SEO Due Diligence for Investments and Acquisition – Lite version

It is prudent to conduct SEO due diligence when investing in (or acquiring) a business that relies on organic search traffic for a substantial amount of revenue. If the SEO foundation is somewhat tenuous the organic traffic is at risk of a decrease or even disappearing if something changes on the site, in the competitive landscape, or in a search engine algorithm update. 

It is important to keep in mind that while a site might have more ‘ownership’ of organic traffic than paid traffic –  which will just stop when the budget stops – the rankings and the traffic outcome are really at the whims of the search engines. That being said, rankings typically don’t disappear overnight IF best practices are followed and all SEO efforts are above board.

For the most part, any SEO due diligence projects I have conducted have been similar to an SEO audit, however the focus is usually on how stable the site’s traffic will be for the near future rather than what can be improved.  Anyone experienced with SEO could likely find obvious red flags in a site, but when investing a substantial amount of money into a site, you want to make sure you do this right.

Additionally, it is critical to understand what red flags are areas of opportunity versus which ones should cause the potential investors to turn and run.

Independent SEO Due Diligence

If you are in the early stages of looking at a potential website investment or acquisition, you might want to do some quick due diligence on your own.  To begin this process you are going to need access to their Google Search Console account, Google Analytics and server logs. You should also have a simulated web crawler like Oncrawl and a backlinks/traffic tool like Ahrefs on hand. 

The first step in this exercise is to see if there have been any negative SEO events in the recent past:

  • Check Google Search Console to ensure there has been a steady uptick in organic traffic
  • Check Google Analytics to see that there have never been any negatives drops in traffic since the site was launched
  • Check Ahrefs to see that there have never been any drops in visibility

If there have ever been any drops in visibility ask for clarifying details.

Technical due diligence

Next it’s time to start looking under the hood at the technical implementation of the site. Launch your crawl on Oncrawl and let it run without any filters at all. If the site is small you can use Screaming Frog’s free tool.

  • Look for large numbers of broken pages 
  • Look for chained redirects  (page → page → page) 
  • Look for duplicate content
  • Look for content that is no-indexed
  • Look for content that is indexed but shouldn’t be
  • Look for proper use of on-page meta tags
  • Drill into the internal linking architecture
  • Understand how pages link to each other and with what keywords
  • Manually look at the site for unindexable content 
  • Note the URL structure
    • Are there query parameters?
    • Are all pages connected to the root domain
    • Are there many subdirectories in the URL
    • Do they use subdomains?

Backlink Due Diligence

Moving on from the technical audit it’s time to start looking at the backlinks. Use the Ahrefs backlink checker to get a sense of the quality and quantity of backlinks.

  • Check for patterns of deliberate gray backlinking
    • Non-varied anchor text
    • Links that don’t seem to fit content
    • Links on non-relevant pages
  • Understand the quality of the links using a domain score metric
  • Dig into the links to reveal how they were obtained

Now let’s shift to the actual search results and start running some site queries.

  • Conduct a search on Google for the brand and make sure the homepage shows up first.
  • Notice how many pages are indexed in Google
  • Conduct a site: query with some common spam words appended to make sure that the site has not been hacked

Finally, we can assess the quality of the site itself

  • Analyze the quality of the content on the site. 
    • Is it in depth?
    • Are there typos?
    • Grammatical errors
    • Where is it located?
      • Blog 
      • Resource page
      • Homepage
    • What is the readership level
  • Using Ahrefs again look at what kind of pages are ranking on the site
  • Look at Google Search Console to see the kinds of terms that are ranking
  • Look at Google Analytics to make sure that time-on-site for content pages isn’t lower than the amount of time it might take to read the content.

Following the above steps should give you a good sense of the staying power for existing traffic. The next step would be to assess the conversion funnel of traffic that arrives from search engines. Regardless, the outcome of the quick SEO due diligence audit is to know whether you might want to spend more time researching the potential investment. This quick audit should in no way substitute for a full audit which must be done before any funds trade hands.

I will follow up on this post on how to do a truly in depth audit.