering entertainment?

    Knowing who the author is, is certainly not a bad idea, but not a priority for me. Also, I really do not count the social media followers even though I know it matters to almost everyone.

    The long and short is that I understand the blogger sphere somewhat, and if the site is presentable and the content interesting or engaging, I will give my support. As for static websites, I usually use more than one means to find the info. I require.

    This is an engaging post. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Justin Germino
    November 25, 2011 | 2:10 am

    It is usually the title of a post broadcast on Twitter, Facebook or G+ which snags my interest and has me click to learn more. Once I am inside a blog I gauge if the content is easy to read and either informs or entertains me.

    If I enjoyed the article enough to read the whole thing I always leave a comment, in some cases I will visit the about me page of the blog or follow the blogger on social media if it is someone I haven’t crossed paths with and don’t already follow.

    The other times I follow blogs is when I search for information and again it is the Title/Description in the SERP which draws me to click. Affiliate advertising and banners never bother me but if the post is a direct promotion of a product without a clear review, IE. Just a sales pitch without any proof the blogger used the product personally then I typically leave almost immediately and find something more substantial.

  5. Alex
    September 5, 2012 | 6:05 am

    I developed a website evaluation algorithm myself:
    I have used Google PR, Alexa Ranking, Alexa back-links and Compete Ranking as input parameters.
    The mathematical formulas behind the website evaluation algorithm are calibrated using real website transactions.
    Enter your URL and you will have a financial evaluation in a few seconds. (your website market price and your potential monthly advertising income).

  6. dieta
    September 6, 2012 | 12:51 am

    The eighth way one can determine credibility, checking the integrity of information, sounds like common sense, but this is not always done. Hammett (1999, Appendix) suggests asking, “Is the source of any factual information clearly stated,” or “is it clear whether or not the information has been excerpted from a larger piece?” Make sure the scientific article being read, for example, shows easily identifiable citations.

  7. Jena Isle
    October 14, 2012 | 2:34 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    I came from Blog Engage. This post is written last year but I find it useful. I never bothered with my about me page because I was afraid someone might steal my identity.I that my post would be enough to let the reader know that I know what I was talking about.

    Now, you’ve made me realize how important it is. Thanks a lot.

  8. Andrew
    October 16, 2012 | 1:48 am

    Thanks for the comment Jena! You’re right that giving up too much on the About page can be a privacy concern; I hadn’t thought about that much before but it’s definitely something to think about. Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you liked the post.

  9. diseño web
    September 11, 2014 | 8:16 pm

    This is a very good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.

    Short but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.

    A must read article!

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