Much of the information about web marketing online is geared towards a few types of people and businesses. You have your business owners looking to expand their physical business into a web business. You have your entrepreneurs looking to monetize blogs they’re building from scratch. You have your bloggers looking to build businesses based on content. You have affiliate marketers looking for niches to expand into, preferably with minimal competition.
What’s often forgotten in the shuffle is the concept of buying existing websites. Too often, people forget that it’s entirely possible to tempt a webmaster with money and buy their site instead of creating your own from scratch. This gets around a lot of the problems that come with beginning web administration, including the initial investment of building a website and growing it from nothing to the first few thousand users.
Sites like Flippa have established themselves as marketplaces for buying and selling websites, with an auction model. They sell fully established websites, sites that have just started up, and even domain names with no sites attached. Heck, they’ve even branched out into apps.
One thing you’ll notice if you browse Flippa and sites like it is the importance of traffic. A site with established traffic numbers will sell for a significantly larger amount of money than a site with little or no traffic at all. Therefore, it seems as though to make a profit from Flippa, you need to have a lot of traffic.
There are a few problems with this approach. For one thing, the traffic numbers listed on a Flippa auction are just numbers added by the seller. You have no way of knowing without extra investigation whether those numbers are legitimate, made up or anywhere in the ballpark of real.
There are also a lot of additional factors that influence the quality of that traffic. A site with 100,000 hits per day might be worthless compared to a site with 10,000 hits a month, if the latter has better traffic.
Buying a site with fake traffic is buying a rude awakening. Thoughts of potential immediate profit are dashed. Instead, you’re left with a crumbling site you spend a potentially huge amount of money on, while you struggle to build legitimate traffic and maybe even recover from a Google penalty.
The absolute easiest way to spot a site trying to fake their traffic numbers is by viewing their Google Analytics data. If you’re contemplating buying a site, you should ask the owner for read only access to their analytics.
If the owner refuses, you might want to consider it a warning sign. Sometimes legitimate site owners are just wary of buyers who aren’t really buyers. Sometimes they’re trying to hide something. Likewise, if the owner sends you screenshots rather than granting you access to live data, be wary. Screenshots can be easily doctored.
If they let you in, they either have nothing to hide or trust that you don’t know what to look for. Here’s what to look for:
On the other hand, if there are varied and lengthy sessions, higher numbers of pages per session, lower bounce rates and slow, gradual growth, the site is much more likely to be legitimate. It’s not unheard of for a site to have explosively rapid growth, but a site coincidentally experiencing that growth right before going on sale is a little sketchy.
So what do you do if you encounter a site for sale that has significant amounts of fake traffic coming in? Well, for one thing, don’t buy it. Unless you have very reliable schemes to make money from such a site when the traffic disappears, it won’t be a worthwhile purchase. If you’re determined to buy after all, make a low counter-offer.
While you’re at it, report the site to whatever auction or marketplace you’re using. They should have fraud protection rules in place, and will help protect you and the rest of the potential buyers from making a costly mistake.
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