Update April 2020: I've now shut down the website described in this article, as it was not generating enough cashflow anymore to justify keeping it open. However, I am leaving it on my website as a reference for the whole process of selecting a website, purchasing it and growing the website's income after purchase. I also included at the end of the article an overview of the financials of the site from the moment I purchased it, as well as the lessons learned in the process.
I’ve spent most of my journey as an entrepreneur building profitable websites, wether it’s websites that are simply monetised by Amazon affiliate links, or by selling digital products like eBooks and video courses. However, there is another way to create passive income from profitable websites: instead of building sites yourself, you can actually buy websites on online marketplaces.
I discovered the Empire Flippers marketplace some years ago, but so far I didn’t have the capital to buy a website on their marketplace. However, last year I sold a piece of real estate that I owned in Germany, and decided to reinvest all the money in digital assets, so I really wanted to buy a website with at least a part of that capital.
So at the beginning of the year, I decided to make the jump. I bought a website on the Empire Flippers marketplace in March 2016, and three months later, it’s now time for a complete report about the whole process. I’ll tell you how I selected the website, how I purchased it on Empire Flippers, and what I did during the past 3 months to improve it. Let’s dive in!
The first step, once I had the money available on my bank account, was to know how much I wanted to invest. I set myself a limit of $30,000, as I wanted to invest the rest of the money in my other favourite investments, like dividend paying stocks and crowdfunded real estate.
Then, I went to look for a good website to buy. As I knew the Empire Flippers brand for a long time via their excellent podcast, I was basically only looking on their marketplace for a website to purchase. The marketplace itself is very well done, and it’s really easy to look for offers.
As I already had Amazon affiliate sites, I was mainly focused on buying another one to boost my Amazon earnings, as in the Amazon affiliate program you get a better commission the more items you sell.
I considered several websites, but I quickly stopped on the one I was about to purchase. It is a website called Snorkeling Vacation Guide, which is an Amazon affiliate site dedicated to giving advice about snorkeling vacation destinations and of course snorkeling equipment. The site was created in October 2014, which is ok as I wanted a site that was at least one year old. The price was at $20,581, with an average profit of $895 over the past 3 months.
What I also really liked about this website is that it has been growing nearly constantly since its creation.
When considering buying a website, I am also always looking at what I can improve, just like you would with a real estate investment. Here, there were three main points that could definitely be improved quickly: there were no social media presence, the design of the site could definitely be improved, and also all the links were redirecting on Amazon.com, even for a visitor based in Canada for example. But more on that later.
With all of this in mind, I took the decision to purchase the website. The first step when you purchase a website on Empire Flippers is to make a deposit of 5% of the total price, in order to get the URL of the website, get additional data & be able to talk to the seller.
After making this deposit via Paypal, I had a deeper look into the site, and with all the points I mentioned before I decided to move forward with my buying decision. As the website was sold at 23 times the monthly earnings, I made an offer at 21 times the earnings. The seller then countered at 22 times, which at the end was the price we agreed on.
After that, the buying process was excellent on the Empire Flippers side. The only problem I had during the whole purchase process was due to my bank. Indeed, they had a limit of about $5,000 a day for transfers, which I didn’t know beforehand. As I was using TransferWise to send the money to Empire Flippers (which I really recommend to avoid paying huge fees from your bank if like me you don’t have your money in USD), it took a whole 2 weeks to transfer the money.
When the full amount was received on their side, the transfer process started, and a member of their team took care of moving the site to my SiteGround account. It all happened very fast after the money was received, and the whole process was flawless, so I’d really recommend Empire Flippers if you have any website you want to buy or to sell.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t plan to just keep the site as it was, as I identified ways to improve it. The first thing I did, and which was also the fastest to implement, was to ‘internationalise’ the Amazon affiliate links on the website. Let me explain. When I bought the site, all links were pointing to the Amazon US website, as most of the visitors are coming from the US. But I noticed that only 68% of the visitors were coming from the US, so basically 30% of the revenue was potentially left on the table!
The solution to this problem is simple: there are a lot of Amazon affiliate localisation plugins available for WordPress, that will automatically redirect the visitors to the ‘right’ Amazon website. For example, a visitor from the UK will now be redirect to the Amazon UK store, whereas before he was redirected to the US site, and I would basically loose this commission. For that, I am currently using a plugin called Amazon Link Engine for WordPress, which is really easy to install. This change alone resulted in a 15% earnings boost.
As I noted before, the website also didn’t have any social media presence. I immediately created Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube accounts for the site to share content on those channels. I think Instagram and Youtube have the most potential in the future. I haven’t yet posted any videos on Youtube, but I am in talks with freelancers on Fiverr that could produce product reviews for the site.
Finally, I also installed the Facebook Pixel on the site. This basically tracks all the visitors coming on the site that have a Facebook account. It is not very useful for now, but in the future it can become very useful as I plan to sell digital products as well on the site, and at that time it will be very useful to know what kind of people are coming on the site.
During those 3 months after the purchase, the earnings from the Amazon US store have basically been constant, which makes sense as I didn’t add any new content on the site. There is of course the overall 15% income boost I mentioned before, coming from the other Amazon stores. However, there are still many ways to improve the site in the coming months, which will result in a better experience for the visitors and increased earnings for me.
The first thing I want to add is more content. I hired a freelancer on UpWork to write articles, and the quality of those new articles is very good, but I haven’t had the time to put those articles on the site yet. I will definitely work on having more content created in the next months.
The second thing is that the site definitely needs a redesign. The current theme is ok, but looks dated and is especially very hard to use as it uses its own layer on top of WordPress to edit posts and pages. This makes it really hard for me and my team to add new content, which is actually why I didn’t add new content so far. Therefore, I’ll be changing the theme to the one I use on all my WordPress websites, Enfold. Just like real estate investors paint all their properties with the same paint, I want to have the same theme on all my sites for easy maintenance.
I also want to continue developing the social media part of the site to have more traffic sources, as for now it’s mainly organic search. I really think I can do a great work by using Youtube to promote snorkeling gear & destinations.
Finally, I want to change the plugin that I use to redirect visitors to the right Amazon stores. For now the plugin I use does a decent job, but sometimes it redirects the users to the wrong item or it doesn’t find the right item at all. The goal here is to use A-FWD, which is a tool where you can set manually the right products on each store. It will be a long process, but once it’s in place it will be much more pleasant for visitors outside of the US.
By the middle of 2018, the site traffic started to decline, mainly due to some backlinks becoming broken. By then, I indeed didn't have a solid strategy for creating backlinks and maintaining the rankings of my sites (which I now do and is done by my team), and the result was the site slowly loosing revenues month after month. In early 2019, I decided to stop investing time & money on this site, as my efforts couldn't get it back in its previous rankings, and there was more and more competition in the field.
If we look at the financials, things don't actually look too bad. I paid $20,581 for the site, and managed to make $27,581 in revenue over the whole time I had the site. Over the same period I had about $1,600 of expenses to manage the site, mainly content writers and my virtual assistants working on the site. That's a total profit of $5,114 over 31 months, which corresponds to a yearly yield of around 8%. Not great for a website investment, but also not too bad for a website that basically failed.
This was my first website investment, and of course I learned a lot of lessons in the process. The first lesson I learned is that I should have chosen a site that had multiple sources of traffic. The biggest mistake I believe I made on this site is that it relied solely on organic traffic from Google - meaning at any time I could see my traffic decrease because of competition. In the future, I will definitely buy a site with at least two sources of traffic, for example organic Google traffic & Facebook advertising.
The second lesson I learned with this first purchase is that I should have purchased a site with multiple sources of income. Also here, all the income was generated from the Amazon affiliate program, which slashed 30% of my revenues one year after I purchased the site. This can always happen, but at least with several different revenues streams (like different affiliate programs) the hit would have been minimised.
Finally, the mistake was to not invest enough in the site - I simply paid for content creation and some visual adjustments to the site, whereas I should have put in place a real content strategy and regular link building to make sure the site kept its ranking.
That’s all for this report after buying my first profitable website on Empire Flippers! I am really looking forward for your comments and/or questions about the process, so don’t hesitate to use the comments below!