What “American Pickers” Teaches Us About Buying Websites

In the past several years, there have been a ton of television shows launched around the idea of selling old stuff for big money — many of them are geared towards the auction scene, but others focus on people who do their buying and selling off the beaten path.  “American Pickers,” a show that follows Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they drive across the country in search of stuff-filled barns, out buildings, and basements, looking for items that they’ll be able to resell for considerable profit.

While I enjoy the show because it is entertaining, there are lessons to be learned from these antique hunters for website flippers.  Here are the 6 lessons that “American Pickers” teaches us about buying and selling websites.

Pickers Pay Less

Mike and Frank don’t spend their time at auctions or in antique dealerships, hoping against hope that they’ll find a good deal there.  The deals aren’t where everyone else is, and they certainly aren’t at places that expect you to pay retail.

While you can occasionally find an undervalued gem at auction, it’s a lot easier to get a good deal pulling a forgotten item out of someone’s overfilled garage.  So it is with websites — if you can track down the owners of forgotten websites or sites that could use a bit of rehabbing, you’ll pay significantly less than if you had purchased the same site at auction or through a broker.

You Have to Dig Through a Lot of Garbage to Find Something Great

Picking isn’t easy.  Sometimes the guys have to dig through TONS of garbage to find the one item that makes a day of picking worthwhile.  If you’ve ever tried to find a good site for sale at a forum like Digital Point, you know this feeling all too well.  It’s easy to feel like giving up when the first hundred sites you like at are completely worthless, but that next property could be a pennies on the dollar type of win for you.  It pays to get your hands dirty.

Sometimes, the Best Finds Come In the Places You Least Expect

In an episode I remember, Mike was able to buy a great antique sign that was literally half-buried in the ground, face down, covered by a bunch of garbage.  I’m not sure what caught his eye enough to dig the thing up, but it turned out to be a great buy.

For website flippers, this might mean visiting forums that are related to certain niches we’re targeting.  It’s possible to find people there who are passionate about the topic, own long-established websites but lack the know-how to make their site profitable.  That’s a great opportunity to offer them a small sum to cash in on their efforts while leaving lots of room to profit for you.

When You Find a Good Source, Go Back To It

Mike and Frank aren’t afraid to go back to a good source once they find one.  They frequently revisit people they’ve bought from in the past and make notes to contact people in the future who have good items but aren’t ready to sell yet.

If you can keep a file on hand of website owners to contact every 3 to 6 months about their sites, you increase the odds that when they decide to sell, they’ll remember you.  Don’t be pushy about it — just let them know you’re still interested and that if they decide to sell, you’d love to hear from them.

Always Keep the End-Game in Mind

The guys don’t get too wrapped up in how cool something is that they forget the reason they’re there in the first place — to make money.  Mike and Frank rarely overpay for something, because they know that they need to be able to sell the things they buy if they want to make money.

It’s a little different with websites in that the sites we buy should throw off cashflow while we hold them, but the fact remains that we don’t want to overpay on the front end.  Know if you want to hold or flip it from the outset, then pay a price that makes sense based on those plans.  You can’t be altruistic in your negotiations — this is when you make your money.

Sometimes It Helps to Have Someone to Confirm Your Hunches

There’s a reason Mike and Frank pick as a pair (besides the fact that it makes for better television).  There are times when the two will consult each other about whether or not to go after a specific item or if they can make money paying a certain price for that must-have antique they’ve just uncovered.

It’s helpful to have a confidant who you can bounce ideas off of when you’re not 100% sure that your own intuition and experience are enough to ensure a great deal.

FlipWebsites Gets Even Better

You may have noticed that I’ve been churning out fewer articles here at FlipWebsites.com in the past few months, and it’s with good reason.  I’ve been crazy busy.

CTR Theme, which I’ve discussed here briefly, has been wildly successful.  In April, it pulled down $35,000 in gross sales with a solid profit margin.  May hasn’t seen much of a letdown either.  The reviews have been great, but so have the user suggestions for new features — and that means a good chunk of time devoted to beefing up the product, trying to create rabid fans.  I’ve regularly been adding new features, and I’m about to push out a new release today.

Since CTR Theme didn’t sell at auction, I’m sure that it will keep me busy, as I’m planning to start a big marketing push for the theme.  And that’s not all I’m up to…

I’ve also been working on a few other from-scratch projects that I hope to launch in the next couple of months, plus I’ve been continuing to build up my AdSense sites.  I don’t want to jinx myself, but I think one of the new projects could be even bigger than CTR Theme…

Knowing that all my effort has been devoted elsewhere has left me feeling a bit guilty about the flow of information here — I feel an obligation to provide value to the loyal readers of FlipWebsites.  That’s why I’m thrilled to introduce you to Chris Yates and David Gass.  Chris and David purchased FlipWebsites.com from me in a private transaction and will be running the show here going forward.  The best part about the transaction, from my point of view, is that they’ve left an open door for me to post here when I have something interesting to share, so I won’t be a total stranger.

About the New Owners

Chris and David are the real deal — expert website flippers and experienced online businessmen, and they run a number of well-regarded online properties related to website flipping, including Buying and Selling Websites, Flipping Network, Killer Flipping Secrets, and a Flipping Mastermind Coaching Group.  I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with the quality and quantity of content they and their team will be able to provide to you guys going forward.

Click here for more information about Chris and David…

How I Left $8k On the Table When Selling BetterParenting.com

So, it’s time to swallow my pride a bit and own up to a HUGE mistake I made on a flip that cost me at least $8,000 — maybe a lot more. Believe me, it sucks knowing I left a bunch of money on the table, and I take no pleasure in sharing this story, but if it helps somebody out, it’s worth it.

Back when I sold BetterParenting.com, a lot of people were interested in the auction. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of crap sold on Flippa, so when a PR4 site with a nice design and good content, built on a premium brandable domain comes up for sale, people take notice.

The site wasn’t earning much — enough to cover any content I paid for (which was fairly minimal, since I was getting a bunch of content for free). In fact, the numbers were so mediocre that I listed the site with no revenue claimed.

Despite that fact, the auction was going great — I had lots of bidders and even more people watching the auction. During the last two days, the private messages started pouring in with higher frequency.

One message was from a guy who had been bidding — he was really interested in the site and he wanted to talk to me about it. The auction still had about a day and a half left when we spoke. Bidding on the site was around $4,200 and he offered me $8,000 to end the auction early. I said I’d need at least $10,000 to do the deal and he quickly replied that he’d take it. What I did next was smart.

I told him that I first wanted to contact the existing bidders to let them know that I had an offer on the table to end the auction early. I proceeded to send out the note to the existing bidders, and when I hadn’t heard anything back from them, we closed the deal.

Seems like I did everything right, doesn’t it? Except I screwed up. Within an hour after we closed the deal with a “Buy It Now” price on Flippa, I got a message from a guy who wanted to know what happened to my auction. He was waiting until the last day to place a bid and he was prepared to spend up to $18,000 on the site. I almost threw up all over myself when I read it. No lie.

Worse still — earlier in the week, I had received a message from a guy who hadn’t placed a bid in the auction but told me to contact him before I sold to anyone else. When I sent out the messages to all the bidders, guess who I forgot about? Yep, that guy. A few months later, I found out that he had real deep pockets and probably would have gone above the other guy’s $18k max.

Moral of the story? If you have an auction that’s generating a lot of interest, the “Buy It Now” option could cost you thousands. Also, be VERY diligent in your note keeping. It was my own disorganization that caused me to not email a bidder who was very interested in the site.

Anyway, I hope you can learn from my mistake.

How to buy a $20,000 per month website for a few hundred bucks

Last month, I received an email that reminded me of the importance of hustling — of not sitting around, waiting for the perfect site to come up for auction, but rather proactively making your own opportunities. The email I received was from a guy who calls himself “the Clickbank Site Buyer,” and he was making a pitch to buy my low gravity site (gravity is a measurement Clickbank uses to indicate how many active affiliates a product has).

Here’s a copy of the email:

Hi there,
i am interested buying your site, i like to buy zero gravity sites, sometimes doing the product creation can be easy, but marketing it can be a uphill task, please let me know if i can take the load of your hand and if your willing to Accept a offer or willing to sell it,

Regards
John
The Clickbank Site Buyer

This month, I realized just how lucrative this approach could be, as CTR Theme (the site this guy tried to buy) had a net profit of around $20k.

Fortunately, by the time John had contacted me, CTR Theme had already started to make sales through Clickbank and my buyers were giving me rave reviews.  I knew I had a product that would sell well, but what about the people who just invested a bunch of hours into building the product out, getting the sales page perfectly configured, and had no idea how to get traffic to it?

I’d be willing to bet a lot of those people see John as a Godsend — giving them an opportunity to make something out of nothing.  I’m sure this guy’s buying a lot of fully developed products and sales pages for under $1,000.  If he already has good affiliate contacts, that’s like instant money.

Know Your Strengths

That brings me to another point — knowing your strengths.  Maybe this John character doesn’t have a lot of product ideas, perhaps he’s not a great writer, or he struggles with the technical end of putting a site together — but if he has great affiliate connections, he can move product.

With that skillset, he could work as an affiliate manager but that usually doesn’t provide an ownership stake in what he’s promoting.  He’s identified where his strength is — where he can add value to a site — and aggressively targeted sites that look like they need his expertise.

You can do the same, and that’s how you’ll maximize your profit potential.  If you’re a skilled designer, buy ugly sites.  If you have access to certain monetization channels the average website owner doesn’t, buy sites with traffic but low revenue.  If you have a secret traffic source or own complimentary websites, buy sites that don’t get traffic.

The key is to make something happen.  Don’t sit around waiting for the perfect auction — go out and make your own future.

The Five Websites I Learn the Most From

I love learning, and that’s why I love the sites below.  These are the websites where I always find great value — the sites that have helped me to develop a sharper business mind and learn stuff that actually helped me make more money online.  I love them and I know you will too.

IncomeDiary.com (Michael Dunlop)

I’ve learned an insane amount by being an Income Diary reader and subscribing to Michael’s email list.  In fact, I’ve tried to model my own email practices after his (and another guy on this list) — providing LOTS of value in the messages that get sent out.  Michael’s site provides tons of value too, as he shares his own experiences as a six-figure online marketer and also interviews a bunch of other successful people.

I love seeing the stories of other people who are achieving success in their specific niche, learning what strategies and tactics they are employing to grow their businesses.

Here are a few of the posts I’ve really enjoyed from Income Diary:

Flip Filter’s Blog

To say that Justin from Flip Filter is a smart guy would be a crazy understatement.  He sees the story behind statistics and turns data into actionable advice that helps people make money with their website flips.  His product (Flip Filter) is an amazing resource, but so is his free blog, which should be considered mandatory reading for anyone interested in buying and selling websites.

Get a taste of his brilliance by reading these great posts (honestly, I could have linked to anything he’s written):

Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn

If the income’s passive, Pat’s probably got his hand in it (or is figuring out how to)… and he’s not shy about sharing.  Pat’s blog has a real strong “learn with me” vibe, as he endeavors to make money online.  He’s already won big with his own product, iPhone app development, and a niche site monetized with AdSense.

Pat releases monthly income reports that detail exactly where his earnings come from, and it’s definitely eye opening to see the explosive growth he’s experienced.  If you’re new to Smart Passive Income, I highly recommend starting out with Pat’s niche site duel series.

Pat also publishes an excellent podcast — my preferred form of entertainment while driving to and from Philadelphia for my monthly SEO meetups.

Halo18.com

This one’s a newcomer that I’m sure you haven’t heard of, and I’ve learned more from the guy behind this blog in person than online, but his newly-launched site already has some great articles for people looking to start making money online.  Keyword research, affiliate marketing, SEO — this dude’s a pro at them all and I know the content he provides in the future is all going to be first rate.

There’s no fluff here, either.  If a new post gets added, you know it will be worth reading. Here are a few excellent posts to start with:

Experienced-People.net

There’s no better-run forum on the planet.  E-P has some of the smartest people you’ll run into with an interest in online business and they are VERY generous with their knowledge and expertise.  Other forums are more active, but none have a better signal to noise ratio.  Every time I go there, I get smarter.  You will too.  Check it out.

Bonus: Flippa

No, not their blog — the actual website sales marketplace.  There’s so much insight you can gain about monetization methods, traffic building techniques, niche selection, copywriting, and more just by looking at the information provided in their listings.  People open up the records to their online businesses in an effort to sell them, and all that information just sits there, waiting for us to learn from it.

If you’re serious about doing business online and you’re not poking around in Flippa’s archive, you’re missing out.

Google Tells Authority Domains, “You Can’t Vote for Yourself Anymore”

Google algorithm changes are always a big deal to people who make money online — a change in the criteria Google uses to rank sites could result in a huge financial loss for website owners.

At the end of February, Google rolled out what’s being referred to as the “Farmer Update” where they set out to limit the impact content farms have in the search rankings.  As most of you know, I use sites that could be labeled as “content farms” as part of my backlinking strategy, and I’ve been pretty successful with that approach.

Since I’ve been pretty transparent about how I rank niche sites, I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking about the impact of this algorithm change on my sites.  There’s a TON of misinformation out right now about what this change means for people building niche sites, so I’ll try to clear the air a bit here. Continue reading “Google Tells Authority Domains, “You Can’t Vote for Yourself Anymore””

10 Website Selling Mistakes You NEED to Avoid

Some sites with no revenue can sell for 5 figures while others (with a strong revenue history) can’t even get 2x their monthly net earnings.  So what’s the difference?  Why do some sites kill it and others struggle to pull in a solid sales figure?

The answer — website selling mistakes.

The information you provide in your listing, and the way you present that information can have an enormous impact on how much potential buyers trust you… and how much they’re willing to pay for your site.

Here’s a list of some of the major mistakes I’ve observed in some recent listings on Flippa that have caused sites to sell for way below their real value, or not sell at all because they stayed below reserve. Continue reading “10 Website Selling Mistakes You NEED to Avoid”

Flippa Introduces Confidential Listings

Two weeks ago, I posted about the importance of not devaluing a site in an undiscovered niche by avoiding marketplaces like Flippa.  There are a ton of people who visit these sites to mine niches, not to buy websites.  The danger for you, as a seller, is that you can end up introducing more competition into your marketplace — especially bad news if you can’t get a good offer for the site you’re selling.

Maybe the folks at Flippa were listening because today they announced a new way to sell websites online via their marketplace: confidential listings.

As of today, a website seller can choose to make their new listing confidential. This will result in the URL being hidden from buyers until the seller has approved the buyer’s signed NDA.

The announcement further details the information that will be hidden until a signed NDA is produced from the potential buyer and approved by the seller:

This will hide the URL and other site-revealing information such as the WHOIS, Ranking Keywords, Hosting and Wayback Machine details from everyone apart from the seller and approved buyers.

A New Revenue Stream for Flippa

Flippa is smartly offering this feature as a premium option, which has a charge of $100.  This fee ensures that the feature won’t be overused and means that the confidential listing feed will likely be of increased quality.

It’s a good business move for Flippa in that it adds a new revenue stream, but it also appeals to a class of sellers who previously feared using the marketplace.  I, for one, am pretty excited to see this put into action.

Sadly, enforcement of the NDAs falls entirely upon the seller, and with the ability to use private registration on domain names, there’s still serious potential for abuse in the way of niche mining.

What are your thoughts on this — is it a good move for Flippa?  Is $100 to high of a price for this feature?

My First Product Launch – CTR Theme

There are only a few ways to make money online:

  • Creating sites that promote someone else’s products (via affiliate programs), which I’ve had pretty good success with.
  • Creating informational sites that earn with advertising — my bread and butter, and something I’ve been doing a lot more of lately (see my recent post about building passive income with AdSense sites)
  • Creating your own product and selling it directly to consumers (and allowing affiliates to promote it)

Lots of experts will tell you that this third option is a great way to create real wealth online, but it’s one I’ve never really tried my hand at… until now.

Continue reading “My First Product Launch – CTR Theme”

Building Passive Income with AdSense Sites

Three months ago, I posted a review of Cary Bergeron’s AdSense Recipe and noted in the forums that I was going to start building some niche AdSense sites.  I’m not new to AdSense by any means, but in the past I had never really given it a serious go as the primary monetization method of a site — it was always kind of an afterthought on my sites.  That changed after reading Cary’s guide and doing some in-depth analysis on past Flippa sales… there’s a ton of opportunity to make money holding or selling AdSense-monetized sites.

Getting Quick AdSense Results

I finally got around to launching a few sites in early December.  I knew I wanted to get quick results from my sites so that they could start funding more niche sites.  As a result, I tried to pick some lower competition niches where I could acquire exact match domains.  I also decided to “launch” a bunch of sites at once.

I put launch in quotes, because all I did was throw some unique keyword-rich content on them, point a few links at them, then track to see where they landed in the search engines.  I didn’t do much link building right away.

The idea here was to see where they naturally fell, pick the two best ranking sites and start building links for them.  For me, this proved to be a great strategy, as it enabled me to start generating some profit in my first month.  In December, my newly launched sites made $45 — not a huge sum, but it all came towards the end of the month when they started ranking organically.  In January, they made over $150, and in February a single one of those sites cleared over $250.  In four of the past seven days, that site has cleared over $20 per day — if it can stabilize at that number, it’s going to be a $500-600 per month earner.  I also launched several other niche sites in February that have started earning.

How I Built My Sites

A good AdSense site needs three things:

  1. Unique, keyword-rich content
  2. A design that caters to your ads (allows good ad placement for high CTR)
  3. Organic search traffic

Here’s how I tackled each of these concerns:

Unique, Keyword-Rich Content

For one of my sites, I wrote the initial content (only 5 pages worth).  For the other, I outsourced content creation, splitting between a writer hired at oDesk (for only $5 per article), and TextBroker.com (around $9 per article for the length I requested).  At oDesk, you have a little more control over who you get as a writer, since individual candidates apply and you hire them specifically.  TextBroker handles the writer assignment for you — you just specify the quality level you want (I used 4 stars).

For these types of sites, writing is a commodity.  You want good, accurate information, but it doesn’t need to be the quality of a doctoral dissertation.  I was quite pleased with what I got back from both services.  Note that you should run your content through Copyscape to make sure it’s not plagiarized if you hire someone to do the writing for you — you need unique content if you want to rank organically.

Getting Ad Clicks – High CTR Designs

I decided to build my sites on WordPress, since it’s super easy to setup and get running.  Beyond that, it’s a great choice if you ever decide to sell the sites, since nearly everyone looking to buy a website is familiar with WordPress.

I started looking around for high CTR (click-through rate) AdSense templates and a good ad management plugin that would do everything I wanted… and I found myself pretty underwhelmed.  So I built a theme that would do everything I wanted, namely:

  • Let me enter my AdSense code via WordPress’ admin panel
  • Automatically color match my ads to the theme I’m using
  • Rotate my ad placements between several high-CTR options
  • Let me easily track ad channel performance
  • Hide ads from editors at specific human-edited directories

The coolest part about having this theme is that it makes it SUPER easy for me to roll out new sites.  I just order (or write) some content, install WP and my theme on the domain, paste in my ad code in the admin section, and start building links (via automated tools).

As a quick aside, I’ve made CTR Theme (that’s what I’m calling it) available for sale in case you’re interested (I’ll write another post about launching CTR Theme as its own product later).  With that out of the way, that leads us to:

Getting Organic Traffic – Building Links to AdSense Sites

So, I’ve got good content and a high-performance theme in place that will turn traffic into clicks… now I just needed to get the traffic.  Easier said than done, right?

Actually, it is.  The keys for me are that I:

  • didn’t choose overly-competitive niches
  • used automated tools to “place” links, instead of trying to build them “naturally”

Google wants you to think that the only proper way to get links is to write amazing content that will *somehow* get discovered, linked to, and they’ll pick it up and rank it in their search results.  Then you’ll have a magical stream of high-quality traffic making you money forever and ever.  It just doesn’t work that way.

The bottom line is that with AdSense niche sites, you’re not writing about stuff people will naturally want to link to like crazy.  Especially if you slap ads all over the place — haters love to hate, and people get REAL stingy with their link juice when they know you’re going to make a buck from it.

So forget them.  Let’s do it all ourselves.

The core of my strategy was to create unique content (or grab existing content from my niche site), spin it using The Best Spinner, post it to ezine articles, then use Article Marketing Robot to blast unique versions of the article out to hundreds (sometimes thousands) of websites.  Then, I used Bookmarking Demon to social bookmark my money site, the ezine article, and the secondary articles.  For more difficult terms, I also do some other stuff (blog commenting, link wheels, etc).

I’ll be adding some tutorial videos about how I use these tools in the near future.  Keep in mind that everything I use a tool for, you can do manually… it just sucks a lot and takes loads of time.  But if you’ve got way more time than money right now, you’re not out of luck.  You’ll just have to work harder.

I’ve also written a 40-page ebook outlining my entire link-building strategy in greater detail that I include as a bonus with CTR Theme.

So, does this strategy work?

For low to medium competition keywords, it works like a charm.  Here are the results after a single article blast (and bookmarking run) for a low competition term:

That same blast also had a great impact on a secondary term, even though I hadn’t targeted that term with anchor text:

I’ve also got a site that I’m building that is in a MUCH more competitive (and profitable) niche.  I haven’t focused on it much, but this month I ran 2 blasts to see what they would do.  The first blast took me from ranking 222 to 83.  The rankings dropped a bit to around 125, then I ran the second blast, which shot the site up to 48.  It may still move up some from that blast, since I just ran it.  Here’s the chart showing that movement:

The site is ranked high enough now that I feel like it’s worth devoting some more time and energy to it.  I’ve got a bunch of other sites in lower competition niches that I launched in the last month or so where this strategy got first page rankings after 1 or 2 blasts.

I’m going to put a lot more attention into building links for this site and I’ll try to add updates as things develop with this site.  It’s worth noting that this site was already making over $20 per month in January and February with really minimal traffic (none from its primary keyword), so the extra effort could really pay off well.

What’s the Bottom Line?

AdSense is still a really viable option for monetizing niche sites, and I love how hands-off the income is.  It’s awesome to wake up every morning and see these sites earning for me without having to do any additional work (after they start ranking well).

Whether you intend to flip them or hold them, AdSense niche sites can be very profitable.