The Ins and Outs of Buying an Existing Web Business

Buying an existing web business is much the same as refurbishing a fixer-upper house. If you have the skills, money, and time, flipping real estate is a good business in pretty much any economy. The same can be true of refurbishing a web business as well.

As with anything, success is all about making the right choice. To continue the real estate analogy, a cracked foundation or a significant termite problem can be so hard to fix that you won’t make a profit. The perfect house to flip is one that is sound but looks like crap. The same holds true for websites and the same purchase criteria and mindset should apply.

The easiest stuff to fix is conversion related, so an ugly site that still somehow makes money is a good place to start. By fixing conversion, often through cosmetic and usability improvements, the existing traffic brings more revenue and your acquisition is immediately worth more money.

A significant portion of the purchasable value of a site (unless, of course, it’s simply a killer domain name or has special significance) will be the traffic that it gets now that and you can reasonably project to continue. Here is where you better look hard for termites!

At a minimum, I would require reporting access to their analytics, not just the reports they ran for me, and then I would take an in-depth look at where the site gets it’s traffic and where it is getting it’s linking. What I’m looking for, in a word, is fraud.

Make sure the external links are not from the seller’s own properties and verify every way you can the sources and consistency of traffic.

If this checks out, then use analytics to look at their visitor value and their conversion funnels for places you can improve.

Finally, do a “Make or Buy” analysis. What would it cost you in time and money to build the same site from scratch?

One of the several ways a web business is just like any other business is that it is run by some owner, and these owners vary widely in the skill and attention they bring to the table, so naturally some of them end up not doing a very good job and decide to throw in the towel. Because of this, sometimes purchasing a business in distress can be very lucrative.

That being said, one major difference between sites and houses is that web businesses often have relatively little cash invested and almost no cash valued assets, so owners are just as likely to simply close them as they are to try and sell them. You should therefore try to understand why the site is being sold and how the owner came to decide to sell it.

The bottom line when buying real estate or a business is to do your homework, be on the lookout for deal-killer problems, and use some simple common sense.

Please Vote for My Friends’ Kids :)

Please help. Darrin, my tax attorney, consulting client and long time good friend has kids – who knew – with the entrepreneurial spirit we love in humans both large and small and it is the small ones that need the most help and encouragement. Please take a couple minutes and support a fun kid’s project. It costs you about 30 seconds, it adds unknown wonders for a couple kids and is a positive Karma move for you! The worse case is you help a big company justify planting some trees at a school – how could that ever be bad?

Here’s the unedited email from Darrin – jump to the end for the links and please like’em and vote’em. The vote link is below the video and the super video you should vote for is labeled “Ryan M”.


Can you help with this?

Some of you may know that I have been blessed with two wonderful children, Ryan (10) and Rachel (8). They are very entrepreneurial. A couple years ago when Ryan decided that he wanted to win first place in the popcorn selling contest to raise money for Cub Scouts, he sold over $2500 worth the hard way….mostly in face to face, door to door sales. He did that thru hard work with encouragement and support from me and my truly amazing wife, Heather.

Today I am excited to announce that Ryan and Rachel have been selected as finalists in a NATIONAL video contest put forth by Scottie’s Facial Tissue. The name of the contest is Trees Rock. Their assignment was to make a three minute video demonstrating what trees mean to them and to their school. We worked on this assignment as a family brainstorming on a road trip to Tennessee. We came up with the concept and shot the video in LaGrange, GA at Nana’s house. There were ups and downs during the preparation and shooting phase of the video. I’m pretty sure I made my baby girl cry. (BAD DADDY)

Ryan did ALL OF THE EDITING ON THE VIDEO. I did nothing but help him get it rendered and uploaded to the contest site at the end. He has a love for technology and an enthusiasm for learning that I learn from every day.

The video came out great. Still…..I wasn’t sure that they had done well enough. At the beginning of December we got the call! Scottie’s loved Ryan & Rachel’s video! They were to be among the 12 finalists in the whole country! They have already won their school, Veteran’s Elementary $1000 but the Grand Prize lies ahead for my little industrious kidlets, $10,000 for their school to plant trees and make a shaded luncheon and instructional area.

This leads me to how you can help. The Grand Prize winner will be selected solely by the largest number of votes made from January 15, 2013 to February 15, 2013. You can vote once PER DAY during this time frame. You can see their winning video below and make sure to opt in to our reminder email list. The kids have also made short tree jokes videos, one per day, to remind you to vote for them every day. Please, please like their Facebook Page at Trees Rock Tampa at and share their tree joke videos every day. If this can go viral, I have no doubt that they will win that money for their school.

Let’s show kids that you don’t win by doing nothing. You don’t win by sitting on the couch playing video games. You win in life by taking massive action. They have taken massive action by doing what average people won’t do. I have no doubt that, with your help, we can propel them and their school to winning the Grand Prize.

You can see the winning video at:

Darrin Mish

Why is Search So Complex?

Well, mostly it is because of “scale”, which this infographic doesn’t really do justice to, but it does show some really good measures of the scope of the problem.
Why is Search So Complex?

Matt Cutts and Eric Talk About What Makes a Quality Site

Another great interview with Matt Cutts. Some interesting little tidbits – something about “frogs”, maybe princes too but I didn’t read that far. 🙂
Matt Cutts and Eric Talk About What Makes a Quality Site

SEO essentials for startups in under 10 minutes

This is a pretty decent summary (by Google no less!) of stuff everyone should get right on a new site. Certainly there is way more I think you should do, but start with this for sure and then learn the rest.
SEO essentials for startups in under 10 minutes

Example email to a hacked site

Most amazing is that “hacked sites” is the second biggest category of SPAM problems that Google has to deal with. Wow.  Lesson here is this: protect your site! Because it is clearly a common problem.
Example email to a hacked site

The Four Simple (But Not Easy) Secrets to Business Success

Your list may differ – feel free to rant (or rave) in the comments – but this is the list that I’ve come up with after 24 years running my own businesses and teaching and coaching other people to do the same.  The choice of which is most important has changed in those 2+ decades, but I can look back over the entire time and find them all firmly installed.

Have Vision

If you can not imagine where to go, you will end up somewhere you would never have imagined – yes, a tautology, I know, but stay with me.  Others have said that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail and while that is true, I do not view “vision” the same as “plan”.

Vision (to me) is more like a “big why” or a BHAG whereas a plan is how to get some distance closer to that imagined long term outcome.  Vision is what must inform all the plans, both large and small, along the way.

Be Fearless

You can’t think long term while worrying about next week’s dinner budget.  The primary cause of business failure is time and again listed as “under capitalization” which is kinda of catchall like the NTSB’s findings of “pilot error”.  Running out of money, or crashing the plane, is not the cause of the problem, just the result of it.

If you don’t have enough money to stay the distance until you can get to breakeven then you should stop the bleeding, change the business model or accelerate revenue.  At least one of those is always possible so the real cause of failure is “pilot error”.  But there we are again – what caused that?  Almost always it is fear.

It does not take much in the way of brains to cut expenses, help with your business model is available for free from SCORE or for a beer from your buddies, and accelerating revenue is more often than not just being aggressive with sales or doubling down on production.  Business is not really all that technical, but it is damn scary!

Pretty much of the entire job is scary:

  • we are the top sales/marketing person; we hold all of our employees’ livelihoods in our hands;
  • our own financial future and good name are at risk;
  • we are always out of balance in terms of work, pleasure and health;
  • and with the exception of other business owners, no one appreciates what we do or can even understand it.

Sounds like a great gig, eh?  You have to control fear.  Choose your own poison, but mine is a unique form of faith long enough in form that it must wait for another day.

Check Your Ego

Where confidence leaves off and ego begins I have no idea, but I have seen many owners – myself included more than once – fail because they would not ask for help or admit they were wrong.  That’s a big problem.  When you get married to your decisions and refuse to correct them to save face, you will eventually make that one big mistake that crashes the plane.

BTW, ego is the primary cause of failure to delegate so if you are not hiring and outsourcing and doing the work yourself instead … check your ego … you’ll find that you are NOT nearly as good at your job as you think.

Embrace Discipline

No one in your company will ever do more than 75% of whatever you do, so do absolutely as much as you possibly can.  Set the bar high and by demonstration show other people where they work and how they are expected to behave.  This is not just about “hard work” – that’s easy – this is more about emotional discipline.

That means being on time; remembering action items, milestones, deliverables and appointments;  and it means always being a productive mood and never losing your cool.  Companies do not run themselves, people do, and they (we) are emotional creatures.

All The Things Not On The List

Here are a few common “secrets of success” from other lists that are not on my pwn because they are not causes – they are symptoms.  If you have these symptoms, check for your likely underlying causes above.

  • Hiring and Outsourcing:  Yes, you should be.  See Ego.
  • Documented Systems and Procedures: See Vision, Fear and maybe Ego.
  • Delegate Authority as well as Responsibility: See Fear and (as important) Discipline.
  • Business Model: See Vision.
  • [Enter your choice here]:  See all of the above.  🙂


The Third Age of Search

In the beginning…

Search engines were born to index and make available “information” and the web was just one really big library – well, not that large at first actually!  But it did grow at an enormous rate and started a transformation in the way we access information, both reference material and current events.  Witness the decline, and almost certain demise, of print newspapers and the much reduced attendance at libraries.  This was the first age of search.

Then along came e-commerce.  Mostly with information products at first and many folks figured that is all it would ever be – sort-of-a library with a little bookstore stuck in the corner – but it did catch on and pretty much everything was available for purchase online.  BTW, the success of online commerce we owe as much or more to efficiencies in overnight shipping as we do payment systems and shopping carts, but that is a post for another day.  Whatever the ultimate causes, this was the second age of search.

And then came local.  As the web matured and our use of it grew, it became not just where we learned and managed information and conducted a large and growing share of commerce, but it has now become the guide to our immediate physical world as well.  Just as most people in metro areas use GPS rather than maps, nearly everyone now uses search instead of phone books.  What we call the “world wide web” is increasingly used to explore our own backyards.  We are now in the third age of search.

The three ages – informational, commercial and local – are marked not just by user behavior, but by dramatic changes in the search engines as well.  Those of you that have been in this field the dozen years that I have already know what I’m talking about, but let me refresh everyone’s mind with some key highlights.

Adwords, Ansense and Google Shopping (originally Froogle, remember?) were clear signposts of the commercial age.  Moreover, as Google went public and online commerce grew even stronger, we saw more and more of the “organic” results chewed up by paid ads.

Maps, Places and the general emphasis on mobile mark where we are now and will be for some time.  Mobile is growing for faster than anything since The Big Bang and shows no signs yet of slowing.

But what does this mean for non-local e-commerce? [as most of my long time follows are involved in]

Answering that in detail is a longer story, but there are a couple principles that have always been true that you can still use in this, and any subsequent, age.

First, don’t fight the tide.  We’ve already learned the hard lesson that clawing our way to #1 with 3 paid ads plus a comparison ad with sitelinks above us is a bad use of time, money and talent – better to focus on those places that are not as clogged with Adwords.  This is still true, plus add local to the mix. 🙁  Sure, this might mean you are driven to use more longer tail searches as that will very often yield better ROI.

Second, don’t be completely reliant on Google organic!  Sure, “free traffic” is great, but having only a single supplier of business is never a good idea, and traffic is what supplies your business.  With the growth in social media and the availability of huge traffic through paid programs, you should NOT have “all your eggs in the organic basket”.

And finally, just get better at SEO!  Sure, it sucks to be at position 1 and to be below the fold – happens in may short tail commercial terms – but just as we have been “pushed down” by paid and local, the volume of searches and the willingness of searchers to spend money online has EXPLODED.

Complain if you want, but making money online is still the most wonderful thing ever invented – even if it is a bit more complex today.

Don’t be Evil? BULL S**T!

Everyone in SEO BrainTrust has already heard me rant about the duplicity and lies from Google (nofollowed as all untrusted links should be!) in regards the so-called “secure search” initiative but this is just too horrible for me to keep bottled up any longer. Hence, this public rant.

This supposed public service initiative is nothing more-nor-less than the arrogance of absolute power and is the most damaging thing to hit webmasters in the history of webmastering. Somehow it is ok for Google to know every last detail of a user’s search behavior – which is unavoidable without proxies and constant cookie dumps – but the inconsequential percentage of that traffic that hits any one website is somehow a huge security problem that searcher’s, if only they knew, would simply freak out about. BULL SHIT!

But why should webmasters care? Here’s an example.


This is a snapshot from a private client’s GA account (revealing nothing sensitive). For the period covered, this is 10% of total organic traffic and the bounce rate at 80% is fully 20% higher than the terms we actually get reported. So here’s the dilemma: How the F**K do I fix this?

For 10% of search traffic I can not begin to diagnose and decrease bounce rate because I have no clue what the visitor was even searching for. Thanks a lot Google – that’s a big help improving the search experience. Clearly it does my client/partner no good to rank where only 2 in 10 visitors stick around and that would pretty much define “poor search experience” too but despite Google’s stated mission to be “all about the searcher” they have intentionally removed – using a complete and outright lie – the one thing that we can use to improve both the search experience and the visitor experience to our site.

Organic search has always been, and will always be, a symbiosis where Google gets OUR!! content for free so they can run a paid traffic division while providing us “free clicks” in exchange. They have continued to “change the deal” over time with more and more non-organic results reducing the value to us while increasing their revenues. OK, so maybe all’s fair in love and war (and business but that’s just another war!) but if deceit and misdirection at our expense is not “doing evil” than I am at a complete loss for what would qualify.

Add the completely ridiculous BS around G+ … a topic for another day … and I’m seeing FTC in big red letters on the horizon.

Dear Google: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. With your 80% market share (like who the hell is in the 20%?) you have now reached a level of arrogance that is life threatening – to you!

What tools do you use to spy on your competitors?

My good friend, nearly unknown business success and wildly cool Internet marketer (no pressure) Kenny Goodman posted this to FaceBook earlier today:

“What tools do you use to spy on your competitors (apart from Market Samurai of course)?”

Here’s my reply – shared here for the 7 people world-wide that are not yet on FaceBook (hurry up already?!).

“Who cares? Organize right and do the right things and success is guaranteed in time. Measuring the competition is only about gauging how long it will take. Plan for the long term and competition doesn’t matter. Moreover, your competition is likely lame anyway, so setting them as your measure of success if in most cases aiming low.

Google is not your competition. Your competition is not your competition. Your only competition is that part of you, your life and your business that results in less of the right effort than is required to get the results you want.

Search is math, but success at search is personal.”

To put an even finer point on it …

  • what Google does is known enough and stable enough that you should rarely be thinking about it (more on this in a later post)
  • you should *assume* that what your competition is doing is “best practice” – even when it is not – because someone out there is, and they will come our of nowhere to beat you
  • so the only thing left is what you do – which is cool, since it is also the only thing you control!

Work on yourself and your business and external factors cease to matter that much.  That’s why so much of what Dan Thies and I teach in both The SEO BrainTrust and Link Liberation 2 is about (a) mindset and (b) business process.

But don’t we teach how search engines work?  Sure, and better than anyone else. 🙂  But knowing is not doing, so our real focus and the reason our customers, clients and partners have been, and continue to be, so successful is that we “get real” about the repetitive actions that are the real cause of success.

Success in anything is a process and success in SEO is no different.