Your Forum Comments Can Hurt the Sale of Your Website

August 14, 2014  |   How to Buy & Sell Websites   |     |   Comments Off on Your Forum Comments Can Hurt the Sale of Your Website

We recently received a request from a prospective client to sell his website. A few minutes into our preliminary research of the website, we found ourselves at a forum page where the client had ranted about the website getting deindexed by Google’s search engine. We quickly figured out why it was deindexed. The time stamp from the forum showed that this had happened about a year ago.

In the forum, the website owner had expressed his anger and frustration with Google. Other forum members commiserated with him. However, our further research proved that Google was correct in deindexing the website. At the time, it was in violation of Google’s terms. Some of the website’s content was copyrighted material that was not owned by the website owner. And he didn’t have a license to legally distribute the content to his website’s visitors.

Like many Internet users, the website owner was unaware that it was illegal to distribute and profit from this content without the consent of the copyright owner. Google deindexed the web pages that contained copyrighted material but left other web pages in its index. In his forum comments, the website owner stated that he didn’t believe that distributing this content was illegal because lots of other people were doing it and their websites hadn’t been deindexed by Google. Unfortunately, this is not a valid argument by any website owner.

Of course, we decided not to take on the client and gave him our reasons why. Every potential buyer of his website would do exactly what we had done and find himself on that forum page. Buyers are scared to death of any website that has ever been penalized by Google. Unless the website owner can prove that the situation was remedied and the penalty was overturned, it’s almost impossible to sell the website to any website investor at a decent price.

In this case, Google’s penalty was correct. It was never overturned. And it will never be overturned. The website owner had lost valuable content that generated significant cash-flow. By the time he contacted us, he had replaced the lost content with new copyrighted content which made up for the previous loss in cash-flow. But we knew that soon enough this new content would be deindexed as well by search engines.

Never discuss your website operations in public forums

As a website owner, you have to be very careful about what you say publicly regarding your website operations. Public comments made in online forums or message boards are rarely deleted by forum owners. They are available forever for everyone to see at any time. If you ever attempt to sell the website, your comments can work against you.

In the case above, it’s evident that any researcher would quickly uncover that some of the website’s pages had been deindexed. A quick review of the website would have led any buyer to believe that there could be future problems with other copyrighted content available on the website. The website owner made it very easy for buyers to uncover this by disclosing his woes in a public forum.

Never insult users in public forums

Forums such as WordPress plugin user forums or product message boards allow users to post comments and reviews about a website’s products.

Some website owners get very offended by user comments and insult users in these forums.

By doing this, the website owner tarnishes the website’s reputation. The vast majority of forum members use aliases. Their real names are not known. So negative comments or disparaging remarks made by the website owner are not associated with the website owner alone. These comments are associated with the website’s products. Users will tell other people not to use the website’s products.

This can cause problems if this website owner attempts to sell the website in the future. Buyers will quickly uncover these user comments as well as the seller’s public responses to these comments. This will hurt the sale of the website. Buyers never want to take over a website with a terrible public image and reputation.

As a website owner, you must always remember that not everyone will like your website’s products. There will be good reviews. There will be bad reviews. That’s OK. That’s business. You cannot control user reviews. But you can control how you respond to these reviews.

You can use reviews to improve your website’s product. You can communicate in a polite and professional manner with reviewers in these forums. You can answer their questions and attempt to solve their problems. People always appreciate polite answers and quality service from a business owner.

There’s never any justifiable reason to insult users. This can come back to haunt you if you ever decide to sell your website. Your negative comments are forever tied to the website. It doesn’t matter whether your responses were right or wrong. Buyers will shy away from your website.

Selling your website in public forums

Website marketplaces like Flippa have forum sections where potential buyers can pose questions about a website listing directly to the seller. In this case, a seller must share confidential information about a website’s operations publicly. That’s perfectly understandable. However, some sellers make the mistake of getting confrontational with potential buyers in these forums.

A few years ago, a website seller contacted us about selling his website. In his request by email, he mentioned that he had sued 2 previous buyers who had failed to close the website’s sale on Flippa.

Quick online research took us to web pages displaying very insulting comments that the seller had made to buyers on Flippa. He had threatened potential buyers with legal action if they stole his website operations ideas and didn’t buy the website.

We instantly declined to sell his website. We told the seller that we had no intention of taking on selling a website that was in the middle of legal action.

Again, it doesn’t matter whether the seller’s arguments were right or wrong. No buyer wants to step into a legal minefield. And no buyer wants to deal with a volatile seller. There’s no reason for a website buyer to jump into an uncomfortable situation when there are thousands of other websites for sale at any given time.

The problem of the free movie streaming website

I’ll leave you with one last common example of websites that generate a lot of forum comments: free movie streaming websites.

We have a company policy that we never sell movie streaming websites.

Why? The business model is illegal.

Yes, millions of people love watching free movies and TV shows on these websites. Some of the websites make lots of money from subscriptions and advertising revenue. But as long as the website owner does not own the movie copyrights, or have a license from the copyright owner to distribute the movies, it is stealing. Stealing is illegal.

Movie companies spend large amounts of money to lobby and have these websites shut down. Many of the sites are, in fact, shut down. Then, they register new domain names and re-launch the sites. I know some streaming websites that have changed their domain names over half a dozen times.

Sophisticated website buyers do not buy free movie streaming websites. These websites almost never sell when put on the market. Buyers don’t want to invest a few hundred thousand dollars or more only to have the website shut down shortly thereafter.

Movie streaming websites that do sell are bought for small sums of money that a buyer estimates he can afford to lose if the website is shut down.

Well, let’s get back to our conversation about public comments. “What happens to a movie streaming website’s users when the website gets shut down?”

Users start talking in public forums about the demise of the website and their disappointment that they can no longer watch movies for free. Sometimes, the website owner posts a comment telling users that he has (or will be) launching a new website at a new URL. These comments are publicly available forever.

If this website is ever put up for sale, every potential buyer with an Internet connection can pull up these forum comments. This will quickly tell buyers to stay away from this illegal website. The website will never sell.

Freedom of speech comes with responsibility

Public forums give everyone an opportunity to express himself or herself. This is a great form of freedom of speech. With freedom, comes responsibility.

As a business owner, you are responsible for the message your business communicates to the public.

You have to communicate the best message possible. Every message you post about your business in forums is carved in stone forever. Choose your words wisely as you type on your keyboard. One wrong phrase in a public forum can destroy your website’s reputation forever.


Kris Tabetando provides mergers & acquisitions (M&A) advisory and brokerage services to Internet companies. He also partners with investors to acquire & manage Internet businesses.

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