5 Free Tools to See Under the Hood of Any Website

Engine
Sue Spolan
Sue Spolan

What you see on a web page is just the shiny surface. Underneath there’s a lot of technology. Like a car, the average website is powered by dozens, if not hundreds of elements. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery, like some kind of intertubes magic.

As a business owner or marketer, you should understand what’s powering your site, and perhaps even more important, what’s powering the sites of your competitors. You don’t need to be a developer to get a lot of value out of these free tools. Most have a paid version. Here are a few that are easy to use. 
 

BuiltWith

This website and Chrome, Firefox and Safari extensions will give you more detail than you’ll know what to do with. Find out the CMS (i.e., Drupal, WordPress, .NET), advertising (Doubleclick, AppNexus), servers, email hosts, customer service tools, and more. BuiltWith Trends compiles useful statistics on web and internet technology, so you can see the relative popularity of a tool or platform you’re considering. If you like the look or functionality of a specific website, check BuiltWith to discover the platforms used to create it. You can also create 10 free analytics reports, so if you want to find out all the sites that are using a competitor's product in order to market to them, you can generate a report and get results by traffic rank, country, and domain. If you're even a bit of a data nerd, this is one deep rabbit hole. You've been warned.

Alexa Traffic Rank

Alexa, an Amazon.com company, can tell you how a site ranks for traffic by country and globally. Use the Chrome extension for quick access. If you use the website version, just scroll down on the page to find the input form. You can see how your site stacks up and check out what your competition is doing. With the free version, you can get helpful information like average time on site (for example, the typical Facebook user spends 19:28), bounce rate, popular countries, keywords, and referring sites. Pro tip: when you consider a product or service, check out the Alexa traffic rank to see if a company is legitimate or a loser. FYI: confusing as it may seem, this tool is not related to the Amazon Alexa Smart Home.

PageSpeed Insights

Is your site loading very slowly? The slower the load, the greater the risk that a potential customer will bounce out of impatience. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool will tell you how fast a site is loading on various devices as well as desktop. If there are stumbling blocks, PageSpeed will give you suggestions on how to fix problems and speed load time. PageSpeed Score goes from 0 to 100 points. The higher the score, the better: 85 and above tells you the page performs well. 

Ghostery

There are countless tracking tools that have eyes on you while you move about the internet. Ghostery will list them all and can also block trackers when you land on a page. The Ghostery extension works on  Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, Apple Safari, iOS, Android, and Firefox Mobile. Ghostery also has an opt-in feature. GhostRank notes blocked ads and sends information back to advertisers. Caveat: when you install the Ghostery extension, a popup lists all the trackers, and sometimes that list can be very long. The novelty may wear off if you frequent pages that employ dozens of trackers.

Chrome Developer Tools

Would you like to know what WordPress theme a site is using, or the name of a cool font? Look at the HTML using Developer Tools. Accessible via the hamburger menu on the upper right corner of the Chrome browser, navigate on the dropdown menu to “More Tools” and then “Developer Tools.” Or, you can right-click on a page element and select Inspect. Another way to get there is to use keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+Shift+I (Windows) or Cmd+Opt+I (Mac). The resulting windows that open up on the bottom of your page contain oodles of information, primarily the HTML code for a page. Discover theme names, fonts, plugins and modules. You can edit the code, but don’t worry. Any changes you make appear locally (only on your computer). You can’t break someone else’s site. When you refresh the page, all of your hacks disappear. It’s a great way to get a glimpse into the world of the developer.

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