In 2008, online entrepreneur Mushfiq wanted to earn some money on the side. So, he started a website in a specific niche, and he began writing and publishing informational articles and product reviews. He told me:
“It was sold in 2010. Some company reached out to me from Australia that had a portfolio of sites in the same niche. They gave me an offer. That’s when I realized this is an asset class, this is a business.”
Since that first sale, Mushfiq has bought and flipped over 150 niche sites, using website brokerages like Flippa, ODYS domains and private Facebook groups. He does this on the side of a full-time job and writes about this business model on his newsletter The Website Flip.
What is Website Flipping?
A website flipper buys an existing website that’s generating traffic and potentially a monthly income for its owner. They increase the website’s traffic by creating and or optimizing existing content. They also grow revenue streams by adding new affiliate offers, optimized call-to-actions and even, potentially, e-commerce products.
The website owner then sells or flips their purchase for a profit via a private sale or a website brokerage marketplace. Finally, they take the profits from this sale to fund their next purchase. Think of website flipping like the digital version of the real-estate investor who buys a piece of property, fixes it up, and sells it on.
Flipping a website differs from blogging as you can potentially increase the monthly revenue of an existing site by sourcing better affiliate offers, updating call-to-actions and creating a funnel for email subscribers. In other words, a website owner doesn’t need to become the face of their purchase before selling it on.
Site flipping isn’t a passive income stream as the investor must identify what to fix and how to generate a return on their initial investment. Mushfiq said:
“Content is what runs the internet. There’s lucrative returns and not much upkeep once they’re churning along. I should caveat that websites do take effort, it’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s much easier than running, for example, a laundromat or a gas station, for example.”
Starting a Website from Scratch
A good content marketer can easily pick up a domain name from Namecheap or GoDaddy and begin writing and publishing articles about a specific topic each week until their site gains traction. Of course, that’s assuming they can sustain their interest and content publishing cadence.
“If you’re going to start a website from scratch and then grow it and then flip it, pick a niche that you have some interest in. Otherwise, you’re just going to get bored,” says Mushfiq.
It won’t cost much as a side project, beyond web hosting, the domain name, and some sweat equity. A good content marketer can learn more about building a profitable website and selling it for a profit without making expensive mistakes.
“New website owners are putting hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money without any knowledge of what a content website is into these deals and that’s a bad thing to do. So, start from scratch, understand it, and then buy down the line,” he says.
Buying an Existing Website
Mushfiq prefers buying existing websites these days, as new sites usually sit in a Google sandbox for six to twelve months before ranking. He employs several criteria before investing in or buying a content website from a marketplace or via a private sale.
“I either buy an existing site with traffic or… I build sites on aged domains so domains that maybe the company that owned that domain went bankrupt and they never renewed the domain but the domain has a lot of good authority,” he says.
Despite his years of experience, Mushfiq still gives his content website up to a year before deciding whether to sell it or cut his losses.
“If it’s a website that I’ve acquired and it gets hit by a Google algorithmic update of some sort and I’m just not able to recover it within a 3- to 6-month period, I’m gonna sell that as well.”
If you’re purchasing a website, evaluate it based on these criteria:
- Tech stack: is the website build on WordPress? Does it require custom development?
- Niche: Do you know much about the niche? Is it spammy?
- Traffic source: is the site overly dependent on several SEO-optimized articles?
- Traffic levels: are they steady and growing? Did the last Google search algorithm update negatively or positively impact on the site?
- Revenue sources: is the site overly dependent on a single affiliate? Or has the owner diversified into e-commerce, display advertising and other revenue streams?
- Monthly revenue: is it growing or declining?
- Website age: older websites sell for more.
- Backlink profile: does the site have spammy backlinks from disreputable domains? I use tools like AHREFs to evaluate backlink profiles.
Buying an expired domain offers a good compromize between price and speed. With a little due diligence, you can vet a domain, rebuild it and starting ranking for relatively uncompetitive terms faster than if you started a niche from scratch.
Invest in Quality Content
Mushfiq doesn’t write or create the content for his digital properties himself. Instead, he relies on a team of writers sourced from UpWork to produce product reviews and informational content based on an agreed template. He told me:
“I acquired a site in the outdoor niche. Quarter one last year, early last year, we put on a hundred articles a month for about six months. We have a site in the health niche, we’re probably going to put about five to ten articles on it. We have to use nutritionist, so the content costs much more for those compared to the outdoor niche.”
These search-engine optimized articles range from 700 words to over 2,000 words depending on the topic. His team of writers also optimize and update existing content so that they convert at a higher rate.
“There’s a specific set of writers that love that because freelance writing is tough. I don’t like the idea of paying somebody cents per word, essentially, because what happens is the bad writers will force fluff content into it just to get the bigger payout,” he says.
“I like to give my writers consistent work and pretty much as if they’re part of my team without being on the payroll. There’s a specific set of writers that love that because freelance writing is tough.”
Instead of aiming for a specific quota of published articles per site, Mushfiq considers how much time and money it takes to produce content and if the niche requires volume or specialization.
Improve Existing Content
Running a profitable content website involves a lot more than creating content, briefing writers and publishing search optimized articles.
A good website operator ensures a consistent interlinking and backlink strategy. They track the performance of top posts, fix technical and site speed issues. And they also optimize the earnings of popular content by adding affiliate links.
"I hire what’s called a quasi-website operator, essentially a person who takes over 80 to 90 percent of the day-to-day roles, which is formatting the content, interlinking, adding affiliate links, adding comparison tables, all the things that are kind of boring in my book,” says Mushfiq.
He pays this website operator a monthly salary of between $500 and $1000. Typically, they can run or operate several websites and gain experience for building up one of their own. Meanwhile, Mushfiq concentrates on growth. He told me:
“New keyword research, new partnerships, new opportunities. I’m always looking through brokers, connecting with people to see what they have for sale, building relationships. Sometimes our acquisitions are in the $50,000 to $200,000, $300,000 range, so it’s not a small task.”
Those eye-watering purchase figures would easily put off a new website owner, but Mushfiq has over twelve years of experience and capital from previous sales of digital real estate.
He recommends aspiring website flippers build their first site without help to learn what works. Then, it doesn’t take as much effort to build up a second or third website after acquiring money and building expertise on that first site.
Once you’ve bought or built a traffic-generating website, Mushfiq recommends evaluating it for quick wins that can increase its revenue without much effort. Get this right and you can easily increase the resell value of your purchase. 💸 📈
- Every few months, update old content with more relevant offers and information. If you change more than 20%, change the publication date to today.
- Reviewing products? Think in terms of benefits and features when reviewing products. How can a would-be customer solve a problem with this tool?
- Create product comparison tables for your reviews and add these to the top of your articles.
- Adding affiliate links to images in relevant product reviews and information content.
- If you’re running displaying advertising, insert more images to increase your RPM.
- Create a table of contents automatically for each article. Several good WordPress plugins automate this.
- Fix broken Amazon affiliate links.
- Search for affiliate programs outside of Amazon Associates to earn higher commissions.
- Add a pop-up with a relevant affiliate offer on your high-converting posts.
- Nobody likes orphaned pages. Interlink older and newer articles. Check out Link Whisper by @spencerhaws to automate this.
- Test dramatic colours for call-to-action buttons to see what drives the most conversions.
Check out EasyWins.io for more of these tips
Is Flipping a Website Right for You?
Building a portfolio of content websites to buy and sell is a great strategy for patience content creators with a budget. Content-focused websites are relatively liquid in, and you can sell one in a matter of weeks. Sales multiples of websites continue to grow too. A x30-40 multiple of monthly profits is a handsome reward for any digital real estate investor.
Buying and flipping websites still requires an investment of money and time. It’s also not quite as sexy or high-profile as other online business strategies, like creating a seven-figure course and landing a book deal, particularly if the niche is boring.
If you’re buying an existing website, learn how to exercise due diligence. For example:
- Are you comfortable evaluating the backlink structure of a purchase?
- Can you see any untapped revenue-generating streams?
- Is the site name trademarked?
- Can you also acquire the social media handles and email list for your purchase?
Remember, a Google algorithm update dramatically impact the site’s performance and cut its sale value. A website can also prove lucrative until a key affiliate, like Amazon, changes its commission structure, cutting your site’s revenue.
As of 2021, a content website can sell for multiple thirty to forty times its monthly profits. Moreover, those multiples are expected to grow.
In other words, if your content website generates $5000 from display advertising and affiliate sales after expenses, expect to sell it for between $150,000 to $200,000, depending on the niche, buyer and valuation. This business model can generate more than enough to live off if you build and flip websites consistently.
Building and flipping your first piece of digital real estate requires patience. As an operator or owner, you’ll need to learn what content ranks and converts before you can make money online.
Once your existing website earns a recurring monthly income, immediately outsource content production and invest profits into website B. This step will free up time to build your portfolio with a view to a lucrative exit.
Tips for New Website Flippers
- If you're selling a website, exclude the cost of creating content from your monthly expenses. Content is an investment rather than a recurring expense.
- Avoid building and buying content websites in what Google sees as your money or your life niches (YML). These typically are websites related to money or health. These websites are extremely hard to rank because Google’s algorithm only prefers subject matter experts like doctors and medical professionals.
- If Mushfiq’s high-five and six-figure purchases are off-putting, you can source much more affordable websites on brokerages like Motion Invest.
Resources for Flipping Websites
- FE International for high-end website flips
- Empire Flippers for medium to high-end website flips
- Investors.club for vetted medium-end website flips
- Motion Invest for budget-friendly vetted website flips
- Flippa for entry-level and budget website flips
- ODYS for buying vetted expired domains
- Sedo for buying expired domains
- Escrow for secure, private purchases and sales
- Due Diligence Guide - Mushfiq’s checklist before he buys a website