Clues That A Site Isn't Worth Visiting

One of the great pleasures of being online is discovering new and unexpected sites, but that carries a parallel risk: they can contain useless information, scam solicitations and dangerous drive-by downloads. Here's some basic guidelines to make sure that your online time is safe and productive.

Picture by David Howard

Unfortunately, Internet browsing is not a risk-free activity. As we've detailed on Lifehacker before, an activity as simple as visiting a web site can result in your computer becoming infected with malicious code that can steal your personal information or use your system as part of a 'botnet' for distributing spam and other nefarious activity.

If your operating system isn't kept up to date and you don't have a security system in place, the risks are much greater. Having a sensible security strategy is critical, but you can also take a more active role by exercising caution when visiting new sites.

For the purposes of this article, we'll presume that you're coming by most of your results via a search engine, and emphasise clues you can look for in the results pages themselves. However, the same basic rules apply if you get sent a link via email, on a social network or by noting it down on a piece of paper.

If you have security software installed, it will often identify sites which are suspect or which have been known to host malware in the past. Google and other search engines will block known malicious sites, but that doesn't happen automatically. For that reason, running any link you're about to click on through your own checking process is also sensible.

Never trust the hyphens

There are occasional exceptions, but years of experience suggest that sites where the domain name is a collection of words separated by hyphens (best-travel-deals-around.com) are not going to contain any useful content.

Look out for lots of repeated words or incoherent lists

Google's algorithms try and block sites which don't contain any useful content but instead feature endless lists of words, but they still pop up now and again. At best, they're just trying to attract your attention through dodgy search-engine optimisation practices; at worst, they've got nothing whatsoever to do with the terms listed.

Check the country code

Useful information really can come from anywhere. However, it might pay to think twice about a site with a country code (the two letters at the end of the domain name) which you don't recognise. That's doubly true if you're seeking out free software.

Check for really bad spelling and grammar

Language use online is arguably slipping, but shoddy expression is often the hallmark of a shoddy site.

Check out a given site

A site might not raise any of the alarm bells discussed above, but still leave you feeling uneasy. If you're not entirely confident about a particular site after visiting it — particularly if you're considering buying something through it — do some research first. A simple but effective trick: do a search looking for the site name plus the word "problem" or "fraud". More broadly, search for the site name but exclude the site itself by using this format for your search (replacing address.com with the site you're investigating)

address.com - site:address.com

What indicators do you watch for that suggest a site isn't legitimate? Share your tips in the comments.

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?


Comments

    Before I visit a 'think to be' suspecious site, I always google the site first to see what comes up. If I see dogy results, I dont visit it, but if it looks trustworthy, then I will visit it. I also use NoScript Firefox addon as well, just for extra protection.

    Oversized, multi coloured text. Dead givaway of ranting loony site (also emails). Also basic formatting; a decent site with information worth reading is generally formatted with care and attention (though obviously scam sites can also look lovely). But ugly sites are usually not worth a click. And, of course, the adverts they associate with. Popups, flashing "you are 1 millionth visitor", "Free MP3", "Improve PC performance" or Evony type "free games" are a dead giveaway of shonky.

    I find anything that seems to aggregate other sites or lots of different content is usually enough to send me packing. It's hard to tell form the google results at times, but places that seem to have lots of design and very little content are a dead give away. Also sites that keep popping up the top of any search term even when they clearly aren't related to what your looking for.

    Some of the biggest most frequented sites fit in to your criterion people. And incoherent words are usually the same colour as the background so you usually won't see them, unfortunately.

    If it's covered in porn ads, get out. If it starts a download when you didn't click download, get out. If you're on a warez, crackz, serialz, keygen site and you need to read this, quick, get out. What are you doing there anyway?

    I find that if the site makes finding what you want more than 5 mins work, get out. If they're are there to help you..think about it.

    The internet is really suffering with an overload of optimisation-purpose-built websites that are merely linking to other sites to up search rankings, or are merely funnelling hits to attract advertising revenue.

    As good as search engines are today, they still cant sort good content from poor. you can search for any product in google and page one will return a heap of aggregated or optimised sites doing nothing. for example, sites like this really annoy me: http://leatherlounge.net/

    I find it extremely irritating. not sure how to exclude sites like this from my search results. (i know its a .net - probably a bad example)

    If your using Google Chrome, then run an extension called WOT. It flags bad website links with a rating of Green/Amber/Red, so you instantly get a visual indicator.

    https://chrome.google.com/extensions/detail/bhmmomiinigofkjcapegjjndpbikblnp?hl=en

    bistecca's right about some of the more well-known sites fitting those criteria. Which shows that yeah, they're actually not worth visiting, despite the fact that millions of people do because they simply don't know any better.

    They may not be actively malicious sites, but their so-called content could be dropped into the Marianas Trench and nothing of value would be lost.

    Hovering over links to see the true path is also something I do

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