How the Buying Process Works
When you and a webmaster have agreed on a price, it is time to get the purchase process underway. I’ve purchased many websites and have seen the process completed in as little as two days; however, the average length of time from initial email to domain transfer is probably 2 to 3 weeks. Here is how the process generally works:
- Informal agreement—Whether by email, telephone, or in-person meeting, you need to establish a “meeting of the minds,” which is a casual agreement where both parties understand each other’s responsibilities in the transaction. Most likely, your main responsibility is paying money. The seller’s main responsibility is transferring the domain, website, and rights to the content. This agreement generally occurs after both parties have had a conversation or two and gotten comfortable not just with each other, but with the idea that the other party will follow through on his or her promises.
- Letter of intent—Sometimes a letter of intent (LOI) follows an informal agreement. An LOI is an agreement to agree; it’s a statement of the major terms of the final agreement that seems to say this: “Here is what we’re agreeing on, generally speaking. Once we determine that we’re on the same page, we’ll draft up something fancy and official.” People use LOIs so that they don’t waste time and money drafting formal agreements only to find that the major terms of the agreement are in dispute. In place of an LOI, I prefer to just shoot over an email with the basic terms, but some people prefer to do things the old-fashioned way.
- Contract of sale—When it’s clear that you and the seller are both cool on the main points of the transaction, it’s time to make it formal. You may want to search Google for a contract for sale of a website. I usually use a contract template that I originally found online and have since modified. If the contract contains any elements you aren’t familiar with, Google some of the language to learn more about it. Aside from the main points about transferring ownership of the domain and content, most of the agreement is boilerplate that is meant to protect both parties from unlikely (but possible) occurrences. If in doubt, it is never a bad idea to seek legal counsel to ensure that the sale is handled properly.
- Due diligence—After the agreement has been signed by both parties, you’re almost there. Now the buyer just has to make sure that the seller hasn’t been hiding or neglecting to mention anything important about the website. This is what due diligence is for. Due diligence, in this context, is the process whereby the buyer (and sometimes the seller as well) looks into the website in a more detailed fashion, often accessing domain records, financial statements, and outstanding advertising, business development, and service contracts. If you were to find, for example, that there is an advertising contract in existence that contains a clause prohibiting the sale of the website to a new entity (that is, you), that would be a deal-breaker. The sale of a website for SEO purposes does not usually involve extensive due diligence, and the transaction proceeds without too many speed bumps.
- Escrow/money transfer—Ah, the most important part. Either at the same moment as, or just before, the domain and the web content residing on that domain are transferred to you, you must pay the seller. Typically, a seller requests a wire to his or her bank account because that method of money transfer is nonreversible and occurs within hours. PayPal and credit cards, on the other hand, are disputable, and checks take a few days to clear. But if you can pay by check, that’s slightly safer from your perspective because, in the unlikely scenario that you are sold snake oil instead of a website, you can stop your check.
- Domain transfer—The final part of the website buying process is receiving the domain. You need to have an account at the registrar with which the website you’re buying is currently registered. As soon as the seller executes a domain transfer, you should see the domain listed under your domains when you visit your account page with that registrar. That event signifies that the transaction is complete with only one caveat, which is that the pages on the website are exactly the way they were before the transfer, and the domain is not parked or empty at the time of purchase. It is important that the seller acknowledge that, in addition to the domain, you are buying all the pages of content on the site in the exact structure in which you first saw them (that is, pages haven’t been deleted or renamed). Part of what you are purchasing is Google’s trust in the pages on the website that have been in the same place for months or years. You are also purchasing the peace of mind that the links pointing to the website will not disappear anytime soon, which is why many buyers include a clause in their contract stating that the seller has no reason to believe that any inbound links will be taken down after the purchase. If all is in working order, your purchase is complete, and you can start using your “new” Google-trusted website.