What Happens After I Buy an Online Business? A Case Study

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the importance of conducting a website audit following the acquisition of an internet business. The step by step methodical approach that we follow at FE International works very well for uncovering opportunities that can then be planned and implemented. Before you start reading, it may be worth familiarizing/re-familiarizing yourself with our original post.

This follow up article aims to bring this methodology to life using a real-life case study. We will walk through each aspect of the website audit process, pinpointing specific interventions that we later incorporate into an actionable plan for implementation.

 1. Website Profile

Below are some key details about the website that we decided to use for the purpose of our analysis:


Source: Company Information.

The website audit model that we adopt is purposefully broad to ensure that it can be applied across a range of business models, thus remaining relevant for all buyers. As we are analyzing an advertising specific (AdSense) website, much of our focus will be on site management, SEO and CRO.

2.  First Steps

This initial stage is about pinpointing quick-wins, usually relating to general site management issues that may have been previously overlooked:

2.1  Installing Webmaster and Google Analytics Tools Correctly:

Verified, No Issue: Webmaster and Google Analytics Tools were installed correctly.

2.2  Fix Any Site Redirects (e.g. 302s, 307s and 404s):

Verified, No Issue: No site redirects apparent.

2.3  Ensure AdSense and Google Analytics Accounts are Correctly Linked:

Issue Identified: Having reviewed the Google Analytics account for Daily Kitten, it became evident that AdSense and Google Analytics had not been correctly linked. There are numerous benefits to be had from linking accounts, mainly concerned with the richness of data available for analysis.


Source: Google Analytics.

In order to fix this issue; Google provides step by step instructions. We followed these to ensure that accounts were correctly linked and that the data was coming through, as required.

2.4  Check for Technical Issues in Google’s Webmaster Tools:
Issue Identified: Having assessed Google’s Webmaster Tools for Daily Kitten, we noted numerous technical issues that had been preventing Googlebot activity (i.e. the ability for “spiders” to crawl the website). In order to pinpoint when the last site crawl took place, we navigated to “Crawl Stats” under the main “Crawl” menu in Webmaster Tools.
The last site crawl recorded was more than 90 days ago. If Googlebot cannot crawl a website then a site’s pages will gradually become “de-indexed”, impacting page rankings and traffic.


Source: Google Webmaster Tools.

When taking a deeper dive into this specific issue, we observed three likely causes:

  1. Sitemaps: The sitemap submitted to Google had numerous errors associated with it. A sitemap needs to follow certain guidelines provided by Google to remain valid and usable. In this particular case, it wasn’t. Without a high quality sitemap, Googlebot was struggling to crawl Daily Kitten and its content.


Source: Google Webmaster Tools.

To verify our findings, we checked the sitemap using XML Sitemap Validator, which returned the following issues:


Source: XML Sitemap Validator.

In order to fix the root-cause, the XML sitemap required tweaking and resubmitting to Google via Webmaster Tools.

  1. DNS Server: There were numerous issues being caused by DNS errors. Effectively, this meant that Googlebot had been prevented from communicating with Daily Kitten. We used the “Fetch as Google” tool within Google’s Webmaster Suite, to further diagnose the issue:


Source: Google Webmaster Tools.

To use the tool, simply login to the Google Webmaster Suite, navigate to “Fetch as Google” (beneath the “Crawl” menu). Then, enter the URL name and select “Fetch”.

We selected “Fetch” and the site seemed fine – returning a “Complete” result. We then tested “Fetch and Render” which returned a “Partial” result:


Source: Google Webmaster Tools.

If Googlebot cannot render a website’s content, site content will remain invisible. Of the content that can be seen, Googlebot will synthesize it differently to humans. The following visual (on the left) shows how Daily Kitten was being viewed by Googlebot:


Source: Google Webmaster Tools.

Google pinpointed specific reasons for not being able to render certain pages of Daily Kitten. It turned out that a significant number of pages were being blocked from the Robots.txt file. We used Robots Checker to confirm this. To rectify the issue, the pages highlighted were given a Robots Meta tag, to unblock them from being crawled.

3. Server Connectivity: Googlebot requires direct access to a website’s server in order to crawl the site. If Googlebot cannot crawl your website, it could be caused by server connectivity issues. For example, if pages take too long to load or your server is slow, Googlebot will move on and delay its crawl. Due to the number of images on Daily Kitten, the server itself was underpowered – a dedicated server or server with more resource was recommended. We will cover site speed in more detail later on.

2.5  Reduce/Eliminate any Penalty Risk:

Verified, Quick-Win Opportunity Identified: Daily Kitten is over 6 years old, has never received a manual penalty and sees stable traffic:


Source: Google Analytics.

While the site does contain thin content (images with supporting text), this is in-line with the site’s main purpose (a daily photo site). Further, content is user-generated, making it engaging. As the site was not optimized from an SEO perspective, ‘keyword stuffing’ was not an issue. Overall, we considered the likelihood of any impending Google Penalty via typical manual actions to be low.


Having completed the initial “First Steps” exercise, four interventions were identified:

  1. Link Google Analytics and AdSense Accounts.
  2. Submit an updated, high quality Sitemap.
  3. Unblock pages (add Robots Meta Tag).
  4. Consider moving site to a dedicated server.

3.  Technical Audit

At this stage, we reviewed the technical side of the Daily Kitten website, looking specifically at site speed and mobile optimization. Whilst ‘search visibility’ falls into this section, we already discussed this in detail above.

3.1  Site Speed:

Verified, Opportunity Identified: Webmasters spend time and money developing content, marketing it and ensuring conversion rates are as high as possible. Site speed is just as important for maintaining traffic and income. Speed is a key ingredient and a fast site is a big step towards a happy visitor. Googlebot will move on and delay crawling your site, if it is too slow.


Source: WebPageTest.

To test site speed, we used WebPageTest. There are plenty of other tools that can be used and we have a dedicated post relating to site speed, if you wish to learn more.

The results show a 9.28 second load time on ‘First View’, which reduces on second view. Interestingly, within Google Analytics the site speed was noted as 11.25 seconds on average.

What Does This Mean?

A 9.28 second site load time didn’t provide us with much to go on, so we also used Pingdom to provide a benchmark:


Source: Pingdom.

Daily Kitten appeared to be quite fast, 49% faster than other sites in fact. It is important however, to view this figure in the context of the site’s specific competition. In order to do so, we took the no.1 site ranked in Google for “cute kittens” and tested the website’s speed:


Source: WebPageTest.

The site was almost 3 seconds faster that Daily Kitten, which is significant (a 1-second delay can yield a 7% loss in conversions). We evaluated into the site speed test in more detail, through the Page Analysis tab on Pingdom, which can be sorted by load time:


Source: Pingdom.

80% of the top slowest load time paths/files (at the top) are links to websites as well as widgets, including Google Syndication. In this case, there is not much that can be done. Nevertheless, with a high proportion of requests relating to on-site images (30%), there was significant opportunity for image optimization and/or rationalization.


Source: Pingdom.

In effect, Daily Kitten’s audience are primarily interested in the ‘Daily Kitten’ image and ‘Chat’ area. They probably won’t be tracking back to images from over a year ago. To improve site speed, these images could be removed or ‘Lazy Loaded’ to improve overall site speed. If this didn’t yield results, then moving the site to a Dedicated Server (DS) would be another option. This would also help Googlebot crawl more effectively. Or alternatively, the site could be moved onto a Content Delivery Network (CDN) which would ‘push’ static content, reducing site speed further.

3.2  Mobile Optimization:

Verified, Opportunity Identified: With Google set to launch their mobile-friendly algorithm in a couple of months, mobile optimization is set to become even more important. Becoming mobile-friendly however, is only important if your audience are accessing the site on mobile/tablet devices.


Source: Google Analytics.

In the case of Daily Kitten, a significant proportion of users (37%) accessed the site via mobile devices, 12% on tablets whilst 74% of new sessions came via mobile. Being mobile-friendly was extremely important for Daily Kitten and the ongoing performance of the business. As such, we conducted a mobile-friendly test and the results were eye opening.


Source: Google Webmaster Tools.

74% of new sessions (i.e. 74% of new users to the site) were presented with a disorganized, cluttered user-experience. When the site is primarily monetized through AdSense, this was likely to be a contributing factor to the low CTR being achieved on-site. Google indicated that content was too wide for the screen and the links were too close together, partly causing the disruption.

In order to achieve ad click-throughs from existing visitors and attract repeat visitors, optimal user experience is critical. As a result, we ensured that the site was made mobile-friendly using Google’s tool. In time, it is likely that Daily Kitten will require full-scale mobile optimization.


Having completed the technical audit, four potential interventions were identified:

  1. ‘Lazy Load’ images in the short-term.
  2. Make site mobile-friendly.
  3. Move to the site to a CDN or DS in the medium-term.
  4. Consider full site mobile-optimization in the medium-term.

4.  SEO Audit

We split the SEO audit into two sections; non-technical and technical. Both are extremely important, so we took time to cover them in as much detail as required. SEO audits can be immensely time-consuming, so we conducted a full review of performance metrics upfront, helping to determine where time should be invested.

4.1  Non-technical SEO:

Verified, Opportunity Identified: The two areas of Daily Kitten that lured in the vast proportion of traffic were the landing page and chat/forum area (as shown below):


Source: Google Analytics.

Unfortunately though, these two areas of the site were also the most difficult to optimize consistently. Content on Daily Kitten’s landing page tended to have a very short lifespan (c. 3 days) and the chat forum area is more or less completely user-generated, with the audience actively engaged in two-way conversation.

Consequently, we looked for more creative opportunities to optimize the site, using keywords more effectively. We analysed the keywords that Daily Kitten ranked for using SEMrush. The search revealed the following results: 


Source: Google Analytics.

The site ranked no.17 for “cute kittens”, which was a high traffic search term. Looking down the list, there were opportunities for Daily Kitten to target other, less competitive keywords. For example, “Cute Kitty”, “Funny Kitten Pictures” and “Adorable Kitten”.

Taking a look at the “Submit Your Kitten” page, there was no categorization for the type of picture being submitted e.g. Funny Kitten. We recommended introducing this categorization.


Source: Daily Kitten Website.

Adding a category for each keyword that Daily Kitten should look to target was a quick and easy solution for climbing keyword rankings. For example, a kitten could be a “Cute Kitty” or an “Adorable Kitten”. Either way, if the category was automatically populated to the post title and meta data, keyword rankings and traffic are likely to increase, overtime.
Another approach for SEO that we recommended was the use of BuzzSumo, helping to determine what type of content performs well across the kitten picture niche. After a quick look, the “18 Most Important Kitten Pictures of All Time” had received over 6,500 shares on Facebook, an impressive number of social signals would have derived from this post.

We suggested that the webmaster looks to build content around titles such as these. For example, “The Top 10 Most Adorable Kitten Pictures of All Time” could be extremely shareable content. If it was to go viral, optimized content such as this would bring a significant amount of traffic to Daily Kitten, overtime.

4.2  Technical SEO:

We have already focused on-site images, Sitemaps etc. above. Consequently, this section is focused on reviewing the internal and external linking structure of Daily Kitten as well as any opportunities for content specific SEO.

4.3 & 3.2.2  Title Tags and Meta Titles/Descriptions:

Verified, Opportunity Identified: Title Tags and Meta Descriptions are important for how content is presented in search engines, such as Google. Without a clear structure and description, the number of people that click through to the piece of content on your website is unlikely to increase organically.


Source: Google Analytics.

A number of web owners use plugins such as WordPress SEO by Yoast to simplify the process of making page content / individual posts search engine optimized. Plugins and tools are only useful if they are utilized. In the example of Daily Kitten, we found that the SEO plugin was installed, but not being used.

As a result, the snippet preview being displayed to users via search engines was unstructured and ultimately not written in a way that would appeal. We recommended that all fields on the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin should be completed on all important pages/posts.

3.2.3 Internal Link Structure:

Verified, No Opportunity Identified: Having analysed the user flow on Google Analytics, it looks as though visitors are finding the content / areas of the site that they require, efficiently (less than 2 interactions).


Source: Google Analytics.

As the number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page, it is important that popular areas have more internal links. The chat area of the website as well as the store are particularly popular and have the highest number of internal links (196,450 and 116,000 respectively).

3.2.4  Backlink Profile:

Verified, Opportunity Identified: As discussed, external links are considered one of the most important sources of ranking power, a quality backlink profile is important for website authority and search engine ranking. Looking at the Daily Kitten’s profile, there are currently no broken backlinks, which is a good sign.

The site has 1,284 referring domains, of which only 34 achieve a ‘very popular’ Domain Rank from Ahrefs. This means that the 98% of links are low authority. Digging deeper, many of these links are spammy in nature and unrelated to Daily Kitten in terms of niche and subject matter. Consequently, these links could be disavowed to ensure that the overall link quality improves.

It is also important to understand why the number of referring domains (TLDs) has fallen over the last couple of months:


Source: Ahrefs.

In Ahrefs, we took a look at exactly which links had been lost by navigating to “Lost Referring Domains” > “Show Lost Referring Domains”. Most of the links lost were from the same domain. If the referring domain in question is important to the overall authority of the site, contact could be made with the web owner in an attempt to reinstate the link(s).


Having completed the non-technical and technical SEO audit, seven interventions were identified:

  1. Ensure each page has a focus keyword (from keyword research carried out).
  2. Make sure that the keyword is contained within the SEO title.
  3. Write a brief meta description, to bulk out the snippet, making it stand out to visitors.
  4. Disavow spammy links identified.
  5. Determine reasons for drop in referring domains, seek to rectify any issues.
  6. Add keyword categories to “Submit Your Kitten”.
  7. Build content around BuzzSumo findings.

5. CRO Audit

As discussed previously, conversion of traffic is critical for any site. A website could achieve huge traffic volumes, but if visitors are not doing what the web owner wants them to do, then sustained monetization is likely to be challenged.
As Daily Kitten is primarily monetized through AdSense, we took a look at current ad placements in an attempt to identify optimization opportunities. On first glance of Daily Kitten’s landing page, the ad placements appeared aggressive. Looking at 5 AdSense layout examples, Daily Kitten seemed to match AdSense Layout 1:


Source: Niche Pursuits.

Whilst described as a non-aggressive layout, it is important to keep in mind the context of a website when making a judgement. As visitors come to Daily Kitten to see the top image (“The Daily Kitten”), the fact that the image is wrapped in advertising is far from ideal. It is worth mentioning that this Large Header Ad achieved a 0.18% click through rate in February 2015.

As such, it is likely that the aggressive ad placement may be a cause for the low click through rate. We advised that ad placement tests were run in the short-term. For example, shifting from AdSense Layout 1 to AdSense Layout 4, could have provided visitors with better visibility of the “Daily Kitten”.

In addition, as per the user flow diagram above, many visitors are attracted to the Daily Kitten site to spend time in the ‘Chat’ area. We didn’t install Crazy Egg to conduct heat map analysis. Nevertheless, doing so would have undoubtedly shown a high concentration of clicks in the upper left region. Subsequently, another test (as shown below) could be conducted to test this region for conversion.


Source: Daily Kitten Website.


Having completed the CRO audit, three potential interventions were identified:

  1. Test AdSense Layout 4, track findings.
  2. Install Crazy Egg and evaluate findings.
  3. Test moving ad slots to high click concentration areas.

6.  Commercial Audit

As Daily Kitten is a high traffic AdSense based site, it is highly automated with no partnerships or reliance on third parties. As such, there was little to be evaluated from a commercial perspective. Unless of course, the site was to be taken in a new direction, in which case a separate evaluation could be carried out, which falls outside of the remit of an as-is exercise.

7.  Action Plan

Having completed the website audit and determined interventions/recommendations for Daily Kitten, prioritization and planning was the next step. Most website owners/investors have limited resources and need to be diligent about how they allocate funds to tasks. Being critical about each individual intervention is therefore important.

We used a basic matrix, as outlined below. Any tasks that add value, need to be done and require relatively low effort are considered “Urgent” and “Important”. We recommended completing these as soon as possible. If you have any issues carrying these out, request the help of the Seller during training.


All tasks that are “Important” but “Not Urgent” are effectively ‘nice to haves’ – they can usually wait. For example, full-scale mobile optimization is more of a medium-term priority. For now, it is important that the site is at least mobile-friendly, to prevent traffic dropping.

Please be aware that operating in the “Urgent” and “Not Important” or the “Not Urgent and “Not Important” areas is more or less a waste of time. If you find yourself mapping tasks here, try to take a step back and pinpoint the specific value that they yield.

Once you have completed the matrix above, you should be well-positioned to discuss implementation with your in-house development team or outsourced third-party.
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8.  Summary

We have run through our case study example, showing you how to complete a website audit in practice. A website audit can be completed in more or less detail, depending on the amount of time you have to commit to the task, it is really down to you. However you choose to complete it, a website audit brings clarity and structure, in the weeks following acquisition and also provides an opportunity to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of the business. We will be following this post up with a downloadable excel tool, which will help you log, prioritize and plan website audit interventions.