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This chapter is from the book

How to Find an Old Website Worth Buying

Unlike death and taxes, there is one way to avoid the sandbox, and that is by buying another website that has already earned it’s TrustRank. If you have never bought a website before, please do not be intimidated by the process. It’s easy. You do not need to purchase an actual web business to get an old website; you just need to buy the website itself. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about doing extensive due diligence. But let’s hold off on that for a moment. First of all, what is the real goal of purchasing a website for SEO purposes?

People with SEO knowledge buy websites not just to avoid a few months of sandboxing but rather to avoid years of link building. The only websites you want to consider are ones that are many years old and have lots of links, and are therefore enjoying their golden years of trust. It’s kind of like marrying into a rich family—instant power! If you know precisely what you are looking for and engage in a systematic process of inquiring about the availability of websites, you will eventually find one that fits your criteria nearly perfectly. Although it does require time and effort to find a suitable website, that time and effort is a fraction of what you would have to undergo to build up a similar quality site from scratch.

So, how do you start? First, go to Google and type, in quotes, "this website is for sale". That search query should bring up a few hundred sites whose owners have listed them for sale. You will quickly eliminate most of them because they fall into one of five “don’t buy” categories:

  • Parked websites—A parked website has no functioning website on it and exists solely to make money through low-quality ads (see Figure 4.4). Usually it will have stock pictures on it, text ads plastered over the middle of the page, and an invitation to purchase the website on the side or bottom. These domains are essentially spam and cannot be obtained for any reasonable price anyway. Skip them.

    Figure 4.4

    Figure 4.4 A typical parked domain. When looking for websites to purchase, skip these low-quality pages.

  • Irrelevant websites—If you find a website for sale that has nothing to do with your business whatsoever, it cannot be used as your main business website. It probably can’t even be used as a sister website to get visitors interested in your main site because Google will already have it classified as being about a particular subject matter and will not allow it to rank for keywords of another subject matter. For example, if you own a pet store and you find a website called customtissueboxes.net that has been selling monogrammed silver tissue boxes for the past 4 years, you do not want to buy the site. Although it would be excellent for someone who has a tissue business, home accessories business, or silver knick-knacks business, it is too different from a pet store to have any use to you. The same principle applies to sites that contain your keywords but in a different context. For example, a site about salsa dancing is not a good home for your fresh-made salsa business.
  • Relatively new websites—People put sites up for sale shortly after registering them, often because they think they have a good domain name. Of course, a website that is less than a year old with few links is precisely what you are not looking for because it will not have high TrustRank. Again, to find out a site’s age, use the public whois lookup at http://www.internic.net/whois.html. (Just search for the words creation date on the Internic domain page, and you will see the date the website was registered.)
  • Linkless websites—Even if a site is 10 years old, if it has not accumulated links in that time, it’s as dead to Google as a completely new website. Before purchasing any website, look up its links on ahrefs.com or another link measurement tool.
  • Websites with poor-quality links—Probably the most deceiving type of website you’ll encounter in your search is the one that is on topic, is a few years old, and has a number of links. Seems perfect, right? Well, the only issue is that those links are not of a good quality. I’ve assisted many prospective purchasers and this comes up a lot. You should be able to look through the links to a website and feel confident that each link was earned based on merit, not purchased or arranged.

If a site is relevant to your business, has had a functioning website running continuously for at least 2 years, and has at least 20 high-quality links, it is worth purchasing at the right price.

A second, and often better, approach to purchasing websites is to sort through websites that already rank for your keywords. Let’s say you sell t-shirts. Type t-shirts into Google and look through the top 100 results. This method eliminates any chance of the site being classified in the wrong category and thus being unable to rank for your keywords—it already does rank for your main keyword. It also makes looking up the site’s links fairly irrelevant because whatever number of links it has was clearly enough to earn it a decent ranking for your main keyword. In short, these 100 sites are all worth buying if you can get them for reasonable prices.

From this pool of prospects—such as the “this website is for sale” pool mentioned earlier—a few traits should turn you away immediately:

  • The domain name doesn’t make sense for your business, or you don’t like it—If a site has a domain name you just can’t live with, it’s a no-go. As badly as you want to get a site that already has ranking power for your main keyword (and, if you don’t already have a high ranking website, you should really want one of these sites), you can’t ignore branding. For example, if you sell car parts and you stumble across a site for sale that is on the first page of Google for car parts but its name happens to be kidstoycarparts.com, you’ll have to throw it back. Everyone will be confused by your name.
  • The ranking web page is part of a larger website—You will undoubtedly find many search results that are web pages on a larger website that does something more general. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if a page on eBay were one of the results for a search of car parts. Obviously, you can’t buy eBay. (Bill Gates, if you are reading this book, that doesn’t apply to you.)
  • The website is clearly an active business—Let’s not forget that, in this scenario, you are looking to buy a website for SEO purposes. Many website owners will be confused by this, saying, “Why do you want to buy the website I spent the last 8 years building?” Answering this question correctly can sometimes land you a fantastic new website. But there are far more times when attempting to purchase a site owned by an active business will be a waste of your time. Try to minimize these kinds of encounters by avoiding websites that are clearly being used for business. If you find that a site is well maintained and the copyright at the bottom is up-to-date, skip it. The real opportunity is in looking for sites that say “copyright 2008” at the bottom or something similar, indicating that they are being ignored. A website that hasn’t been updated in years is a gem because it means there is a chance you’ll find a tired, busy webmaster at the other end of your email who is willing to part with his now-ignored web property (see Figure 4.5).

    Figure 4.5

    Figure 4.5 A website that ranks in the top 100 for the keyword sculpture. This is a good prospect to buy because it looks like it hasn’t been updated in a while, judging from the years-old copyright at the bottom.

Ultimately, most of the 100 sites you look through will not be for sale for a reasonable price. However, buying websites is a game that is won with ingenuity and the power of the nudge. After you have a short list of websites that would be valuable vehicles for your business, think about each site and try to get a sense of the personality of the human being who owns it.

Let’s suppose you sell watches. Say that you’re doing a search for buy watches and you notice an old site that hasn’t been updated in a while that is dedicated to the joy of collecting antique watches. Before reaching out, you should be having this kind of thought process:

  1. The guy who owns this site is probably passionate about watches.
  2. He might have a collection of his own, passed down from his relatives.
  3. Maybe he discovered some old watches in his grandfather’s attic when he was a kid, and the fascination began.
  4. Either way, this guy created a site about watches without actually putting anything up for sale, so he’s got to be a devoted hobbyist.
  5. If I tell him I want to buy his personal project so that I can get a higher search engine ranking and sell my wares, he’ll probably be turned off.
  6. Instead, I should think about whatever interest I have in antique watches and communicate that interest to him, telling him I’d like to buy the site partly to continue what he started.
  7. If he asks whether I will be selling watches, I’ll tell him that I will, but that I’ll keep a special section of the site in honor of his work that contains everything he’s created and some of my own contributions. Everyone is happy.

As you can see, quite a bit of projecting and creative thinking was involved in determining the best way to obtain the website. If you are not prepared to think in this way, you’ll have to think with your wallet. Of course, for some people, money is the only factor, and in cases like those, you should pay only what you can reasonably afford. Overpaying for a website is rarely a good idea because starting a site from scratch is still a viable option. In fact, it can be a valuable exercise in creating great content and building links, which you will need regardless of whether you buy an already-trusted site.

In the end, if you can get an old website for a livable price, go for it; but if you can’t, it’ll probably force you to adopt some better marketing habits anyway.

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