How to buy a website on Flippa – list of actions to check for scam
Many people dream of a business that earns money without doing anything. That is called passive income. Although it is the best thing that could happen to you, it is also the most difficult to achieve. It is almost always easier to find a dream job than to make something that gives you passive income, which you will be able to live from.
Flippa is one of the most popular platforms where people can buy and sell their domains, apps and websites. I guess, the reason for it’s popularity is the amount of listings to choose from if you want to buy a website. Although it’s very popular, they do almost nothing to stop scammers. We’ve been looking at some sites from time to time and there are often very poor sites for sale, and even some of the sites are infected with malicious software and content. Flippa gives you the authentic junk yard sale feeling.
Read also: Checklist for technical SEO
But still, people buy websites there and many get scammed. So, what can we do to mitigate (minimize) the risks in buying a website on Flippa?
This article contains a step by step guide on how to check whether a site / domain listing might be a Flippa scam.
What to check before buying
- Check profit/revenue vs Reserve/Buy now price. General rule for setting a price for the site is 10 times monthly profit.
For example: Monthly Uniques 1,506 Monthly Revenue $3,000 Selling price $2,100.
In this case the owner claims to earn $3,000 per month from the site, but sells it for $2,100? Why would someone sell for $2,100 if monthly revenue is $3,000? The answer can be a high cost of running the website with a profit of around $200 or the claimed revenue is false. Analyze the cost.
Good sites outside of Flippa get 18-24x monthly profit. This is good if you are sure of what you are buying really generates claimed income. On Flippa you can never be sure. No one checks the listings, not even Flippa employees.
- Check website rank history. Use free services like alexa.com and others. You will most likely need to sign up in order to see the history. Check if it is what the seller is telling you. We often see sites that claim to be 1 year old, but history shows that the site came up just a month ago and jumped to the top at once. All strange jumps in rank for a short period of time should make you suspicious!
Check out this example:
In this case a seller claims that the site is “PR 1 Automated …, Easiest Money Maker.” Indeed, current alexa rank is 4,444,521 that is good for a website which is 2 weeks old! But the tricky question is – how did he manage to make it so good in just 2 weeks? The answer is – no real and legit site can do that. At least “legally”. What I mean by “legally” is what the most popular search engine considers as good – organic popularity.
There are several ways for a new website to become so popular – unexpected huge promotion (like some celebrity talking about it) or false linking. As the website is being sold that means that it almost certainly a scam in a form of, for example, private blog network. This is when a person owns many blogs and uses them to rank higher for the new website by linking to it. Thus search engines see many links to the new website and think that the website is popular.
The reason why you shouldn’t buy such a website – the rank is fake and will be taken down by the owner once you buy the website. Your popularity drops to zero and you sit with a bad website and no money.
- Check penalty. Check if the website is penalized by search engines. Use services like Google Penalty Checker Tool. If the website is penalized then it won’t rank in search engines. No search engine presence – no organic traffic. It’s very difficult for a website to recover from a penalty.
- Check the seller history. Did the seller sold similar websites before? Are there other similar website available for purchase, but with a slightly different name? Review the actual sold web sites to see what happened with them. Read reviews. You can sometimes find that it’s a graveyard of junk that didn’t work out for the person who bought it.
Check out these two (I found at least 5 similar as of today):
- Check if the seller owns other sites that are similar or in the same niche with the one they’re selling. Use tools like http://sameid.net or DomainTools’s Reverse Whois or some other.
The seller of one of the sites that we liked and considered to buy had whole 825 similar websites! How do you manage to have so many? It was definitely not a good purchase in this case. No wonder a completely fresh website was ranked so high – linking from even 20 of those 825 to the new website will make it a high ranking!
- Analyze traffic data. Does it make sense? Request live access to the site’s Google Analytics and spend at least a few hours digging through every corner of it. Any discrepancies – question them. Also, don’t buy the website if the owner refuses to give you access.
- Does the site get a lot of traffic? If yes – is it sustainable? If you are looking at a, for example, several month old photo site, that gets 10,000 unique visitors a month. You have to figure out where the traffic is coming from. Is it organic search engine traffic that will keep coming in month after month, or is it all from social media from the user posting links on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and so on that will dry up within a week of posting on social media?
If the traffic is not sustainable and the content is not quite unique, what are you really buying? A domain name and a website with a theme?
- Does the site get organic traffic? If yes – analyze it. Especially if it’s the main source:
- Pull out main backlinks with a free tool like ahref.com. What are these sites? Are they connected to the seller, sellers ip, sellers adsense account, sellers social profiles? Check out the quality of the backlinks. Remember, that it costs around 5$ for a backlink on Fiverr. But they will often be spam-like links that can be trashed by next Google algorithm (like Panda).
- How many different keywords does the site rank for? Is it only one? Than the risk is high.
- Check if the website is blacklisted on Google. Make a simple search: type in the name of the website in Google search. How many pages do you get? If nothing – than the site is blacklisted.
- Analyze content. Is it unique? This is especially important for blogs and article sites. Use tools like http://www.siteliner.com to check for duplicate content. Where did the images come from? Try to search for some of the images. Did you find any? Remember about copyright infringement law. Could you be sued for a website full of images you couldn’t use?
- Previous listings (for sites that were listed before). Check them out! Does it look something like this?
If the website is any good and really bringing in money, would it be sold over and over again? And for much less?
- Social pages. Does the site claim to be present on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms? Check them out!
One of the usual signs we often see is that a Facebook page, for example, refers to some other domain that is almost the same as the one being sold. Too often can we see examples where sellers make/buy one script to do something and then create many websites with different domains for that script. F.ex. bestbook.com, thebestbooks.com, best-books.com, findbestbooks.com and so on. The seller than creates one Facebook page and claims that it belongs to each of the websites. In this case you get a website that is not unique and have a lot of unhealthy competition from people with the same script.
Another danger is that particular Facebook page belongs to a group of domains. In this case you won’t get it after purchase.If you are confident that the social page belongs to the site – check engagement of the followers. Are they engaged or do they just “follow”? Remember that you can always buy at least 3000 followers on networks like Fiverr for just 5$. They will be just bots.
- Request a live screenshare via Skype, asking the seller to complete the whole login process with you online. Screenshots and video proofs can be very easily faked!
And remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it
There are steps that you must take after buying a site on Flippa. Reason? You don’t have any buyer protection after the payment is transferred. If the seller has a backdoor to your new site – you can easily be thrown out without any money back guarantee.
1. Once you receive the files or passwords – take a backup at once! The copy of all the content and software should be stored locally on your computer or server.
2. Move the website to your own host server. Never listen to the seller that he will take care of your website. Nothing stops him from taking over your site after the payment is done or some period of time.
3. Install new versions of your website engine (if possible). It’s the easiest with WordPress – just download a new fresh WordPress installation and copy the content over with brand new admin passwords and such. Remove all other admins! Secure your new website as much as possible!
This list is mostly a list for myself, so I’ll remember to check all of them before I spend any money on the internet. There are many clever scammers who can make it difficult even for a trained eye to determine if a site is a scam or legit. We’ve tried to buy a website that just looked too good to be true. We couldn’t find anything bad about either the seller or the site, but it didn’t feel right. So after several days of searching, I found out that it was in fact a scam. It was not easy!