This week, Head of Products, Mike Carter explains the external factors that affect the score of a Sitemorse assessment.
Every so often, somebody will ask why their site score has changed even though they have made no changes to the website since the last time Sitemorse assessed the site. This is sometimes due to changes over which you have no control at all.
Your website will have many links to both your own pages and to pages and documents on other websites. For example, a local authority website might have links to the local police website or links to local charities and support groups. When you publish a page, you check all the links work and then you go to work on another page. You do not keep going back to all the pages you have ever published to check all the external links still work. That would be a massive task, not to mention extremely tedious. Sitemorse does this for you. We check all your links and let you know which are broken for both links to your own items, and links to items on other peoples' websites. The problem is, you have no control over when those external links might just vanish (this is commonly known as "link rot").
Let us examine the three most common external influences that can affect your score, without anything changing on your website.
This is not only the most common externally influenced content but also the one that affects your score the most because it has the greatest weighting in the overall score. If you want to know more about the details of how this affects your score, please see the following Sitemorse article about how your score is calculated on our website:
Broken links are important because they are a big contributor to how site visitors perceive the quality of your site. How many times have you gone to a site to purchase a product, found the link to the product is broken, then just left the site to purchase the product elsewhere?
Next, let us consider emails. They are like links in that you click on one and that allows you to send an email. If you have an email link on your site to an email address that is not for your own site (for example an email contact for a local charity), you have no control over if this will work. Sitemorse does a great job at testing both your internal and external emails. Not only do we check the syntax of an email link, but we can also go and talk to the email server to check that the user really exists. There are marketing departments all over the world that spend a great deal of money trying to persuade site visitors to communicate with them. It is very frustrating for a site visitor if they take the time to send an email and then discover the email server has bounced the email with a message to say the email recipient does not exist. You should keep on top of the accuracy of both your internal and external email links as a bounced email is far more frustrating than a "404 page not found".
The last of the three we will consider is when you include content from an external site within an iframe on your own site. In this case, Sitemorse will evaluate the contents of the iframe. Even though the content is external to your site, to the site visitor it looks like it is part of your site so Sitemorse evaluates it as the site visitor sees it. Now there is a lot more that is out of your control because the external content can contain links, email addresses, images, and everything a web page can have. This means Sitemorse will also check the accessibility of the content. With the first influence we considered (broken links), this can only affect your broken links score. With the second (email), this only affects your email score. With external content in an iframe, because there are so many things to check, it can affect all categories of score. So, although external content is the least common of the three external influences we are considering, it is the one that can affect all your scores.