What to look for in a website you want to buy

Aiming highI was asked a question on Marketing Chat the other day and it probably deserves a post, what would I normally look for or do when I found a website that I wanted to buy that earned it’s income mainly from Adsense? Keep in mind I have only learnt from my own mistakes so those lessons that cost me time and money could hopefully save you some. These things are easier to do with an example site so I’ll use TattooFonts.net which I have mentioned as a minisite I own in the past.

Initial homework
Google the domain name - make sure it ranks preferably No.1 for the domain name, so if the domain was TattooFonts.net I would google “tattoofonts” as one word and expect it to rank well - just to make sure there are no penalties like the recent ‘John Chow’ debacle.

Google the main competitive terms the site should rank for, looking for top 20 results or with potential so for this example things like “tattoo fonts” “tattoo writing” “tattoo text” should bring the site up, if it ranks top then less room for improvement but all good research.

Google the URL, so this time you are looking for sites that specifically mention the site, if popular sites have been slagging of the website or calling it out for something you’ll likely see it in the top 50 results so I would usually search through to make sure references to the site were friendly.

Communicating with the owner
We are going to need stats, unique visitor numbers etc so ask if a stat program like Google Analytics is installed - if so they  can add your email address so you get user access just to view the traffic details. I always prefer real stats if possible as you can then make your own assumptions as to earnings as long as the traffic is real. If not Analytics then something like Extremetracking offer public stats that you can both access rather than screenshots - even if its just installed for a few days to confirm things.

Check the referrer data for the domain

Traffic Sources

So with this site it is clear the owner is sending some traffic through from their own network, Tattoos-By-Design.co.uk is sending almost 15% of the traffic, so always check to see if there are any traffic sources that are likely to stop or discontinue, if so then you need to make sure this is reflected in the asking price or an agreement is come to that continues it.

2nd biggest concern is the country of origin for the traffic, is it from a country that you know you can monetise, always check which countries make up the bulk of the traffic.

For Adsense ask for screenshots - preferably full screenshots, this is not on a public forum so ideally it’s good to get page impressions & CTR data and you can always compare this to your traffic data to make sure it correlates for continuity, after all it is easy to add a few channels together and give false Adsense data.

Check the Adsense code used on the site by viewing the source code. Premium publishers can sometimes use keywords & suggestions if they ever have problems with relevancy - this could help the previous owner but if you bought the website you may not be able to replicate the adsense earnings if your relevancy suffered.

Domain transfer
Lookup the whois data and email the contact email address for the domain.
Sometimes people have partnerships or fall out and sometimes people try and sell things they don’t even own! By sending an email to the whois contact you can confirm that the person with authority to sell the domain is the person you are speaking to.

Has the domain moved or been updated within the last 60 days, it is often the case that if a domains details have been updated or if the domain has moved the registrar puts a 60 day lock on the domain meaning it cannot transfer out. You may then have to create an account at that registrar that you didn’t want so the domain can be pushed, you would then have to keep a note and possibly wait until the 60 days is up and then move the domain at a later date to your preferred registrar.

Hosting requirements
Does the site need php, 1,2 or maybe 3 mysql databases and how much bandwidth does it use, best be aware up front and make sure you can arrange hosting, can the seller move the website for you? Often possible, do they need phpmyadmin installed or any special requirements?

I have also found that small requirements can screw up a hosting changeover, things that sellers forget to tell you are needed, especially with older scripts so things like fopen or Register_Globals so if you are buying a website based on a script try and get from either the seller or the source of the script the readme/installation file. This should let you know what is involved and needed hosting wise and you can check with your current setup.

As important as any other topic so don’t shy away from it, I prefer to use a personal credit card for purchases as it offers some sort of security for goods bought online that are not delivered from what I have been told.

Escrow.com - you can use a 3rd party Escrow service for security for the seller & buyer so pay Escrow the money - receive the goods, confirm receipt and then Escrow pay the seller, if using an Escrow service then agree up front who pays the fees or whether you will split the fees 50/50.

I think that covers most of the main areas of concern, any comments or additions to the list above are always welcome.

About Scott Jones

Scott hails from the north east of Scotland and started earning online at the end of 2000 building websites for local businesses during which time he won an award from Lord Alan Sugar for Excellence in Enterprise. After having quite a bit of success with domaining Scott mainly runs educational evergreen websites which generate over 3 million visitors per month but is always on the lookout for a fresh thinking out of the box way to turn a buck. Follow on Twitter.


  1. Interesting and valid point about traffic from a network of sites. This could be done to boost traffic to increase it’s potential value, then once the sale has gone through that traffic source could be switched off.

  2. Thanks as allways another tip learned 🙂

    “Google the URL” I have done this from time to time but not in this context, the results are also extremly interesting for checking out competitors 🙂 thanks

  3. Is it normal for a large % of traffic to come from the USA?

    Also would you recommend paypal for large sum transfers?

    overall thanks for the excellent post

    • Usually with a wide ranging & non geo topic as the USA has such a large amount of people online, in percentage terms to countries in Europe etc so quite normal.

      I recommen Escrow.com for large amounts, for smaller amounts I use Paypal but with a registered credit card through paypal so that in the event of non receipt you can file a claim through your credit card &/or Paypal.

      • How easy is escrow.com to use?

        is it as easy as paypal?

        Also do they really sort payment issues like paypal does?

        what about there fees? is it more or less than paypal?

        • Pretty straight forward - you can pay by credit card or bank transfer to them, as soon as they have the money they tell the seller to pass over the goods, once you have teh goods you inform Escrow and they release the funds to the seller. Nice and methodical and safe so the seller does not get the money until you have the domain/website.

  4. Often I run queries as well to see how many linking sites come from .edu domains (big bonus).

    And I also check the social network sites, digg, technorati, etc. to see what kind of exposure they have received from their visitor base.

  5. Great Post. I have googled the URL before but never thought about checking for animosity from somewhere. Now if I could just find a site I like and can afford.

  6. For example when I want to acces Escrow I get a message : Your access to Escrow.com has been denied.

    I think is something related to my IP, or something like this, so I can’t use this service. Can you recommend me other services like Escrow ?


  7. For some of the most important due diligence checks (and tools to do them) you may want to visit experienced-people.co.uk/1058-due-diligence/

  8. I have been using google analytics for a short time now and it has been very confusing I must say, it shows my visits going up to 5 or 10 then going to 0 for a week. It does not match the analytics I have from the hosting company with actual source links (over 400 google references in the last week). So I am trying to figure out if the wordpress plugin might have an issue, or if analytics is looking for something different. Very strange.

  9. I have just started using analytics myself on a few sites and I must say I’m not to impressed. I’ve had site monitors that do all these functions before some even better.

    For instance on an ecommerce site, I could not track a specific visitor process through my site that had placed an order. I wanted to see where the hit orignated from that placed the order, keyword, and what pages they viewed.

    Now I could see the IP of the visitor in my order log so I figured I would write that down, go back to analytics, and try and track via IP. I came to find out Analytics won’t let you track by IP because of “privacy issues” so there went that idea Ha.

    Rob’s last blog post..The Choice

  10. Google analytics needs some learning, but once you do learn it you’ll find it very useful. It is a really good tool, especially being a free tool.

  11. Yahoo run a good analytics site as well - it’s very helpful. Excellent tips!!

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