So you want to target a certain keyword and you've seen a website that already ranks well for it is up for sale. Is this your shortcut to success with all the SEO in place or are you buying a poisoned chalice?
Second hand websites are like second hand cars - you can buy a beauty or a real lemon so lets look at the how to avoid wasting your cash.
Just because you want to rank for a keyword or phrase and there is a website out there that ranks for that keyword or phrase doesn't mean its going to bring you any traffic. Its surprising how many phrases you would think are searched ... but aren't.
I'll show you how you can check this in a moment but first lets look at the opposite extreme.
This means people do search it but they are the wrong people that you want as your visitors even if the keyword is related to your theme or product. For example lots of people search "laptops for sale" but they are not at the point yet where they know which laptop they want. When they do they'll search "HP Pavilion X5 laptop for sale" and that's where you want to rank.
Ranking for the vague "laptops for sale" might make you feel good and it might bring you lots of traffic but it won't help you achieve your actual goals. That's a trophy term.
So not searched at all or searched by the wrong people - those are the two outcomes you want to avoid.
Keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner or AHrefs or any of the many others out there won't help you here. Their not reliable enough to make pinpoint accuracy on specific keywords every time. I've seen all the tools claim no one searches a term but I've optimized a page for it anyway and bought in a lot of traffic.
These tools might tell you if a term is very popular but they won't tell you if ranking for it will do you any good.
You're best route is to create a quick page on your website and spend about $50 on Google Ads. Google Ads will tell you how many times a day your advert is shown which will give you a really good idea of how popular the search term is. Clicks through to your website will give you traffic to test.
You could, for example, make a mockup of a 'product for sale' page and then monitor how many of the visitors click the 'Buy Now' button (which might just lead to a page saying "waiting for stock, leave your email to be notified when it becomes available"). This will show you if the keyword delivers the right people. Remember we'd expect about 1 to 2 percent of our traffic to convert and represent a value potential of ranking for a particular search term.
OK so if you have carried out your campaign and its all looking good then where to?
Black Hat SEO can get a website ranking quickly. This is search engine optimization that uses all sorts of underhand techniques to try and fool the search engines either about what content they have on their pages or how popular it really is.
Black Hat SEO gives a website rankings until it is rumbled and the search engines start ignoring it. For many people this is just long enough for them to sell it and you to get left holding the baby when the Google penalty arrives or Bing just quietly drops you from their index.
The most common key to Black Hat success is buying lots of backlinks from other websites - usually Private Blog Networks which are websites parading as blogs or article sites but are really just full of thin content where they'll offer links for sale.
There are many third party tools available to check what links are coming into the website. I use AHrefs, Majestic, Moz and SEO PowerSuite for this type of work because none of them are fully comprehensive in their data.
Now go and have a look at where those backlinks are coming from. Are these awesome websites and are the links in awesome content? Or are they all coming from 300-500 word articles which are so shallow that you struggle to make it through all the verbal vomit and sharing with a friend wouldn't even cross your mind?
If its the latter then that website is heading for Google's trash can. It might be tomorrow, next week or in a couple of months but it will happen and your money will have gone straight down the drain.
Search engines like websites whose core subject theme remains stable over time. Check if there are any entries in the Internet Archive. Have those pages changed much compared to what is on the live website.
If there have been big changes the chances are the website is coasting. Its still riding on rankings due to older content and there is nothing to say the new content will help it maintain those positions.
This follows on from the last point. If you plan to make substantial changes to the website then there is no reason to guarantee it will maintain the rankings you purchased it for. If you purchase cuddlykittens.com because it ranks highly for "pictures of kittens" and then you fill the site with content about great gambling websites its not going to rank for "pictures of kittens" for long.
Even more subtle changes might have a big effect if you don't know what you are doing - and buying a website because you don't want to do the SEO means there is a fair chance you won't know what you are doing.
Unless I wanted to continue or expand the content of a website I wouldn't even consider buying it. And if so I would also be looking for more rounded metrics than just its rankings to give me an idea of its quality - average time on site, bounce rate, where visitors come from, etc.
Then if I find I'm reaching for my wallet I give the backlink profile a careful going over and check out the longer term history of the site if its available.
I've followed these steps and never once concluded that a website is worth purchasing even when it is legitimate. The price tags sellers usually put on them far outweigh how much it would cost to simply purchase a brand new domain, have the content created, search engine optimize it and outrank the other site.
Of course I'm biased because SEO is my field and I can dig into years of knowledge so I accept there are those for whom the price tag is worth paying to bypass that. It does make sense in certain circumstances if it is done with care.
I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.
If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.