Buying and transferring a website – some tips

The process is simple and will deliver a fast indexed web presence. Here are a few simple guidelines.

We can help you with your due diligence. This should uncover the true value of a site prevent a costly investment in a ‘pup’. The enquiries will include the following checks:

  • Good title to the domain
  • Third party intellectual property claims
  • After sales service
  • Recurring template vs unique design
  • Website history
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Directory submission
  • Hosting arrangements
  • Current advertising costs
  • Trading claims
  • Taking this list line by line

    Good title to the domain

    The person or entity who is selling the site has to actually own the site. Establish the ownership through the registrars and obtain a letter that confirms the ownership in writing. Even if you use a broker or an agent, you would not buy a house from a person who is not the ultimate owner.

    Third party intellectual property claims

    Ownership of creative work may not be as clear cut as many other assets that are offered for sale. The person who designed the site may not (and is rarely) the owner. This means that the text, images, links, articles were all created by someone and they may have retained the copyright. The vendor should be able to prove that the content is free from encumbrance and that no claims will be made for the content. It is of course possible to clean out the existing content and replace it with a shell – but this will remove the keywords, links and images that gave the site its rank.

    After sales support

    What after sales support can you expect? Some vendors will stand by the site in the event of problems and offer support services. For example at Internet Assets Ltd, we will re-design, re-model, repair and support the websites that sites that we sell. Questions to ask may include:- Can I get simple changes made quickly? Can the site be up-graded to work with all browsers? Will my changes reduce the website’s visibility to spiders?

    Recurring template vs unique design

    The vast number of websites for sale, particularly on eBay are attractive domains built on near identical templates to other sites. These sites often have pumped up credentials – rank, traffic, incoming links to support the sale. They may also come with onerous arrangements for hosting or updating the content. A template website is not necessarily a bad thing; it is just that the site structure may have been part of a factory duplication system and designed to be a cookie cutter. It’s a business and it may not matter to you the buyer how the site is constructed but there is value in unique design and content.

    Website history

    Google gives credibility to the age of a site. This is presumably on the basis that a site that has been maintained for many years is a real site and likely to contain what it says in the tags. It is likely that an older site will be ranked higher than a new site, notwithstanding the content or SEO input. This does not mean that a higher page rank is the determining factor in value. It is just that the site will probably perform better in natural search than a lesser ranked site for the same keywords. And in sectors where the competition is high for pay per click, this is a major business cost saving.

    Search engine optimisation

    A site that has been built from scratch with an eye for search engines is often more valuable than a site with the potential for high ranking. This is because the structure, the functionality, the content should all look to present the visitor with the best possible visitor experience and this means good page optimisation. This may not apply if the owner is content to market the site though means other than SEO e.g. email marketing, direct marketing, famous branding, pay per click, above the line advertising, press releases. But these methods can cost a significant amount of money when compared with a (currently) free listing in natural search.

    Directory submission

    There are some trusted directories and a listing on these can be worth a great deal. Formal submission to Yahoo, DMOZ and Google may yield the listing but this normally takes time and in the case of DMOZ is by no means certain. There are thousands of business directories that will list and ‘link back’ but the links have to be followed to be of any value. Most are no-follow links and worthless for ranking.

    Hosting arrangements

    Website domains and the actual files that make up the website are normally transferrable. Moving from one host and site registrar to another should not be presented as a problem. The buyer should be able to move the site or leave it where it is at little cost. Certainly there should be no reason presented to the new owner to tie the site to the current host. Hosting is like any service – you get what you pay for. The servers downtime should be minimal, the file transfer speeds (loading) should be fast, the repairs undertaken fast and the cost competitive. Many sites are hosted for a few dollars or pounds per month. Before rushing to these low cost hosts check the service backup.

    Current advertising costs

    A website may have a vast volume of traffic but how was it generated? A company’s advertising budgets may have covered a wide range of media but it is likely that everything has the website printed on it – from business cards to bill boards. If the site is transferred, will the traffic come with it or was it pumped up with offline advertising. Check the investment in Search Engine Marketing like pay per click, article submission and email marketing to see if the business plan can sustain the expenditure.

    Trading claims

    Trading claims often make up a big part of the pitch for a website. But did the trading come from low cost traffic or was the site drinking profit? It may be that the turnover is quoted as a £x,000 per month but at what cost? This is simple business planning and feasibility but the big numbers beguile. The seller should have audited accounts or trading figures to support the sales data including advertising costs.