6 Lessons Learned From 100K+ of Website Flips

I recently finalized the deal on my fifth website flip in 2015, with a combined value over $84k all up and in going through the sale process repeatedly have gathered quite a bit of recent information on the website flip process, how to maximize earnings and prepare a site for sale.

All up, I’m now over $100k of flips in just a tick over 12 months and believe me when I say that I have made some mistakes along the way.

I’ve certainly learned some valuable lessons about how to maximise the value of sites prior to a flip, and I’m now applying the key learnings to all the sites I’m looking to flip in the future.

Sharing is caring so I reached out to Tung, who I really respect for what he’s be able to achieve online, about providing an overview of my recent experience flipping sites as a guest post. So here we are!

What You Will Learn

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The aim of this post is to provide you with insight into what buyers are looking for, how to maximize the value of your asset and how to navigate the sales process so that both you and the buyer each leave the deal feeling that you’ve got a good deal in the end.

And when I say “good deal”, what I mean by that is best summarised by what a business mentor once told me, which was;

“if it’s a good deal for you and a good deal for me, then it’s a good deal”.

I have based all my business decisions off of that mantra since it was passed onto me because it’s the way business should be.

If you approach any business deal or relationship trying to steal every inch of ground from the other party, you’re destined for ongoing troubles. On the other hand, if you approach each business transaction with a mindset of being willing to give a little to gain a little, you’re well placed for success.

Flipping a website is one example of a business transaction and throughout this post I’ll be highlighting some (de-identified) real-life examples of how the website flip process can go down, so that you can learn from my experience and maximize the value you receive from your website, whilst still finalizing that transaction with both you and the buyer getting a great deal.

Let’s go!

Lesson #1: Everyone Wants a Bargain

Unless your site is inexpensive (let's say under $5k), has clearly demonstrable upside, or is absolutely remarkable (more than a standard Adsense or Amazon affiliate site), it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get initial offers at the full listing price for your site.

For a start, you are probably listing it on the high side of likely value. Conversely, buyers are always looking to buy good sites at a shade below market value. It’s a bit like the old real estate saying that says you don’t make money in real estate when you sell, you make it when you buy!

What should you expect to sell for?

Clearly this will vary from site to site. The majority of the sites I've flipped have been in the 20-50 page range and what are usually defined as "niche sites", perhaps bordering on niche-authority sites.

To this point I've sold sites privately and also through the Empire Flippers Marketplace. For the handful of sites I've sold through Empire Flippers, the average listing duration has been very low indeed.

I've sold two sites for under $10k and in each instance they sold within 24 hours.​ I literally saw the listing go live before I went to sleep and woke up the next morning with an email saying the site had been sold at the full 20x earnings listing price.

​The remainder of the sites have been in the $15-$49k range. I've found that the sites in the range of $15-$25k have sold in 3-5 weeks. The $49k deal dragged out for quite a few months, but we actually came to terms with a buy in a bit over 60 days.

From others I've talked to that have sold in that $50k+ range, it's reasonable to expect a 90+ day listing duration.

Of course, if you have an amazing, solid site you might beat those timeframes but they have been consistent enough over a number of transactions to be my expected listing duration now. So hopefully that gives you an insight into what to expect.

What multiple should you get?​

​My sites under $10k have sold at 20x monthly earnings, based on the average 30 days earnings over the prior 90 days. In short, if your site earns $1500 over 3 months, it averages $500 per 30 days, which x 20 gives a listing price of $10k (assuming no expenses)

The sites in the $15k-$49k range have sold between 17-18x earnings, though I do feel like I could have held out for the full 20x and eventually got it. But in each case I was satisfied with the multiples offered by buyers and took the deals.​

I've certainly got sites I'm preparing for sale in early 2016 that I'll be listing for higher than 20x as they're aged, consistent and high-quality sites. I know some site brokers list sites for higher than 20x and I believe Empire Flippers are now doing the same. If you have a solid site, there's no reason why you can't list (and get) something in the 24x range in my opinion.

Somewhere either side of 20x is a realistic expectation of what you can get for a site in the current market.​

Key takeaway: Expect some low offers. If the price comes in low, it’s not you, or your site, it’s just human nature that people like buying things for under advertised price.

You might just have to wait for a few offers to come in to get your full listing price. Remember, on a marketplace like Empire Flippers that you don't have to sell if the offer is low, but also be mindful that the true value of your site is only what the market is prepared to pay for it.

Lesson #2: Buyers will Pinpoint the Weak Spots

Obviously if you’re a buyer and want to pick up a site for less than listed value, you’re going to find weak spots or potential risks that can be used as justification for not paying full price. Again, completely normal.

A very common reason for low offers that I have seen is “seasonality”. Here are a couple examples;

Example #1:

My business partner Hayden and I flipped a site in April 2014 and the listing price was just under $20,000, and here’s the initial offer from the eventual buyer:

“our main concern, is that the income is increasing right now because of the build up to the end of our (Australian) financial year, where all the {sellers in the niche} have their end of year sales, until June 30th. We believe traffic and income will decline after that period.

As the site does not have historical data to prove otherwise. We are not willing to overpay for such a young and unproven asset. We are willing to wait, until the end of July to see if we are correct, if we are proven wrong, we are more than happy to pay full price (on future valuation). Otherwise $16k in max for now.”

So the buyer was attempting to get an approx 20% discount on the site based on seasonality. And actually, in that instance it was hard to argue against because we did not have historical revenue data for the prior year.

Example #2:

We had a site listed in February 2015 that obviously had a pre-Christmas earning spike. The sale price was something $28k, as it earned quite well in December. The true value was more like $20-$22k in my view when you account for the December spike.

Here’s a copy of the written exchange between the potential buyer and myself (with Empire Flippers, who I usually sell through, relaying the information between the two parties):

Question from buyer: “This appears to be a seasonal niche – what’s your expectation for the months going forward? Is traffic closely related to {niche} season?”

My Response: (note, the buyer knew me from NoHatDigital and so was aware this was an SEOd site as opposed to me being an expert in the niche)

“Re {niche} seasons, I’m not an expert in {niche}, but from what I’ve seen > {link to a resource}, we’re actually out of {niche} season right now so on that basis, I’d expect earnings to increase. We’ve got a good 5 months of earnings history there now and the earnings are very stable. See no reason why earnings should to tail off based on seasonality (pre-Christmas period aside where there’s an obvious spike).

Buyers response and offer: “They are selling at peak season. According to the keyword planner, the highest traffic levels are in the winter and then drops off during the rest of the year. So the valuation is based upon peak revenue. I feel a fair valuation for the site is $1k/month averaged over a 12 month period….”

^ I’m not sure what data the buyer was looking at, because we were selling prior to the peak season, but regardless, I felt that the offer was actually close to the mark. We ended up selling to a different buyer however who had put in a prior bid for the site.

Key takeaway: Buyers want to get a good deal on the buy price and a simple way to achieve that is to pinpoint potential weak spots that justify a price reduction. Prepare in advance with answers to offset their concerns or better still, attack the weak spots months out from selling your site so that they don't get in the way of a full sale price.

Lesson #3: Know Why You’re Selling

I mentioned at the top that I always aim to get a “good deal” for me and the buyer. The first site we sold for $17k despite a listing price of $20k was obviously sold for a 15% “discount” - a great deal for the buyer. There was also plenty of likely upside growth in the site.

The reason I pulled the trigger on that offer instead of waiting it out for full price was because at that time, Hayden and I were trying to validate the build, rank and flip model. We were looking to scale our business and really needed to pinpoint likely sale multiples before getting too far down the track.

17x earnings for us was fine and the $3k difference between $20k full value and the $17k we got was easily offset by the value of securing that flip to validate our business model at the time.

I’ve got to admit that my ego nearly got in the way in fact I recall sending a message to Hayden along the lines of “My ego really wants to negotiate harder, but my mind is telling me to just take the deal so we can move on”. Which we did and the end result was a true win-win on the price.

Key takeaway: Know why you are selling so that ego doesn’t get in the way. There will be a difference between what you would like, and what you need. Know your baseline price before going in and you’ll be able to negotiate a deal minus any mental distractions.

Lesson #4: Buyers May Limit Risk With an Earnout

An earnout basically means instead of you getting all your cash upfront, the buyer pays part upfront and then part at a later date, based on the site continuing to earn at a pre-determined level.

I’ve yet to accept an earn out offer, but have had a couple proposed to me. One earnout proposed was due to buyer being wary of PBN link building as he was familiar with the September 2014 PBN de-indexings.

Let’s look at how an earnout response can be presented to you:

"I am willing to offer $20k for the site, but would like to protect myself due to their PBN with an earn out. I will put down $14k with a 6 month earn out of $1k per month. If the site falls below $800/month in revenue, I will only pay the earned amount. Anything over $800/month and I will pay $1k/month."

I thought that was a really fair offer actually for both parties, but ended up going with another buyer. For your reference, below is my draft response. I agreed to terms with another buyer right at this point, but if I didn’t have that other offer, below is what I was going back with:

“.... the valuation in my view should be based on the last full month of earnings, which is Feb 1st through March 2nd as this is out of peak times and a fair representation of earnings.

The site's earnings were $1,098.58 during that period, so we'd base an earnout sale on 20x of $1,098.58 ($21,971.60). If the buyer was willing to put in $15,971.60 upfront and then 6 monthly payments of up to $1000 per month as per the earnout conditions he/she described, we'd accept that. e.g. for the 6 month earn out of $1k per month.

If the site falls below $800/month in revenue, the buyer will only pay the earned amount. Anything over $800/month and then the buyer will pay $1k/month."

Given that PBN link building has been so common, I expect a reasonable number of sites being flipped in the foreseeable future will still have PBN links pointing to them.

PBN link building in isolation should not be a major red flag for buyers in my view. PBN links still work, and sites link built with PBNs still rank and will likely continue to for quite some time to come.

Certainly enough time for the new site owner to build non-PBN links if they wish. But some buyers will still use PBN link building as a reason for offering under listing price.

Ways to Mitigate Buyer Hesitation towards SEO Tactics Used:

Below is what I have been doing over the past 9 months to improve my sites that have PBN links, which in turn helps to better position them for sale. Not only does it improve them for sale, but it also reduces the penalty risk considerably due to an overall improved traffic and backlink profile.

Testing new forms of traffic

My typical SEO game plan for sites leading up to late 2014 was a highly systemized approach to keyword research, solid on-page SEO and PBN link building. Since December 2014, I’ve worked with over 100 participants through my monthly SEO courses on testing new SEO tactics.

We’ve had some significant successes and have been able to grow our sites with non-Google traffic using Reddit and articles aimed at triggering social sharing, along with strategic guest posting for traffic and some very effective white hat link building techniques.

Alternate Link Building

PBN link building is so efficient that many people, including myself have relied on them for 90%+ of links in 2013 and 2014. I forced myself to learn new tactics in 2015 and have since developed and refined a dozen new ways of building links efficiently, the results of which are shown in the video below under the “3 Key Tips on Maximizing the Potential Listing Price” subheading.

It’s made the sites a heck of a lot more attractive for potential buyers compared to a typical SEO site that has organic search traffic accounting for +90% of overall traffic sources, it's certainly improved rankings and has enabled us to learn how to build efficient white hat links, which is valuable information to pass onto buyers, which gives our listings an edge on others in any given marketplace.

Lesson #5: Buyers Want Info!

Here are some example questions that I’ve had come back to me from potential buyers, which present a useful overall picture of what buyers are looking for when researching potential acquisitions (address them in your listing copy!):

  • This appears to be a seasonal niche - what’s your expectation for the months going forward? Is traffic closely related to {niche} season?
  • Who has written the content, and would the content writer be available for future article writing?
  • I see a number of PBN links in the backlink profile and assume those will stay live after the sale.
  • You mention in the listing 2-3 blog comments are added per month. What kind of blogs are being targeted for this commenting, industry related or high DA, PA or something else?
  • Is this back linking outsourced?
  • Is this a typical MFA site, or is it actually providing good value to visitors? (or: will it be around for a time to come?)
  • Are there more keywords to rank for?
  • Can I improve the site (visitor experience, more keywords, other ways of revenue, ...)?
  • What's history (is revenue dropping/rising)?
  • How did it perform under Google updates?

Obviously these questions can be both a point of clarification, or the buyer’s intent to find a weak spot in your site to justify paying lower than the listing price.

What I've learned is that I may as well address them in the listing copy; tell the buyers where you're getting content, be upfront with ongoing work on the site required, show them how I’ve got the results that to date and where the buyer can improve to extract more earnings from the site.

Key takeaway: In the majority of cases, taking the time to clearly explain the intricacies of your site will separate your listing from 90% of others on any market place. Remember, you’re in a competitive environment where you are not only trying to sell the benefits of your site to a potential buyer, but also the benefits of your site compared to others on the marketplace.

Lesson #6: Test Before Listing

The biggest mistake I've made to date with basically all the sites I've flipped has been not taking early action on testing new monetization, new traffic sources, new link building tactics and so forth. Which is pretty crazy when you think about it.

I've always held off on testing that new traffic tactic or the link building tactic floating through my mind due to knowing the site will be listed for sale in a few months anyway... "why bother now" type of thinking.

In reality, it's probably cost $15-$20k in sale price revenue because what usually happens is that the process for listing takes 1-3 weeks, then it sits on the marketplace for sometimes 30-90 days before you get a buyer.

So in reality, the site you're considering listing today won't be sold for 3 months in many cases and that's plenty of time, when working with an established site, to get 5%, 10% or even 20% revenue growth. Don't leave the money on the table!

Knowing that I've left some money on the table through not being aggressive enough in growing sites will probably end up making me (and hopefully you in reading this) a heap more cash in the future.

It's a great lesson in taking action! I'm now testing as much as possible on all my sites that are being prepared for flipping, well in advance.

For example, I have a batch of a few dozen sites that I'm building in partnership with graduates from my monthly SEO course and we're testing new traffic and SEO tactics now, knowing that the sites will most likely not be flipped until March-June 2016.

Even if you test something new and don't boost the earnings, at the very least you can convey that valuable information to your potential buyers, which gives your listing an edge on others on the marketplace.

Key takeaway: Test early and be aggressive with milking as much revenue from your site as possible. There's almost always more revenue waiting to be extracted and when you're getting an extra $20 of sale price per $1 of monthly revenue, little increases can improve sale price considerably.​

3 Key Tips on Maximizing the Potential Listing Price

As I mentioned above, you can maximize the value of your site by testing new things in advance of listing your website for sale. Below is a video that shows the Google Analytics data from two websites that I recently sold and the analytics data is a nice, visual way to demonstrate three very important tips on improving your website value. Take a look!

Exclusive CloudLiving Reader Bonuses

I told Tung that as a thank for letting me post on his blog that I'd do two things.

  1. Hang around in the comments for an Ask Me Anything session like Tung's recent (and awesome) AMA
  2. Offer the chance for CloudLiving readers to pick up two of my SEO course training modules. I've chosen two that have been the foundation to my site flipping success to date and I hope you find them valuable!

Bonus #1 - Internal Keyword Research Process: A step by step training module that walks you through a re-vamped process for finding low competition, high potential earning keyword sets. This is the exact process that Hayden (from NoHatDigital.com) and I have been using for the last 3 years as the foundation research for all $100k+ worth of site flips. It's been recently updated to reflect our new site style and it is always the training module my course participants rate as the most useful.

Bonus #2 - Aussie SEO training module: This is the big one; a training module that I put together for my SEO Course participants revealing exactly which types of sites to build to target Google Australia, the niches to go after and expected earnings per niche. We ranked and flipped a site in under 7 months for $17,000 in 2014 using this knowledge. It’s wide-open in Australia still and there are some juicy niches to rank in!

Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I look forward to hearing of your site flipping success!

Website Flipping AMA

Tung here now...

On the back of the successful Ask Me Anything post I released at the end of May, I invited Greg to stick around for any questions related to website flipping or what he’s doing by way of driving traffic outside of Google and how he’s link building his sites.

Greg will hang around in the comments for the next 72 hours to answer any questions so ask him anything!

Greg Nunan

Greg Nunan is full-time online marketer, splitting his time between his digital marketing agency (http://www.wedigital.com.au/) and building and flipping websites for profit. Greg is a Super... [Read full bio]

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12 Comments

  1. Greg/Tung thanks for the post.

    Do you regret any of the sales? Have any of the sites seen a substantial up-tick in earnings?

    Have you guys considered any creative sales arrangements with earn outs etc?

    Thanks again, definitely a space a lot of people are getting interested in!

    • Its not always easy to assess our failures but even harder still to talk to other people and help them learn from them so its super appreciated! Not that they were that bad, as long as you learn, the most expensive lessons are those learned best!

  2. Hey Jon, actually zero regrets. I keep an eye on the sites I flipped to see how they’re going and when I look at the balance of sites I’ve sold to date, two have taken off after selling, one of those was selling a share back to a partner in the site so I’m very happy he’s doing well from that site. The other is a repeat buyer and I’m in regular contact helping him with some sites also so happy for him too!

    Most are earning (I presume) about what they were when we flipped them based on their rankings and only one site is earning less. That one really took off after we sold but then got hit with a penalty of some sort after 5-6 months. I presume the buyer would have got back more than 50% of their investment even in 6 months on that one before the penalty given how much it was climbing prior to tanking.

    So overall, 2:1 for sites that climbed significantly vs declined. But the flip revenue upfront paid for a property renovation, upfront cashflow and I just picked up a couple sites for myself too so my strategy to date, and probably into the near future, will be to err on the side of flipping as opposed to holding. Pros and cons for each though.

    Regarding earnouts, I’m not against them and they have a place for sure. Haven’t accepted one personally but would if the deal was structured correctly.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Thanks Greg for these interesting insights. I’ve got more general question for you. From your experience, if the amazon affiliate site is well optimised, what’s a good CTR, i.e. % of visitors that click on your affiliate links?

  4. Hi Stella, that varies significantly due to niches so it’s probably best for me to elaborate on what I find gets the most clicks through to Amazon (which is where the most of my affiliate revenue experience is) in general and then you can test and tweak on yoru individual sites:

    1. Get your product comparison table (for the main review article of the site) or your product features table (in the instance of a review article on an individual product) to show above the fold. These generate quite a lot of clicks. I’ve also now started putting a duplicate copy at the bottom of page as well but don’t have any data on that as yet.

    2. Within the table, I get little feature badges made up to draw attention to 2 products that I want the users to click through to Amazon for. They’ll say “top rated” or “best seller” etc. These are usually 1) the top selling item on Amazon which I recommend because they convert well, usually due to low price and 2) a higher priced product that has the best user reviews and I go with this because of the higher commissions due to product price.

    3. I get feature product images made up with an image, product name, star rating and a mention of it being the “top rate” product or something similar (approx 250 x 400 size) and place 2 of those throughout the content area linking directly to Amazon.

    4. Have some text links in the content area also.

    5. Side note on what doesn’t really work and you see this on affiliate sites often > I used to think that feature product images in the right sidebar that follow the visitor down the page as they scroll where good for clicks. But they really don’t do that well. THe main content area is the place to focus CRO efforts.

    That’s really the basics of an optimized page for click conversion.

    Then, pay attention to your amazon reports as to which products convert best. You will often find 1 particular product is a clear top converter so you can then optimize your website for clicks to that product.

  5. Thanks Greg, that’s very helpful. One last question that bothers me because I’m getting different opinions from different people – what’s the right number of affiliate links per page? Some people advise 3 per 500 words, some say just 1 per 500 words… Is there a good rule of thumb?

    • I used to be more worried about it than I am now because I had two instances a few months apart of sites dropping out of serps shortly after I added aff links. Looking back, it was probably not even to do with the links and more a case of other factors triggering something in the algo. For an individual product review article I think up to 3 links is fine, but for the main “nest {product}” or “{product} reviews” article, I will go as high as 10. But make sure you’ve also got internal links to product review articles and other pages on your site too.

  6. Hey Ayush, I’m not sure any of my sites are ranking super-fast. I’ve seen case studies of people ranking within 60-90 days using gray hat techniques but I do not personally do that because I’d rather take a few extra months upfront than risk a site getting a penalty. Occasionally I’ll have a site rank well in under 4 months but I actually don’t set out to achieve that.

    I basically don’t worry about trying to rank a site for the main keyword for 4-6 months. Build sites in batches, work on them sporadically for the first couple months and then start to ramp up the work from month 3 beyond. If you’re knocking out a new site each month you’ve always got sites coming out of the sandbox to work on.

    In saying that, I certainly can let you know that high authority, very relevant links can help a LOT. Links from real money sites. e.g. if you get 1-2 links from sites that are already ranking on page 1 for the target keywords you are going after, or close match to it, those links are golden and will almost certainly push a new site through the sandbox quicker. Makes sense when you think about it.

  7. Greg,

    This is a great post, I’m running a bunch of tests on a few different properties that are targeting the same keywords. An authority site, a more churn and burn style site, and some web 2.0 properties. Each site has a bit different back linking strategy but I was starting to consider selling anything that would be worth it once the sites rank.

    Do you have a life cycle that you try to stick to for your sites? Maybe try to sell within 9 months or something like that? Or does it strictly depend on your earnings and when you can sell for profit

  8. This is really interesting Greg,
    Its good to have you here at Tung’s blog and i really enjoyed this post of yours too.

    Serious, you’re doing very well with website flipping. I know I’ve tried that a couple number of times but failed but, I’ve learnt a ton of lesson from this post which i will be applying if i later decide to start flipping again.

    My question to you is, you mentioned that you’ve discovered many other efficient link building tactic apart from PBN so, can you please let us know just a few of those tactics?

    Thanks for sharing.

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