Before you are ready to make an offer on a site, it is important to conduct some basic due diligence to help identify the risks and potential opportunities.
Buyers of web properties are at a disadvantage compared to the seller. The seller has historical knowledge of his business, usually an bunch of integrated tools that provide him with the real insight on the site performance and often are motivated to provide optimistic outlooks for the future of their web asset.
As buyers, we need to protect ourselves from overpaying for a site and ending up with a lemon.
There are many risks that come from a seller providing false claims or sometime even not knowing some of the important details about their website. To ensure we don’t overpay, as buyers, it is prudent that we do some preliminary due diligence before putting in offer.
Below is a list of the top 10 free tools that I use when conducting a preliminary due diligence on a site.
In no way is this an exhausted list and I do a lot more due diligence before I put in an offer and even during the purchasing stage to protect myself.
But this list of tools can provide a good start point to help you compile an idea of the business you’re going to purchase, including some risks and opportunities.
1. Google Analytics
The most important part of due diligence in my view is revenue and traffic. You must confirm what the seller is telling you before you make an offer.
For traffic, the best way to do this is to ask the seller to give you read only access to the sites Google Analytics software. A seller may be using another provider like clicky.com, SE Ranking, Piwik, Woopra, Charbeat, or many other options, but they need to provide you direct credentials so you can log in and review the details of the site performance.
Do not simply ask for screenshots as these are too easy to manipulate.
Giving read only access is quite simple and if a seller has nothing to hide, they should be able to provide this easily. You will probably need to sign an NDA as there is a lot of information provided in Google Analytics and a seller will want to protect themselves from you taking their idea and copying it.
Once you log into Google Analytics you will get a ton of valuable information on the sites traffic such as the snapshot below:
How deep into the details you go will often depend on the type of business you’re purchasing. For a content site, I recommend getting deep and understanding which blog pages drive the most traffic, what countries your traffic is coming from, the demographic of the userbase, what devices they are using, and how long they stay on each page.
This level of insight will help you understand the overall interest in the site and challenge that may have appeared over time.
Google Analytics or another traffic analytics tool is an incredibly valuable component due diligence and a site should never be purchased without first reviewing these details.
I like to multisource the information I get to help validate what I’m seeing. Often times different tools will represent information differently or offer more insight than other.
I often use SimilarWeb as it covers a number of different pieces of the view I’m trying to get of the website I want to purchase. With this tool you can enter a url and it will provide some high-level information such as:
- Global and Country Rank
- Traffic Overview
- Where the traffic sources are coming from
- Referring sites
- Up to 5 search terms used
- And much more
Here are a couple of snapshots I took for steamwhistle.ca.
The paid version is substantially more robust and can really help you get deeper information on a site you’re looking to purchase. But the free version is a great start to get a gut check and validate what the seller is saying.
I would recommend however if you are thinking of purchasing a tool, that you shop around. There are a number of great products out there like SEMRush, AHrefs, SerpStats, Agency Analytics and many more.
SimilarWeb also has a free chrome plugin which allows you to investigate the site you’re interested in right from your browser.
This is more a formality that I recommend everyone to do. Whois.com or Internic.ca (or other similar services) provide information about the ownership of sites.
Now-a-days most individuals or companies will hide their ownership (you can purchase that option from all domain selling services). But there are still many folks that chose not to spend the extra money each month and publicize their ownership information directly
A few months ago I had a bad interaction with a seller. I will post a summary of my experience shortly and link it to this page. Anyway, he never actually hid the ownership of his site so I was able to confirm who he was, his address, phone number and IP provider.
A couple of days ago, I was looking at different postings and found an online business for sale that intrigued me. I went to internic to check the ownership and it turns out to be the same individuals I had dealt with. So I wrote that deal off right away.
4. Wayback Machine
The internet achives (https://archive.org), aka The Wayback Machine, is a not-for-profit organization that has been archiving the internet since 1996. It’s the coolest site around! You can see for any given url, historical snapshots of what the site looked like at various periods of time in history
When you enter a URL, the Wayback machine shows you all the times that it has taken a snapshot historically.
You can select a time that you want to see and it will show you the site back then. For example, here is Steamwhistle.ca in June 2003 vs today:
So why is this important?
Well, if the site had previously been involved in industries such as porn, illegal activities, fraud, gambling, etc, the URL may be tainted. Google may have labelled these sites in such a way that it will be difficult, if not impossible for them rank well.
If that’s the case, no matter how good your SEO is, if your site has been blackballed by google, you’ll never show up on their listings. So it’s important to see what a site could have been used for before. In some cases, the seller may not have even been aware.
Also, the Wayback Machine shows you a bit of the history of the site you want to purchase. If the site has looked the same for years, maybe it’s getting stale. If the site just changed a few weeks before you, you may need to be concerned that the historical revenue might not continue due to the new and untested user experience.
Finally, you can also check to see how historical financial performance matched to the site’s look and feel. For example, if a site was producing significant better results 2 years ago and you go back and see a different layout and format, there may be an opportunity to go back to that layout. Of course, there are a ton of factors at play here (change in google algorithms, change in product line, staleness of content, change in product pricing, etc). But it’s something to consider.
So check the Wayback machine before you purchase a site to help add peace of mind.
5. Social Media
In some cases, the value of a site is driven heavily from social media. You can find this out through google analytics and other tools stated above.
If social media is an important part of the revenue generation, you’ll want to do a bit of research here.
It is not hard for a seller to purchase fake followers and likes through offerings on fivrr.com and other platforms. These can be misleading as fake followers are not real audience members and they would never purchase your product or service or click on your affiliate links.
So it’s important to check a few things around the social media accounts the online business uses:
You can validate the number of real twitter followers a site has through www.twitteraudit.com.
Enter the twitter handle of the individuals and it will return a simple report back like this:
For Instagram you can use https://hypeauditor.com to understand where the traffic is coming from, the overall rank of the Instagram site globally, types of followers, how often the company posts, etc. Get the full report for free by putting in your email address.
Youtube and others
Finally, I leverage www.socialblade.com to get information on many types of social media such as youtube, facebook, Instagram, twitch, twitter, daily motion and mixer. Here is a snapshot of the youtube information you can collect:
You can also find similar channels to help identify potential competitors, detail statistics like the ones below, and a myriad of additional information to help you be comfortable that the social media platforms the seller is selling have value.
Checkbot is a great overall chrome extension that will crawl any site and show you some basic but important information. Along with an overall rating for your site, it will also provide you opportunities to improve the sites SEO, speed, and security.
I always check checkbot to see if there are simple improvements that I can make to the site to drive increased traffic and revenue. If a site has a poor score and still drives a ton of organic traffic, the opportunity is quite exciting
This is also a great little chrome extension that helps you identify if there are any broken links on a site. It’s super simple to use and just crawls the site looking for dead links.
I while back I found a site that I was interested in purchasing and using this tool I found 1 link that was broken on the main page. It was the link to one of their online training courses that sold for $249.95. I can’t image how much sales they lost by not having this link properly set up.
But I saw it as a key opportunity and helped me feel more comfortable about the purchase as I could instantly drive additional revenue by fixing the link. Thank you LinkMiner
8. MetaSEO Inspector
MetaSEO Inspector is a chrome extension that hits on a huge number of valuable attributes.
It starts by providing a number of onpage SEO information that you can leverage to improve the site immediately. It also shows security issues, what the site was built with (in the case of Steamwhistle.ca it is a Drupal site), the twitter accounts associated with it, google verification codes and much more
And then on the second tab it provides you a 1 stop show of links additional free and paid tools that can further investigate the site:
If you’re really interested in a site, go through each link one at a time. Some you do need to pay like SEMRush but often a trial is available. And some of these tools are super powerful.
9. Keywords Everywhere
Keywords Everywhere is a chrome extension that let’s you analyze the keywords on a specific page.
Why are keywords important to review during Due Diligence, you ask?
Well, first it can help you identify opportunities. If you don’t see certain keywords on a page that you believe would be central to the industry/business the company is in, there may opportunities to add some content and rank for those additional words.
But to me the lowest hanging fruit is to look at competitors keywords and then see if those keywords are used on the site you want to purchase. If not, bingo, add well written, informative and robust content targeted at those keywords and you should be able to rank easily for them.
These are obvious home runs that can help you take the site to the next level.
Once you install the Keywords Everywhere extension in Chrome, go to a page and click on the icon for Keywords Everywhere in your browser. A message will pop up stating you need an API Key. The API key is free, just follow the link, enter your email and it will automatically be sent to your inbox.
Follow the link in the email and it will give you the following window where you can enter the API key:
And you’ll see list of keywords along with some useful information for volumes, price per click, where the keyword is found, density on the page, etc.
With this information you can start thinking through a keyword strategy for any content site.
Due Diligence should not be taken lightly. There are a lot of risks when purchasing a website if you are not careful. But as you can see, there are many tools out there that can help in the early stage due diligence to reduce that risk and in many cases identify new opportunities.
I hope you found this list of free tools that you can use when doing preliminary Due Diligence useful. These are a few of my favorites but there are hundreds of others.
I’d love to hear directly from you around what other tools you use when initially analyzing a website? Share with here or directly with me.
Good luck and remember to live the life you dream.