How To Audit A Website Before You Buy It (avoid a bust)

How To Audit A Website Before You Buy It (avoid a bust)

By: Corey Philip
Updated: October 10, 2020

So you’re thinking about buying a website?

I’ve gone down that road myself.

What I found is that many websites for sale are a ticking time bomb waiting to go off (in a bad way). For example here is a traffic estimate from a website that was for sale in 2019. The owner claimed over $10,000 per month in revenue and was valuing it above $600,000.

1 year later the traffic has dropped by 75%. So you’d expect that same drop in revenue. Damn would it suck to pay 600k and then go down to only making 2,500 per month.

Glad I passed on that one.

Recently I decided to stop searching on website for sale marketplaces, and Facebook groups and go to a some listings by brokers. Yes they were at higher multiples but I figured I might find better quality.

I was shocked to see established website brokers pushing these pump and dump websites as well. This was the last line in an email reply to a broker I sent off to one a few days ago on a $1,700,000 affiliate website listing that is sure to crumble in the next year.

To be quite frank, this website seems like a ticking time bomb.  

Note: I call them pump and dump websites because these websites are often started by someone experienced with affiliate marketing, designed to look professional with all the conversion elements, traffic is built fast (and unnaturally, and then they are sold quickly before things come back down to reality.

The objective of this website audit….

Is to ensure you buy a website that will standard the test of time and that the traffic / revenue is sustainable.

This is what I look at when I first get a site listing.

THIS IS NOT A FINANCIAL AUDIT. At this point I am simply looking to see if the claimed numbers are sustainable. If they’re not sustainable, the website is worthless to me.

Tools Required

This does require the use of one paid tool. SEMRUSH (Affiliate link which will get me a little vodka money when you click it, so do click it to help fuel this site and blog posts I write like this..

Duration of Existence

What I am looking for: a website that is more than 3 years old WITHOUT dropping. Now let me clarify, websites below 3 years old, could have some value, but I wouldn’t value the revenue stream very highly.

How to check: Simply Google ‘domain age checker’ and use one of the many tools there. I usually go to the one by SMALLSEOTOOLS.

Content of Existence

What I am looking for: The website has been contained basically the same content through out its entire existence. What you’ll find is that websites may have radically changed content over the years. In some cases I have found a website that belonged to a small business for several years, and then someone put a niche site on it. While those things do happen without mal-intent, it is important to consider the time it has existed with its current content.

How to check: there’s 2 things I do here…

#1 use archive.org to see snapshots of the site over time.

#2 do a google search for ‘site:thewebsiteunder.com’ and then use the tools to see the ssearch results at a prior date.

Steady Traffic Pattern

What I am looking for: a steady pattern of growth in organic traffic without major spikes or drops.

This is important as it reveals the sites stability in search results. Major drops or spikes in a short period of time indicate a possible penalty or blackhat tactics.

How to check: Look at the organic search traffic graphic in SEMRUSH.

Here’s an example from a site I looked at with an asking price of $1,700,000+ that had an odd drop in traffic.

This site wasn’t old enough to have my interest at this price point, but had it been, I would THOROUGHLY research what happened around this period. What as the site like before this? Were any redirects added?

Backlink Profile

Backlinks have a clear correlation to a search engine rankings and organic traffic. Unfortunately marketers exploit this and create a ton of backlinks to a site. This works in the short term, but the creation of non-organic links catches up to a website.

What I am looking: Links from quality sites that have real users. ‘Real users’ is the key. I don’t care what metrics the sites have, as long as they are sites that real people use. On the flip side, I don’t want to see links that comes from spammy sources; ie. sites with a lot of blog comments, non-sensical content, or in foreign languages.

How to check: use the backlinks report in semrush.com.

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Click the links and view the websites. Then use your intuition… are most these links coming for sites frequented by real people?

Expert Tip: I would rather buy a site with no links then a site with spam links.

Everything covered up until this point is a ‘must’ for buying a website. The additional items are uncommon on many websites below $1,000,000. If I am spending around that number or more, I would check for the following…

Community

To stand the test of time, there has to be a community of real engaging users/visitons, not a bunch of one click wonders

How to check: Head to their social profiles and see how much engagement is happening. Are people liking their posts on Facebook / Instagram? Is There a Facebook group? Does the Youtube Channel have subscribers?

Multiple Traffic Sources

Being reliant on Google is a risky bet. It’s less risky when you have a community, backlinks from real websites and a content competitive advantage, but still risky.

Most niche/affiliate sites will be solely Google reliant, but other viable sources are Pinterest, Youtube, and the email list.

How To Check: You’ll need to analyze seller provider data, or ask the seller. Down the road you’ll want to verify that with Google Analytics.

Content Competitive Advantage

Let’s face it… most affiliate and niche sites are nothing for then rehashed reviews. That’s not a competitive advantage… something that is unique and difficult to duplicate.

What I am looking for: Content that is unique, original and difficult to duplicate. This could be through website design and elements. This could also be through content that is experience based or where the products are actually physically reviewed along with custom images and videos generated.

Growth Opportunities & Ideas

Buying a digital business with the plan of just ‘maintaining’ the cashflow stream is a fools game. Yes it does work in offline businesses (although I would still suggest growth efforts), but it the digital world, if you aren’t growing, you’re truely dieing.

Before proceeding onward to do further due diligence, like verifying revenue and expenses, make sure you see an opportunity to grow the business.

Corey Philip
October 10, 2020
Corey Philip

Founder of a home service / specialty trade contracting company (think patio's and deck) with a focus on customer experience. Quantitative investor. Data driven marketer. Runner.