How To Buy A Website

There has been a lot of talk recently on the merits of buying a website, particularly an old established site. It is generally accepted that because of Google’s age effect, it is ‘easier’ to simply buy into a market rather than starting from square one. I would agree with that. So if you are out there actively hunting for sites to acquire, here are a few tips that will help you avoid the pitfalls.

Domain Background
When you are looking into a site, one of the first, if not the first, thing that you should look into is the history of the domain. First of all you need to find out what age the site is, keeping in mind the general rule of thumb that the older the site is, the better it should perform. Check the status of the domain and whether it has ever been blacklisted or expired. If you find that the domain has expired in the past and was picked up after deletion, then think carefully on whether you want to proceed with the sale or not. A domain that has expired can be tricky to work with as Google seem to wind back the clock and dump it back in the sandbox. While checking the background of the domain, check whether the owner / administrator address matches the details of who is selling and if not, ask the seller a few questions.

The best place to run a background check on a top level domain is at Whois.sc. For the more obscure UK domains use Nominet.

Check Existing Search Engine Placement
Assuming that the site passes your domain background checks, you will want to find out what it ranks for. The easiest way to do this is to request access to stat programs. Look out for the number of referrals from Google, Yahoo and MSN. Ideally the site will be getting steady traffic from all 3 top search engines, with Google sending the most. If you find that most of the traffic comes from Yahoo and MSN, then it is fairly safe to assume that it is still sandboxed in Google. If there is very little traffic coming from the top 3 search engines then the site may be penalized, or it is so badly optimized that it simply isn’t ranking well.

Aside from the amount of traffic coming into the site, check out how many pages have been spidered and indexed by the main search engines. Typically you will find that an established site will have most, if not all, of it’s pages in Google. Yahoo and MSN will have most, and possibly all the pages. However, do not be surprised if Yahoo and MSN have failed to pick up as many pages as Google. Using the site:www.example.com command will show you all the pages indexed in te engines.

Use WeBuildPages’s Cool Seo Tool/ to find out exactly how the site ranks in Google, Yahoo and MSN for it’s targeted phrase.

Linkage Data
Before you buy a site you will need to find out exactly what is happening in terms of who links to the site, and who the site links out to. Use Aaron Wall’s excellent LinkHounds or WeBuildPages’s Neat-O backlink tool to find out who is linking to the site. LinkHounds uses Yahoo and MSN to find who links to your site, or to an individual page within your site. Do not rely on Google to find inbound links for a site, they only show a sample of links that they know of.

Here’s a few things to look out for with regards inbound links.

  • Ask the seller if they currently have any paid backlinks.
    • If so, how much do they cost?
    • How long have they been up?
    • Where are they linking from?
  • Is the site linked from DMOZ or the Yahoo directory?
    • A link from either, or both is desirable.
    • If linked from Yahoo, was it included before the subscription model was introduced? If not, when is the due date for the next payment?
  • Is it linked from other good directories?
    • Has it been added to GoGuides, JoeAnt, Skaffe, BOTW?
  • Does the site have any backlinks from authorities?
    • Look for .edu / .gov / . ac.uk links.
  • How many reciprocal links does the site have?
    • Will they will stay up after the sale (if from the seller’s network)?
    • Do the reciprocals come from highly relevant sites?
    • Does the seller have a monthly arrangement with a link builder?
    • Is the site a member of any link networks?
    • If so, how would leaving the network affect ranking?

The linkage data is one of the most critical elements of a site because this is what will make you the money in the month’s ahead – without a good foundation of links a site cannot rank well for competitive terms. You will also want to carefully weigh up the site’s linkage data. What we have seen with the Google Jagger Update is many sites vanishing because of a reliance on reciprocal links. Ideally the site you wish to purchase has an established network of links to both the home page and deep pages from topic hubs, directories, blogs and authorities.

Alternative Traffic Sources
Aside from getting organic traffic from search engines, directories and links from individual sites you will need to find out if the seller uses PPC campaigns to drive traffic. You will find that many affiliates drive traffic to their sites by paying for cheap clicks using AdWords or Overture Yahoo Search Marketing. If the site does get a proportion of traffic from PPC, then there are a few questions you need to find answers to.

  • What is the monthly spend on PPC?
  • What is the ROI on PPC traffic?
  • Did / could the site perform well without PPC traffic?
  • If the site only gets paid traffic, is it worth the asking price?

While many sites are highly profitable even after paying for their traffic, you will need to ask yourself if this fits with your current financial situation. Would you be prepared to pay for your traffic? While this sounds crazy to some, there are significant benefits to this model.

  • Much less reliance on organic search ranking – the site is less affected by index updates.
  • You can control exactly what you want to spend and model targets around that.
  • By not relying on free organic search traffic you can plan ahead with confidence.
  • When your site does rank for it’s targeted phrases, the extra traffic will be a bonus.

Establishing Proof Of Revenue
If the site makes money you will want proof of how much it actually makes. This is specially important given the fact that most sellers base their asking price on how much the site makes per month. Typically a site will sell for between 10 – 12 times it’s monthly net profit. In an ideal world you could get access to the seller’s AdSense or Chitika account, but as this would give away what other niches they are playing in this practice tends to rarely occur.

The best way to ascertain the nt profit is to have the seller take screenshots of his AdSense / Chitika / affiliate account. Make sure that you are supplied with the channel stats for at least the last few months. If you are involved in a large sale, then you may be asked to sign an NDA in order to view more sensitive data pertaining to the website.

Why Is The Site For Sale?
Ask the seller exactly why the site is for sale and make sure you get a clear and unequivocal answer. If there is any hint of something being hidden then take a step back and keep asking questions until you are either satisfied with the truth or are no longer interested. Make sure you find out exactly why the site is for sale so that you don’t get caught up in an existing argument, such as a legal issue regarding content copyright. It also helps to search for posts by the sellers user name on forums such as Digital Point, SitePoint, WebmasterWorld or SearchEngineWatch.

Payment
Once you have been satisfied that the site is legitimate then you need to agree on payment terms. Many sellers will be happy to take PayPal on smaller sales, but larger transactions are probably best dealt through a third party escrow service. The usual timeline for the transaction itself looks something like this, but of course is subject to flexibility depending on your circumstances.

  1. Price agreed.
  2. Seller tranfers the domain.
  3. Buyer sends payment.
  4. Seller receives payment.
  5. Seller emails buyer a zipped archive of files, or;
  6. Sets up the database on your server.
  7. New owner updates the nameservers.

After The Sale
It is very easy to just buy a site, transfer it to your server and let it sit for a while without doing anything to it. Just do not forget to change your affiliate id or AdSense publisher id, otherwise you could have paid for the site but the ex-owner is still making the money from it!

It is debatable whether you should update your whois information because some say that changing the whois may possibly result in the site being sandboxed. In the past I have had no problem changing the whois but I have always been careful about changing the site’s content, as should you. Do not think that you can buy an established site on baby food, then whack up a lot of AdSense optimized articles on debt consolidation and credit problems without running the gauntlet.

So there you have it – how to buy a website. If you have any suggestions please drop a comment and I’ll factor them into the article. :)

4 thoughts on “How To Buy A Website

  1. Pacerfan

    Great article Andy … I really enjoyed it. The article especially hit home for me because I have been looking for established sites (prior to 2003) in certain niches for the past three months. I finally found a good fit and closed the transaction two weeks ago. Prior to doing so, I did not take into account the WHOIS information raising any flags at Google. When the transaction was complete, the former owner of the site updated the WHOIS information and provided me the login to the Network Solutions account (after resetting the username and password).

    The site is generating traffic primarily from Google at the moment, but does not show up on page #1 for any of the top keywords (never been optimized for search engines). The site also is a disaster when it comes to converting traffic (sell fashion related items via Yahoo Store) due to a terrible layout and outdated design. To combat this, I hired a firm who specializes in Yahoo store SEO and layout to give the site a facelift (new layout/design and content for SEO). In addition, we are adding over 400 new products to the store because we are using a different supplier. This means over 400 new static HTML pages will be created by the Yahoo store. The new site is set to roll out on Friday. After reading Jim’s blog and your article, I am very concerned that the site is going to get sandboxed for my actions.

    Do you feel that my concern is warranted? Should I reconsider the rollout on Friday? I would really appreciate any insight you may be able to share on this topic.

  2. Andy Post author

    Hi Pacerfan … changing the Whois information alone should not drop your site in the sandbox. However, changing your Whois, changing the entire structure / theme of your site plus adding a load of new inbound links would probably drop you back in there.

    But from what you say, it simply looks like you’re going to structure the content of your site to make it more accessible. You may be adding new content, but it is still on the same theme as what is already there. You’re still using Yahoo! Stores, so I assume your IP addresses / nameservers will stay constant.

    I cannot emphasize how much it would benefit you to 301 (permanently redirect) any old content to the new content.

    What’s the site address?

  3. JP Richards

    Hello Andy,

    Great post. Thank you for elaborating on Jim’s posting.

    What I’m truly interested in is

    “How to FIND a Quality Old Website”

    How would you conduct your research in finding these websites that have SEO potential and are abandoned?

    I’m looking for a Marketing Company website that has been abandoned, that is older than 2 years. Any suggestions?

    Warmly,

    JP

  4. paul

    Andy, These are some great tips on buying websites. I have found that if I take the time to do my homework, it can be very rewarding.
    I found a few sites to buy on dnforum and namepros. I just finished a site to compile listings from sources around the web. You can check out the site at:
    http://www.siteviper.com

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