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by Andrew Tonks on 19th March 2012
Establishing an online business can be both an extremely profitable and rewarding endeavour. It can often give you the freedom to work for yourself, a reduced cost to entry and can also be far more profitable than running a physical business, thanks largely to reduced overheads and a far larger reach.
As you can imagine however, the Internet is full of sites selling supposedly established online businesses. A quick search for “Buy an Online Business” brings up 1.6 million results in Google. Whilst there are legitimate business opportunities out there on offer, there also are a fair few people looking to make a quick buck. Often people sell online business that have been set up for the purpose of simply ‘flipping’ it for a profit with no true value actually associated with the site.
If you’re looking to set up an online business for the first time or are considering purchasing an established one, then you need to be confident in the site’s ability to rank favourably in search engines. With this in mind, I have put together some factors you should consider if purchasing an online business:
1. Domain Age
There is much debate as to the importance search engines like Google place on the age of a domain when determining rankings, in my opinion it is a factor but a much over hyped one. This unfortunately is also one of the main points people promote when selling a site. They will often say they have an ‘aged domain’ with a history going back to 1998.
Most often sites that have been around for a few years will naturally have more links than those that have been around for a few months and this is key. What is far more important is not necessarily the age of the domain but the quality and number of links pointing to the domain in question. If a site was first crawled by Google ten years ago, then yes it will have a reasonable history with Google and could have a slight advantage when trying to get the site to rank; but in my opinion, I would rather purchase a site with a few hundred good links that’s only a year old than one that ten years old but has no links whatsoever.
To get Google’s take on this, here’s a video from Matt Cutts on the topic of domain age and rankings:
If you want to quickly check the age of the domain in question I would recommend using Site Strength Indicator – http://www.searchenginenews.com/ssitool/
2. Current Rankings & Black Hat
Now this is probably one of, if not the biggest, factor when deciding whether to buy a site and how much it’s worth. If the site in question is already on page one for a number of competitive and profitable keywords then this would initially seem to suggest the site is an attractive investment. However you need to delve a little deeper into this and establish a few things, in particular how were these rankings were achieved, how long has the site had these rankings and do these keywords actually deliver traffic and sales.
Finding out how the site’s rankings were achieved and for how long they have been up there is critical. If they were achieved by employing Black Hat techniques then it’s quite likely that these rankings will only be temporary and you run the risk of buying a site that could lose its rankings overnight.
Some of the more common Black Hat techniques to look out for include:
1. Hidden text and invisible links
2. Keyword stuffing
3. Duplicate content
4. Link from link farms
5. Useless doorway pages
The above is by no means an exhaustive list, but if any are present on the site then a deeper analysis should be carried out.
3. Duplicate Content
Does the site’s content appear on the Internet on more than one URL? If this is the case then the site’s ability to rank for competitive, profitable keywords will be severely limited. In fact, after the much publicised Panda Updates from Google, it is near enough impossible to get a site to rank favourably with duplicated content. It is therefore vital you establish how unique the site’s content is against anything else included within Google’s index before decided to purchase the site.
How to check for Duplicate Content?
You can quickly establish how unique a piece of content is by copying up to 32 words from a page and searching for it between quotation markets in Google. This will show you all the results available within Google’s index that exactly matches that content.
Ideally you would only want one result to come up in the search result, which will be the page you’ve taken the content from, like so:
Once you’ve established broadly how unique some of the content is you will most probably want to do some deeper analysis, especially if the proposed investment in the site is significant. There are loads of paid and free tools out there that will allow you to run an analysis of the site in it’s entirety but I would recommend going down the paid route and using CopyScape. This will give you a report on the entire site, tell you what has been duplicate, to what extent it’s been duplicated and where you can find all the other duplicated results online.
If at the end of this process you’re seeing loads of the site’s content duplicated all over the place online then, in my opinion, the attractiveness of the site as an investment is severely limited.
4. Current Optimisation Work
You should also be looking to see what extent the site has already been optimised for SEO. If the site is being advertised as being fully optimised for search engines, then you need to run an audit to ensure that at least the following has been carried out:
1. Unique page titles and Meta descriptions focusing on keywords
2. Optimisation of H1 and H2 tags
3. Internal link structure optimised
4. Optimisation of images (alt tags)
5. Technical optimisation (robots.txt file and sitemap.xml files)
If the site does not have the above as a minimum, then I would be sceptical as to the extent of the advertised optimisation work. Also if extensive optimisation work has not been carried out you need to bear in mind you will either have to do it yourself or employ and SEO agency, which will impact any possible profit you might make.
5. Keyword Rich Domains
Again this a much debated topic but in my opinion, the effectiveness of keyword rich domains is greatly over hyped. Just because you have the keywords that you’re trying to rank for in your domain name, doesn’t mean you will rank. In fact, if you’re trying to highlight to Google that you’re carrying out extensive optimisation on a site then what better way to do so than put the exact keywords in the domain. You might see some negligible benefit from having the keywords in the domain but its not really enough to justify a large amount when selling a site.
Now you might see a correlation between sites ranking favourably for keywords and having exact match domains or keyword rich domains and you’d be right. However the majority of these sites will also have a large amount of on-page and link building work associated with them and its this work that is causing the site to rank.
To get Google’s take on this, here’s a video from Matt Cutts on the topic of keyword rich domains:
6. Your SEO Experience
Finally you need to take an audit of your own SEO experience. If you’re investing a serious amount of capital in an online business, how confident are you of our own knowledge of the techniques needed to improve and maintain rankings in search engines?
Optimising sites for SEO is a specialised skill and you need to remember that in many cases you will be up against sites which are constantly link building and optimising. If you do not have the knowledge or time to effectively compete against these sites, then you run the risk of your site slowly losing rankings against the competition. Running an online business effectively takes ongoing link building work and investment – do not underestimate the work needed!
Andrew has worked within online marketing for the last four years with a background in domestic tourism, working with some of the country's most popular tourist attractions and destinations.