Acquisition Integration Playbook
If you’re reading this guide you have most likely bought an established content website as an investment. Congratulations and welcome to the club.
Websites are placed on the market for a wide variety of reasons. The overall quality of a website can vary significantly, depending on the strengths and expertise of past owners. Many websites also bear the scars of past sins: black hat SEO and cyber-security attacks. They may have been well maintained in their final days (groomed for sale) or experienced several years of neglect as their increasingly disengaged creator moved to other projects.
The good news: fixing these issues often yields an immediate lift in traffic & revenue.
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Integration Goals & Objectives
As an investor, I have several objectives for the integration process; these apply to both purchased sites and properties we’re promoting up from a “farm team” of startup sites.
- Identify and fix any significant past sins (cyber security, broken capabilities)
- Replace any affiliate links (with our own) and purge any SEO-related links.
- Migrate to a better ad network (Ezoic often pays 50% – 150% more than AdSense)
- Speed up the Site (install the right theme / plugins, shift onto Ezoic’s free CDN)
(Yes, we’re big fans of Ezoic. Their platform can simplify many steps in this process.)
This list is specifically focused on content and affiliate sites. Additional steps are required for a product or services website (e-commerce, FBA, SAAS) that are beyond our scope.
A fifth task, which can move at a slower pace, involves a full audit of the existing SEO strategy and looking for any content development and affiliate marketing opportunities. Depending on the strength of the site, you may be able to quickly rank for other topics. Don’t underestimate this opportunity: fresh content in the right spots can skyrocket your revenue with minimal effort (most of the work can be outsourced at a reasonable cost).
Triage – What Are We Dealing With?
As an investor, I generally sort prospective properties into five buckets:
- WordPress Blogs
- Static HTML
- PHP Sites w/o Databases
- PHP with Databases (non-WP)
- Other programming languages
This very loosely captures the technical difficulty of taking over management of a website. WordPress blogs are very common, relatively standardized, and well supported by plugins which can assist you in copying the site to a new host with a few clicks. Static HTML sites will require a little more elbow grease but are manageable. After that, complexity rises.
I would not recommend taking possession of a non WordPress site with a database unless you have a relevant developer on your team. In addition to moving the code / data, you’re also going to have to set up an environment and audit your code base for nasty surprises.
Incidentally, if you haven’t already arranged hosting, I highly recommend WebFaction. We’ve used them for 8 years for everything from WordPress Blogs to Python web apps. Pricing is reasonable, service is excellent, and you can easily get free SSL certificates.
WordPress Cyber Security 101
It is not uncommon for a poorly maintained site to have been hacked at some point in the past. This is particularly true of WordPress sites, which are dependent on a patchwork of free plugins to deliver key features. My playbook for controlling WordPress security risk:
- Migrate all text and images but select your own theme, plugins, and configurations. While you may need to re-format a few things, this will eliminate many past issues.
- Review and purge the user file (drop spammers).
- Review and purge the comments (drop spam).
- Delete prior admin accounts (silly but…)
- Move to a reliable host (NOT shared hosting)
- Check the site’s back-links / keyword profile for anything that says Viagra / drugs
I’m not kidding about the last one. It happened on my first deal. Good Due Diligence, eh?
Random testing for broken plugins and theme issues is a good idea as well. Spend 30 minutes reading the site and looking for flaws. Make a list of stuff that seems to be out of place; some of this can likely be fixed in a few minutes on Google (configuration issues), other items will require you to contact a WordPress developer for some custom support.
You need to apply the same level of diligence to any custom coded sites you purchase. Production code should be reviewed by a competent developer to avoid any surprises.
Boosting Revenue & Site Speed
The simple version of this section: if your site is of sufficient size, AdSense is rarely your highest paying display advertising option. The good new is there is no shortage of people who would like to help you take advantage of this opportunity. The bad news? Well, there’s a reason I was firing at least one non-Google Advertising network per year…
Until I met Ezoic. They are an ad optimization company built off the Google ad exchange. They were originally founded by a group of website investors, who wanted to automate the AdSense optimization process for their portfolio (testing different layouts). Their focus has evolved into selling advertising optimization. They bring three things to the table:
- Expose our advertising inventory to a larger pool of buyer (for higher bids)
- Optimize the placement of individual ads on our site (automatically)
- Platform to make websites faster (free CDN, cache, SiteSpeed app)
WordPress sites are basically “center of the plate” for this group; they handle a lot of them. And our results with them are good.
Longer Term: Content & SEO Strategy
The next stage of the journey is slower burn but higher impact. We’re going to do a full site audit to assess current content and growth opportunities. This can take several forms.
- Tweaking existing content so it ranks higher on Google
- Adding new content targeting adjacent keywords others have missed
- Testing new affiliate offers we think are relevant to the audience
Success in any one of these areas can increase your revenue by an order of magnitude.