The web aspect of buying or selling a business
There are a number of technical issues of which the buyer needs to be aware, and correspondingly the seller needs to be conscious of what is going to come under scrutiny.
Some of the following will definitely be relevant, some may be less so depending on circumstances.
If you don’t know what a domain name is, this article about choosing a domain name may provide enough information to be going along with.
Even if a buyer expects to change the domain name of the business being bought, it would be prudent to keep the original name for a number of years so that traffic that appears at the redundant address is redirected to the new one.
Checking the registrar
Businesses frequently own more than one domain name even if they point to the same website. So the question needs to be asked: for each domain name that the business owner thinks they own, who is the registrant? The registrant is the person who actually controls, and therefore effectively owns, the domain name. If the registrant isn’t the business owner or an appropriate officer of the company, then there could be complications.
Looking up the domain record
There are many WHOIS services – just search for ‘whois’ – into which you can enter domain names to find the domain record and therefore who is the actual registrant.
Here is shown the whois from joker.com and it’s a straightforward process to enter a domain name, fill in the prompted digits (this is to stop people automating thousands of domain queries) and get a page of results called a domain record.
Assessing the results
There is no standard format for a domain record, so you have to scan down to find the registrant – not to be confused with the registrar. While you’re at it, check the address of the registrant to ensure that it’s what you expect.
If the registrant needs correction then, as a seller, you will need to get in touch with the person or service that provided the domain name in the first place.
As a buyer, you will want to ensure that the seller is the registrant/owner and actually has the ability to sell the domain name to you. In the worst case, you could be held to ransom by a third party who lives in another jurisdiction.
Checking the nameservers
Each domain is assigned at least two nameservers and these are listed in the domain record. The buyer needs to be assured that they have the necessary access to change these nameservers if necessary. The seller therefore needs to be able to furnish this information.
Analytics – website statistics
It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: the only real statistics that count are those associated with invoicing and these figures will come from the accounting system, not the website. We’ve known websites with a trickle of traffic that still have gained significant business via their website.
That said, there is information to be gained from website statistics. It helps to give an insight into long-term trends and the behaviour of visitors. From this you may be able to see what effect a particular marketing strategy has or unblock an apparent blockage in visitor flow.
Frequently the website statistics will be provided by Google Analytics – a ‘free’ service. It’s only free because Google take the opportunity to track visitors through a website for their own marketing purposes. You should always be aware of Google’s agenda as you dive in.
How will the analytics work after the sale? If whoever is running the website (eg the agency or designer) has registered the analytics in their own name, access may need opening up for the purchaser. It is possible to throw away the old analytics and start again, but then (as a buyer) you lose that historical comparison.
The website code
Some web content management systems remove the need to know about the detail of the programming code in which the website is written. In this case, having access to the management system may be all that is necessary.
Other websites may have bespoke code and this may be the very reason a buyer is interested in acquiring a particular website. In this case you need the source code for the entire website including libraries.
It may be that some or all of a website is subject to software licence restrictions. If this is the case, then the buyer is going to want to be assured that the licences can be transferred to them as part of the sale.
Remember that there may be licences for particular plug-ins that are separate from the main website.
If the website is more than a few years old then its functionality may not meet modern visitor expectations. In particular it may not be mobile-friendly and you can test that with Google's very own PageSpeed Insights. NB: some websites, particularly those with masses of tabulated data, aren't suitable for small screens, so you may have to find alternative ways of doing things for that cohort.
If you are looking at a business with WordPress website, insist that they update the WordPress core and all the plug-ins to the latest versions. Also, for each plug-in, make sure that it's being provided with the necessary tender love and care by checking the last time it was updated. Why? WordPress plug-ins are a known target for malicious people.
If the website fails the Google mobile-friendly test then the code’s days may be numbered anyway (tip: if you want to do an entire website rather than one page at a time, try Experte's version). Starting afresh obviously gives more flexibility in hosting and access.
Website hosting and concomitant access
There are a number of variables here but the main questions are whether or not hosting is going to continue with the present provider and how the buyer is going to get access to the hosting.
Migration to another provider
Subject to having the website codebase, the buyer may be able to load that up with an appropriate provider and press the start button. On the other hand, it may be technically difficult or uneconomic to transfer away from the existing provider. There are too many variables in this to provide a general answer, but get in touch if you have a particular problem with this.
Access to hosting
When logging in to a hosting service the credentials are frequently an email address and password. Clearly the email address needs to be one which the buyer is going to own. If not, then the credentials will need changing at the time of purchase.
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