How to transfer a website after buying

If you’re considering buying a website, probably one of the last things on your mind is how you will transfer it, since due diligence, valuation, and risk analysis are more pressing. Nevertheless, a transfer plan is important, since a misstep could affect your site over the long term. This article explains how to plan to transfer a website so that everything goes smoothly.

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Start planning the transfer early

You should start planning to transfer a website early on in the buying process. Don’t wait until you’ve closed the deal to think about this.

As soon as you decide to make an offer on a website, it’s a good idea to start planning the transfer. There are several reasons for this. First, you may want to add certain transfer conditions in the offer. Second, you want to know exactly how complicated the transfer will be. And third, you want to find and hire any outside technical or other support that you will need beforehand.

There may be some complications during the process, and you will want to ensure that you have some redundancy in your plan.

And before you do anything, make sure you’ve downloaded my FREE Website Investing Beginner’s Kit, which helps walk you through the first steps of buying a website.

Steps to transfer a website BEFORE making the offer

Step 1: Catalog what needs to be transferred

The first step in planning to transfer a website is to catalog what all needs to be transferred. Generally, when you buy a site you will need to transfer some or all of these items:

  • The hosting
  • The website code and database
  • The employees or contractors
  • The advertising agreements (if any)
  • The affiliate agreements (if any)
  • The supplier agreements (if any)
  • The payment processor accounts (if any)
  • The social media accounts
  • The software and service accounts
  • The domain name
  • The brand assets, such as trademarks (if any)
  • The email and/or customer lists

Make a list of the items above and any other potential items that you may need to transfer. This will be your starting point for the following steps.

Step 2: Clarify what will be transferred

Go through the catalog above and determine what actually will be transferred. Some items are obvious, such as the website code, but others can be more vague.

For items that you aren’t clear on, talk to the seller before making an offer to find out what their plan is. If there’s something that the seller doesn’t want to transfer, but you believe is necessary, this is the time to write it into the LOI (offer letter).

This is especially important when buying on a marketplace like Flippa. There, unscrupulous sellers sometimes hold back components of a website that are vital to its continued success. They can then sell those other components to other buyers, instantly kneecapping your business.

Regardless of where you buy a site, make sure that you have clarified the following:

Will employees or contractors remain?

Ask the seller whether the employees or contractors planning to remain with the site after it’s sold. If the seller says yes, make sure that they will continue to work under the same conditions as before. You don’t want to purchase a site only to find out that the main content creator is demanding double the pay to work for you. If the seller says no, you have to determine how much owner involvement is necessary.

If the employees or contractors won’t remain, you need to make sure that you have someone with the necessary skills lined up to take their place after the sale.

Will affiliate agreements be transferred?

If the site you are interested in is an affiliate site, it’s important to ask whether the affiliate partner agreements will be transferred with the site. Often these agreements are non-transferrable, and you will be expected to create new ones.

For many affiliate programs, like Amazon’s, this isn’t a huge issue. However, some affiliate partners are very selective about who they work with, and there is no guarantee they will readmit the site after the sale.

If the affiliate agreements won’t be transferred, make sure that the seller isn’t getting any special commission rates or other deals that you won’t qualify for.

Will ad network agreements be transferred?

If the site is ad supported, you should ask the seller if the ad agreements are being transferred. Ad networks are unreliable about which sites they accept. Just because a site has been accepted once, it won’t necessarily be accepted again.

If the site relies on a certain ad network, try to get the seller to transfer that account to you.

Unfortunately, this isn’t possible with many ad networks. Google’s Adsense, for instance, doesn’t allow accounts to be transferred. So you are forced to reapply to Adsense after you buy the site. This can be a problem because Adsense denies sites seemingly at random.

For many ad networks, even if you can’t transfer the account, you can get a commitment to re-admit the site after the sale. Ask the seller to get this for you from the ad network.

Will payment processor accounts be transferred?

If you’re looking into buying a site that sells products, find out whether the payment processor accounts will be transferred. This is especially important if the site receives recurring payments.

Technically, Paypal and Stripe accounts can usually be transferred; however, the process is complicated and will require a commitment from the seller. There are also several circumstances in which the accounts cannot be transferred. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to transfer a Paypal account to a buyer in a different country.

Make sure that you know the current rules regarding transfer and what all is required of the buyer and seller.

Steps to transfer a website AFTER making the offer

Step 4: Get evidence regarding employees and agreements

One thing that trips up a lot of first time website buyers is that it can be hard to re-implement some agreements or contracts.

If there’s any important agreement that the seller plans to transfer, get a commitment in writing. For instance, if the site uses a writer to create content, ask the seller to provide a written statement from the writer saying that she will continue at the same rate.

If there are some agreements that can’t be transferred but are necessary to run the business. For those, request a written confirmation from the counterparty you will be able to re-implement a similar agreement. For example, you can request an email from an ad network saying that they will re-admit the site with the current payment plan.

Step 5: Prepare to accept the accounts

For any accounts that will be transferred, be prepared to accept the accounts. The procedure varies based on what’s being transferred.

The domain

Most sellers will have their domains registered at either Godaddy or Namecheap. Make sure you have active accounts at both of those registrars so you can accept instant transfers through them.

If the seller has the domain registered elsewhere, you will need to go through the standard registration process, which can take days.

Google is generally forgiving about a site being offline for a day or two, but if it’s offline for longer you may lose ranking. For that reason, it’s important to anticipate what may happen with the domain transfer. If the domain must be transferred to another registrar, make sure that the seller will keep the site up and running while the transfer is occurring.

The hosting

If the seller is transferring an entire hosting account, things are relatively simple. You won’t need to install or migrate any code or data. And there will be no downtime — something that could hurt the site’s ranking in Google.

But make sure the hosting account is in good standing and has no outstanding debts. If it does, you’ll be on the hook to pay those debts.

The website code and database

If the seller isn’t transferring hosting, you will need to install the website code and database on a new hosting account. Given that many sites are in WordPress, the migration is reasonably smooth and many hosts, like Siteground, will actually do the migration for you.

Make sure you have a backup plan in case problems arise. If you know someone who can step in and help with the migration, that’s best. But you can often get the help you need from your host’s tech support team.

If the site is down for a couple of hours or even a day, Google is pretty forgiving, and you won’t lose ranking. But you want to make sure that the site is not down for much longer than that.

Step 6: Make the transfer

Once you’ve signed the asset purchase agreement, you’re ready to work with the seller to make the transfer. If you have made all of the plans above, you should have no trouble making the transfer and taking over your new site.

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Key points: how to transfer a website after buying

A website transfer can go smoothly if you plan ahead. Things you should consider are:

  • Catalogging what will be transferred
  • Making clear what will be transferred and how
  • Get written proof from employees or partners
  • Be prepared to accept the site and associated accounts