Buying a website rather than building one from scratch can help you earn a decent income monthly and continue to drive traffic to your website — from Google, social, and other sources.

You really can’t put a price tag on sustainable organic traffic and ranking, monthly earnings, and customer goodwill that come from buying the right website. 

According to James Morrish, “acquiring an existing website helps you acquire and leverage existing assets.”

But buying a website is risky. Of course, you don’t expect it to be all rosy and sweet. Do you?

You should never make a hasty decision to buy a website. No matter how good the website seems, do your due diligence to be sure your investment will be worth it.

In this article, I’ll share 7 proven ways to weed out bad sites.

1. A Declining Website

If a website is ‘down’ and needs some quick fixes to become a profitable asset, by all means, work your magic. When talking about a declining website, I’m referring to a decline that has happened over a period of time (say 4 months straight).

Image of graph shows website traffic declining.

If a website is declining fast and consistently, I’d recommend you let it be.

I believe a declining site is one where the traffic and/or income continues to decline month over month. The decline might be connected to a recent Google update or low-quality pages that lost ranking positions on Google.

There’s so much work to do to successfully reverse a declining website. Because, in most cases, you may not even be aware of what’s happening to the site. That’s a worse state.

Rather than spending money, adding new content, improving existing content, and doing all manner of site audits to ‘attempt’ to fix a declining website, you can channel the same effort on a site trending upwards, and achieve a dramatic increase in organic traffic and revenue.

2. No Comprehensive Traffic Analytics 

Every online marketer knows the importance of analytics. If you have a website, the first step you take is to add a Google Analytics code to track your traffic.

Tracking website traffic through Google Analytics (which is recommended) is so important to understanding a website. If tracking is not installed you should seriously consider passing on the site.

Image shows example of Google Analytics page.

A site might genuinely have a ton of traffic coming from Google, social media, direct, and even paid ads, but if you can’t effectively verify this traffic with Google Analytics (or Clicky), why take the risk?

You might consider moving on.

However, if you’re truly interested in the website, I would suggest asking the seller/broker to add Google Analytics code to the site in order to track it it for 30 days. After all, it’s better to have some data than none.

If a deal is struck, and you’re happy with the 30-day traffic statistics, consider buying the site.

3. The Site Generates Traffic from a Handful of Keywords

If a site has 100 pages, for example, but 64% or more of its organic traffic comes from a handful of the target keywords, that’s a big problem.

Of course, not all keywords are created equal. Some keywords will generate tons of traffic while others will just sit and collect dust. You want to look out for pages that rank for several variations of the main keyword.

Images of a graph shows example of average number of keywords that Top20 ranking pages "also rank for" (in Top10).

However, if out of 100 pages, only 10 – 15 pages are ranking for their target keywords, you might consider passing on these sites. 

There’s no rule of thumb or a standard number of pages that should rank for their target keywords. The goal should be to have more pages ranking, and the more keywords are showing up high on Google search results, the better.

On the flip side, most websites that cost less than $30,000 usually have fewer pages that are bringing in the bulk of the traffic. 

While you should keep this in mind, don’t be in a hurry to pay for a site that only ranks for 3 – 10 pages. What this means is you’ll have to wait a long time for Google to start ranking that site for other related keywords.

4. Buying a Site Outside of Your Expertise

A few years ago I bought an eCommerce website built on Shopify.

The site was old and had great rankings for some commercial keywords in the niche. It seemed like a good deal, but it was a perfect candidate for a failure. Here’s why:

I had never run and eCommerce site before. 

I got tired of working on the site and managing all of the headaches that comes with an eCommerce business model. One seller even reported how FBA destroyed his sales. 

Image shows graph of decreased eCommerce sales.

I eventually sold the website for a loss. I was too ambitious, but that venture was a failure because I invested in a business that I had no prior knowledge about.

Sadly, I see a lot of entrepreneurs and buyers make this mistake repeatedly. They seem to leave their expertise to ‘explore’ new terrains when what I suggest they do is be smart about their ventures and replicate the same success everywhere.

When looking to buy a website, stick with what you know. If you’re skilled in content, then invest in content sites that you’re passionate about — or at least, have some interest in.

If you’re not experienced with Amazon affiliate sites, just because it’s a good site doesn’t mean it’s for you. Don’t be cajoled or buy out of impulse. 

Think it through — do you have the skills and experience to sustain the traffic and income of the site? Can you grow the site? 

5. Buying a Site That Has Been Badly Hit by the Latest Google Update 

I have been in this game for long enough to know that Google updates are scary. No one is immune to them. Even if you play your cards right, you may still be hit.

Image shows graph of decreased google traffic.

You’ll probably see dozens of websites being listed for sale shortly after a Google update. Just because there’s increased supply, probably for a reduced sale price, doesn’t mean you should be buying.

After a Google update, you might need to step back and watch your existing websites. It might not be the right time to invest in a new website. 

These ‘hit’ websites might be cheaper at this time, but don’t make decisions with your head (use your heart instead).

You can’t tell how the site will perform over the next few months. 

There are times when sites that have been hit will perform great in terms of traffic and revenue during the holiday season. For example, in December, since most sites do well during the shopping season.

But keep an eye on these sites, because they would most likely still underperform compared to the previous month, even though December’s high performance contributed to the sudden boost in traffic and revenue.

6. Buying a Site With ‘Direct Traffic’ Only

I usually avoid sites that generate most of their traffic from direct sources. From experience, direct visits can be faked or manipulated. But organic traffic is hard to manipulate.

Direct traffic isn’t bad — but it should be supported mainly by organic traffic from Google. Even if the site seems legit and high-quality, it’s hard to verify the authenticity of the direct visits.

It’s pretty easy to verify organic traffic by looking at the site’s rankings. Search traffic can be verified by checking the levels of engagement of their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Even if you can verify the direct traffic, there can still be a risk. You need to consider what was driving the direct traffic and how you sustain it once you take over the site? For example, the site owner may be an influencer with a huge social following which you won’t have access to once you take over. 

When the site is sold, the responsibility of sustaining and growing the traffic/revenue becomes yours. You need to understand exactly where traffic and revenue was coming from and what your plan is to maintain and grow this once you take over.

7. No Definite Site Transition Plan

Before you buy a website, make sure there’s a plan in place to effectively transfer the site from the seller to you. If there’s no concrete transition plan, move on.

Don’t assume that “everything” will miraculously fall in place. Plan even before you send funds.

Keep these ideas in mind when planning a site transition:

  • What accounts does the seller have that you have to set up?
  • What are the requirements for setting up these accounts?
  • Which assets from the seller need to be transferred (domain names, inventory, content, historical records, etc.)
  • When will the transition take place (immediately after you pay or after a few days)?
  • Is there a transition and post-site training session with the seller?

Conclusion 

There are many nuances to buying a website instead of building one. Due diligence can take time and will lead you down many paths. 

Often, two buyers will have different preferences for what they look for in a website. What I see as valuable in a site (e.g., new articles that haven’t ranked yet) might not matter to another buyer who is more interested in the current revenue of the site. 

So when you are hunting for your next site to buy ask yourself “what is the value of this site to me?”

Mohit Tater

Mohit Tater is the founder of BlackBook Investments. He bought his first website on Flippa in 2012 and has been building, buying, and selling websites since then. He has made website investing more accessible to everyone through his company BlackBook and works with investors to find, buy, and operate content sites, making it completely hands-off for them. Find him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.