I am very excited to share a detailed story below about a fellow online entreprenuer selling a website for 20x his monthly earnings. Plus he is generous and shares a lot of fantastic information, tools and tips!
There are a few things that really impress me with Doug from NicheSiteProject.com‘s story….
- Relatively new to niche sites, April of 2013
- Certified Project Management Professional and applies that to his site building process
- Had great success with an Amazon Associate website that earned $6k in one month
- Created other Amazon Associate websites, one featured here and sold for over $10,400
Another Option to Sell Fast – If you have time and a site with several months of stable history the options of Flippa or Empire Flippers are great! If you are looking to sell a website quickly and it has earnings feel free to send me an email. I have been able to close a few deals all very quickly ($ in sellers PayPal account in under 48hrs).
Doug, thank you for taking the time to create such a detailed post! Because of how much detail he shared I thought it would be a good idea to jump on skype and dig into it even further….here is a video of that conversation…
Doug’s Story and Review of Selling His Website at Empire Flippers…
This is a thorough and candid review of my full experience selling a website for over $10,000 via the Empire Flippers Marketplace.
I first heard about the Empire Flippers after finding their podcast. I listened every single episode that I could download. The Empire Flippers have been a great influence on my growth as an online entrepreneur. This review is just more evidence of that…
Let me explain.
The Empire Flippers enabled me to sell a simple niche website with only about 20 pages of content. Over the course of about 6 months, this website that I created generated about $11,000 in revenue. The earnings were not completely passive but the effort was focused and direct, totally about 50 hours.
Spoiler alert: The complete experience was great and I look forward to working with the Empire Flippers again in the future.
- There is a thorough and complete vetting process for each and every website. If you sell a site, you know you need to bring your high quality sites to the table.
- If you are buying a site, you know that Empire Flippers already performed due diligence on the website for sale.
- The price of the site is known since it is based on earnings, as opposed to other marketplaces that are auction based.
- A seller can get a high monthly multiple (20 x the average monthly earnings) for a site as long as there is 3 months of earnings.
- Since the price of the site is fixed, there is a chance that the website could have sold for more.
- The Empire Flippers take 15% of the sale price as the brokering fee.
- For a buyer, there is less of a chance to buy a website at a “bargain” price.
- A buyer will potentially pay a higher multiple for a young site versus other marketplaces.
Who are the Empire Flippers?
I found their podcast about one year ago – mid 2013. Justin Cooke and Joe Magnotti are a couple of no nonsense businessmen and they host a podcast not surprisingly called the Empire Flippers Podcast. If you haven’t checked out this podcast, I suggest you do so.
What do they do?
The current focus of the Empire Flippers is around brokering websites.
Here are some facts:
- They sell sites at a 20 x monthly net profit. The monthly net profit is calculated by averaging the last 90 days of revenue minus any costs (content, link building, virtual assistant). If the niche is seasonal or if the business has been running for years, then the sale price will be based on 12 months of earnings.
- They sell almost all of the sites they list – 98% of the sites in the marketplace sell.
- They don’t reveal the niches to the public. The websites are only revealed to the serious people that pay a 5% refundable deposit.
- They have a rigorous vetting process to ensure they only list high quality websites. They reject about 1/3 of the websites submitted.
They sell just about any kind of website that generates income in the range of $80 – $10,000 per month. The type of monetization method is important since they are only interested in selling these kinds of sites:
- AdSense Sites (Individual sites or packages)
- Affiliate Sites
- Dropshipping Sites
- eCommerce Sites
- SaaS (Software as a Service) Sites
- Lead Generation Sites
However, there are some sites that they don’t deal with. These are:
- Non-monetized Sites or Blogs
- Membership Sites
- SEO/Linkbuilding Service Sites
- Social Media Like/Fan Sites
- Adult Related Sites
When appropriate, I will certainly mention key aspects that buyers should be aware of but overall this review will be from the standpoint of the seller.
At a high level, this is how the process works when selling in the Empire Flippers Marketplace:
Step 1: Pay a $297 listing fee. (If you are a returning seller, then it is just $97.) Don’t worry – if your site does not qualify to be listed, the fee is 100% refundable.
Step 2: Fill out the website information form.
Step 3: Wait for the Empire Flippers Team to review the website and information, and then list the site once approved.
Step 4: A buyer will make the purchase.
Step 5: Provide access to the Empire Flippers team to transfer the website (this is an optional step since you can handle the transfer).
Step 6: The Buyer verifies the traffic and earnings and approves the purchase and releases funds.
Step 7: Everyone celebrates!
Let’s start getting into the details my specific website and transaction. This was the second Amazon Associate based website that I created.
Here are some of the details:
I was doing keyword research by looking at online retailers in the outdoor/boating/recreation niche. I was looking through categories and subcategories for different product lines.
Like everyone says, finding the right keyword and niche is instrumental to the success of a website. The primary keyword phrase had between 4,000 – 5,000 exact match searches per month. In addition, there were about 10 – 15 secondary keywords that amounted to another 2,000 – 3, 000 exact match searches.
The price point for the products started around $100 (US) and went up to around $500. The competition on the front page looked competitive but beatable. I saw several other niche sites in the top 50…plus the top 10 had the usual suspects that we like to see. Those are the forum posts, other niche sites, and Q&A websites.
I bought the domain in August of 2013 and very slowly published content. I outsourced all of the writing and had a minimal amount of content after about 4 – 6 weeks, consisting of 4 product reviews and a 2,000 word main page. I didn’t do much link building until October due to some other commitments.
Traffic was very slow to start. It was late November before natural search traffic started to visit the site.
It started to pick up more in late November.
By early December, one of the long tail keywords started to gain traction – it hit Page 1 on the google search results. At the very end of January the keyword hit #1 and that particular keyword only received about 600 – 800 exact match searches per month. It was a very targeted buyer’s keyword though. Here is a look at the traffic from the beginning of the site all the way until April.
The site was converting sales very well despite the low search volume for the keyword that was ranking #1. In December, the site made about $100 and in January, $200. Then the traffic increased once the primary keyword hit #1 and so did the earnings. Both February and March had earnings of about $640. Here is a look at the earnings from the beginning of the site all the way until April.
Overall the costs were low to moderate.
I used shared hosting on my existing Blue Host account.
I paid for all the content, which was the majority of the expense for this site. I used a combination of Text Broker and hired a couple of contractors from oDesk to write the content, costing ~$200. That content consisted of a home page with about 2,000 words and 12 product reviews of about 500 words a piece. In hindsight, it probably would have been smart to pay a little more for better writers on the oDesk side. At this point, I would be comfortable paying about 2x that amount for better content.
I built most of the links myself with the help of my wife. We focused on blog commenting and I built many Web 2.0 blog properties by hand. In January, I bought a link building package from the HOTH for $60. This was just before the site hit #1 so I think the HOTH is pretty helpful! I typically use a HOTH package for all of my sites (Platinum) but in this case I used the mini package since it was my first time using the service. I don’t use keywords for the HOTH Packages anymore but instead use the naked URL or generic text like, “click here” to help add backlink anchor text diversity.
The site did not take too much time once it was up and running, maybe about 1 hour per week between December and March. I probably spent 40 – 50 hours initially with the site set up, hiring the writers, adding affiliate links, blog commenting, and building the Web 2.0 blogs by hand.
That sums up the general information about the site. Let’s take a quick look at other options besides Empire Flippers…
Let’s be clear about this – Empire Flippers are not the only selling option you have. There are a few other websites out there for selling, or buying, websites. I have not used any of the other options out there but let’s take a quick look…
The main marketplace for websites is Flippa.com. In June 2009, Flippa spun off from the SitePoint Marketplace. A couple of impressive stats about Flippa are that they have over 400,000 users and every minute a bid is placed on one of their auctions. Read more about Flippa… I am providing a calculator for comparing selling with the Empire Flippers versus selling on Flippa. There will be a link at the bottom.
There are many, many website brokers out there. I have not used any of them. Instead of just randomly listing a few, here is a link to a list of brokers from FlipFilter.com (check out the Empire Flippers podcast with Justin Gilchrist from FlipFilter).
So, you have some options if you have a site that you might be looking to sell.
Let’s get to the good stuff and dig in!
Let’s get into the details here… I describe the process and add some of my own experiences, particularly the mistakes that I made or areas for improvement.
You select your marketplace package and pay the fee. In my case as a new seller at the Empire Flippers Marketplace, I selected the $297 option. Keep in mind that there is also a 15% commission that is paid on top of the listing fee.
There was one little snag – I wanted to pay with a credit card directly, not via PayPal. Why? I wanted the reward points on my credit card, that’s all. I entered in all of my information, credit card number, expiration date – everything.
I clicked submit and it just hung….like, for several minutes.
I tried again which is usually discouraged so your card is not charged twice. It didn’t work either. I emailed the support team and they promptly replied stating that sometimes that happens with credit card payments. They recommended that I use PayPal for the payment. It immediately worked and the payment was processed within seconds.
Fill out the information form that provides the background of the website that you’re selling as well as some information about you. This takes a few minutes to accomplish, so set aside 60 – 90 minutes when you are ready for this step.
I knew what was in store for this activity because I listened to Empire Flippers Podcast 79: How To Prepare Your Site For Sale and I read this post as well. There are a couple main areas that the information sheet covers:
- Personal Information (Name, Email, Social Media links, Skype) – This stuff is a no brainer. Of course, they need your contact info and the social profiles help to add some credibility for you. The internet can be a shady environment, so a Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook profile can go a long way to verify that you are a trustworthy person. I think the Linkedin profile adds the most legitimacy to your cause.
Site Details (URL, monetization method, site history, content details, backlinking activities, revenue, expenses) – You disclose the URL here as well as the history of the site. If you created the site or bought the site, this is where you share that information.
You should list who you purchased the site from if you didn’t create it. They check out the content on the website to ensure that it is original and not copied to avoid any kind of duplicate content issues.
I created my site from scratch and registered the domain myself. I outsourced the content creation for the entire website via TextBroker so I knew the content was all original. Empire Flippers also checks the backlink profile to ensure the backlinks are generally good.
They obviously do not want to sell sites that will not stand up in the search results over time (assuming the traffic comes from organic searches). On my site, the majority of the backlinks are from blog comments and Private Blog Network (PBN) backlinks. I reviewed the results from the Site Explorers on Majestic SEO and ahrefs so I knew what was out there.
When I did that, I remembered that I did rent some links early on before I knew better…however, those links did not exist anymore. I disclosed that there were some paid links at one time and they can be seen in the historic backlink report at Majestic SEO.
It’s much better to be honest and upfront – just tell them about the links. Don’t let them find spammy backlinks on their own because that will hurt your credibility.
Check your backlink profile a few months before you plan on selling your site so you can take action if needed. Perhaps you need to disavow links for some reason…that is okay but you should have an answer for where the links came from and the action you took to address it.
This section is where you enter the information about the revenue and expenses, too. Later you will provide the details and proof. Lastly, they ask about why you are selling your site. I was simply selling to get additional income quickly to reinvest.
I think this is like the job interview question where the hiring manager is trying to screen out the, ahem, less intelligent candidates…A bad answer to why you are selling the site would be, “I thought the site might drop in ranking because I used automated software to rank the website.”
First off, don’t try to sell a site like that, and second, just be honest about why you are selling the site. Keep it brief and stick to the facts. They don’t want to hear your life story.
In this step, you provide details on the traffic, revenue, and expenses over 30/60/90 days. This information drives the sale price of the website and provides the first proof of the earnings.
The standard for documenting traffic is Google Analytics. Pull a screen shot for intervals of 30, 60, and 90 days. In addition, you are asked to add someone from Empire Flippers (Joe) to your Analytics account for the specific website as a viewer.
I am admittedly pretty ignorant about using Google Analytics and typically use the default settings. I did not know you could add people with view-only permissions and it turns out to be very easy.
If you don’t like Google for some reason and do not use Analytics, I believe that they will accept Clicky statistics. However, Google Analytics is the standard and if you’re selling your site you should go ahead and install/configure Analytics 90 days ahead of time.
Next, you will need to fill in the fields for 30, 60, and 90 day revenue, plus you will need to provide the screenshots to back up the earnings claim. For me, I captured the screenshots in my Amazon Associates account.
If you have more than one Tracking ID, be sure that you are capturing the earnings for the right one within your account. Lastly, you need to provide a screenshot of the top keyword traffic as reported from you Google Analytics account.
In the last year, Google has changed up the amount of data that is available about keywords and most of the time (like 90%) you just see “(not provided)” instead of a full breakdown of the keywords from organic searches. Don’t worry about that, just provide the data and it should still supply enough information about the keywords that are attracting traffic to your site.
I provided what they asked for and it was fine. I suspect that if there was some question about the main keywords, information from Google Webmaster Tools would be helpful in addition to the Analytics data.
The Empire Flipper team reviews the information, conducts an investigation on the data, and audits the website. The order form with all of the information you filled out is submitted to the Empire Flippers team via Zendesk.
The team takes 3 – 5 days to get back to you in most cases. They will review all of the information that you provided and verify the data.
Remember I mentioned that you should provide all the information you can about backlinks and fully disclose any skeletons in the closet?
Well, this is where they will find that kind of stuff. Sometimes they need more information, like a corrected screenshot from Analytics or from your earnings report. They will ask or remind you to add Joe to your Analytics account, too.
A nice, friendly person named Michael worked with me through most of the process. Towards the end of the verification process, Joe steps in. Joe provides the final approval after the team verifies the initial information.
Joe will ask about things that you might have forgotten to disclose, primarily around expenses and the time commitment that the site requires. For example, if you have a writer that is producing content on an ongoing basis, that is an expense that needs to be factored into the equation. Other expenses could be adding links from a paid service, or the time commitment required to write content.
The idea here is that the buyers should be fully aware of the cost and time the site requires. There are no right or wrong answers to the questions – it is all about expectations. Some buyers would love to write about the topic, or maybe a potential buyer has a big PBN and can cut costs since they don’t need to buy links. Just answer the questions honestly. In addition, Joe requested to be added to my Amazon Associate account.
Again, I didn’t know that was something that was possible but it turns out to be quite easy. Joe did ask about ongoing link building and any costs associated with link building. On this particular site, I used some free link building tactics like social profiles, blog commenting, and web 2.0 blogs.
On an ongoing basis I was using a PBN for link building so the costs were negligible. After some negotiation we arrived at about $40 per month for the ongoing link building. After Joe reviewed and approved all the data for my site, he said it was fine to list in the Empire Flippers marketplace. Yes!! I wanted to wait for a few weeks before listing the website to drive up the sale price. How? The sale price is based on the profit over the last 90 days.
The profit for my site was trending up by a significant amount. Specifically, the last three months of earnings were $200, $640, and $640 and the earnings were holding steady in the $600 range at that point. I waited for a couple of weeks to help increase the sale price.
The website is listed in the marketplace. The new websites for sale are added on Mondays. The Empire Flippers send out an email to their subscribers that are interested in purchasing websites.
Generally, websites in the price range for my site are sold within 1 to 4 weeks. My site was listed at $10,400 and in the grand scheme of things is a pretty simple and passive site. I was able to speak with Justin briefly once the site was listed and he expected the site to sell fast.
A person can put a deposit down to get more information about the website. The Marketplace provides basic information about the niche, traffic, and earnings but the URL is hidden.
This is done to protect the buyer – no one wants to buy a site that was just exposed to many potential competitors.
The potential buyers need to pay a refundable 5% deposit to get more information. After paying the deposit, they have access to all the details and they can also ask you questions.
Within about 24 to 36 hours there were 3 people that put down a deposit! Nice. It was requested that I add those 3 people to my Google Analytics account for that particular site with view only permissions. I didn’t have an issue with that so I made the addition.
If you are more protective of your account, there are probably alternative ways (like doing a short vide0) that you could prove yours site traffic. In addition, a couple of the buyers had additional questions. They were generally straightforward and not too time consuming.
I could see how it could become overwhelming if one of the potential buyers asks a LOT of questions, but in my case it was not bad. One thing to note is that all the correspondance is channeled through Zendesk and your particular Agent (Michael for me). I was not contacted directly by any of the people that put down a deposit.
If the potential buyer likes the website, then he or she can proceed with the purchase by paying with PayPal. This can happen fast. I received the notification that someone had paid the full price for the site on Friday of the same week the site was listed.
At this point, the money goes to the Empire Flippers account, not your PayPal account. A few more things need to happen before they release the funds to you.
The Empire Flipper team works to transfer the website to the new owner. This is one of the big benefits of working with the Empire Flippers. I am sure the mechanics of transfering a website are not terribly difficult, but I have zero interest in learning about that process.
Michael passed the reins over to another person, Mark, to handle the actual site transfer. That happened on Saturday, the day after the buyer paid.
I expected to hear from Mark fairly quickly but I still didn’t see any emails from him by Monday afternoon. Plus, I even sent an email on Sunday. I was a little concerned by Tuesday and sent another email. I also checked out my Spam folder on Tuesday.
All of the follow up messages went to my Spam folder. Mark actually emailed me on Sunday morning but I never saw it! I have no idea why the email thread was marked as Spam but it may have been related to the Zendesk email format…I don’t know though.
I reviewed the thread of emails and saw that I needed to give Mark some information so he could work on the transfer. I provided the WordPress & cPanel logins to Mark. They moved over the content, changed the affiliate tracking IDs, and made any other necessary changes.
Again, I didn’t have an issue with providing Mark with my login information. If you do, I think you can use some password software like LastPass to keep your logins more secure. The one other snag was actually transferring the domain registration over to the new owner.
The new owner sent over the request to do the transfer but the message never made it to me. It took a couple days to figure out that the email was never sent to me because the privacy protection was on. I turned off the privacy protection temporarily and the request to transfer made it over to me.
We both assumed that the company that provides the Whois privacy would have a way to send the email through a proxy…but that was not the case. Instead the emails went to a black hole inbox.
The new owner verifies the traffic and earnings over a couple days. In my case, the new owner verified the traffic and earnings within about 5 days. There were no issues with this part at all. At that point, the Empire Flippers were okay to release the payment.
The Empire Flippers will pay out to the seller via PayPal or by wiring to your bank account. Joe contacted me to find out how I wanted to receive the payment.
PayPal is the fastest method, but I would have to cover the associated fees. PayPal is great but I didn’t like that idea.
I don’t need that much money in my PayPal account. I’ve also heard some stories about people having their PayPal account frozen which effectively locks down the money.
So, I opted for the wiring option for a couple reasons. First, Empire Flippers cover the fee to wire the payment. Second, I wasn’t in any rush to receive the money. So if it takes a week or three, no problem. I sent Joe my account information and the full amount was in my account within ~36 hours. I was charged $15 by my bank for processing the wire payment – that’s about 0.17%. I was fine with the $15 fee.
At the end of the day, I ended up with $8,874 in my checking account!
- About 90 – 120 days out start checking out your backlink profile so you can address any spammy links
- Check your spam folder if you stop receiving messages during the process
- Be sure your Whois privacy is off when you attempt to transfer your domain.
- It is probably more economical to get the money wired rather than sent through PayPal.
- It is important to have stable earnings with a slight upward trend. If you are seeing exponential growth, then you might be selling at a low price point.
Maybe. But probably not.
Let’s consider the other main website that I could have sold on: Flippa.com.
Flippa is an auction house so there is a great deal of variability in the prices. Like you would expect, the sale prices are based on the earnings.
Here is the thing to remember about Flippa auctions – the longer the historical earnings, the higher the sale price.
A website with under 6 months of historical earnings can expect about a 6 – 8 x monthly multiple. A website with a longer history would be able to get a higher sale price. Here is a very rough guide to the multiples that you might expect based on the earnings history:
- 3 – 6 months: 6 – 8x monthly multiple
- 6 – 12 months: 8 – 12x monthly multiple
- 12 – 18 months: 12 – 16x monthly multiple
- 18+ months: 16 – 18x monthly multiple
I created a sale price calculator so you can get an idea about how much a site might sell for based on the monthly multiple. I prepopulated for 20x monthly multiple for the Empire Flippers Marketplace.
You can get your own copy of the spreadsheet by following the link HERE
The bottom line is that I knew that selling my site with Empire Flippers would maximize my profits for a site with a short amount of income history.
Is a 15% broker fee a lot? Maybe…
However, they have a 98% success rate and if the site doesn’t sell in the Empire Flippers Marketplace within 60 days, they will list the site on Flippa under their own profile. Plus, they take care of answering a lot of customer questions, and they take care of transferring the website over to the new owner. That literally saved me several hours of effort and learning…that’s time that I don’t have to spare.
I am certain I will sell more websites with Empire Flippers since this experience was such a positive one. In addition, there are only a couple scenarios where selling with Flippa is more profitable.
Overall, the website monetized with the Amazon Associate program generated over $11,000 of earnings in ~6 months with ~50 hours worth of effort. Not too bad.