This post has been overdue for a while, and is something many people have asked about. Part of the reason it took so long to produce, was thinking how to actually structure it.
When deciding what case studies to include in this post, I had to ask myself what the purpose of the case study was first.
Not A Cherry-Picked Case Study
It’s very easy to just cherry-pick our best successes and share them with you to show how awesome we are, but I didn’t want to do that.
Don’t get me wrong, we are indeed awesome, but putting myself in your shoes, I realized you’re probably asking yourself a few questions about the team here at OnFolio:
- Are we legit?
- Are we authentic?
- How are we capable of handling the pitfalls that an online business can throw at you?
- Can we make you money?
If I did just cherry-pick our best wins, you’d have satisfactory answers to question 1 and 4, but 2 and 3 would be left wanting.
In fact, you may even feel the answer to question 2 is a big No, because we’re trying to show off about how we never have any failures or difficulties.
Warts & All
So with all that being said, I wanted to put together a “warts and all” piece about some of our wins, some of our painful experiences, and evidence that we’re a team you want on your side when Google algorithm changes rear their ugly heads.
At the end of the day, we need anyone who does business with us to know that yes, we’ll make you money, but that we’re trustworthy, and that online business comes with risks we can’t always mitigate, but will do our best to avoid and rectify.
If you understand that, then you’re someone we want to work with too.
So let’s get this preamble out of the way and dive in to the details you’ve been looking for.
The Sites In Question
I’m going to cover four sites. I won’t be revealing the URLs because these are still sites we are actively working on with partners, and nothing good ever comes of sharing a URL in a public case study.
The internet is littered with public case studies where the sites were penalized or spammed to death after they were revealed, so we’re not going to join that graveyard.
We’d rather miss out on a potential new partner than risk damaging a site owned by an existing one, that’s just how it has to be.
The first site was a pretty easy win. I’m including it to show an example of a typical win we can bring when everything goes to plan.
The second site started off as a win, got hit by the August 2018 Google medic update, but because of work we’d done previously, the site actually maintained its income despite a drop in traffic.
The third site was one that (through not fault of our own) lost almost 100% of its traffic two weeks after we bought it, and has now, six months later, recovered back to its previous levels. This one is a good example of what kind of things can happen and how you go about fixing them.
The fourth site is an example of another solid win you can get just by growing a site steadily and safely over time. It’s probably the most boring result, but also one of the best for that very reason.
Since we’re not revealing any URLs, we can show some financial information for the sites, which will really help you visualize how an investment with us might look and will help you forecast potential returns (with a heavy caveat that your results may differ).
Site One – Easy Win With A Wobble
This site was bought for a 30x multiple in summer 2016. At the time it was making $500 per month, so we paid $15,000.
The multiple was quite high for back in 2016, but we had identified quite a few opportunities so it made sense to go for it.
Over the next 12 months, we did the following things:
- Added 30 more articles
- Improved onpage seo
- Performed conversion rate optimization on the top ranking pages
- Built more backlinks
- Added a display ad network.
When we first bought the site, it was getting a reasonable amount of traffic but was only monetized via Amazon associates (making $500 per month).
We added the site to MediaVine to get display ads, and also added it to a network that helps facilitate sponsored posts on a site.
By doing this, and growing the traffic, after around 12 months the site was making $1,200 per month (it hit this number 3 months in a row by month 12).
The plan after this was to keep growing the site where possible, but to keep it more on autopilot. If we could get the site to maintain its $1,200 per month average for 6+ months, it would now be worth close to $40,000, which would not be a bad return for 18 months.
The chart below shows the first year’s performance.
As you can see, in the first year, the site paid for more than half of its acquisition cost, generating a 59.8% ROI. Not only that, it was also valued at around $30,000 after the first year.
If it were sold then, it would have earned another $25,500 ($30,000 – 15% broker fee), bringing the total to $34,470, or 229.8%.
The plan now is to hold the site for a few months, since its total income is still on the rise, and then sell the site for $45,000+.
The main takeaway from this case study is that by adding content and adding monetization methods, you can grow a site quite stably over the course of a year or more.
This site did not demand a lot of our attention, yet was still a solid win. We have probably invested about 1 hour per week on the site on average for the past year.
Site Two – The Aug 1 Update
Site two started off great. This site had a ton of good rankings and great content, but was only monetizing with Amazon associates and Clickbank.
As with site one, the first thing we did was add the site to our Mediavine network and right away we were able to added several thousand dollars per month to the site’s profit. The site was now making $3,000 to $4,000 per month.
However, right after we started work on this site, the giant August 1st 2018 google update rolled around, and a significant amount of the site’s traffic dropped.
We have done a lot of work on the site since then and the traffic is trending up again, and some of the previous rankings have returned.
However, the interesting part is that because of the additional monetization methods we brought in, the site never dropped below its original baseine earnings, despite receiving a huge loss in traffic.
And once that traffic returns (we are confident it will), the site will once again be making significantly more than what it was when we first partnered on it.
Google updates are usually a cause of bad work done on the site, but in this case, there was nothing we could have done to avoid it. Many sites were affected by the Aug 1 update and the vast majority of them haven’t recovered, even 9 months later.
We consider this particular site a win from an investment standpoint, because we were able to get a quick win on growth, and were also in a position where the site did not drop below its baseline when it took a traffic hit.
Our philosophy for investments is:
- Make sure the site doesn’t completely tank, or fall below its original value.
- Try to grow the site as much as possible.
If we can make sure point number 1 is accounted for, the investment is a win, regardless of your results against point 2.
Site 3 – The Worst Case Scenario And How We Recovered
After spending so much time living in the Google trenches, it was refreshing to buy a site that got 90% of its traffic from Pinterest back in May 2018…or at least so we thought.
This is a site that was making around $3,000 per month from infoproduct sales and display ads, and was getting around 6,000 visitors per day, most of which was from Pinterest.
Two weeks after we bought it, the site got a “spam penalty” at pinterest, and the traffic went to zero.
Not great for a site worth $100,000.
This was no fault of our own, because we hadn’t done anything differently from what the seller had been doing. It turns out that sometimes sites get wrongly flagged as spam by pinterest. We’ve since learned that this can happen fairly often and you just have to appeal and wait a few days to get your account restored.
After 1-2 weeks, we were able to get the spam penalty lifted (very stressful 2 weeks), and traffic returned to around the 4,000 per day level.
However, the site has been “spam banned” twice since, and we always get it lifted and Pinterest say it was a mistake.
That means 2-3 times the traffic has gone to zero, and the income vanished almost immediately too.
The problem is, once pinterest give you a ban, your traffic takes a long time to recover.
After six months, we’ve finally got the traffic back up to the levels it was at before.
We’ve spent the past months experimenting with different techniques to grow pinterest traffic, different funnel ideas for the infoproduct, and also optimizing the site better to make more from display ads.
We had to clean the email list up, because it turned out the majority of email subscribers were not active or where spam traps (fake emails used by ISPs to detect spammers).
(A lesson here is not to just assume an email list is active when the seller mentions how many people are on it).
We also added a ton of long-form content so that we could start to get SEO traffic as well.
When we first bought the site, it got zero search traffic, but right now it gets 1,200 visits per month from Google, which is only about 2% of the traffic, but still a good rise.
Right now, the site is making roughly the same as what it was when we bought it, but with a little more diversification. It’s been a tough time and in hindsight wasn’t the best purchase, because a lot of the traffic is garbage.
Still, it was definitely a lesson in the pitfalls of Pinterest sites, which turn out to be even more risky than Google sites.
We have a very solid plan for this site now and are planning to launch a new info product and service and hope to get the site to the $10,000 per month level we aimed for when first buying it.
In all honesty, I don’t think anyone else would have been able to recover this site after the traffic vanished and the income started to dry up, because we’ve been working very diligently on recovering the site’s traffic and diversifying the income and traffic.
This site has been a disappointment in terms of growth, and has mostly been a case of trying to get it back up to where it was at the time of purchase. We are getting there now.
Based on the numbers above, we can see that the site has lost value, but has still generated around 21% ROI, which is decent enough all things considered.
Note: This site is only 10 months in our possession so we guesstimated month 11 and 12.
I guess the takeaway from this case study is that you want to have a team running your site who are capable of stepping in when problems arise and who know how to diversify everything more.
Site 4 – The Boring, Stable Growth Site
This is the kind of site every investor really wants to have, although it doesn’t particularly win any points for wow factor.
This site is one that we have been slowly growing over time. We started work on this site when it was making $1,700 per month, and by doing some onpage conversion rate-optimization improvements, and adding more content and a few links, the site has slowly grown to close to $3,000 per month in about 12 months.
It’s boring, but it’s simple too.
Of course, there is nothing really boring about stable returns that slowly grow over time, but there are so many one-off or pie-in-the-sky case studies online, that this one isn’t going to be particularly memorable.
Which is exactly why we included it!
This would actually be a very solid win for any investor, and is fairly typical of the sites we work on.
Here’s a chart showing what the investment would look like from an investor standpoint, taking into account Onfolio fees and shares.
At the time of writing, our fees are a $500-1,000/mo management fee, then 50% of any profit above the pre-agreed baseline. In this case the baseline was $1,700:
In this example, if the site was held and not sold after year 1, it would have generated $19,574 profit for the investor, or a 38.3% ROI.
If the site were sold at the end of the year, for around $67,000, the total earnings after fees would be $76,700 off a $51,000 investment, or 150% ROI.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the main reason for picking these four sites is to show a few things:
- We are actually working on sites every day
- We are transparent (where possible) about what we do, including our failures or mistakes
- We are actively learning from our mistakes, for example, we no longer view 90% Pinterest sites as an excellent idea.
- We are pretty good at fixing sites that Google decides to play around with, and we have experience diversifying.
- We also wanted to give you some insights from our experiences, so even if you invest in websites on your own, you know some of the curve balls that may come your way.
Ultimately this post is written with a motive of showing you that we are a team you want looking after your sites, and also to show some of the returns you may be able to get when investing with us.
Feel free to reach out via the contact form to learn more.