1.7 Billion. That’s the estimated number of websites that are online in 2021. Of course, this number fluctuates daily with many websites going offline and new ones going live.
Websites that make money fall into several categories such as SaaS, Ecommerce, social networks, blogs, and other types of businesses.
Some are for sale on Flippa.
Several websites are new, while others are established, profitable, and set up to acquire customers. You might even find some with payment and list-building integrations, automated funnels, SMS, and other features.
So while there are a whole host of things you need to do when evaluating online businesses, you should always commit to auditing a website when you already have a high level of confidence that you want to purchase the business.
The audit process we’ll be running you through is a general temperature check on the SEO health of a site. It can take up to an hour or even more – depending on the complexity of the website and how much you want to know.
Let’s dive in.
Why audit a website before you decide whether to buy it?
When buying a car, you need to ensure it runs, the tires are inflated and everything under the hood works. A website forms part of the investment you make, so you need to do your due diligence and an audit to:
- Confirm whether the website works as described.
- Find out what the website/ business is worth (as part of due diligence).
- Check the SEO potential of the website.
- Estimate how much work must be done for the website to perform optimally — and at what cost.
So when checking out websites and businesses, information such as current organic search performance doesn’t tell you enough — just as a car’s previous mileage is not a reliable predictor of whether it runs.
How to audit a website for marketing and SEO friendliness in 10 steps
You don’t need to be a digital marketing or SEO wiz to audit a website. After all, anyone can kick tires and check for warning lights on a car’s dashboard to get a general indication of how the car is going.
Similarly, this guide will not help you do a full SEO audit: it will just show you which key elements to check because they have the highest SEO, marketing, and budgetary implications.
Step 1: Find out the website’s CMS
The first thing to do is understand the website that you are checking out. What content management system does it use? And is it a system that you can use or will you need to employ another person to help you? At what cost?
A content management system, abbreviated as CMS, is software that simplifies website management for non-technical users. Users can easily create, manage, and modify content on a website without writing a line of code. Examples of CMS software include WordPress, Shopify, Wix, Magento, Drupal, and Joomla.
Popular CMS software are easy to manage since there are lots of templates, plugins, and cheap labor to run them and implement changes.
Niche and custom CMS software may offer more efficiency and security for specific types of businesses or functions. But you might find it expensive to make improvements, hire help, or scale.
You can use whatcms.org (free) or builtwith.com (free and paid) to know what CMS a website uses.
Go to either of those websites and type the website URL in their search bar and press “Enter”.
Besides the CMS, you can check out the hosting provider, theme, and technology profile by clicking on the respective tabs and then typing in the website URL on the search bar. Technology profiles can include information like the marketing AI tools being used, integrations, and programming frameworks.
Also, check out the website hosting. Some hosting sites may have restrictions that make it hard to scale. For instance, some hosting sites force you to use their own SSLs which cost way above the average market rates.
Such factors may mean that you want to migrate the website after purchase because long-term costs become unreasonable. But migrating a complex website is also a costly affair.
Step 2: Marketing tools and integrations
Find out if the website has integrations that enable marketing. You can also find this information on Builtwith.com.
For instance, some websites may have inbuilt or external marketing tools such as CRMs, chatbot integrations, email marketing, funnel automation, sign-up forms, heatmap tracking, and conversion tracking already set up. The upside is that such websites are a marketer’s dream because they are campaign-ready — users can measure and optimize campaigns out of the box.
If the integrated tools come with subscription fees, it can be a downside. Especially where there are cheaper alternatives.
Also, if the tech stack is not something you or your techies are familiar with, you might need additional resources like getting a new person to help.
Step 3: Evaluate the user experience
With over 1.7 billion websites competing online, a website needs to give users a smooth experience.
Users today are spoilt for choice — they are quick to leave mazy and finicky websites and go to better-built, easy-to-use alternatives.
Find out if visitors to the website on sale can easily find and accomplish what they need. The main pillars of a good user experience are speed, accessibility, and mobile-friendliness.
Google’s page speed insights not only show you how pages are performing but also what to do.
Notice that you can check the page speeds both on mobile and desktop. Do both as Google ranks mobile and desktop pages separately.
The next thing to do is a visual eye test of the website. Do “call to action” buttons have sufficient contrast? Are they large enough for everyone to use?
Finally, ask the seller for access to Google Search Console and check out the page experience and mobile usability reports.
Step 4: Find out if the website has been penalized
While still in Google Search Console, check if Google has taken any manual actions against the website. Manual actions are where someone at Google looks at a website, deems that it violates webmaster quality guidelines, and imposes penalties.
Most manual actions will only affect a specific page, and might not even affect rankings. An easy way to check is to look at search rankings and organic traffic of affected pages before the manual action. Then compare that data with performance since the manual action.
Some manual actions can condemn the website to poor search rankings because fixes take longer. For instance, manual actions as a result of link schemes, manipulative links, and deceptive link practices.
Step 5: Evaluate the website architecture
Website architecture refers to how information is organized and prioritized on the website. Important information should be 0 clicks away from the homepage.
What the business does and who it serves should be details that a visitor finds as soon as they reach a website.
More specific information might be a click away from the homepage. Information should not be more than 5 clicks away from the homepage. When users have to go through many steps to reach content, they are likely to give up halfway and check out competitor websites.
A website with poor website architecture will require some future redesigns, which means higher costs.
Step 6: Check for crawlability and Indexing issues
Google and other search engines need permission to crawl and index or “know and memorize” a website. Search engines will only show websites that have been crawled and indexed.
There are several ways to check if a site has been indexed.
The first simple way is to type: “Site:Website” on the Google search bar e.g Site:byjessicala.com. Once you search that on Google, it returns results of all indexed pages on byjessicala.com and the respective meta descriptions. You can cross-check the results against the submitted XML sitemap.
Not all pages should be indexed by search engines. So when checking out the report, look out for pages that should be showing on search engine results but have indexing and crawlability issues. Those are the ones that will need fixing.
Step 7: Check HTTP issues
Search engines prefer HTTPS over HTTP. As a matter of fact, Google treats it as a major ranking factor.
HTTP websites communicate with servers in plain text, so hackers can easily steal data if they access the network. HTTPS websites use encryption, so even if hackers access the network and see the data, they still need to decrypt it.
Decryption in this case is a hard, almost impossible task. That is why HTTPS websites are more secure, and why Google insists on HTTPS websites.
Besides the HTTPS issues, you also need to check if there are any HTTP errors that prevent users from finding pages. These include 4xx and 5xx HTTP errors.
When a page has a 4xx or 5xx error, it means users cannot access it. You’ve probably experienced situations where you click a link and such a page appears:
Pages with such errors can cause far-reaching consequences especially if they are interlinked with other pages on the website. For instance, if the “contact us” or “buy now” page returns a 5xx or 4xx error, then that could mean lost revenue opportunities.
Also, every page that links to 4xx or 5xx pages will also have a broken link. You can find these errors on the coverage report on Google Search Console.
Step 8: Explore the implementation of structured data and tags
Now it’s time to find out if the website has meta tags, structured data, and open graph elements.
Structured data and HTML tags help search engines understand more about website pages. They also help users learn more about web page content from search results or social media.
When users understand what a page is about, they are more likely to visit the said page, and so the website will receive more visitors. You can check the implementation of structured data using Google’s structured data helper.
If the website does not have the capabilities to allow tags and structured data, then it requires some work before it can compete effectively for organic traffic.
Step 9: Audit the content
All website efforts work together to deliver content that will help generate leads and ultimately sales. So you need to focus on available content as you conclude your SEO audit. Content should speak to customers.
Make-believe that you are a customer and go through the content. See if it achieves its objective. Then delve deeper using a plagiarism checker or AI-generated writing tools to improve the content.
Step 10: Take into consideration the website’s domain ranking and backlink profile
Taking into consideration the website’s domain ranking and backlink profile is also an important step in the auditing process. Domain rating (measured as Domain Authority – Moz and Domain Rating – Ahrefs) is an indicator of how well a site ranks in search engines.
These scores are typically measured on a scale of 0-100, with 0 being a low authority site and 100 being a high one. You can check out a site’s Domain Authority on Moz and Domain Ratings on Ahrefs.
It’s also important to note the quality of the backlink profile which provides an assessment of the incoming links that are being sent to that particular site. Having a majority of spammy links linking to the site is generally something to question as it affects the site’s ability to rank and its trustworthiness in Google’s eyes. You’d typically need tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and SemRush to really dive deep into this.
When you take the time to audit the website and understand its marketing and SEO credentials, it becomes easier to decide whether to buy or not.
And if you choose to buy, you have a clearer idea of what it will take to generate leads and sales.
Sellers on Flippa are friendly, and they will often give you more details about sales, revenue, and competitors when available. Here is an article that shares 20 questions you need to ask a seller when buying a website and you can find more SEO tips here.