Siteefy recently revealed there are just over a billion websites online.
Even though a fraction of that amount, to the tune of 17%, is active, there are still many potential sites to buy.
The problem is that most of these sites are not what you’re looking for. If you really want to find a diamond in the rough, meaning:
- A truly profitable website
- One that isn’t banned by Google and can be monetized
- One that’s evergreen and can still get traffic years from now
- One where the owner is willing to sell it…
you’re going to need to know where to look.
Let me tell you, I’ve bought sites that were a complete loss, more than I care to admit.
I never got back my investment – just a considerable fat learning experience on what websites not to buy (like one that secretly got most of its traffic from adult websites and was virtually worthless once we shut that traffic down – more on that later).
I will use my friend and colleague John Cole’s advice here. A co-founder and CCO of Ezoic, John knows how to buy profitable websites better than most people worldwide.
Here’s what we’ve learned after buying over 400 websites about how not to lose money in the process.
Step 1: Find great prospective sites
Finding a tremendous potential website to buy starts with sorting through the junk and seeing a lot of good and even a few excellent sites. Here’s what to look for and how to complete this process fast.
Evergreen sites are your best friend here.
AmberHeardTrial.com or StrangerThingsSeasonFour.com probably could’ve blown up with traffic in 2022, but after those fads passed, they’ve passed forever, and traffic declines fast.
On the contrary, websites about the following topics have been getting traffic for decades and will continue to get traffic for decades to come:
- Personal development
- Relationship advice
- Sausage casserole recipes
- Judo moves
- Roman Emperor Nero
Let’s use that last one as an example; I have just the story to explain what I mean.
Below is a site that John considered buying: a site dedicated to the history and facts about the ancient Roman Emperor Nero.
The site looked good at first glance; it was evergreen, loaded quickly, and full of high-quality content.
Using tools like SimilarWeb and SEMrush to get a deeper look at the site, John saw some encouraging traffic and metrics — like strong keywords ranking highly in Google, positive organic search results, and active landing pages.
But there were no ads on the site, which was weird. Sure enough, when John checked the site, it had been banned by Google and unable to be monetized through AdSense.
Never mind; time to keep looking for other sites.
A helpful tip here: this site’s homepage didn’t have much traffic. Most of the traffic went to other landing pages and content within the site. Just because a site’s homepage has low traffic doesn’t mean the rest of the site does, so be sure to do a thorough review.
It can take a while to sift through the web looking for evergreen, high-quality, high-traffic sites. Even when you find one, there may be problems behind the scenes. Still, if you find the right website, it has the potential to earn you truly enormous revenue over time — more on that later.
Step 2: Appraise the website
As I said, judging a site based on the homepage isn’t always accurate. You need to take a complete look at a site and its content to get a precise picture.
There are plenty of apparent giveaways (and some not so obvious) when determining whether a site is good or bad.
Here are some of the most common ominous signs and red flags that you shouldn’t ignore:
- The site is really new (it hasn’t had time to rank for keywords, and getting a ton of new traffic to a new site is difficult to do, even suspicious)
- Plagiarism (duh)
- Google has banned the site
- The site is getting a lot of suspicious traffic (from “Other” or “Unknown” sources)
- Unusual advertisement traits (way too many ads, no ads at all, terrible quality ads)
Here’s what to look for when you think you’ve found a good site:
- A large number of keywords + positive trends for those keywords
- Strong landing page traffic
- The site has been around a while (the longer a site has been around, the more chance it’s had to rank for keywords)
- The site runs well on desktop and mobile
- The site is independently-owned
That last one is a killer.
In most cases, sites owned by enterprises or large media corporations will be unavailable for purchase (they’re site buyers, too, after all).
You can check the site age, hosting information, the registrar, nameservers, and even site owner emails (sometimes) by using tools like WhoIs.
Once you’ve found a good site and appraised it to get all the critical information, it’s time to reach out to the owner and see if they’re willing to make a deal.
Step 3: Contact the owner to make a deal
When reaching out in hope of purchasing a site, John uses an email template just like this:
I’m interested in buying your website, www.website .com.
If you’re interested in selling, please let me know, and I’ll give you an estimate of how much I think it could be worth.
Hope to hear from you soon,
Now imagine you’re a site owner.
You’ve built a website from the ground up, making you a ton of money. You like the site, you connect with the audience, and things are looking up. You open your email and see this message asking about your site.
Would you be quick to sell your site to some stranger?
Probably not. It should also be no surprise that many of these sales pitches go ignored or are rejected. It’s not uncommon for site owners to have no interest or desire to sell their perfect little cash cow.
But sometimes, site owners are willing – especially if the price makes sense and it’s coming from a person they can trust. This deal will probably require a lot of charisma, honesty, and personal connection with the site owner for it to go through.
Let’s say you find someone willing to sell. It’s time to get a closer look at the site and see for yourself what’s going on behind the scenes.
To perform this deep dive, you need to ask them for a look at their Google Analytics. Don’t worry; just ask them for read-only access — so they don’t get spooked and think you’re mining their data for some cryptocurrency scheme.
Once you get these permissions, check the landing pages, traffic history, and traffic sources again. I recommend checking traffic history annually by keyword, so you don’t accidentally get inflated or deflated numbers based on seasonality or trends.
A good traffic profile usually consists of a majority organic, with various amounts of other traffic sources (direct, referral, social, other, etc.).
On the other hand, a bad/suspicious traffic profile typically has a majority of traffic coming from places other than “organic,” like the mysterious “other” or “unknown” categories.
Remember, just because traffic is marked as “other” or “unknown” it isn’t necessarily bad – Google can’t always accurately measure all traffic at all times. That said, most site traffic shouldn’t fall into those categories.
Once you’re satisfied that the site’s traffic is legitimate, it’s time to ask some more personal questions – earnings.
Specifically, how much the site is earning year to year. If you look at shorter periods like month to month, earnings can be skewed with seasonal trends. Make sure you’re seeing this yourself, either with viewing permissions or actual screenshots, to verify this is all true.
Next, check off a couple more boxes: the site should rank #1 for its content (some simple copy and pasting of their major articles/pages/headlines should reveal this), then calculate earnings per thousand visitors (EPMV). Look at the last 12 months by month, and the past 30 days, by day.
Now we’re at the fun (and hopefully not too expensive) part – offering an estimated cost for the site!
Your offer should be about the sum of their annual net earnings from 12-36 months. It’s fair, requires custom data, and gives both parties an incentive to make the deal.
Mistakes to avoid
You can make plenty of mistakes here, and it feels like I’ve made them all.
It is a learning experience, and making mistakes on small sites is way better than making a massive mistake on a vast, expensive deal.
That’s why I recommend any would-be site buyers to start small: buy a bunch of small sites to begin with, not one or two significant sites.
The lessons you learn in this process will be invaluable (like always making sure the majority of a site’s traffic isn’t coming from adult websites), and it’s best to give yourself some leeway to make these mistakes with a thousand dollars versus one hundred thousand dollars.
A key takeaway from all this is that learning is more important than earning at this point.
If you just want to find a quick buck and hit the jackpot, you will have a hard time and probably lose money. Instead, focus on getting acquainted with every step of the process, learning how to appraise sites, and making the right deals.
Next, be sure you understand the risks. I had a friend who went to Las Vegas and bet on black four times in a row at roulette. Each time, it came up red – poor guy. He lost a hundred bucks in about two minutes.
But he knew the risks and ended up winning more later (I think he stayed away from roulette the rest of the night, though). It’s all part of the process, and you must understand that you can lose money. That’s OK. You can make a lot of money, too.
Buying websites is not everyone’s first thought when considering an alternative revenue stream.
In fact, it could take years to see any return which can be scary to some. More importantly, the opportunity for success is there if you do the proper research.
I’ve shown you how to prospect for good websites to buy, appraise a website, and communicate with the current site owner to strike a deal. All of this, in addition to telling you which pitfalls to avoid.
Like any investment, consider the risk you’re willing to take. If you follow the steps I outlined above, you’ll be in good shape to start your website portfolio or add to it by making informed decisions.