Key SEO considerations when taking over a website

When taking over a website, it is crucial to consider various SEO aspects to maintain and improve search engine visibility. A careful approach can smooth the transition and help build a strong online presence. In this article, I discuss key SEO considerations when taking over a website and how I conduct due diligence for SEO.

In short, what am I looking for?

In brief, what I am looking for in a website that offers to be acquired:

  • A history of quality (not built yesterday).
  • Quality backlink profile (including links that are not purchased).
  • Good content (hard to imitate).
  • A strong technique (difficult to recreate easily).

The power of SEO is in (I find) raising the threshold for entry into a market. Anyone can build a website tomorrow in a new market, turn on Google Ads and Meta ads and bang out sky-high CPAs.

What raises the barrier to market is websites with a lot of name recognition as well as good SEO. These metrics provide a blended CPA that is lower than with just ads allowing you to compete on price (or enjoy higher margins).

From the systems I need for due diligence, I talk about how I determine what the value of a website is (from an SEO perspective).

SEO considerations within due diligence at a glance

No time for a long article? No problem. Watch the video below for a summary of this article.

SEO considerations when taking over a website (video).

To which systems is access required?

Thorough SEO due diligence requires access to a range of tools and systems to get a complete picture of a website’s current SEO performance and potential.

In short, I use Google Analytics for the complete overview of all channels without diving too much into the details. With the Google Search Console, I dive into SEO and look at all the details (technique, content and results).

Also in connection with contacting the selling party, I keep in mind what I really need and what is “nice to have.” Here are some of the key systems and tools you should have access to:

1. Google Analytics (high priority).

Google Analytics provides comprehensive data on website traffic, user behavior, conversion rates, and much more. This information is crucial for understanding the current state of the Web site, including which pages are performing best, where visitors are coming from, and how they are interacting with the site.

2. Google Search Console (high priority).

Google Search Console provides insight into how Google views the Web site, including indexing status, search performance, mobile usability, and site vitality issues. It also provides important data on search traffic, such as the searches that drive traffic to the site, the site’s position in search results, and the click-through rate (CTR).

3. SEO audit tools (low priority)

SEO audit tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, or Screaming Frog SEO Spider are essential for conducting a detailed technical SEO audit. These tools can help identify technical problems (such as broken links, slow loading speeds, and duplicate content), analyze backlinks, and assess the overall SEO health of the site.

My biggest red flags (Google Analytics)

When analyzing Google Analytics with a focus on SEO before taking over a Web site, there are several “red flags” or warning signs that may indicate underlying problems. Identifying these signals can be essential to deciding whether an investment is wise and what strategic improvements are needed. Here are some important red flags to watch out for:

1. Declining trend in organic traffic

A steady or sudden drop in organic traffic over an extended period of time may indicate problems such as loss of search engine rankings, Google penalties, or declining relevance of content. This requires thorough investigation of the causes.

A downward trend in organic traffic can prove very difficult to turn back into an upward trend. Know that, depending on the cause, it costs more to turn this around than to stimulate a rising trend.

2. Low quality traffic

Low average session duration and high bounce rates for organic traffic may indicate irrelevant content, poor user experience, or technical issues that repel visitors. This can impact SEO performance, as search engines measure user engagement.

This may also manifest itself in a low number of pages per session. This can also manifest itself in a (very) low conversion rate from SEO traffic. On the other hand, if this is down to a quick fix then you can also correctly interpret it again as an opportunity for an acquisition with lots of low-hanging fruit.

Possible causes for this are:

  • A poor UX (I often find this less of a problem than the next reason).
  • A misalignment between the search terms for which a website comes up and the offerings of the website itself.

3. Traffic sources

An overreliance on one traffic source or a sudden change in the mix of traffic sources can be risky. Losing organic traffic while paid traffic increases may indicate SEO problems masked by paid campaigns.

These red flags in Google Analytics require a thorough analysis and understanding of context. It is important not to look at these signals in isolation, but as part of a more comprehensive SEO audit that includes other factors and tools. This helps develop a complete picture of a website’s SEO health prior to an acquisition

My biggest red flags (Google Search Console)

When considering the acquisition of a Web site, Google Search Console (GSC) provides indispensable insights that are essential for performing thorough SEO due diligence. As with Google Analytics, there are specific “red flags” in Google Search Console that can indicate underlying SEO problems or opportunities for improvement. Here are some important warning signs to watch out for in GSC:

1. Manual actions

One of the most immediate and serious red flags is the presence of manual actions against the website. This means that Google manually intervened to penalize the site for violating the guidelines. This can lead to a significant drop in visibility in search results.

When this is the case, this is actually a “no” for me right away if I am planning anything with SEO for the website. The mark this has left on a domain is enormous and will have consequences for years to come (if not forever).

2. Security issues

Google Search Console warns of security problems such as malware, phishing attacks, or hacked content. These problems can have serious implications for site reliability and SEO performance.

Again, this puts a stamp on the website you want to adopt. Perhaps less bad than point number 1, but still something to seriously consider.

3. Indexing issues

Signs of indexing problems, such as a large number of pages excluded from indexing or sudden drops in the number of indexed pages, may indicate technical problems or errors in the use of robots.txt and meta tags.

4. Mobile usability problems

Given the importance of mobile optimization for SEO, mobile usability issues are a red flag. This includes issues such as text that is too small to read, clickable elements that are too close together, and content that is wider than the screen.

I do like to take a substantive look here at what kind of problems these are on the website itself and whether they are easy to solve. Check with your internal technical capacity as well. If this is present and you can solve it easily then you can also see this as an opportunity.

5. Improvements for Core Web Vitals

Poor scores on Core Web Vitals (such as Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)) can indicate underlying technical problems that affect user experience and thus SEO performance.

The same as with mobile usability problems applies here again. If you can solve this with internal capacity then you can see this as an opportunity rather than a threat.

6. Search performance and search terms

A decline in search performance, such as a reduction in impressions, clicks, or average position for key keywords, may indicate lost SEO visibility and should be thoroughly investigated.

A downward trend in this should be taken seriously and discussed with the selling party. If there is SEO erosion or falling results in Google, it can be difficult to break this trend.

When assessing these red flags in Google Search Console, it is important to take a holistic approach and place the data in the context of the overall SEO strategy and performance. In-depth research and possibly consultation with SEO experts may be necessary to understand the causes of these problems and develop a plan for improvement.

Biggest red flags (off-page SEO)

Off-page SEO, focusing on external factors that affect a website’s search engine rankings, plays a crucial role in the overall SEO strategy. When evaluating a Web site for acquisition or analyzing its current SEO status, there are specific off-page SEO “red flags” that indicate potential problems. These warning signs can reduce the effectiveness of off-page SEO efforts and should be thoroughly investigated:

1. (Many) spammy backlinks and no quality

A large number of low-quality backlinks, unrelated sites, or spammy sites can be a major red flag. This may indicate previous attempts to artificially increase the backlink profile through black-hat SEO techniques, which can result in penalties from search engines.

I may not be as strict about this as other specialists, but every site will have obtained some spammy backlinks. Whether this was done by an SEO specialist or naturally or even by a competitor, this does not always worry me immediately.

It does worry me if that is the only foundation in the entire backlink profile (also read more here to get quality here). Quality really has to be in it, otherwise you have a website that is not worth much in terms of link building (which often represents much of the intrinsic value).

2. Loss of important backlinks

A sudden or steady loss of important backlinks can have a negative impact on SEO performance and website authority. This requires investigation into the causes, such as changes in linking sites or deleted pages.

3. Anchor text distribution

Something else you can’t do much about in the short term is, what does the anchor text distribution look like? Is there too much use of exact match anchors (EMAs) making it difficult to diversify topic more and actually rank for that? Then you have a problem.

I always look at what the possible future needs of the acquirer are and align them with the anchor text distribution and the possible discrepancy in this (and what we could do about it + how expensive it would be).

Identifying these red flags requires detailed analysis of the backlink profile and other off-page factors. Tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, and Majestic can provide valuable insights into the quality and nature of backlinks and off-page SEO activity. Fixing these problems can be challenging and often requires a focused strategy to restore and improve off-page SEO health.

Conclusion

Due diligence for SEO does not even have to take very long. Most SEO specialists get a good idea of a website within minutes. After that, it’s just a matter of diving into the details through the various tools. I would always recommend involving an expert in this, though; such processes are too valuable to risk going wrong.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
Five stars
My clients give me a 5.0 on Google out of 75 reviews

I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 22 March 2024. The last update of this article was on 22 March 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.