While it’s never been cheaper or faster to jump online and build a website of your very own, that is not what we’re talking about here. We’re also not talking about creating a website to support your existing offline business.
In this post, we’re specifically discussing buying an existing online business—comprised of several online assets, including a good domain name, a recognizable brand, a large email list of responsive names, a good social media presence, etc.—for the purpose of growing, maintaining, or in some way profiting from its commercial use.
Gone are the days of guaranteed digital success. The reality today is that the internet offers limitless income potential, but the competition is fierce.
Buying a website can be an effective way to prevent the hurdles online entrepreneurs face when starting from scratch. However, it needs to be approached with the same diligence you’d apply to buy any kind of business.
Here are five things you need to pay attention to if you’re interested in purchasing an existing website for commercial use.
One of the initial considerations is what platform the site is built on
The most popular platforms for commercial and professional sites these days include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, which are actually CMS (Content Management Systems), that have evolved through use and engagement into full-fledged site building platforms with lots of add-on features, design templates, and active support communities.
Identifying and understanding what technology and platform a given website is based on is a crucial step in your decision-making process as it is going to form the basis of several other important factors, such as:
- The need for outside help
- Upfront and ongoing costs
- Access to experts
- Flexibility in optimization, design, and other vital areas
Each platform has its own set of advantages. For instance, WordPress offers tons of useful plugins. If you plan on buying a membership website, then a site built on WordPress could be a great choice.
WordPress enables you to install an All-In-One Membership Plugin that makes it easy to restrict access to your website, to individual pieces of files and content, and even to portions of your pages or posts.
While Joomla may not be as popular as WordPress, many of the biggest and most respected companies in the world, such as Pizza Hut, the Greek Government, the UK Ministry of Defence, and the High Court of Australia use this platform.
You can learn what you need to know and find adequate help online for sites developed on any of these platforms. However, doing so may require various investments of time, energy, and money.
The history of a website has a dramatic impact on its present and future chances of commercial success.
It’s essential to gain access to detailed analytics reports and historical information concerning any website you’re going to buy. If the seller is hesitant to provide such information, take that as a bad sign and walk away.
There are a few factors to consider when reviewing a website’s history and statistics:
Age of the domain: Domains that haven’t been around for a good time can perform poorly in search engines. If you want instant profit, choose a domain that’s at least a year old.
Google penalties: When Google penalizes a domain for black hat SEO tactics or some other reason, it’s very difficult to save it. Make sure the site hasn’t been penalized by Google.
Design and development history: You need to find answers to the following questions: When was the site developed and designed? Who was involved? Has any routine maintenance been done? How much was the development cost and how long did it take?
Growth trends: Has traffic/conversions/ranking etc. grown abnormally or steadily? Steady growth indicates ethical SEO and marketing efforts at work. Unusual peaks and valleys could be a sign of heavy spending on paid advertising, experimentation, or less-than-ethical SEO tactics, all of which you must be aware of.
Does the site have clearly defined target audiences that it’s successfully reaching? If so, do they complement your existing audience?
While content can be changed, links can be established, and keywords can be manipulated, there’s no reasonable way to transplant an already established target audience with another.
For example, look at Tumblr. No matter how much they’d like to make the blogging site appealing to businesses, it still remains an online clubhouse for high-school/college students and fandoms.
SnapChat, on the other hand, is the exception that proves the rule, and not an entirely convincing one at that.
Another factor to consider is how much is involved in running the website as it currently stands.
There are several ways business owners can leverage technology to automate manual processes. However, it’s unlikely you can ever truly “set and forget” an online financial business.
The competition for each search term—and the requirement for differentiation among competitors—is too fierce for that to work.
You need to find out from the current owner how much time they put into running the website and what roles they play. Additionally, identify what work the owner entrusts to workers and freelancers, and how much that costs.
If the owner has some essential skills you lack—say, web copywriting or HTML coding—do the required research to ensure how much it’ll cost to replicate their efforts with hired help.
Also, it’s recommended to make the desired workload part of your decision-making process. Maybe the current owner loves the work and thinks nothing of spending 100 hours per week at it. This doesn’t mean it would be compatible with your work schedule.
And if that’s what it really takes to run the website profitably, then it’s going to cost you a lot more than what it costs the current owner.
Finally, as you would for any other business you might consider purchasing, spend enough time on specific competitive research and general market research of similar websites to the one you’d like to buy.
In some cases, even the most strategically and effectively managed site can simply be outgunned (or, more precisely, outspent) by a bigger or more established individual.
Let’s take a look at Amazon.com as an example: Nearly all Ecommerce websites in the world have to compete with Amazon to some extent.
However, if you’re considering to buy an Ecommerce website specializing in self-published eBooks by independent authors, “compete” wouldn’t even be the right word to use here. You’ll be annihilated by Amazon and their Kindle division.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that an indie author eBook website won’t ever succeed. What it means is that it will have to be clearly differentiated from Amazon.com. With such a focused target audience, Amazon doesn’t quite factor into your market at all.
Unless the current site owner has already accomplished all that, or you’re able to see a very clear path to accomplishing it profitably once the site is yours, it’s probably not the best option for you. Instead, look for an online website that’s more likely to succeed.
Hopefully, this realistic, straightforward approach toward seeking and evaluating websites for sale hasn’t scared you off from the idea.
Buying an established website is a great way to jump into online business as long as it meets the standards set in this article effectively.
After choosing the right website to start with, you’re in a position where you can make a success of online business if you view and manage it like any other business you could be running.