A review of Sitebeam, automated website testing software.

The sitebeam logo
Automated testing just got better. But is it good enough

The human touch

All the reports produced by a freshpairofeyes.net are compiled by a human being.  That would be me!  However I do use a selection of tools to quickly identify problems like broken links and website visibility in the search engines.

Today I discovered a new one while researching the impact of a change in European Commission privacy law on the use of ‘cookies’, which am going to blog about next week.

While searching for information I found a very good e-book on the topic from the owner of  silktide.com and reading a bit more about them came across this.

“We just quit being a web design company after 10 successful years and bet the company on making our own website testing software.”

Which I found interesting.  So as I enjoyed the e-book I thought I would try out the free trial version of their website testing software which they have called Sitebeam.

Sitebeam –  website testing software

Registration is very straightforward and the software design is excellent. On logging in you get told you have 10 reports left on the free trial version with an estimated delivery time of 2 minutes.

It seems the main report is made up of a different reports covering the following areas

  •     sales
  •     staging
  •     marketing
  •     social media
  •     writing
  •     technical
  •     EU ePrivacy
  •     custom
Printed out Sitebeam report
What a sitebeam report looks like when printed

Setting things up

Setting up the website details is pretty easy to do but it is worth taking some time over it. You are asked for the URL or domain name of the website you are testing, details of the product, service or sector, and sites to compare with.

So far so good.

First thing I notice is that this report will be limited to 10 webpages as it is a free trial.  Which I think is fair enough.

Generating the report was easy enough and unlike some online services where you are never quite sure whether or not anything is happening, you get a nice percentage completion bar and the whole thing looks very stylish.

First look at the Sitebeam dashboard

It does indeed take 2 minutes for the report to generate and immediately I can see a nicely presented dashboard with the option to view as a report or (nice touch) as a presentation.

Being a visual person I go for the presentation which is starts off very sluggish with it taking an age to load but then gets better as it is cached.

Image illustrating someone with a blind fold trying to navigate the internet
If no one can find your website, it might as well be unavailable

Sitebeam search report

For the website I am working on the search report is understandably a little disappointing.  My client has a very specific product with a number of different site specific locations and it has been difficult to find direct competitors that are both in the geographic locations and same sector.  So the website gets ranked the best, but there is no other website that is comparable.  The five highest ranked websites include the BBC  🙂 and the organisation that represents the industry.
So in conclusion the website is ranked 1st which is nice but not that helpful.  I also don’t seem to have any information about the websites I originally asked to be compared against. You then get a search rankings report which I did find helpful.  You can get the information elsewhere but for a business owner you have a clean dashboard of key search terms and how your site ranks for them in the search rankings.

Logos of the major social media channels including twitter, youtube, facebook, linked in and rss
Your audience is using social media and so should you

Sitebeam social media report

The Social Media report I can’t yet pass comment on because the website I tested it on doesn’t  use any social media networks.  As there is no twitter account available the report kindly informs you that you are missing out on 190m users generating 65 million tweets a day, which was pretty much what I was going to say to my client! However it did give me a lead to a slightly different but similar business that had used twitter very effectively. Less information for facebook although it confirmed to me that the site had no facebook page!

Sitebeam website analytics report

The report also correctly identified that the website doesn’t use any website analytics but this is easily identifiable from the page code.  Yes there are still people who do not track traffic to their website even if it is free and easy to implement!
There are tools available to identify which sites link to you but Sitebeam gives you a simple list, with the most popular first.  My results were skewed massively by one popular daily newspaper link that I didn’t about before.

Sitebeam print test

Here is a nice touch, the print test.  People do still print out web pages and their needs should be easy to cater for, but this doesn’t happen on the website I am reviewing.  This isn’t something I have tended to check in the past, so it is a good prompt.

Sitebeam content report

Not too helpful to be told that the website is ranked 4,200,000 on the Internet, not sure how that would help the client, but then a good report called keywords in use. Once you sense check this for combinations that are not targets this is helpful.  One of the basic principles of website copy writing is include the keywords in your copy.  This report shows you how many pages match a given keyword, and how strongly they feature it.  There is also a report that tells you the keywords you have no content for.

Bit cynical about reading age estimators or or readability calculators, still it never not helpful to point out to clients that most adults have a reading age of 14.  The report also finds a snippet with some of the most unreadable content which as you can imagine makes a great slide!

Freshness is calculated by how long ago the site was updated, how often on average it is updated and helps me identify when a peak of changes to the website happened. Then an accessibility calculator that picks out a headline % of pages that are W3C compliant.  Next Site Speed. I must admit even I am starting to flag!  But it is a useful report especially now Google has made clear this is a factor in search performance.  Finally and before the summary a pretty useless (in this case) site structure map and a chart of how many clicks it takes to reach page content.

So is Sitebeam any good?

So what do I think of the tool.  Useful, definitely.  I do this to earn a living and the automated tool has picked up a few things I perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise included in my clients report.

And this is basically my take on Sitebeam.  It is probably used best as a prompt tool or checklist mechanism.  It has a methodology and as long as you take it for what it is, it is an effective, not to say, cheap product for the business owner to check their website.

What it didn’t do, (and to be fair Sitebeam doesn’t claim to do this) is what a human being does in  providing a context and sense check for the machine generated report. I will certainly be using it again on behalf of other clients but by itself it isn’t comprehensive because it isn’t human .  But then I would say that wouldn’t I.

Well done silktide on a great product that is still in demo.

3 thoughts on “A review of Sitebeam, automated website testing software.

  1. nice review, I hadn’t heard of sitebeam until a company that provided a grant for on of my clients used its bigger cousin (siteray) on the site we’d just launched…

    again I’ve always taken automated tools with a pinch of salt, but we got a great report for the site, 9.6 overall (the highest they’d got before was a 7) and 100% in the accessibility score… seeing this was the first time we’d worked together, they were impressed with the site and want to refer more work to us

    so I think that was a result 🙂 anything that scores my code highly is a good tool to me (and don’t ask me for the URL of the site, I don’t want you to burst my bubble LOL)

    1. Thanks Gary. Sounds like you have the right priorities. It has always puzzled me why marketeers don’t take accessibility seriously. As well as being a must for search engine optimisation why wouldn’t you want reach your widest possible audience?

  2. We’ve used sitebeam a bit but to be honest it throws up so many false negatives for missing files and broken links it’s not proven to be useful. We have fed back to them the issue of false negatives but get a stock reply of ‘thanks for feedback we have informed developers’ followed by nothing.

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