Learn From Your Competitors History

Do you ever wish you could go back and see website snapshots over time? Perhaps, you’d like to see how a competitor looked or even your own site. Although we don’t have a web time machine, two free resources can provide you a historical perspective. 

Method 1: The Wayback Machine

This popular site has been around for years and is the best resource for website snapshots. Sometimes you want to see how a site has changed over time. Maybe you’re doing competitive analysis or interested in purchasing an existing domain and want to make sure it didn’t contain objectionable material.

Presently, they have 500 billion pages snapped, so the odds are good; you can find something. Some exceptions include new sites such as this one or ones that have few pages.

To find a website archive,

  1. Go to https://archive.org/
  2. Enter the domain you’d like to search in the Wayback Machine text box
  3. Press Enter.
Internet Archive search textbox.
Internet Archive

If the site is working properly, you’ll see a two part panel with an interactive calendar and timeline. I’ve encountered times where the site isn’t responsive and sometimes you need to try at a later time. The timeline gives you an idea of the site’s snapshot activity and when archives started. The current year is highlighted, but you can click any year with black activity bars. In the lower portion, you’ll see light blue circles around dates where a snapshot was taken. The frequency of snapshots varies based on site and popularity.

Internet archive timeline for NY Times.
Archive calendar entries and timeline

If you hover over a blue dot, you can see how many snapshots exist for that day. This is where it gets a little tricky. While the system may indicate it has a snapshot, some resources may not show. Sometimes you get missing graphics and boundary boxes. In the example below, I did see a complete snapshot for The New York Times home page. You can that some images are missing.

Front page NYT from Internet Archive.
Front Page NYT 9/3/2011

Method 2: Screenshots from Domain Tools

This is a newer site and doesn’t have the depth and breadth of archive.org. The info is from DomainTools.com who provides a WHOIS service.

To see historical homepage snapshots,

  1. Go to https://research.domaintools.com/research/screenshot-hisotry/
  2. Type in the domain name.
  3. Click LOOKUP.
Whitehouse.gov homepage screenshots.
White House Homepage screenshots

If you go through the archived snaps, you can sense how often site changes were made at The White House. The nice part of this service is that you see multiple thumbnails on one page. However, it does seem to miss portions of a page. I suspect it may have to do with not being able to render certain javascript.

While these tools won’t give you daily snapshots of your competition, they do provide clues. These images might give you ideas of things you want to test on your own site.