Following is a checklist with some points to keep in mind when buying a website:
Before you start shopping for a website:
– Before we get to the main part of this checklist, ask yourself: why do I want to buy a website?
Are you buying a website to direct traffic to an existing site, or are you planning on generating income? Define your exact reason for buying the website, so you can easier define your terms later on in the buying process.
– How much are you willing to spend for this kind of website? Is it realistic considering what similar websites are selling for? Would it make more sense to build a new website, instead of buying one?
– If you’re planning on buying a large website with lots of traffic, hire a lawyer to represent your rights. When you spend thousands on a site you need someone who’s on your side. Hire someone who has experience with website purchases within your state and can help guide you through the process and negotiations. Stay away from lawyers who are happy to draw up forms for you, but have no experience in the actual purchasing process.
– Hire an escrow service or agent through which you will run the transaction. Some services that sell websites also offer their own escrow services. Before you sign up, do a search and find out if sellers or purchasers have had issues with that service.
Scrutinize who you’re buying the website from and through:
A sale can be private directly from the owner, or through a lawyer, but there are also many market places and brokerages for purchasing websites. Do a search to see if you can find reviews, how many websites an entity sells, or if the private party, lawyer or company are mentioned in the media in any negative or positive way. Check public records. In other words, do your due diligence when picking a person or service that sells websites and do not skip this part of the checklist. Interview and interact with individuals and potential third parties to get an idea of how they conduct business before you start any shopping or sales process. Scrutinize everyone involved in the sale, including the owner of the site and any third party to the deal.
Find out everything you can about the website:
Once you’ve identified one or more websites you might be interested in, it’s time to do some detective work. This may be the part of this checklist that might involve the most work, but take your time, take notes and don’t skip anything. You may come across some information that will make you reconsider your offering price, or even change your mind about buying the website.
– Start very simply, by visiting all variations of the URL you can think of, for example:
Do you see anything unusual, such as open access to the site files? Or perhaps the site is extremely slow or doesn’t forward correctly? Any error messages? Also Google them to find out about any blacklisting, lawsuits etc. If you find anything of concern, ask the seller about it.
– Go to the main site URL and follow at least 20 to 30 internal links. Do all these links work? Do these links lead to good content or to test, error and garbage content pages? Is the website actually developed as advertised? How do the pages set up in different browsers? How long do the pages take to load?
– See if the other main domains are developed or available for sale. In other words, would you still be interested in buying the .com website, even if the .net version is already developed by someone else? If other popular TLDs are available, buy them.
– Search in Yahoo and Google for site:www.sitename.com How many pages are indexed? Visit the pages, especially the ones at the very bottom of the list.
– Google “www.sitename.com for sale” and see if the site has been advertised elsewhere on the web. Does the info match up? Has the site been sold before? When and for how much? If the website is offered for sale through another website, Google the complete title of the announcement or ad. You may come across the same listing on other sites.
– Check the Whois database and make sure the owner’s info matches up. You should also find out who has owned the domain previously, especially if the current owner hasn’t owned it for very long. It might have been illegally acquired in some way. If there is any doubt, hire an attorney to help you with the research.
– Where is the site hosted? Use a tool like the Netcraft toolbar to easily find out where a website’s server is located and if it has a risk rating. If it’s not hosted in the US, but the owner claims to be in the US, why do they host their website in another country? Maybe because of a free hosting plan, or other reasons you need to know about. Scrutinize!
– Google the owner’s name. Even though you can’t believe everything you read on the web, if the person gets bad reviews or has other questionable info on the web, reconsider the purchase altogether.
– Get proof of ownership and have the owner add something to the code of the website to prove to you that he or she has access. Have them add your own analytics code for a few days for example, so you can check the traffic.
– Check the site on the Wayback Machine, an archive for web pages. How has the website changed over the years and when was it first recorded on there?
– What software is the site using? You need to know what platform the site is using before you buy it. Are there licensing fees?
– Who owns the logo and the design? Does it come with the site, or are there ongoing fees?
– If content is a major factor when buying a site, make sure its unique on the web and not copied off of other sites by using copyscape.com. This service is well worth its price! Make sure the seller owns all copyrights to the content as well and demand that info in writing.
– How many other websites link to the site and are these quality backlinks, or mostly links from scraper sites? Are the back links most likely permanent? Are they placed within content, or only in comments? Are there back links from .edu websites which are considered very valuable? Are they from regular content pages, or only forums?
– Is the website listed in wikipedia.org?
– Where is most of the traffic coming in from? Spam and scraper sites, other countries or a variety of blogs, websites, social media pages, search engines and through the main keywords?
– A high PageRank means the page is well linked to and indexed, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a site or page gets a lot of traffic.
– For smaller websites, generate a free sitemap with tools like xml-sitemap generator to get a better idea of the scope and organization of the website. For larger websites having the actual analytics info is more useful, because it will be easier to analyze it through a program, than having to look at thousands of individual links. In any case, ask to get your own login to view analytics, or to install your own analytics code for at least a few days.
– Run several other website analysis tools, like the ones listed in our free analysis website tools category.
– Don’t just rely on a screen shot of a page in Google Analytics or other analytics program. The page could have been altered. Again, you should request a login to the analytics account to see for yourself. (Google allows adding users with viewing privileges only.) You can also use third party websites to quickly get an idea of how accurate their info is. If a website claims 100,000 unique visitors a month and compete.com shows 10,000, then you know you’re being lied to. Third party websites aren’t as accurate as the actual analytics info, but it should be in the ballpark. A general rule is that the more visitors a website has, the more accurate traffic information on third party analytics services will be. (Check our list of free analytics tools.)
– Does the website have email subscribers? Having a large email list is a great asset to a website. Again, you have to get proof of subscriber lists. If the lists are hosted with a third party provider like Aweber and you’re able to gain access to opening rates and ‘bounces’, that will be your safest bet. Having a large email list is great tool for consistent traffic on the site, because it is independent from organic search traffic.
– Is the current owner paying for traffic? If yes, how much and through what channels?
– What are the main keywords for the website? If the keywords line up with your own goals and the site has been optimized for them, it’s a great advantage to you and a huge time saver.
– Does the website have a recognizable brand? Name recognition is very valuable, however, you still need to be diligent in scrutinizing the site and seller.
– How much does it cost to buy traffic for the main keywords of the website? If the site uses keywords that aren’t popular and there is little competition in bidding for these keywords, the potential to make money through an ad network will be slim. If the site uses high competition keywords (finance, insurance etc.), the potential to make money through advertising will be much higher.
– If the keywords have lots of competition in the search results, it will also be harder to rank high, which means it would be hard to get organic traffic. It would add value to the website, if it already had pages ranking high in the search results for highly competitive keywords.
– Check analytics to see what the search ranking is in other countries. Maybe the website gets most traffic from European countries; then you have to ask yourself if international traffic is useful to you.
How much is it worth?
Once you have a good amount of information on the website you’d like to buy, it’s time to think about the price. How do you know you’re not paying too much for a website? That greatly depends on the purpose you’re buying it for:
– If you’re buying it as an income source, then looking at its current income is of some value. Be sure to scrutinize the integrity of the content (for example use Copyscape to find duplicate articles) and how well you think you’ll be able to monetize it. If you think you can do better, then relying on current sales figures only doesn’t make sense. Also try to find out if current advertisers will likely stay on if website changes ownership.
– If you’re buying the site as a traffic generator for another site for example, current income may not be as important as the ability to attract the right kind of demographic traffic for you.
– Find out how much comparable websites have sold for. Having a precedent can be a great way to estimate what the website you’re looking at would be worth.
– What are other comparable sites selling for currently? How does the site you’re planning on buying compare? Does it have more or less to offer for more or less money? Shop around!
– How old is the domain? Domains that have been around for several years along with a developed website under the same ownership are generally worth more than one that’s only a few months old.
– Is the site topic highly competitive? If you’re considering buying a pet related site that already a good amount of traffic but little income for example, it is still considered very valuable because it would take a great deal of resources and time to create a new site that is comparable in the highly competitive pet niche.
– Which brings us to the next point: How much would it cost to build the site yourself? Is the traffic the site already has and the domain worth the difference?
– Finally, even if you’re mainly interested in the domain, checking the above factors can give your website a head start or stall it, depending on what had been done with the site previously.
Programming, upkeep and cost:
– If the site has any custom back-end programming, the website needs to be tested and the programming and security scrutinized by experienced programmers/developers. It may all look great on the surface, but the programming might be shoddy, possibly without any security measures and you may end up with a website that you’re unable to rely and build upon. If a site uses third party programming, there may be license fees – find out about any fees before you make an offer.
– What does it take to keep the site running day after day? Make sure you and your staff can handle the workload of maintaining and running the site, or plan accordingly.
– Are there any ongoing licensing fees to be paid, for example for content or feeds? What are the current hosting costs?
– Who owns the code, logo and the design? Are there ongoing fees?
– What about all the images used in logo and website design? Are the photos licensed for that use, or have they been randomly downloaded from the internet?
– Does the current site owner have the right to transfer ownership of code and design, or are there any third parties involved?
– How much does the current owner spend on advertising?
– Use the communication channel offered by a selling service if possible. If communicating directly, keep all emails and make sure you use an escrow service. (see next point)
– Use an escrow service for payment. All funds are held by a third party, until both parties sign off on the deal. The service is well worth its price.
– Set up an account with your own domain registrar, and find out what it takes to transfer the domain to your account. There may be restrictions depending on the age of the domain or a previous transfer. Also contact the registrar that the domain is currently registered with and find out their requirements for transferring a domain to a different registrar. This will ensure a smooth transfer.
>> To confirm the registrar of your new domain, check the whois.net database. Do not close the deal until your info shows up in the Whois.net database!<<
– Set up your own hosting asap. The seller might offer a period of free hosting, but to ensure full control, move the whole site to your own chosen hosting company with all your own passwords and billing info.
– Set up a detailed plan for moving the website. Make a comprehensive backup of all databases and page files and keep your own copies, in case something goes wrong with the transfer. Some hosts offer to help with the transfer. Regardless if you do the transfer yourself, or you hire a service, be sure you have backups of all files handy before you start. The seller should have no hand in transferring the website. Just to be sure, once all the files have been moved, change your passwords.
– Get passwords for any backend CMS login like WordPress; also get login info incl. passwords for your ftp, databases, control panel and current hosting accounts.
– Search for and update all affiliate links.
– Update tracking codes. Assuming the site uses analytics software, there will be tracking code. Be sure to replace any code with your own tracking code. (You may want to save old analytics information for your own purposes as well. Analytics programs usually offer an option to download their analytics info in different formats.) Same applies to any ad network code. If you use Google Adsense for example, make sure you replace all ad units with your own code.
– Update content: Comb the site for references to the previous owners and their specific info, like emails, addresses and personal bios. Be sure to update it with your new info.
Once you’ve erased all previous owner’s references and codes, you can start advertising and promoting the website and develop it to your own likes – congratulations!
This checklist for buying a website may have a lot of points to consider, but resist short cuts! Just like any other larger purchases, it pays off to do your research and confirm any information you get independently. In the end all the hard work will pay off and you will get exactly the website you were looking for at a price that’s fair.
If you have any other tips for successfully buying a website, please add them to the comments.