If you are looking to purchase or invest in a website, you’ll need to do some background checks first. A site that looks good on the outside, may have some nasty surprises lurking in the code. Any web traffic or sales figures need to be analyzed and validated, and you’ll need to decide whether you’re the right person to take on the challenge of being a webmaster.
Here is what you need to check up on when buying a website, and how to do it yourself.
Background checks & motivators
Why are they selling now?
Seems obvious, but it’s an important question to ask!
Is this a bad time to be an owner of a site like this? Is there a big competitor out there, ready to swallow up the niche?
Understanding the seller’s experience of managing the site is also key to determining whether you would like to take it on yourself.
If you get a feeling that there is something funny going on behind the website sale, you may want to dig deeper into the site’s history and the seller’s background. Someone who is routinely buying up and selling websites could be the sign of a shady operation.
Get access to their data
To really understand a website, you will need access to their analytics data. It’s an important step towards understanding the website better and can help put your mind at ease. It’s also a great opportunity to scout out any future opportunities.
All this background data is what makes the website into an asset that’s worth selling, so it’s in the seller’s interest to highlight these things to you.
Customer sign-ups and data, as well as newsletter lists, should be part of the site sale. Building a community from the ground up without any previous site data is a tough ask.
Some website marketplaces do hook up with sales dashboards automatically (like this one), whereas others are managed by neutral third-party brokers (like FE International), but never take a listing at face value. After all, it’s a piece of PR that’s designed to get you buying.
WordPress sites can be notorious for looking great on the outside but having deep problems lurking inside. Don’t take a website at face value, and spend time looking into the backend code of the website to ensure that the website is on secure ground.
If the development of the site isn’t what it should be, it’s probably a good idea to speak to a developer to see what they think. Especially if you have long-term plans for the site, a bad technical environment may hold you back and be extremely costly.
A few things to check:
- Theme & customization.
Test out the site for yourself, and get others to do so too. It’s the best way to actually see the product and website in action.
Try out any different functions like live chat, ordering product, submitting a contact form etc.
You can really get under the hood of the business this way, and identify any changes you’d need to make to the sales funnel or customer journey. This way, you will see the site ‘as it is’, not as it appears during a sales pitch.
Speak to the community
You have to be careful here, but getting in touch with fans and members of the website community (including past customers) is an important step. Hearing directly from people how they found the site and what their experiences of using it were, will give you an idea of the brand’s overall reputation.
A website that has no sense of community, and little engagement, is obviously less valuable than a site that’s already built up valuable social proof. Social listening tools can help you find out more about the site’s historic, and current, social reputation.
Organic search is one of the best ways to evaluate a site’s true worth and value. Not knowing the full SEO picture will massively put you on the backfoot commercially when you take the site over. Conducting SEO audits using a variety of tools is an important step, and the key to understanding the niche you’re about to take on.
Here are some SEO basics you’ll want to cover:
- Keywords in Google — this is a very important marker of how well the website is doing from a search perspective
- Country-specific results — look into how well the site is performing across the globe. Is there potential for a new market there?
- What are the top keywords in positions 1-5? Make sure the site has ranking potential for big, commercially important keywords
- Trends & forecasting data from Google Trends and other tools can help you predict the future search landscape
- Backlinks: anything toxic has the potential of bringing the site down. Avoid low trust flow sites with signs of automated link building.
Taking on a site is a big task.
If this is just a side hustle for you, can you really do the website justice? Have you got the right resources and expertise to take on this new challenge?
Branding and marketing collateral are expensive, and you can easily sink money into logo designs, custom theme features, and fancy brand lookbooks. Be mindful of fronting too much budget before you start getting any real money in.
Are you interested in scaling the business in the future? It’s a good idea to have a savvy growth plan so as not to be surprised by your own success, or be sat there twiddling your thumbs.
Dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s
Time to get technical about buying a website. A few key points to remember:
- Financial security — be very careful about how you transfer money, and keep records of any payments you make
- Staffing and supplier contracts need to be transferred over in plenty of time so that you can hit the ground running, and not spend months buried in needless paperwork
- Asset transfer: designs, themes, hosting, legalities — all these need to be transferred into your name. Rather than create brand new accounts, you want to hold onto the old ones that have a support and service history.
Buying a website is a savvy business investment, but just because it’s online, doesn’t mean you can get lax about security. Some big sites sell for thousands of dollars. It’s big business, and you need to have your wits about you before dipping your toes in.
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