Six months ago, I bought a website called [name redacted for privacy.]*
It is currently on track to make about $3,600 a year.
I think I can quintuple that number.
(In a way, I already did.)
*Let’s just call it TheSite.com
Here’s my story. It’s a narrative interlaced with information nuggets about payback periods, DNS records, ad networks, website migration, and WordPress foibles.
If you’re interested in buying a website, my story is your story. It’s kind of a wild ride.
Table of Contents
PART 1: Buying a Blog Website
This website wasn’t new. It was founded in 2004, hand-coded in HTML, CSS and PERL. No CMS to speak of – everything was uploaded directly to the /public_html folder. The site owner had developed the website for about five years, and then fiddled around for another five, but hadn’t hardly touched the code in seven years.
“This guy doesn’t know it,” I thought, “but he’s sitting on a gold mine.”
Which leads me to an important question: What was I looking for a website to purchase?
5 Things to Look for When Purchasing a Website
1. Barrier to Entry
If a site has a barrier to entry, that’s good news for the purchaser. A barrier to entry is anything that drains the pool of potential buyers. Less buyer competition equals a lower purchase price.
In my case, the website was hand-coded. Literally typed out on Notepad+ or some other script editor and uploaded directly via the Control Panel File Manager.
Now, I don’t consider myself a web developer by any stretch. I attempted to hand-code a few websites in 2007 and 2008, when I was in high school, and tried another one or two several years later, but that was that.
I know just enough HTML, CSS and JQuery to be dangerous. And although I studied basic C++ code in college, you don’t want me anywhere near PHP or the other dynamic programming languages.
So I knew I couldn’t carry on what TheSite’s developer had created. I would have to recreate the site; copy and paste the text, leave the rest.
I suspected that would be a lot of manual work (oh yes, it was). And that I would lose some SEO performance with an entirely new site architecture (yes, I did).
Not all website owners are willing to undergo all this work. And most can’t code PERL. That put me, the buyer, in control of the pricing process.
2. Existing Audience
I don’t have a subscription to Ahrefs or SEMRush, but I do have a free account with SerpStat. While the numbers can be wildly inaccurate for smaller sites, it’s still a useful tool to see trends, traffic, etc.
And the software told me this hole-in-the-wall website was getting 10,000+ visitors a month!
Ahrefs told me ChanginGears.com had a DA of 42.
(For reference, one of my other websites, which I launched two months ago, had a DA rating of just 0.2.)
And here was a guy getting tens of thousands of views every month with a semi-authoritative site!
Audience is the underlying asset of any website. It’s not the content or site architecture. It’s the eyeballs that are reading your stuff. Anywhere there are 10,000 interested readers, there’s money to be made.
3. Poor Monetization
As you know, reader, there are a bajillion ways to monetize a website: display ads, text ads, affiliate marketing, printables, ebooks, physical products, exclusive content, subscription packages, etc.
And this site had virtually none of them.
The only apparent form of monetization was a lonely Google Adsense display ad in the main sidebar.
Later, I found out that the site used to have Amazon Associates and Commission Junction affiliate sales accounts, but they were no longer active.
Well, did I like to see that!
Aged websites usually sell on a multiplier of monthly earnings, somewhere between 20x and 40x. Exceptional websites may sell for up to 60x monthly earnings!.
[New websites may be appraised on some other basis, such as the raw content value of the site (e.g. 60 articles x $40 per article = $2,400) or it’s extrapolated audience growth.]
Because the website had such poor monetization, revenue was almost certainly in the dumps, which would lower the purchase price.
And with little more than a hop, skip and a jump, I could monetize the site with a different ad network, like Ezoic, that would pay significantly more than Google Adsense!
Do not purchase a website without considering the payback period and risk-reward. You need to consider the payback period under three conditions:
- What if the site loses 30% of its revenue (a real impossibility with an algorithm update)? Can you afford the loss?
- What if the site continues as-is? Is the payback period reasonable?
- What is your expected payback period after initial improvements?
In my case, to be honest, I offered too much upfront. The payback period based on current earnings was almost seven years!
However, since earnings were so low, I wasn’t concerned about losses. Just growth. And I believed that just migrating the site and switching ad networks was enough to 10x the revenue.
4. Complementary Niche
So, I’m not a website flipper. I don’t spend all my time on EmpireFlippers or Flippa, hunting for lowball deals and 5 cents on the dollar returns. That’s like being a stock day trader without the suit and tie – not my thing.
TheSite.com was up my alley. It was in the RV and outdoor living niche, and that happens to be my thing. I’m an authority in that space.
As I dive deeper into the online world, I remember that I want a site portfolio, not a collage. I want a network of complementary sites. Think of a house of cards, with each website a card. The more cards, the bigger the house.
A good website portfolio follows the same rules as a financial portfolio. It’s a push-and-pull between specialization and diversity, between risk and hedge.
I advocate owning and developing sites within your personal area of expertise. The days of “Oh, I was interested in audio engineering, so I started a website to share what I learned!” are fast coming to a close. In most subjects, the quality of online content is too high for an amateur to pass off their first impressions.
Owning several site within a theme has several advantages:
- Backlink swaps
- Similar competition
- Recycle article rewrites
- Same affiliate marketing programs
Essentially, you can “double-dip.” And if you ever sell your websites, you can easily sell them as a bundle, not piecemeal.
Please note that complementary is not matching or overlapping! Having two websites about building a homemade sound booth, for instance, is redundant and over-saturated. Having one website about building a homemade sound booth, one about church sound engineering, and a third about audio editing for YouTube content creators – that’s much smarter.
5. Evergreen Content
I’m not into the rat race. I’m not looking for another hamster wheel. So I don’t want to be involved in anything where content has a short half-life (here’s looking at you, consumer electronics!)
TheSite.com began as a personal travel blog (which, on its own, I would never buy). Over time, it had morphed into a reference website. It had lists, calculators, guides – things that remained useful over time. Things I didn’t have to regenerate every six months. Things that would make me money years after they were created!
Personally, I don’t recommend online business builders get involved in breezy content with a fast turnover. Those days came and went, and that’s why we now have Facebook, Buzzfeed, HuffPost, etc.
Here are topics I would avoid:
- Pop culture
- Fitness fads
- Consumer electronics
The Google algorithm is not friendly to mom n’ pop “news” sites. Time is of the essence. If you cover a topic four hours after Politico, you’re done. (Actually, considering Politico has a DR of 90+, you never really had a shot, anyway.)
So, that’s why I liked the website. So I set out to buy it.
But first, I had to find the guy. And the Contact Us page didn’t work.
Long story short, after crawling around the Internet for a few days, tracking down state records and “stalking” on social media, I finally found the website owner.
Two weeks later, I called via Zoom.
And if I was your typical blog guru, I would tell you how I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, he ponied up, and I was off to the races.
But this is FLUB Blog. Instead, I made a few mistakes.
We ran through his past AdSense, Amazon and CJ earnings. Lookin’ good – but the data stopped two years ago.
I made him an offer based on the earnings from two years ago on the assumption (hint: foreshadowing!) that current earnings were similar. He accepted. I said after I performed my due diligence, we’d finalize.
After I asked and received view access to his AdSense account, I realized my estimate was … eh … a little off.
Like an order of magnitude off.
Like there was an extra zero in my offer price.
So I swallowed my pride, explained my mistake, and submitted a new offer that was WAY lower than the first.
… and he accepted.
PART 2: Launching a Migrated Website
Buying some websites is easy.
You sign a document, send the cash, accept the registrar’s domain name transfer, get the login information, and the website is yours.
This is not that story.
Steps to Migrating a Website (MacGyver-style)
Like I said, I’m not a website developer. But the great thing about the online world is that all the information is out there for free – you just have to find it, learn it, and apply it.
Here’s how it went.
1. Pay the Guy!
If you buy a website through a service like Flippa, your payment is automatically held in escrow. Not so with a private party.
You could set up an escrow account, but that’s a laborious process.
First, we both signed a Website Purchase Agreement. This can be found for free online. Modify them to fit your needs. But read and understand the whole thing! Typical conditions include:
- A full list of what’s included, such as domains, email records, files and images, intellectual property rights, trademarks and copyrights, passwords, social media accounts, etc.
- Payment terms, amount, and delivery schedule
- Obligations of the seller, such as a closing timeline and technical support
- Any warranties of site performance
- Non-compete clauses
- Legalese (but important!) like rules about severability or amendments
We both signed. Now what? Who moves first?
I wanted to avoid a Mexican standoff, so I opted for the classic meet-me-halfway strategy.
- I sent half the money, he transferred domain name ownership.
- I sent the other half, and he sent all the historical data, email records, affiliate program login information, etc.
Money gone. The website was mine.
2. Migrate the Site
So now I was the proud owner of a new-to-me-website that I couldn’t touch. Not without learning PERL and PHP, anyway.
I needed to perform a complete site migration. Which basically meant I had to create an entirely new WordPress website.
Which, to be honest, I had no business doing.
Any good developer will tell you that site migrations are technically difficult and prone to error. They should be carefully calculated and laid out in advance. Just switching from HTTP to HTTPS can wreck a site if done improperly.
And here I was going to manually create an entire website!
But this is FLUB, so I just plunged ahead.
I left the original website up and running and created a sandbox WordPress website as a staging site.
Two weeks later, after a lot of 2:00 a.m. nights and red-eyed speed reading, TheSite.com was live!
Here’s what I learned – about what NOT to do.
Don’t Get Creative. Choose a Vanilla Backend.
I wasn’t going to recreate the problem I already had: A website back end that only one person could understand. Instead, I wanted something vanilla, Plain Jane.
So I chose the WordPress CMS with the Ocean WP theme and used the Elementor page builder.
You don’t get much more vanilla than that. But there are a lot of advantages:
- Free support. WordPress, OceanWP, and Elementor all have tons of support communities and resources. If I have a question, someone else has had the same question – now I just have to find the answer.
- Quick implementation. WordPress can be installed with one click. OceanWP takes, what, seven or eight clicks to complete the import wizard? Elementor is downloaded as a .zip file and also activated with one click.
- Too big to fail. Now, this isn’t completely true – nothing is too big to fail. But these three services are used by millions of people. If something goes wrong, don’t you think they’ll work hard to improve? Elementor, for instance, was getting dinged for slowing down websites with clunky code. They revamped their plugin, introduced the lightweight Hello Elementor theme, and now you can get 99/100 PageSpeed scores with all-Elementor websites.
- Flexible design. Unlike some other CMS’s, such as Wix or SquareSpace, WordPress is fairly developer-friendly. I can design the frontend UX or backend workflow to suit my needs, even if/when I hire a VA or developer team to maintain the website.
Pick Your Plugins Carefully
Proper selection of WordPress plugins is a whole article in itself (one that I’m still learning).
Here are some FREE WordPress plugins I found particularly useful for site migration:
- SiteKit by Google: analytics and speed
- Redirection: 301 redirects
- Broken Link Checker: self-explanatory*
- Updraft: for backing up site files
- FileBird Lite: for organizing images
- Imsanity: for managing image file uploads
*When migrating to a new URL architecture, don’t abandon all your internal links! Your internal links should point to the new, correct URL; don’t be lazy and let a server-side or client-side redirect do the work for you.
Know Your DNS (MX) Records
If there’s a way to screw up a DNS record, I have done it. Especially email MX records.
Before you migrate a website, watch a YouTube video on what DNS records are. And make sure your DNS ducks are all in a row!
IMPORTANT: You need to finish all your DNS records before you go live!
Pay particular attention to your mail setup. Whether you’re using the wp_mail() function, an SMTP server or some other solution, your contact email address needs to work properly.
Manage Your Redirects
In my case, TheSite.com required a completely new URL architecture. In my naivete, I assumed I simply needed a permanent 301 redirect for each page URL.
That’s … half-true. I also needed redirects for every catalog and category page, for search pages … everything. I wound up creating more than double the redirects I had anticipated!
The number one rule before migrating a website is to have a complete offline copy of the old website.
In fact, I downloaded a PDF version of the entire visible website! So even if I lose the code, I still have the visual.
- Download all the files from the /public_html folder.
- Use a website crawler like Screaming Frog to perform a complete site audit and generate sitemaps.
- Maintain a spreadsheet of all URLs and redirects, including any obsolete pages or broken links.
You can create an .htaccess file to directly upload your redirect requests, or you can use a WordPress plugin like Redirection, All in One SEO, or 301 Redirect.
Good redirection is essential. It tells search engines where to find your content, how to index it, and how to handle the old URL. It prevents duplicate content penalties and
Side note: Set up a custom 404 page. You’ll miss pages (just accept this). You don’t want your loyal readers to read some soulless corporate message. Create a custom 404 page apologizing for the problem, briefly explaining the site migration, and add a list of helpful links (and a search bar) to help them find what they’re looking for.
Set Up Analytics
The site I purchased had no analytics besides AdSense. While I don’t believe in religiously tracking analytics, they are invaluable for troubleshooting long-term performance issues.
If TheSite already had analytics, I would have benchmarked those for at least six weeks before launching the migrated site. Then I could have quantified any traffic drop or impression loss.
I used, and highly recommend, installing the WordPress Site Kit plugin by Google, which can automatically sync to and set up accounts with services like AdSense, PageSpeed Insights, Analytics, Search Console, etc.
Site Kit does come with a speed penalty, and I may eliminate it in the future. But for a beginning blogger, the ease beats all.
3. Launch and Pray
I’m not a patient person. I launched waaaaaay too early.
The site was hardly operable; there were still pages without 301 redirects; I had a lot of pages with copy and pasted text and broken formatting. If was a responsible developer, I would have waited another few weeks and double-checked everything.
But I was the kid who ran down the stairs Christmas morning at 5:00 a.m., so you know what I did. I pressed the big red button anyway.
After that, it was a loooooong two weeks. Lots of debugging and apologies and spreadsheets and what the hell is canonicalization anyway??
As you can tell, site migration is serious business. I used this site migration checklist from SearchEngineLand to help me out. You can find similar checklists from Semrush and Ahrefs.
As I said, it was a long few weeks …
PART 3: Rebuilding, Rebranding
I’ve now owned TheSite.com for about six months. What’s happened? What’s worked and what hasn’t?
What’s Working Well
Easier Site Navigation
The front-end design is soooo much better than the old website. No criticism of the old website – it was fantastic for a hand-coded site! But a new UX instantly brought the site out of the ‘90s and into the modern era.
Leveraging WordPress capabilities like post categories and tags allows me to set up a visual roadmap throughout the website. The reader is never lost; there’s always something to read next.
Adding advertisement iframes to a hand-coded website is a real pain in the *ss. But with a stock WordPress theme, it couldn’t be easier.
At first, I signed up with AdSense and enabled auto advertisements. Within a few weeks, the site was making about $100 a month (about 10x its previous earnings).
However, my EPMV was rather poor – about $10-$11. I was shooting for $30 EPMV.
Three months later, after benchmarking my progress on Google Adsense and Google Analytics, I switched to Ezoic.
Actually, it took about a month to complete the transition. There were quite a few glitches to be solved.
But now that the site serves advertisements through Ezoic, I am achieving a $30 EPMV. Revenue has tripled. Hurray!
By better content, I’m not just referring to longer content or better writing.
I mean that embedding tables, calculators, videos, images, gifs, and charts in WordPress blog posts is easy. As they say, there’s a plugin for that!
Whereas the old website was limited to long bullet point lists and paragraphs, the new website complements the written word with videos, images, and other forms of multimedia.
In the modern web, multimedia content presentation is foundational. I don’t think you’ll last without it.
What’s Not Working As Well
Page Speed (eh)
Initially, my site speed dropped like a rock. I went a little too heavy on the full-spread hero images and dynamically generated content, like Related Posts lists and Categories.
I’ve still got work to do. Personally, I don’t want to rely on “hacks” like minifying files or using CDNs to atone for a bloated site. I’ll continue to tweak the site, test plugins, and search for solutions that cut down on bloat without compromising the user experience. It’s an area where I have a lot left to learn.
Search Engine Optimization (maybe?)
I hesitate to put SEO in the “not working so well” category because it’s still in flux, and honestly, it hasn’t gone that poorly.
Plus, it’s late October, and the search volume for RV travel and outdoor living really drops off after September. So at least some of the drop in performance is caused by seasonality.
I also don’t have many months of analytics before launching the new site. I have, oh, about 6 days. Not much of a benchmark.
But enough of the caveats.
According to Search Console, over these first six months, impressions have dropped by about 33% and search clicks by about 25%.
On the one hand, I hate to see that drop. That’s lost revenue. That’s less visitors.
On the other hand, I know from AdSense records that the site has been losing revenue, traffic and impressions steadily for almost two years. In fact, my drop over the past six months has been much less than what would have been expected!
Plus, quite a few other metrics have improved. The bounce rate is half as much; the click-through rate is twice as much. Performance on tablets and smartphones is through the roof compared to the old non-responsive site.
I also knew that the search engine performance of the site was based on just a handful of pages. Many pages had done well in the past but were superseded by better, newer websites. Three or four pages were driving 80+% of the site’s unique traffic.
In recent months, I’ve rewritten 70% of the site’s content, expanding many pages to 2,000 words or longer. I’ve added in-depth blog posts, reference checklists and interactive calculators.
So while I’m disappointed to see the downward trendline, I know there’s a long delay between what I do and what Google sees. We engineers call this phenomenon “hysteresis.”
I know that the site is much more comprehensive and user-friendly. It’s much better for humans. Eventually, I think the bots will catch up.
VERDICT: Overall, I’m happy. It’s been a lot of work, but the site is on track to have a payback period of less than a year. After that, it’s all profit! The niche is strong; the readership is loyal; and there are many opportunities for monetization
Speaking of which, I should get back to work.