General thoughts on website appraisal; TLDR version
Rule #1 – You can’t sell potential. Take the word out of your vocabulary. Cringe when you hear it from others.
Selling a website: Selling a website is tough. Most people can’t even understand how a website works, let alone take over your franken-site. You need to plan for your sale from day one. You won’t ever recoup your investment unless you plan for an exit at some point. There’s no one sitting around with cash willing to pay for “potential” in your creative ideas, or the excessive amount of money you spent on poor development and marketing strategy speculation.
Revenue models: There’s a handful of ways to make money with a website. Pick one and stick with it, and don’t be lured by the murky waters of “potential” revenue sources. Understand the questions a buyer will ask before you even start your site. Stick to your model.
Valuation: The best way to put a value on a website is multiple of revenue. No buyer wants “potential”. Potential is just motivation on top of a valuation – it adds nothing to the valuation. Understand the fundamentals of valuation.
Most sites currently sell for between 12-36 months of revenue, or a 1-3x annual revenue multiple. Yes, Instagram got $1B dollars, but you sir, are no instagram. You’ll be lucky to get a 3x multiple – don’t push your luck and learn to plan accordingly if you want to live to build another website another day.
Online Business and Revenue Models
Revenue Models are one of the most important considerations of a website – here’s a list to consider.
No current model – Informational or resource site. Most blogs and websites usually start off in this fashion – as a resource site to discuss a specific topic. Most blogs especially start off this way until the blog has developed enough of an audience to begin planning a monetization strategy.
Subscription. Once a blogger or webmaster has attracted a decent amount of regular traffic to their site, they might create very resourceful information and tools that are just to valuable to give away for free. This can then be developed into a subscription based revenue model, where users pay monthly or annually to access these resources.
Advertising. Perhaps the most sought after form of monetizing information on the web, an advertising model can take many different shapes. Most websites start running impression-based or pay-per-click ad systems, or look into affiliate programs to generate revenue, and super-successful sites may eventually partner with specific brands in very profitable ad deals.
Service. Many who run information-based websites usually at some point become known as “experts” in their niche. As their expertise increases, visitors who may need a service performed will hire the blogger or webmaster to perform these duties for them, and thus the website becomes a source of revenue by performing there services.
Lead generation. While similar to advertising, lead generation ties advertising into “service” model by providing leads for other companies, and then getting compensated for generating those leads. So for example instead of performing the service from an inquiry, the website could then hand the lead off to another company that does the work and gets a recruiter fee as the prize.
Product. Finally, the last major business model is also the oldest model in the book – utilizing e-commerce to sell a product. Typically this involves a traditional brick-and-motor company that sells these products in the real world, but could also include a “look ma, no hands” model where the website sells a product that is therein drop-shipped by another company altogether.
Donation. Usually the first step to monetizing a site involves some sort of donation strategy, usually set-up with a Paypal button. Useful if you are providing very resourceful information on a regular basis or providing some sort of open-source software for visitors to download. Not really a business model, more of a charity model, but it can be a start to generating income for a website.
Questions for appraising a website – The Buyer’s Perspective
So now that we understand the types of business models associated with making money off of any given website, we need to delve further into a specific model and find out whether or not it’s actually a solid one. Just because a website can theoretically turn a profit does not mean that it does or will in the future – their still is the business side of it that has to run properly. The following questions are a good starting point when appraising a websites real value.
What is the revenue model? Go through the list of revenue models listed above, and figure out which one applies to a site. Is there more than one model? It’s possible that a site may only have one current model but has the possibility to have additional models (and of course make additional money).
What is the current revenue? This is probably the most important aspect when it comes to finding the real price of a web business. Does the site actually make any money? Sure, a site may have a powerful domain or decent amount of traffic, but is the revenue model actually working?
What is the current profitability? Now it’s time to actually understand the business behind the website. A website may be pulling in lots of cash, but that does not make it profitable. If the costs of doing business are high (i.e. paying employees to generate content, hosting, or product handling/manufacturing) then profits may or may not even exist. You’ll also have to look into how the business is actually structured to see if the behind the scenes processes are affecting the profitability of the site.
What are the current liabilities? In other-wards, what are the things that cost the owner of the business money in order for it to survive? Does the web business have employees? Is there a brick-and-motor side of the business that needs rent and utilities paid every month? And don’t forget hosting – every website has at the very least a hosting liability.
What are the current assets? If liabilities are what cost a web business money, the the businesses assets are what makes it money. For example, a websites email list is considered an asset, as it’s something that is owned by the business and has a proverbial price tag associated with it. Is there some kind of application or tool that belongs to the website that holds some sort of monetary value (i.e. code that could be sold?) Trying to pin down the assets of a given website can be difficult as they are less tangible, but important to assess the value of the business.
What risks are involved with assigning annualized revenue? Basically, knowing what the liabilities and assets are, and whether or not the site is profitable then determining the risk? If the website has low liability, some kind of measurable assets, and is turning a profit, then it would be considered low risk, theoretically. High liability and short profit margins make make for an obvious riskier investment.
What is the value of the industry? This is the one thing that could bite an investor in the ass if not properly understood. Let’s use an example. Let’s say it’s 2003 and you are thinking about purchasing a website that sells CD’s and DVD’s. The site is profitable, liability is low and the email list is huge. Would that have made a good investment? Absolutely not, as those industry’s are dying everyday. So while an investment may seem low risk, if you don’t have the foresight down (and in some cases that might just be your gut), you might be making a mistake. Study the industry, the competition, and know it like the back of your hand.
What is the scope of keywords? Now were getting into some of the SEO aspects of analyzing your potential purchase. The larger the scope of your keywords can possibly be, the more options you have when it comes to generating traffic and leads. A lot of creativity is involved when deciphering your keyword potential. Is it very narrow or very broad? A site that sells fishing supplies, for example, is very broad – you have so many topics to break into (wildlife, nature, boating, etc). One that sells chess boards, not so much.
How many unique keywords are there? Okay, so let’s use the fishing example we discussed above. Now how UNIQUE can these topics be? Well we have a whole ton of specific kinds of fish, styles of boats, brands of fishing rods and so on. The unique keywords we could generate for this topic would be infinite. Again, you have to have a creative mind to really soak up the subject matter and decide how many ways you can spin the content to rank for as many keywords as possible.
Is it a “longtail” or “shorttail” keyword industry? In the fishing example, we have a very “longtail” industry – meaning the keyword itself is very broad. If that were to be the only keyword we wanted/needed to rank for in order for the business to turn a profit, there would be a lot of competition and barrier to entry would be immense. However, because there are so many different types of fishing (spear fishing, for example), content can be geared to these less competitive keywords while still driving valuable traffic.
What is the CPC range of keywords on PPC? When utilizing Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns, it’s important to understand the costs of doing so. Analyzing the Cost-Per-Click can give you a good idea not only of the cost of actually running a campaign (price verses potential profit from visitor generation) but also the competition of the keywords you’re site wants to rank for, which can help in assessing the barrier to entry.
Is there room in the industry for a big competitor? In any business, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. And if you’re a little puppy, chances are there is a big, mean dog out there that will steal your bone at some point. Try to decide whether there is either a larger competitor that already exists that has the resources (or potential resources) to bark louder and drive you out of business.
How many major competitors are established in the industry? A great way to determine if your potential web business is on the ground floor is looking at the competition. Are there competing websites out there? Do you have the resources to compete with them? Competition isn’t always a bad thing, it’s proof that there is a market. Sometimes having NO competition may suggest there is no demand for whatever it is you are selling.
Do any bigger companies have their eyes on the niche? Again, there might not be a big dog in the pound yet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one some day. What is a small niche one day can become a very profitable niche for an established brand the next. Do your research and try to dig up information on companies that might be spending money to move into your territory.
What is the Alexa rank? While not the be-all-end all of analyzing a site’s place in the web, taking a quick peek into Alexa, and web monitoring tool that’s been collecting user data since the dinosaurs, can give you some insight as to how well a domain has the potential of doing online, with lots of different metrics that break down a websites Alexa score.
Does the demographic skew the Alexa rank? One of the reasons why an Alexa rank can sometimes be taken with a grain of salt can be related to the demographic; this lies in the fact that Alexa’s rank only figures in data from it’s actual users. So for example if your site has a tech-based demographic then the Alexa stats might be skewed high because many of Alexa’s users also fit into that demographic. If your demographic is say a younger, pre-teen aged one it might not have any data at all simply because they have no idea what the hell Alexa even is.
What is the value of the domain name? This can be an entire discussion all by itself, but let’s summarize, because the value of the domain is very important in terms of SEO. How old is the domain? Are there any existing links, and how valuable are those? Is your keyword located in the domain. Is the extension (.com, .net, .org) a trusted one?
How brand-able/memorable/marketable is the domain? These are factors that can also be considered as part of the “value” of the domain, but on a conceptual level. Can the domain be easily remembered if you told someone at the bar without them having to right down? Does the domain give a clear example of what the website is all about? Or is the domain a “brand-able” word that you can develop into different business opportunities as it grows?
Is there type- in traffic? Most of your traffic efforts are going to revolve around search and social, ranking for keywords and getting people to share links. However, a domain can yield much more value if it already has some kind of type-in traffic, meaning the site is getting traffic directly from someone typing its domain into the browser (which means it has some level of notoriety or is such a common word people just assume to go there).
What is the current traffic level of the site? Obviously a no-brain-er when determining the value of a site. The cost of a web property almost always comes down to it’s traffic level, as if a site doesn’t have any traffic then it’s probably not making any money. The more traffic a site has the more established it probably is. this making it more valuable.
What is the current estimated value per unique user? Any website with a business model for the most part can then figure out the cost of a unique visitor. First you need to determine the conversion rate of the site’s traffic, i.e. the percentage of visitors that come to the site that actually converts into whatever the conversion may be – a purchase or lead, whatever the model may be. If your model is advertising based then you would use average page view data compared with your impression as rate to determine the value of a unique visitor.
Is there any current brand value to the site? When it comes to discussing things like “brand value”, it can be hard to decipher, as a “brand” is often a conceptual or emotional thing. There are tangible, for lack of a better word, aspects to a brand – logo, sales copy, existing notoriety. However, other questions to help assess a brand’s value are “What comes to mind when mentioning the name” or “What emotions are felt when loading the website”. This is where focus groups come into play.
What is the current natural search traffic like? We’ve already mentioned how valuable your traffic is and how it’s a major force in determining the value of a web property. Now you’ll want to break it down and see where that traffic is coming from, what keywords it’s ranking for in which search engines, etc. and analyze it’s current place in regards to search in general.
What is the potential for future search traffic? After the initial analysis of search traffic, you’ll then want to ask yourself how you can increase it and what it’s going to take in order to do so. A good example would be a website is currently ranking highly for a number of keyword phrases, but is stuck on page 3 for a very lucrative one. How much work would you need to give that page a boost and in return significantly generate more traffic?
What is the quality of the search traffic? A-ha! Now were getting somewhere. When we discussed placing the value on a visitor, we discussed the conversion rates, which ultimately lies in the “quality” of search traffic. If the majority of your traffic is coming from places or keywords that really don’t relate to whatever it is your selling, then chances are the quality is low, because your conversion rates will be low. Related referral sites? Very targeted keywords? Higher conversions and quality traffic.
How well does the site convert? We’ve discussed “quality” traffic is traffic that is very target to the material of the site; however, just because the traffic is the there doesn’t necessarily mean that it converts well. Other factors may play a role in whether or not the conversion rate is good, such as sales copy, design, and the actual business model (product or service’s reputation)
What costs would be involved in re-creating the site? Many times when purchasing an existing website, the design, content, or infrastructure may be out of date. In this case you’ll need to decipher how you want to re-create the site and what amount of time and work will go into it. The number of pages/content, whether or not the site currently has a CMS (content management system), a database of content, etc will be your initial steps in determining the costs of a re-design.
What is the level of brand loyalty? Again when we think of the “brand” it may at times be difficult to understand the metrics that determines it’s value. Is there a strong email or social media presence for the brand? Do readers comment regularly on blog posts? Is there some level of recurring usage or product/service purchases from existing customers? Does the site have user data or testimonials to back it up?
Website Appraisal Tools
Alexa and it’s popular toolbar has been around since the mid-1990’s, when the Internet really started to come into it’s own. Since then it has been using this toolbar to collect all kinds of data regarding traffic and user statistics of the web and has created a sort of ranking system to determine a site’s popularity on the web. This is the old stand by tool, but there are better premium tools to appraise search traffic these days.
SEMrush is a must have in the search marketer’s premium toolset. Find out historical ranking and traffic valuation information, and start making some educated guesses on valuation.
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Adwords is the popular service from Google which let’s webmasters setup PPC campaigns in order to drive relevant traffic. It’s keyword tool offers plenty of insight into a specific market for keyword demand, allows you to see competitors, global and local search data, and give you an idea on the ease or difficulty in trying to break into the top of the search results for a keyword phrase.
SEOBook Keyword Tool
Aaron Wall has put together a number of fantastic tools and services to help you navigate the world of SEO, and one of the most valuable is his Keyword Suggestion Tool. Enter a keyword and you’ll get access to a breakdown of monthly search data about your keyword phrase across a number of different search channels.
Interested in looking a quick snapshot of how your website compares to others in your industry? Compete.com will allows you to quickly compare a website along side others in a similar niche, comparing data such as traffic and engagement metrics, link building opportunities, and analyzing competitor keywords and search strategies.
You’re not going to get anywhere unless you can analyze the user and traffic data from a website, and you need the right tools in order to do that. Google analytics will be your best bet in determining all the analytical data you can handle, from traffic to keyword sources to even geographical data and more.
There a ton of so called “website evaluation” tools out there that claim to put a price tag on a website using their so-called analysis; many of these sites inflate the suppossed value to give the website owner some kind of empowered feeling (and so they place a badge on their site claiming it’s worth and giving a link back to the tool). ebizvaluation is a little more in-depth becasue it places the value of a site based on how much other, similar sites have sold for. It was built based on SitePoint.com’s “The Ultimate Site Valuation Guide“.
Calulating the Value of a Business
Managing a business is no different just because you’re on the web – you have to understand the model and it’s financials, and using pen and paper you might make a mistake and throw the whole investment deal off. Using these tools and spreadhseets will give you a better idea of how the financial side of your investment really looks.
Be aware that most valuation tools don’t consider all the factors.
Potential Website Valuation Equations
There are probably a million different ways to value a website based on the situation and intentions of both buyer and seller. This is just a handful of ways I can think of to put a price tag on a website
Content site (no current revenue model) – Value of domain name + value of content + value of backlinks
Considerations – content origination, link stamina (how long will they remain)
- What is the value of the theme industry keyword traffic?
- How will the site be monetized?
Content site (advertising revenue model) –
Future traffic projections and earnings based on past earnings per unique visitor or net income or revenue annual multiples
Considerations – content origination, link stamina (how long will they remain)
- What is the value of the theme industry keyword traffic?
- How will the site be monetized?
Value of current mailing and subscription base – Users + time + trust and ability to adjust to change. Much more easy to monetize than to value.
- What is the loyalty level of the user base?
- What are the current response rates?
- What dependence/ expertise is reliant on current ownership?
Based more on traditional business valuation
- Will the service scale?
- Will customers remain after change of ownership?
- What are the growth trends in the service sector?
Lead generation site
Lead generation net x time period desired
- Will the lead commissions increase or decrease over time?
- How are leads currently tracked?
- Will the current commission structure remain in place?
Net sales or profit x time period desired
- How are orders fulfilled?
- Can orders be outsourced or drop shipped?
- Will the fulfillment process remain the same?
- Where is the product stored?
- What is the current inventory?
- How much of the inventory is “stale”?
Major Variables to consider when buying or selling a website
Revenue. How much money is the website pulling in every year?
Profits. After looking at that revenue, subtract the cost of doing business. How much profit is being made? Be sure to consider “owner’s discretionary income” – which include the business owner’s “fringe benefits” like a home office expense or automobile depreciation expense.
Earnings per click. What is the conversion rate? How much revenue can be generated from someone clicking on your link or ad and converting into a customer?
Costs per click. Now that you know the earnings of a click, how much can you then afford to spend on a click using PPC and still create revenue?
Site overhead. What are in the costs of doing business. How much does it cost to host the site? Are there programmers or content writers employed to keep the site up to date?
Search rankings. Does the site currently rank for any important keywords, and are those keywords generating traffic?
Stability of search rankings. Just because you currently rank for something doesn’t mean you will tomorrow. How competitive are the rankings and what are your chances of losing them?
Defensibility of search rankings. As with stability, how you are ranking could affect you in the long run. Are your ranking because of some sort of link spam that Google will eventually catch on to, or does the site rank because it had authoritative links? Legitimacy is key for long term ranking.
Size of the site. Pretty self explanatory metric, but how large is the site? We’re not talking about the width of the design, we’re talking about the number of pages. Is there just a few pages of content, or are there thousands? The more content, the more unique keywords the site can possibly rank for.
Unique Content. Now, they’re may be a thousand pages of content on the site, but is it unique? There are plenty of sites that either steal content or re-hash old articles from directories; unique content is very valuable and important when it comes to rankings.
Content Assets. Are there linkable content assets such as widgets, tools, guides, etc. Will these assets need updates or maintenance?
Current and future revenue potential. Is there enough current revenue to warrant an actual business investment? Even more importantly, can the current business model grow, or can other business models be explored in order to purse additional revenue?
Loyalty of user base and brand loyalty. Is there a community of active users and visitors? Are there recurring purchases or leads from within the current community?
Lifetime value of visitors. Is having a new unique visitor only worth the initial sale or ad impression, or is there value in having that visitor come back for more through the lifetime of the site?
Affiliate relationships. Does the site currently have any affiliate marketing relationships established, and if not, is there a place for possible relationships to be established in the future?
Content creation relationships. How is the sites current content updated? Is there a team of writers and programmers in place that can continue updating the site with fresh content, or will you have to start from scratch and build your own/maintain the site yourself?
Links pointing to the domain. How many links are currently pointing to the domain? Are there enough to possibly affect rankings or will you have to run an aggressive link building campaign to compete?
Unique domains linking in. Out of the number of links you have pointing towards your domain, how many of those are from unique domains? Is the number high or do you have only a large number of links from just a few domains? This greatly affects the value of those links.
.edu and .gov links. Does the site have any incoming links from websites that have the .edu or .gov extention? These links are valuable in the Google algorithm and have additional authority value to consider.
“Resource value”. At the end of the day, how resourceful is your website in the industry or niche you’re trying to break into? Ask yourself if you were a competitor looking at the site in question if you think the site is worth linking to, as in would your visitors benefit from the resources and information on the site?
Expense considerations for any website purchass
- Advertising expenses
- Merchant Fees
- Book keeping
- Bank Fees
- Content creation costs
- Other expenses
11 Ways to create a site you can sell
1. Build an optimized website with a state-of-the art CMS
The first step is actually building the website, and you’ll want to make sure you build is properly from the get-go. Find a legitimate hosting company that can handle a large boost of traffic, use a solid CMS like WordPress or Drupal, and optimize the site out of the box to get ranked in search as you begin to build traffic.
2. Develop a team of content writers and build “legacy” content
Building traffic to your new site is all in the traffic, no matter how you want to look at it. Chances are you’re schedule isn’t open to site around writing blog posts, lists, and articles all day long. Determine the keywords you want to rank for and hire a small team of content writers. Build up your “legacy” content (start with 10-20 killer resourceful articles that will get you attention right off the bat) and continue to offer up killer content on a consistent basis.
3. Begin building an email list and building the brand
At first, you’re only in the game to drive traffic and build your reputation. While you’re waiting to develop your traffic level to the point where you can monetize the site, begin building an email list and RSS subscribers. This will build the brand equity we’ve discussed, and down the road as you build more trust with your list you’ll be able to monetize this as well.
4. Build traffic and links, wash, rinse and repeat.
Your site will never be worth a dime unless you can build sustainable traffic, and that’s going to take lots of hard work and time. Use that team of writers you’ve assembled to crank out valuable content, network with those in the social media world to create some viral campaigns, and develop a link building campaign to keep the momentum going.
5. Explore and develop the site’s business model(s)
We’ve been talking about this all day long at this point, so you should have an idea of where you want to go with your business model even before you start building it. Will their only be one revenue model, or can you incorporate more? Obviously having more then one model leads to a more complex business as far as operations are concerned, but any solid business plan takes advantages of multiple revenue streams to maximize profits.
6. Create and maintain cashflow
Just because you now have a business model in place doesn’t mean you can maintain cashflow – this has to reach a point where month in, month out the site is making some kind of money for any serious buyers to step into the picture. While you’ll still need to focus on growing traffic to up the ante when it comes to the sites potential, you’ll also have to keep in mind other things – conversion mainly (maximizing your current traffic for highest amount of profit generated) and basic business operations (cost cutting, task management) to maintain a solid level on money coming in the door each and every month.
7. Keep good financial statements
This might be the farthest thing from your mind when it comes to running a website, but don’t forget that you’re also running a legitimate business and any buyer worth his salt is going to want to see the numbers. If accounting isn’t your cup of tea, then outsource that to someone who knows how to do this effectively. If your buyer sees that your financial statements are written on napkins, they’ll no doubt pull the plug on a deal in a heartbeat. Who is going to trust a business owner who can’t keep the most important part of operations organized?
8. Create defensible traffic
With all the talk about search being your primary source of traffic, you can’t rely ENTIRELY on it. Search ranking algorithms changes very often, and you have to realize that one day you might for some reason get pulled; if you’re not creating defensible traffic, your business is going down the toilet. Savvy web buyers know this and will look at the traffic to see where it’s coming from. Of course they are going to want to see very solid and competitive search rankings but hopefully, you have traffic coming from other areas – other referrals (links, blogs), social media, and even traditional media efforts (type in traffic).
9. Make the site transitional to a new owner
This little bit of advice is going to provide you (and the new owner) the ability to complete the purchase without too many headaches. Making the site transitional is a must, otherwise both parties will end up wasting too much time trying to figure out where all the pieces fit and the business will suffer. This starts with making sure the hosting can be transferred properly, that the back end business infrastructure will be easily manged by the new owner, that any software that is being used by the current team is transferable – the works.
10. Have strong documentation
Want to know how to make that transition period a breeze? Document everything. Do you have a team of content writers? Document exactly how the creative and technical processes get taken care of. Does the owner need to figure out his or her way around the CMS – document all of this too, with screenshots so the new owner can easily jump right in. How about your research, business development, and other pieces of the puzzle? The more documentation you have on the business could easily seal any deal you’ve got on the table, as it shows you really know what you’re doing and eliminates some of the risk a potential buyer might be worried about making.
11. Stay Focused.
For every idea you add. Take one off the list. You don’t have time for everything.
If you want to discuss your website – feel free to drop me a line
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Website Valuation Resources
- BizEquity Business Valuation
- How much is an adsense website worth?
- A guide to basic variables that make a website valuable
- Website valuation questions **WMW supporter’s forum
- Blog buying basics
- Valuation of developed sites
- Website valuation models
- How to buy a website
- How to sell a website
- How to determine website value
- Practice with Alexadex
- Anatomy of a sale – Inc. magazine
- How to Sell Your Website – by Jason Yelowitz
- Self domain appraisal test
- How to pick and evaluate domains for resale
- A short description of how and where domains are sold
- So you want to sell your website
- DNforum domain appraisals
- Domain appraisal standardization
- Digitalpoint business forum – buy, sell, trade sites and domain valuation
- 28 appraisal criteria
If you want to discuss your website – feel free to drop me a line