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Are you buying, or looking to buy, a content-based website or blog? If so, you must complete the due diligence process to ensure the site is a good investment. The following guide outlines the steps to evaluate a content site and determine if it’s right for you.
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What You’ll Need
To complete this due diligence checklist, you’ll need:
- Access to the site’s Google Analytics reports
- Access to the site’s Google Search Console
- Semrush, Ahrefs, or KWFinder
- Archive.org (free)
- Whois (free)
The buyer should be willing to give you viewing access to Analytics and Search Console, which is typical for due diligence.
Website Due Diligence Basics
1. Check the Domain’s History
Use the Archive.org Wayback Machine to view snapshots of the site from specific times in the past. Enter the website’s URL, and you’ll see the dates of available snapshots. Check several of them spread throughout the history of the site.
✅ Passing Grade: The site should have always had content related to its current topic. For example, if the site is about gardening, you should be able to tell from the screenshots that it’s always been about gardening.
❌ Failing Grade: If you see that the site used to be about TVs and now it’s about gardening, that’s a red flag. Another potential red flag would be objectionable content (adult, gambling, anything illegal, etc.) or content in a different language.
The severity of the issue: Red flags found through the Wayback Machine are likely to be a deal killer.
2. Are There Any Potential Trademark or Copyright Issues?
There are a few different situations you’ll want to avoid. The first is related to trademarks. Does the site’s domain name include a trademark owned by another company (search the USPTO Trademark Database)?
The most common issue involves the use of a brand name within a domain name. For example, if the domain includes Photoshop, Gucci, Ford, or any other trademark, it could be shut down or forced to move to a different domain.
Second, does the site publish content or images that could potentially infringe on someone else’s copyright? This can include written content that’s stolen or the use of photos and images without proper licensing.
Use a plagiarism checker (like the one offered by Grammarly) to see if the written content on the site is plagiarized. You won’t be able to check every page, but you can check the pages that get the most traffic and also some pages that were recently added.
Be aware that plagiarism checkers will report some level of plagiarism for many pages. Check the specific text that matches another page. Short passages or general text that could be used by many different websites is not an issue. The bigger issue is longer passages that were obviously taken from another source without permission.
When you’re checking photos and images, you probably won’t know if the site owner has sufficient licenses for stock photos, so you may need to ask where they get the photos and images used on the site.
Some potential red flags include the use of images that still have a stock photo agency’s watermark, photos of celebrities that aren’t credited (editorial licenses usually require attribution), images that were obviously taken from another source without permission, and the use of images with non-commercial licenses for commercial purposes.
✅ Passing Grade: The domain name does not include any potential trademark issues. The content passes a plagiarism checker, no obvious issues with images exist, and the site owner claims that all images are appropriately licensed.
❌ Failing Grade: The domain name includes a potential copyright issue, or the content (text or images) may violate someone else’s copyright.
The severity of the issue: Any potential trademark issues with the domain name should kill the deal right away. Potential plagiarism or copyright issues can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, the site owner may have been given permission to use someone else’s content or images. Or maybe the images that concern you could be removed from the site.
3. AI Content
Does the site publish AI-generated content? While it’s ok to publish content that’s been assisted with AI, content that is 100% created by AI is generally (at least, for now) not the highest quality.
Google has openly stated that it’s concerned with the quality of the content, not whether it was written by robots or humans (source).
You need to determine if AI was used to write the content and to what extent. Of course, you should ask the seller, but you’ll need to check for yourself as well.
Originality.ai is an excellent tool that can help you to identify content written by AI. It will scan a page’s content and provide a confidence level regarding whether the content was written by AI or humans. For example, it may say there it is 75% confident a page was created by AI.
You won’t be able to test every page on the site, but you can check the pages with the most traffic, and pages that have been added recently.
You can also manually check the content for quality. Compare it to the content quality of competing websites and see how it stacks up.
✅ Passing Grade: The site does not use AI for content, or AI is used but the content is high quality.
❌ Failing Grade: The site includes a lot of low-quality content completely generated by AI without much human editing.
The severity of the issue: Stay away from sites that publish a lot of low-quality AI content. They may be able to rank and grow for a while, but Google is extremely focused on quality these days. Sites with a lot of AI content are highly susceptible to significant ranking and traffic drops from algorithm updates.
Online Business Niche
1. Is the Niche Timeless and Not a Fad?
Consider whether this topic will still be relevant and interesting a few years from now. You’ll want to avoid topics that are likely to go out of style or fall from popularity.
Timeless niches are not linked to a specific product or brand. The popularity of products and brands come and go, and your site shouldn’t be built around a topic that may go out of style.
Some examples of timeless niches include travel, health, family, and education. However, some timeless niches can also be more targeted, like family cruises, landscape photography, healthy recipes, or learning to play the drums.
Some examples of niches based on a trend or a fad could include the current version of the iPhone, Bluetooth speakers, a particular software program, or any current fashion trend. It’s fine to cover these topics, but the site shouldn’t exclusively focus on a trend or fad to the point that it would be difficult to pivot.
✅ Passing Grade: The site is timeless and not dependent on a fad or anything that’s likely to lose appeal.
❌ Failing Grade: The site heavily depends on a fad, product, or brand.
The severity of the issue: Choosing a timeless topic is critical if you have a long-term focus.
2. Does the Niche Interest You?
While it’s possible to succeed with a site that doesn’t interest you, it’s also possible that you won’t enjoy working on the site or give up on it because you’d rather work on something else.
Think about the topic of the site and decide if it’s something you really want to work on. With Google’s emphasis on Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust, having an interest in your site’s topic is more important now than it’s ever been. If you don’t already have some expertise on the subject, you should be willing to put in the time and effort to learn more and grow your expertise.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that you have to be “passionate” about the topic, but you should at least have some level of interest.
✅ Passing Grade: The site’s topic does interest you, and you would enjoy working on the site.
❌ Failing Grade: The site’s topic does not interest you, and you wouldn’t enjoy working on the site.
The severity of the issue: Use your own judgment here. Having an interest in the topic is not 100% necessary, but I believe it does increase your chances for success. If you think you’d have no problem working on a site that doesn’t interest you, go ahead.
3. Are There Money-Making Opportunities in the Niche?
Some niches and industries present more money-making opportunities than others. Before buying a website, make sure that the niche offers enough possibilities.
If you’re evaluating an established site, you can look at the ways the site already makes money. You can also look at competitors and see how their sites are monetized.
Things to consider:
- Are there affiliate programs that are relevant to the site’s target audience?
- Is it possible to create and sell digital products from the site, such as eBooks or courses?
- Could the site generate revenue from sponsored posts or advertising?
- Is the target audience passionate about the topic and willing to spend money?
✅ Passing Grade: The niche has multiple money-making opportunities and will provide significant income potential.
❌ Failing Grade: The niche does not have many many money-making opportunities, and the audience is generally not willing to spend money.
The severity of the issue: Without sufficient monetization options, it’s difficult to earn a decent return on the investment. If the monetization options are extremely limited, move on to another site/business.
4. Are There a Lot of Potential Article Topics and Keywords?
It’s important to make sure that there are enough topics and keywords available for your site. If the options are limited, it may be a sign that the niche is too narrow. Take some time to do keyword research and brainstorm potential article topics to get an idea of how much content can be created around the topic. Look at competing websites and blogs to see what topics they cover.
Ideally, there should also be some low-competition keywords to target, which makes it easier to get organic search traffic. Use a keyword tool like KWFinder to search for low-competition keywords.
You can also use KWFinder to see what keywords are sending traffic to your competitors. Check smaller or low-authority sites in your niche to see what keywords send traffic to their site. (Note: you can use Semrush or Ahrefs for keyword research if you prefer.)
✅ Passing Grade: The niche has a lot of potential article topics and keywords, including some low-competition keywords.
❌ Failing Grade: The niche doesn’t have many potential article topics or keywords, or there are few low-competition keywords available.
The severity of the issue: Content is one of the most important factors when it comes to SEO. If organic search is an important traffic source, keyword opportunities must be present. Pass if they’re not.
5. Can You Hire Writers for This Topic at a Reasonable Rate?
Content creation is the biggest expense for most content-based sites. It’s important to know if you’ll be able to hire writers for the topic at a reasonable rate.
Topics that require extensive expertise, like medical, legal, or financial topics, may require higher rates. On the other hand, generic topics like technology and lifestyle can often be found at more affordable rates.
✅ Passing Grade: Writers are available at affordable rates that allow for profitability.
❌ Failing Grade: Writing expenses will be so high that it shifts the budget significantly.
The severity of the issue: There’s nothing wrong with buying a site that requires you to spend a lot of money on content creation. However, you must take that into consideration when determining your anticipated operating expenses and how much you’re willing to pay for the site.
1. Traffic Trends
Is the site’s traffic increasing, stable, or decreasing? Look at the site’s traffic over the past year or more to get an idea of how it is trending. Keep in mind that some topics are highly seasonal, and fluctuations are to be expected.
If traffic is growing, you may be able to increase revenue if the traffic continues to increase. And if traffic is declining, you’ll need to turn it around to prevent losing money on the investment.
Note: Very extreme increases in traffic may look great, but they can be a red flag. If you see huge increases, try to identify why it has increased so much and be sure that the seller hasn’t taken any shortcuts or messed with the data.
Traffic trends will often impact the multiple the seller is asking for. Upward trends often lead to higher multiples, and downward trends often lead to lower multiples.
✅ Passing Grade: The site’s traffic is stable or increasing, keeping seasonal factors in mind.
❌ Failing Grade: The site’s traffic is declining, keeping seasonal factors in mind.
The severity of the issue: Declining traffic is a red flag. In the case of major declines, it’s best to walk away unless you’re confident you can turn it around. And if you do pursue a site with declining traffic, be sure to adjust the price you’re willing to pay.
2. Traffic Distribution
The site’s traffic should be spread out among a lot of different pages. If one page accounts for a large portion of the traffic, revenue and profit could be seriously impacted if traffic to that page drops.
✅ Passing Grade: No page accounts for more than 25% of the site’s traffic.
❌ Failing Grade: One page accounts for more than 25% of the site’s traffic.
The severity of the issue: 25% is an arbitrary number. What’s important is that you would be comfortable with the site even if traffic to the top page dropped significantly. This impacts the level of risk associated with the acquisition, so if you’re risk averse, look for sites with well-distributed traffic.
What countries is the site’s traffic coming from? The visitors’ location has a big impact on your ability to monetize the site. Ad revenue is higher for visitors from developed countries, and especially the United States. Ad revenue from visitors in developing countries is generally much lower.
The location also impacts many affiliate programs, including Amazon. Be sure that the majority of the site’s traffic is from countries that you want to target.
✅ Passing Grade: The majority of the site’s traffic is from the countries you want to target. For example, if you’re targeting a U.S.-based audience, at least 50% of the site’s traffic should be coming from the U.S.
❌ Failing Grade: The majority of the site’s traffic comes from developing countries like India, the Philippines, Brazil, etc.
The severity of the issue: The location of visitors is extremely important for monetization. Be sure that the site’s traffic aligns with your monetization plans. If not, move on to another website or business.
1. Manual Actions or Security Issues in Google Search Console
Check Google Search Console (you’ll need the current owner to give you access) to make sure there are no manual actions or security issues. Click on “Security & Manual Actions” in the menu to access these reports.
✅ Passing Grade: No manual actions or security issues have been detected in Google Search Console.
❌ Failing Grade: Manual actions or security issues are listed in Search Console.
The severity of the issue: Both of these issues are significant, although they can be fixed. If Search Console shows a manual action or security issue, ask the user to fix it and submit a request through Search Console to have Google re-evaluate the issue. Only move forward if Google shows these issues as resolved or if you’re comfortable with the risk.
2. Indexing Issues in Search Console
Check the Page Indexing report in Search Console and pay attention to the details under “Why pages aren’t indexed.” There are many potential reasons why pages aren’t indexed, so it’s helpful to look at these reports.
The most significant issue is labeled as “Crawled – currently not indexed.” These are pages that Google has discovered and crawled, but they’ve chosen not to index for some reason.
In this report, you don’t want to see a lot of articles or other important pages that should be indexed. If Google chooses not to index most of the site’s content, it’s a red flag. It’s not unusual to see a few articles and important pages listed here, but it should be a small percentage of the site’s content. It’s ok to see author pages, archives, feeds, and other types of pages that are unlikely to attract search traffic.
✅ Passing Grade: The “Crawled – currently not indexed” report shows no pages or only insignificant pages that should not be indexed.
❌ Failing Grade: The “Crawled – currently not indexed” report shows a high percentage of the site’s articles are not being indexed.
The severity of the issue: Google is becoming more and more picky with the content that gets indexed. As a result, it’s becoming more common to see articles and important pages in this report. If a majority of a site’s new content is not getting indexed, it’s a warning sign that it doesn’t think the content is high quality.
3. Toxic Links or PBNs
The Backlink Audit Tool in Semrush includes a Toxicity Score of 0-100. Run the audit and check the site’s score. If it’s in the red, Semrush thinks the site has a high percentage of toxic links, which is bad for SEO.
You can also browse the site’s backlinks manually by using a tool like Semrush, Ahrefs, or KWFinder. Look for links that feel unnatural and those from spammy websites, adult websites, or casino websites.
Note: All established sites will have some spammy links. Google generally ignores these links rather than penalizing the site. However, if the link toxicity is too high, the site could be vulnerable to a penalty or a big drop in an upcoming algorithm update. Semrush’s link toxicity tool is helpful because it provides a score and indicates if you should be concerned.
✅ Passing Grade: Semrush shows the site’s Toxicity Score in the green or yellow zones, and you don’t see excessive spammy links.
❌ Failing Grade: Semrush shows the site’s Toxicity Score in the red zone, or you find a lot of spammy links when checking manually.
The severity of the issue: Backlink issues are significant, but be aware that some sites are more susceptible than others. It’s not unusual to see an old, high-traffic site that has a lot of spammy backlinks, even if the site’s owner hasn’t taken any link-building shortcuts. In general, the Toxicity Score from Semrush is a good indicator, but you may need to defer to your own manual research and judgment.
Monetization & Financial Due Diligence
1. Verify Income and Expenses
Request financial statements from the owner and verify that their income and expenses are accurate and match with the Profit and Loss (P&L) Statement. You may need to get copies of bank statements, credit card statements, PayPal statements, or other forms of verification. For larger deals, tax returns may be required.
Make sure it’s clear where all of the money is coming from (ads, affiliate commissions, product sales, etc). Also, look at expenses to make sure they line up.
Note: Keep in mind that the level of detail will vary depending on the size of the deal. For example, much more scrutiny is needed for a $5 million acquisition than a $5,000 acquisition. For smaller sales, sellers may be hesitant to provide excessive amounts of verification.
✅ Passing Grade: The financials show that the income streams are accurate and expenses are reasonable.
❌ Failing Grade: The financials show that there are inconsistencies or discrepancies.
The severity of the issue: This is a crucial step in due diligence as it helps you understand how the site makes money and verify that the seller’s claims are accurate. If things don’t line up here and the seller isn’t able to provide a valid explanation, it’s a major red flag and you should walk away.
2. Evaluate Monetization Methods
It’s also important to consider the specific ways a site makes money (business model), and whether those methods align with your interests and your plans for the site. For example, many content-based website owners prefer to make money with ads and affiliate programs. Or the site may be monetized by service that you won’t continue to offer.
The specific monetization methods can also impact the valuation of the business. For example, many buyers do not consider revenue from sponsored content to be the same as revenue from other sources. Sponsored content is generally less stable and more susceptible to drops, so it’s important to know if that’s how a site makes money.
✅ Passing Grade: The monetization methods match your intentions for the site. The site does not make a significant percentage of its revenue from sponsored content or other monetization methods that may be difficult to continue.
❌ Failing Grade: The site’s monetization methods do not match up with your plans for the site, or it makes a significant percentage of its revenue from sponsored content.
The severity of the issue: This point is important because it impacts how much a site is worth to you. Small issues here may not deter you from buying the site, but they may impact how much you’re willing to pay.
3. Be Aware of Ad Network Requirements
If the site is monetized with display ads, be sure that it meets the requirements to continue with the ad network. Some ad networks require a new owner to go through the application process when a site changes hands. If the site doesn’t meet the current requirements, it may be rejected and you could lose that ad revenue.
For example, Mediavine and Raptive both require new owners to apply after a site is sold. Mediavine requires sites to have at least 50,000 sessions per month, and Raptive requires at least 100,000 pageviews per month. If the site’s traffic is below those levels, your application will be rejected.
You can reach out to the ad network before buying the site, but in most cases, they only accept applications after you officially own the site.
Note: The site can still be rejected by the ad network even if it meets the minimum traffic requirements. However, the risk is relatively low if the site is already running ads from the network.
✅ Passing Grade: The site meets or exceeds the requirements of the ad network.
❌ Failing Grade: The site does not meet the requirements of the ad network.
The severity of this issue: This is a major issue for sites monetized with display ads. The application process is generally pretty quick and easy for sites that are already a part of their network, but the consequences of getting rejected are significant. If you buy an online business monetized with ads, be sure it meets the requirements before completing the sale.
4. Check Affiliate Agreements
If the site is monetized with affiliate programs, check to see if any custom partnerships or rates have been negotiated. If so, will those arrangements continue after the site is sold?
You’ll need to ask the seller if they have any negotiated partnerships or affiliate rates. If so, reach out to the affiliate manager and ask if they’ll honor the same agreements if you purchase the site. If not, you’ll need to take this into consideration when you project the site’s income and determine a proper valuation.
✅ Passing Grade: The site has no custom partnerships or negotiated affiliate rates, or you have verified that those agreements will remain in place after you purchase the site.
❌ Failing Grade: The site has custom partnerships or negotiated affiliate rates that will not carry over to you.
The severity of the issue: This is typically not a deal-breaker, but it will impact how much the site is worth.
Reputation & Legal
1. Google Search
Before buying a website or online business, you should check its online reputation. Do a Google search for the site’s name and check through several pages of the results to look for any potential red flags.
If the site or business has any pages with user reviews or ratings (Trustpilot, Facebook business page, Google business listing, Better Business Bureau, etc.), check what people are saying.
Look for any negative headlines or publicity. You can also add words like “scam” to your search.
Keep in mind that larger businesses are likely to have some negative feedback. You’re looking for red flags that show a major problem.
✅ Passing Grade: Searches produce no significant negative issues or reasons for concern.
❌ Failing Grade: Searches produce significant negative reviews or ratings, to the point that the business’s reputation is damaged.
The severity of the issue: This is a significant issue, but only in extreme cases. Don’t overreact to a single negative review.
2. Pending Lawsuits or Threats of Lawsuits
Ask the seller if they have been sued or received any threats of lawsuits. Issues related to copyright infringement and accessibility are especially common for online businesses, but of course, there are many other possibilities as well.
You can also do a Google search for the business name plus “lawsuit,” “sued,” or other similar phrases.
✅ Passing Grade: There are no pending lawsuits or threats of lawsuits.
❌ Failing Grade: There are pending lawsuits or threats of lawsuits.
The severity of the issue: Legal issues can be significant. Talk to an attorney if you have concerns.
1. Google Search
In addition to researching the site or business’s reputation, you should also research the seller. Do a Google search for the seller’s name and look for any potential red flags.
✅ Passing Grade: No red flags are uncovered.
❌ Failing Grade: You find negative or questionable information about the owner that causes you to doubt their honesty or integrity.
The severity of the issue: The honesty and integrity of the seller is a big deal. You don’t want to enter into an agreement with someone of questionable character. However, be sure that you give the seller an opportunity to explain (with proof) any issues that you uncover.
2. Ownership Verification
Verify that the seller actually owns the site. You can check domain ownership records through WhoIs, although many domains use private registration. Private registration is normal and not a red flag.
Ask for the domain registration record or other documentation that verifies ownership.
✅ Passing Grade: The seller can provide sufficient proof that they own the site and/or business.
❌ Failing Grade: The seller cannot provide sufficient proof that they own the site and/or business.
The severity of the issue: This is critical information to have before completing the sale. If the seller isn’t willing to work with you to verify that they own the site, walk away.
Questions to Ask the Seller
Some aspects of due diligence can be completed on your own, but you’ll need assistance from the seller for some items. Here’s a list of questions you should ask the seller before moving forward.
- Why are they selling?
- Did the owner start the site themselves or buy it?
- Was the site built on an expired domain or a fresh domain?
- Who are the biggest competitors?
- Has the owner bought links from other sites or used a private blog network (PBN)?
- What link-building methods have been used?
- Is the site receiving any 301 redirects from other domains? If so, are those domains included in the sale?
- Has the owner sold links from the site?
- Has the owner published sponsored content? If so, it is marked as sponsored, and are links nofollowed?
- Has the owner made any promises regarding links or sponsored content that must remain on the site?
- Was AI used to create content for the site? If so, was it completely written by AI or simply assisted by AI? And what percentage of the content?
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