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, there are two free resources that can provide you a historical perspective.
In a previous article, I made reference to a certain email tactic and whether it had been tested. On one website, I could see testing code, but not on the other. I was curious to know if I could find a web archive for this other site, which might answer the question. The task was made easier because I was interested in the home page, and not a complete archive.
Method 1: The Wayback Machine
This popular site has been around for ages and is the best resource for website snapshots. Sometimes you just 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 276 billion pages snapped so odds are good you can find something. Some exceptions include new sites such as this one or very small ones that have few pages.
To find a website archive,
- Go to http://archive.org/
- Enter the domain you’d like to search in the Wayback Machine text box
- Click the Take Me Back button.
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.
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 One Kings Lane home page. However, if I clicked a Shop Now button I got missing graphics and was told the sale ended.
Method 2: Screenshots from Domain Tools
This is a newer site and doesn’t have the depth and breadth of archive.org. However, it does make up for it by having a fast clean interface and an API. They also specialize in showing historical snaps, but just of a website’s homepage. The info is from DomainTools.com who provides a WHOIS service.
One key difference is you can type in keywords instead of domains. In this case, you’ll usually see domains pop up that contain those terms including ones with different top level domains (TLDs) such as .com, .net, .org etc.
To see historical homepage snapshots,
- Go to http://www.screenshots.com/
- Type in the domain name or keyword in the Type in a site or keyword text box.
- Click the magnifying glass.
Like archive.org, this service also has a thumbnail strip at the top. The most recent image is shown as well as some details about the site including how many web snapshots they have.
While you can move the blue slider button left and right to move through the timeline, I found it easier to click the main image and use the lightbox controls on either side.
If you go through the archived snaps, you can see that One Kings Lane definitely tested the wording and placement of the email opt in box. While I don’t see a homepage without the opt in box, it’s quite possible they did test it. While glancing through the archived snaps, I can also see they used to have a more complex opt-in form.
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.