Flippa Site Renovation

Last Updated: 24th February 2015


Buying a site on Flippa, increasing traffic and earnings and then flipping is a tried and tested business model that many people (including myself) have had success with.

With more and more people actually doing this, and buyers far outweighing sellers, is it still possible (in 2015) to purchase a site, get it up to date and then sell it for a profit?

Follow me in this exciting journey from purchase, site upgraded, profitability (hopefully) through to selling the site.​ I'm not going to pull back the curtain, I'm going to tear it down and throw it to the floor in a burning pile.

More...

Pre-purchase​ - What I Look For

I always keep a wary eye on Flippa. I've been looking for a little project for this site, to see if it's still viable to buy and renovate a site before selling for a profit.

Ideally I'm looking for a site with traffic that isn't monetized very well. Traffic is the hardest thing to get, and if you have traffic you can test different ways of increasing the sites earnings.

​Because I have development experience, I feel that a non WordPress site would be a better bet as it were, potentially less bidders and more scope for improving. It's pretty hard to improve on a well optimized WordPress site with a decent theme, but an older site handwritten leaves a lot more 'meat on the bone' so to speak.

I'm also looking for a site that has a solid and natural back-link profile that I can take advantage of. To add value to the site and really ramp up the earnings I plan on ​building whatever site I choose to buy into an authority site in it's niche. I'm looking at a couple of PHP sites that could easily be extended by adding a blog.

This is a tactic I think will work very well, by leveraging existing domain age and authority to really sidestep any kind of sandbox period that is usually attached when building out sites.​

Bidding on the site - I narrowed down the selection to a couple of sites, one unfortunately didn't make the reserve, and my discussions with the seller privately failed to get close - and the other site (the one I actually preferred, is locked and targeted in my sights.)​

Doing the Deal

I spoke with the seller privately about ending the sale quickly before the auction had run it's course. If you want to get the cheapest price for a site, then this is how you do it.

From having a conversation with him I learned that he had already seen some under the table bids of $700. For a site only earning $10 a month this was a pretty good bid, but the traffic, and links meant that people were willing to pay up for an honest site.​

I did some rough calculations, currently the site was earning about $2.25 per 1,000 visitors, if I could double both the traffic and the CTR the site would be earning around $45 a month, which means I'd hopefully be able to sell fairly quickly for $1k.

I figured my upper limit for this site was $1,000 although I'd ideally like to get it for less - I spoke again directly to the seller, asking for him to do a private deal at $750 which he declined, so I had to go through the full auction and hopefully not be competing against someone who is bidding aggressively.​

Man the ending time of the auction was awful, I had to get up at 4am to place a bid, I put in my bids manually as I don't trust the Flippa system to do it for me, and after some back and forth action with another buyer, my bid of $818 secured the site.​

In my head, the $1k target would be my worst case scenario, I'd like to be able to really ramp up the traffic and optimize the layout so it's earning $100 a month (meaning it should sell for ​$2,400) effectively tripling my investment, as well as earning through a list that I will try to build with the traffic.

So there it was, I now owned this nice little new site! I transferred the money to the seller via PayPal - as I'd been speaking to him back and forth before I had established he was a trustworthy guy and for pretty small amounts like this it's not worth the extra expense (in my opinion) of going through Escrow.

Over the next couple of days he emailed me the code base and the dump from the database, which I added to one of my hosts, and I took about an hour or so to get everything up and running.

Before he re-pointed the ​nameservers to my hosting, I wanted to do a quick overhaul on the site. I know I'm not gonna make a tonne of money on it, so the least amount of time I can spend on this project, the better.

I planned to spend literally half a day (4 or 5 hours tops) tidying up the code, fixing the SEO issues and adding a couple of missing features.

My New Site

The site I ended up buying was a great little PHP based site in the Travel niche.

It had a good amount of traffic (100-150 visitors a day)​ and that traffic was from good countries.

If you are looking to monetize through Adsense then steer clear of any sites that are made up of traffic from India, Russia, China etc as it will convert really badly, and the CPC's will be really low.

I looked carefully at the sites back link history using tools like Moz and Majestic to see if any links had been built by an 'SEO' type types, and thankfully there were absolutely no unnatural links at all. This gave me confidence that the rankings it currently had would remain through any of the future Google updates. The last thing I wanted to do is buy a site that gets wiped out with the next release of Panda or Penguin. That's happened to me before, and let me tell you, I'm still bitter about it.

In addition to the good clean back links, there was an article on the Huffington post that was driving some traffic (about 50 visitors a day) to the site. The article was 10 months old, so I was very confident that the link and the traffic from this source would remain.​

My Short Term Plans For The Site (And Longer Term Thoughts)

Short term, there are a bunch of fixes I need to do to the site, basic SEO type things, more efficient monetization and AB testing of site layout.

Long term thoughts, were not in my head initially, but after a month with the site - I'm definitely considering turning it into an authority site in the Travel niche. I'd possibly look to set up a blog, publish a bunch of awesome content and test out some really white hat link building methods on it such as outreach, Reddit marketing and ​be more active on social media.

If I do this, I will be documenting the process and posting about it in the future.​

Site Overhaul and Renovation

Regarding the current state of SEO on the site, well it's pretty dire, and that's a really good thing for me. It means there is a definite scope for me to improve it.

​Every page has the same Title (literally the homepage url), the same meta description, there are no <h1> tags used, no <h2> tags used either and no images apart from the site logo.

​I also noticed inbound links to both www and non www so will implement a 301 redirect from www to non-www. The reason I chose to do this was largely the better links pointing to the site were to the non www version, and currently searching in Google, you'll be presented with that URL too. This implies that Google thinks the non-www version is the more important, and I'm not going to argue with Google.

If you wanted to do something similar, here is the code you'd want to use in the .htaccess file.​

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.(.*)$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://%1/$1 [R=301,L]

I also added a redirect for any upper case URL's so all URL's were completely lowercase. The site as I bought it used a wild mix of capitalized URI's which isn't really best practice.

Webmaster Tools

I made sure to link the new property into my Webmaster Tools account to see what kind of queries are currently driving traffic (about 50 organic visitors a day) so I can then run these through some keyword tool and determine if there is a good pattern I could use for generating titles, headings etc for all the internal pages.

Once I know what people are searching for, I can more easily adapt the template that each page uses to match the language of my visitors.​

PHP, CSS and Getting Dirty​

Regarding the state of the code itself, it's all PHP, HTML and CSS so time to dig in and really get my hands dirty.​

I'm not redesigning this site (tempting as it is), that would be a waste of time - I'm simply going to fix any broken bits and give it a behind the scenes tidy up, more for my own standards rather than anything else.​

One feature I did add was a slider onto the index page, simply so that when people share on Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook - it will pull in appropriate image (instead of currently just using the sites rather naff logo).​

​Thankfully, the current design of the site is so simple it's naturally responsive. I've ran it through the Google mobile friendly test tool and all pages on the site are showing up as responsive and mobile friendly, so very pleased I don't have to spend too much time thinking about that aspect of it.

Screaming Frog - Site Audit

I've used Screaming Frog extensively through this process to crawl the whole site anad highlight issues that need to be looked at.

The reason I use a tool like this, is that there are over 4,000 pages generated and looking just at the PHP code it isn't as easy to spot issues (missing titles, long titles, etc) compared to looking at the results of a screaming frog crawl.​

​Also while I was using Screaming Frog I created a sitemap and submitted it to Google along with creating a robots.txt file.

Why do this? Well, it clearly tells Google what pages you are creating and that you want them to be indexed. Before I submitted a sitemap, there was only a couple of pages being reported as indexed. Now look at the graph below.

If you don't have a license to Screaming Frog, then you definitely need to grab a copy. It's a very very useful tool - literally every day I use it, whether it's performing site audits, checking other peoples sites for broken links (broken link building technique anyone?) or just checking internal page strengths - it's a absolutely necessary tool for me.

I don't think these types of housekeeping type task will significantly increase the sites rankings in the SERPS in isolation, but; I'm hoping the combined effort of making everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion will give me a combined 'boost'. It certainly won't hurt me.

Aside from adding a slider to the homepage, I also added a "hero" image on the most popular 50 pages.

​Getting Social

The site has naturally been shared across social media already. Some statistics from Shared Count show me:

Platform

Facebook Likes

Facebook Shares

Facebook Comments

Facebook Total

Twitter Tweets

Google+ +1's

Pinterest Pins

LinkedIn Shares

StumbleUpon Stumbles

Count

79

96

57

232

72

14

0

3

1​

Given the numbers, I have to be on Facebook and Twitter with this brand. I also quickly built a Facebook 'brand' page for this site.

I went in and posted the links to the site that I have added pictures to, so that when someone comes to the page they at least see 30 or so nice images instead of a big wall of blank.

This is for social activity more than anything else. Before the page didn't have any images on it, so when shared it looked unprofessional.

I've also set it up so that the twitter photo card meta tags are present in the page when there is a photo displayed. These are used by both Twitter and Facebook picks up on them, so sharing on either Twitter or Facebook looks much better.

Additionally I set up the excellent SumoMe plugin on the site. I installed this because it gives me some functionality that is a pain in the arse to do manually. The site doesn't use a CMS, so I'm pleased to see the SumoMe plugin can also be used on native html sites like this one.

I'm going to use it for the social share sidebar, the image sharer (on the new images that I've been uploading to the site) as well as the popup for the lead magnet.

Setting up Social Accounts

There weren't any social accounts linked to this property when I bought it, so as mentioned above I created a Twitter account, a Facebook page and also set up a Pinterest account.

For some Twitter automation - I set up automatic posting of the pages that have now got photo's added to them.

I used Tweet Adder to do this, and will tweet out a random URL every 11-13 hours. I doubt this will drive much traffic, but for the 10 minutes it took to set up it was well worth doing, even if each tweet only gets a single visitor.

Social Growth - One Month In

After a month of owning the site, here are the refreshed figures.​

Platform

Facebook Likes

Facebook Shares

Facebook Comments

Facebook Total

Twitter Tweets

Google+ +1's

Pinterest Pins

LinkedIn Shares

StumbleUpon Stumbles

Count

144 (+65)

176 (+80)

105 (+48)

425 (+193)

241 (+169)

34 (+20)

0

6 (+3)

0 (-1)

It seems that I've got some work to do with Stumble Upon and the Pinterest figures look wrong, I know it has a presence on there, so not sure why it's showing up as 0...

Monetization - Show Me the Money...

When I bought the site it was on average earning about $10 a month through Adsense, which basically is nothing, but, like the on page SEO, means that there is significant room for improvement.

As mentioned previously I installed the SumoMe plugin so I had access to list building features.

I put together an eBook which will act as a bonus for visitors. I use the SumoMe code to manage the popups and link them into a brand new list (using Sendy on the back-end).

Ideally I will be testing travel type offers via email to see if I can build up a little auto-responder series that I can leave on auto pilot.​

I've been doing a fair amount of research in the Travel niche (which this site is in) and seems to be the best way to monetize is through selling a product. I'm thinking about building a few kindle books which I will a) Sell on Amazon as well as b) Selling directly to subscribers.​ This will be the direction I'd like to take the site should I develop it further into an authority site.

Increasing the Traffic... The Reddit Hug of Death

It was the evening of the 26th December (the morning of the 26th in the United States). I'd been fiddling with the site for a couple of hours, and decided to post the site on Reddit to see if I could get a few visitors, make a couple of extra bucks.

​What happened next left me stunned...

It started as a trickle, then a gush, then a flood, then a tsunami of visitors.​

As soon as I posted in the /r/InternetIsBeautiful sub-reddit I saw the traffic begin to spike.

Bearing in mind this site usually gets 100 visitors a day, I was pretty pleased to see that there was currently 350 visitors on the site in the last minute!

​1,600 upvotes and 450 comments later the quick post that I put on Reddit had not only become my most popular post, but it made it to the front page - sending an absolute flood of traffic.

I thought I'd had sites get popular before, but this was far beyond anything I've ever seen before.

I was seriously concerned for my host getting crushed. I've seen it time and time again, the Reddit hug of death.

Thankfully though my host and the site code both performed really well, handling the traffic like a champ.

I was also keeping a very close eye on my bandwidth, as the last thing I wanted to do was exceed that, while I had all this traffic coming to the site.

My hosts, A Small Orange - were superb throughout all this. Bearing in mind I'm on the smallest hosting plan they have available, I didn't cause the server any undue issues, nor did I run out of any resources at any time.​

It was mesmerizing watching the live view of the visitors. I even got an email from the old site owner saying he'd just seen the site on the Reddit front page. Quite scary to think about the amount of traffic as well, I was relieved that the server was bearing up under the load. One thing I've come to truly realize is that Reddit is an absolute BEAST.

Overnight the traffic continued to grow and grow, peaking at around 37,000 visitors in a single hour. After the peak it leveled off fairly quickly (as the site dropped off of the front page) and as my U.S. visitors went off to bed.

The next day, when the traffic started to cool off, the site had had 275,000 unique visitors in a 24 hour period. Twitter mentions had been going crazy and site had started to get some more really good links built to it.

Reddit Traffic - Any Good?

Some things I've learned over the past 24 hours

1) Reddit traffic converts really badly.

Even with a huge amount of page-views, click through on the user targeted ads is very low (well under 0.1%) which is the worst performance I've ever seen. Understandable though, Redditors are very tech savvy and I'd imagine many run Ad blocking software.

2) The traffic is something like a tidal wave, it just keeps coming and chomping through your bandwidth, with unrelenting vigor.

3) Redditors are an abrasive bunch, I received many personal messages and emails saying some pretty rude things.

I'd imagine if you didn't know what the Reddit community was like, this would be a little unsettling for many people - but thankfully it's all water off a ducks back.​

With this wave of traffic, I checked my Clicky Analytics to see the sources of the traffic to see what other sites had begun linking in, and noticed that I'd blown through my limits for the month. Oops, sorry Clicky.

Thankfully though, they weren't going to shut me down, and they are happy to let spikes like this happen without limiting your account.

The Aftermath...

New Links Acquired...

After the traffic spike had finished, checking in with Majestic I can see the following sites have picked up and linked to me - not too bad, should strengthen the positioning in the SERPs driving more traffic and hopefully more revenue to the site.

  • Business Insider (CF84 / TF61)
  • Jalopnik (CF67/TF62)
  • ITC (CF52/TF52)
  • The Telegraph (Australia) (CF66/TF71)
  • Democratic Underground (CF54/TF/50)
  • plus many many more...

I know these links are soon to be dumped from the front pages into the archives, but they should mostly remain live somewhere on these sites, and should give my site more authority as well as residual traffic for the future.

Adsense Revenue for the week...

The traffic really didn't click on the ads that were on the site. Given the amount of traffic, and based on previous performance I would have liked to see a little more in the Adsense account. That said, I'm definitely not complaining as this site has paid for a fair chunk of the purchase price in the first few days...

For the dates 26th Dec through to the 31st Dec the site earned around $400 in Adsense revenue which while pretty terrible (very low CTR) the money coming in certainly helps offset the cost of buying the site in the first place.

I'll definitely be looking to use Reddit again in the future for traffic generation tactics.​ Seems if you approach it right, then you can leverage the site for some decent traffic over the long term.

Some recommended reading around using Reddit as a traffic sources are noted below:​

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be doing some more experimentation with this method of traffic generation, and hopefully will have a guide of my own to publish!

Google Experiments - Lets Split Test Some Stuff

I'm not sure if you are currently split testing your sites, but if you aren't then you are leaving money on the table.

In hindsight I would have loved to have had all this in place before I got the traffic from Reddit - but sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and take it as it comes.

By split testing different layout, different ad placements you can see which works best for the traffic you are getting.

Each visitor to your site will be randomly assigned a layout (which is the only layout they see, if they happen to return) and income is measured for each of the layouts.

Once you have a statistical confidence in one of the layouts, then you should change the site uses the winning layout. This ensures that your revenue per visitor is maximized.​

Layout One

Layout Two

Layout Three

​I've started 3 homepage experiments, and three page layout experiments to see which provides the greatest Adsense income for the traffic I'm getting.

Below you can see a snapshot of the test in progress, there isn't a clear winner yet - although my two modified pages are consistently performing better than the original homepage layout.

In Table Ads are most similar to 'Layout Two' above and the Ripped Page test is similar to the Layout Three above.​

Once these experiments have come to a close, I will permanently make the design changes to the site, and start on phase two of testing.

The next phase of testing will be testing different ad units and channels. What performs better for my visitors, text or rich graphic type adverts? What size ad unit will garner the highest CTR and what type of ad provider is making me the most money. I'll then use what I learn from that to hopefully fine tune the earnings of the site even more.​

Update: OK so the ​test results are in, one of my designs (the ripped page style) easily outperformed the rest of the layouts, so I have updated the live site so it is completely the most effective design.

One Month Later...

The SEO efforts have paid off, on average the site is receiving between 300-500 unique visitors a day which isn't too bad.

I've pulled the trigger and have begun building out a new blog on the site, where I will be testing out white hat link building strategies as well as trying to get lucky again with Reddit.

For the time being, my efforts will be on building a list where I can promote services and products to, as well as selling a couple of kindle/ebooks that I have in the planning stage.

Income wise it's consistently earning between $2 and $3 a day, so around $60 - $90 a month. Not enough for ​me to retire, but it all helps.

Since purchasing the site it's earned me ​over $500 in Adsense and $50 in a hosting referral which comes to $550. Seeing as I only paid just over $800 for the site, it's not too bad. I guess a rough figure of 20x monthly (assuming $75 advertising and $50 affiliate) is achievable which is $2500 - add onto that the income, giving me a grand total of $3,050 return on $800 invested 381% ROI in two months is very respectable.

What's Next?

I'm going to keep hold of the site for a bit longer, I haven't ever had a site in the travel niche, and while it seems competitive there is definitely some good scope for nice earnings if you can find a sub niche.

I will build out the blog, publish awesome content for a couple of months and evaluate how the site is doing after that. Hopefully the next update will have more information about growing authority sites the white hat way.​

10 Comments

  1. Simon February 16, 2015
    • Steve Rendell February 16, 2015
  2. Vinod March 23, 2015
    • Steve Rendell March 23, 2015
  3. Mike April 13, 2015
    • Steve Rendell April 13, 2015
  4. Dale Reardon May 2, 2015
    • Steve Rendell May 4, 2015
  5. Derek Smith May 5, 2015
    • Steve Rendell May 5, 2015

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