Hey everyone, this is Spencer. Before I turn this guest post over to Ken, let me explain why this is a pretty unique blog post. Yes, this was written by Ken Roberts (more details below); however, this is a project that I am very involved with.
Here's the deal, just over 3 months ago Hayden Miyamoto, Scott Davis, and I went in on a website purchase together. We developed a plan to massively scale and grow the earnings of the website in a short period of time. Because Hayden, Scott, and I already have lots of other projects, we decided to bring in Ken and Jake to help us implement our strategy.
Part of that strategy was bringing in interns (you may recall seeing me ask for internship applications a couple months ago). These interns saw the inside story of the website and got to learn all our advanced strategies…and in return they helped with some of the labor behind writing and publishing articles.
Overall, I'm SUPER excited to see the great results this website has had. In fact, we are going to take this exact model and apply it to new sites in the very near future.
So, with that quick intro, I'm turning it over to Ken Roberts for more details on this in-depth case study.
Three months ago I was trudging through the snow to my office job in Pawtucket, a sleepy city in the United States. If you had told me that I would quit my job and move to sunny Mexico to build a website one week later with an aerospace engineer from Texas that I had never met, I would have said you were off your rocker. This is a story about how two people who had never really made money online before, added 160k in value to a newly acquired website in 3 months.
My name is Ken Roberts – I’m the guy in the red shirt, and you already know a bit about me from the introduction.
Jake (far left, codename: Rocket) was in a similar situation to me. He quit his job as an aerospace engineer in February to trade in the office life for la vida loca. I didn’t know him before this project. We were invited to live in a little community of entrepreneurs in Valle De Bravo Mexico led by Hayden Miyamoto & Scott Davis. We built the site together with interns and outsourced writers.
I’m insanely more productive in Mexico. Imagine if you could work without interruption during the day. No more “can-you-join-this-meeting-and-pull-a-report”. Cooking, driving, cleaning, laundry, and other first world time wasters are easily and inexpensively outsourced leaving more time to focus on your business and well-being.
Between all this I’ve gained a major time advantage over my U.S. counterparts – over 3 hours a day. Time that I use not only to work but also to do things I never could back home (I’ve lost 13lbs playing sports since moving here). Renting a place with a beautiful lakefront view, the cost of living is less than half of what it is in the U.S. which gives me enough runway to work on the business full-time without worrying about making rent.
Buy an aged website that ranks new content quickly, and add a ton of content to see how quickly it ranks.
Could simply adding MORE content to a website with existing authority increase the earnings? We decided to not do any link building – a major factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. This test was purely about adding more content. The content would all be moderately competitive with a KC below 40, it would be moderately popular with LMS above 1000 searches per month, and it would mostly be monetized through Amazon’s affiliate program.
For a proper test, we planned to add 500 articles. The articles would be organized into groups of 10 around a topic or niche, forming a “silo” of content. This would show Google that we have more than one relevant piece of content around a niche, and provide opportunities for long tail rankings. The site would be built through the help of interns and with the advice of experienced money site builders including Spencer, Scott, and Hayden.
Hayden & Scott hypothesized that within 3 months, each silo would receive 500 new visitors/mo from search, and that on average our visitor values would be around 20 cents. Therefore, each silo would be worth $100/mo. Over 500 silos that would be $5000/mo, and at a 32x flip multiple it would be worth an additional $160k.
They hypothesized this based on long tail and fluke short tail rankings alone. Based on their experience, they believe that within a year, if we hire a full-time site manager that works equally on link building and monetizing silos, we will be able to average $250-$1,000 per month per silo in revenue, and flip the site for 500k-2mm.
The website was a generic domain that was founded in 2006 with a strong backlink profile, and a decent social following (20k twitter, 5k+ facebook). Most importantly, when checking the most recent articles and their KC, the site ranked content very quickly. The website was purchased for $68k in February.
Jake and I arrived in Mexico in February and since then, organic search traffic has grown since then by 66%. Every day this week has topped the last, and yesterday was our highest search traffic day ever.
We had over 19,000 sessions in the last two weeks compared to 11,000 in the previous period 3 months ago. We're averaging 143 sessions per silo/mo, which is well on our way to the 500 session prediction. And, the content was only added to the site one month ago. We expect this to increase even further as the content ages and continues to climb the rankings.
Content popped into pages 2-5 of the SERPs within a few days of publication, and it took exactly one month for our newly published content to finally make to the first page of Google. At the 1 month period, around 20% of the main keywords are already on the first page and about 60% are on pages 2-3 with rankings increasing every day.
We are tracking over 200 keywords with an LMS over 1000 and also ranking for lower volume long tails that are not being tracked. If they all made the top 3 results, with say a 30% click through rate, this would be 600,000+ visits a month.
About 20% of the content either didn’t rank or ranked and then dropped.
In the future I plan to tweak the keyword density, titles, and descriptions for these pages. I imagine Google was testing them and decided to drop those with low click through rates.
Slowly but surely, we’re continuing to climb the search results. Here’s a sample of our keyword rankings over the last two weeks for main page keywords over 500 LMS:
When Spencer, Hayden, and Scott purchased the website it was making $2k in monthly earnings from a combination of advertising and guest posts. We saw this as an opportunity to add Amazon affiliate monetization to the mix, and build a more predictable source of revenue.
After adding the content, monthly recurring revenue is up to $4k this month and I expect it to reach $5k by the end of the month when we hit the next Amazon Affiliate tier. We’re tracking earnings from each silo with a unique code. Here’s a snapshot of our Amazon earnings from just 5 silos. This is 5 codes of a total 60 tracking codes.
We purchased the website for $68k. It is now worth well over $128k, based on a valuation of 32x of our currently monthly earnings of $4k. Minus the content costs this represents a 79% return on investment. I expect earnings to continue to increase up to $16-17k per month as we climb the rankings and the Amazon affiliate tiers. If we get stuck on page 2 of the search results, I may do some link building in the future as well.
How We Did It
We used Long Tail Pro along with Spencer and Hayden’s keyword research process. The process takes a scientific approach to keyword research, focusing on the calculation of potential earnings for each keyword. You start by finding a “seed” keyword, that has over 1,000 searches and a low KC score.
Keyword Competitiveness Score (KC) – a proprietary metric from Long Tail Pro – helps to determine how difficult it is to rank in the search results for a particular keyword. We targeted KCs under 40 for this website, because this is what our test articles could rank for. Most importantly, the combination of all of the keywords targeted on the main page of a silo of content needed to have an estimated page earnings of over $500 per month.
With our main page needing to make at least $500 per month the other 9 articles in the silo just need to bring the total silo earnings up to $1000 per month for us go after a particular set of keywords. This data is based on historical click through rates, search volume, and visitor values. By focusing on earnings instead of search volume, we were able to write content that would actually make money.
Finally, the search results were checked for “Definite Wins” – opportunities where we could definitely beat the competition in the search results. We needed to see 7 “Definite Wins” in order to pursue the keyword. Finding the “Definite Wins” was accomplished by weeding out the “Unknowns” such as high authority websites, ecommerce sites, exact match domains, and local results.
From this seed keyword we found a list of supporting keywords in Long Tail Pro. These were again checked for KC, Definite Wins, and Earnings Potential. The requirements for earnings on supporting keywords were lower as naturally they have less search volume. As mentioned above, in total, we needed to see a minimum potential projected earnings of $1,000 per silo in order to pursue it.
I quickly realized the importance of creating fool-proof systems in order to scale a website. We created spreadsheets to track every step of the process, with video explanations and notes in each column of the spreadsheet. By creating these bite-sized golden nuggets of information, you can easily hand off a section of the spreadsheet to a VA and come out with the desired result on the other side.
Without SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and spreadsheets, you can’t scale content and a flaw in your process is magnified tremendously. In this case it would have been by 500x! Luckily, by mapping these processes out beforehand we avoided mistakes, increased efficiency, and made it easier for the business to continue to grow automatically into the future.
How Much Do 500+ Articles Cost?
The cost of the content was 1.2 cents per word. With each silo containing approximately 9,000 words, the cost per silo was $112 and we ended up with a total of 56 silos. Note that more than half of this content was generated from the internship, but we did purchase the rest at the above rates. Had we purchased 100% of the content, the total cost would be $6,272 (one-time). I wouldn’t recommend trying to write this amount of content yourself to save money. It doesn’t scale well and has a higher failure rate.
Where to Hire Writers
You can find high quality and inexpensive writers on freelancing websites like Upwork.com. The secret here is to look for writers with zero feedback.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you wouldn’t believe how many high-quality writers are overlooked because they are filtered out by feedback score or number of hours worked in the search settings. Often you can find a university student or freelancer that is new to upwork for just 5 bucks because they are trying to get good rating!
Hire two writers and have them each write a test article for you. Pick the best one and give them more articles. Continue testing until you’ve established a relationship with a writer and negotiate a higher price to keep them around. Setup systems so that you can simply share a keyword spreadsheet with them and have a completed, optimized article returned the next day.
Due Diligence & Where To Buy Sites
Starting a website from scratch is hard. By purchasing an existing website, we were able to skip the Google sandbox and start ranking for content right away. It also saved us the time and money of designing a new site. We looked for a website with a domain authority (DA) of 50+. Domain authority is a strong indicator of a website's ability to rank content and gain backlinks.
There are three major places where you can buy existing websites: FE International, Empire Flippers, and Flippa. FE is the most expensive of the three, often with very well established businesses and in-depth prospectuses.
Empire Flippers is a middle-of-the-road marketplace with sites generally above the $5k mark.
Finally, Flippa is the bottom of the barrel. There is no due diligence here so be wary if a deal seems to good to be true. Regardless of the marketplace, you should perform your own due diligence.
I looked to see if the website had strong whitehat links as part of our due diligence process. We used tools like Majestic to check backlink profiles – excessive comment links (no-follow) or links from spammy, thinly built blogs are also red flags.
Next, ask the seller for read-only Google Analytics access. In here you can verify the seller’s traffic claims and see if anything is abnormal. For example, if the website has huge amount of traffic coming from paid search or social media, the owner could be paying for ads to boost traffic before the sale. Time on page, bounce rate, and what the site is currently ranking for are key factors to check for in Google Analytics as well.
While the site you purchase doesn’t necessarily need to be making money, you should definitely hop on a video call with the seller to walk through their accounts and ask questions. Have them sign into their advertising and affiliate accounts so that you can verify the earnings.
Before buying a site, ensure that it ranks. To determine the KC that we could rank for, we ran a test. We published several articles with KCs ranging from 20-50 and then checked back later to see where they were ranking. This was an important part of the due diligence process.
If you aren’t able to do this, you can simply look at some of their recent content that hasn’t received any links, and check the KC of the terms they are targeting. If you see KC 30+ terms ranking in the first 3 pages, you know you’ve got a winner.
Takeaways For Niche Site Builders
- If the 2 of us can manage the process while creating the systems, then you can do it too. You don’t need a big team, and the writing can be outsourced.
- Create processes to scale content creation
- Buy an aged site that ranks content quickly.
- You don’t need to be #1 in Google to make money
- You don’t need to target high traffic terms to make money
- Focus on one traffic source (organic search in this case) and do it well.
- Keyword research?
This clearly worked for us, so we’re doing it again with another site that we bought for $850 that’s just aged (1 year, in order to skip the sandbox) and has little to no link profile.
If you’re interested in hearing on how the $850 sites goes, as well as to continue to get updates on the 500 page experiment, sign up here:
Get More Updates on These Case Study Websites
Spencer here again…Ken and Jake managed the last internship and the site in question was a partnership between myself and Hayden & Scott. Coming up soon we’re going to teach people how to do this in another internship – we’ll be providing the systems, spreadsheets and processes…so stay tuned.