It's exactly this question that an international team of researchers is trying to answer.
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"Clearly what we know about our planet will be our guideline for the characterization of (small rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their stars)," writes the team, headed by Esther Sanroma of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), Spain, in a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "But the Earth has been inhabited for at least 3.8 (billion years), and its appearance has changed with time."
3 billion years ago, during the Archean eon, the Earth was likely dominated by purple bacteria, a photosynthetic microorganism that inhabited the land and ancient seas. These organisms would have had a very distinctive spectroscopic fingerprint and a tell-tail sign that Earth was covered in a basic form of life.
By modeling different distributions of this microbe throughout the planet - in the oceans, on the land, around coastlines and during different atmospheric conditions - Sanroma's team used a radiative transfer model "to simulate the visible and near-(infrared) radiation reflected by our planet." By doing so, they were able to determine that by using multi-color photometric observations, distant observers would be able to "distinguish between an Archean Earth in which purple bacteria inhabit vast extensions of the planet, and a present-day Earth with continents covered by deserts, vegetation or microbial mats."