A few months ago, I asked Twitter what they wanted me to write about next:
Alright Twitter, give me some article ideas for the Onfolio blog. Topics you’d like to see covered or just general questions you have about website acquisitions or operations
— Dom Wells (@TeamOnFolio) July 28, 2020
The result was a few different ideas, which I’ll work through in time.
Today’s post answers the question, how much can you REALLY improve a website after you buy it, and how hard is it?
Naturally, the answer is complicated and depends on a lot of factors. I’ll use my own experiences and case studies to help this process.
Common Ways To Improve A Website
Let’s start with some background and look at some of the most common ways people improve a website to flip it.
Some of these are quick to implement, instantaneous even, while others are a slower grind.
The Display Ad Additions
This is one of the easiest to implement. Find a website that gets enough traffic to qualify for a high-paying display ad network (50,000 pageviews and above usually works best), add those ads, and see the instant uptick in revenue. In some cases, you can double the revenue just by putting ads on.
You could then hold the site for a few months and re-sell it, or just keep growing it further.
This is probably the easiest and most surefire of improvements. The best targets for this are sites with Adsense as a monetization method, or no ads at all.
I don’t think it’s ever failed to work in the dozen or so times we’ve done it.
Changing Out Amazon Links
This method basically involves taking Amazon affiliate links and replacing them with affiliate offers that pay a higher commission.
This can be done in a few ways:
- Finding all the products you drive sales for on Amazon, and seeing if they have private affiliate programs. Then replacing the Amazon links with those ones.
- Looking at which products you earn the most commissions from, and reaching out to them for setting up a private affiliate program.
- Finding products that already have a private affiliate program, and putting them in place instead of Amazon ones.
This can be hard to do because it relies on there being good products to promote off Amazon. It also relies on a lot of effort and negotiation.
The payout can be very much worthwhile though when you find a few successful products.
In order to make it work, you do need to find products that convert well and pay a higher rate.
Typically, if Amazon is paying you around 4-8%, you’ll want to find something that pays you at least 25%. Why?
Because a.) They won’t convert anywhere near as well as Amazon, and b.) You won’t get all the other cross-sales that Amazon pays you for.
While this method is hard, takes time, and is by no means guaranteed to work, the payoff can be well worth it if it works.
Bonus Tip: Test showing the private link alongside the Amazon link, then test just showing one or the other to see which pays out more.
The SEO Improvement Option
One of the best ways to improve a site a few years ago, was to improve its search results.
This is a lot harder now, because a.) Most sites for sale already have a modicum of good SEO and b.) It’s not just a case of building a few links anymore.
Still, I do see people saying that their favorite type of acquisition is a site that ranks on page 2 for everything, because it has so much upside.
For me, I assume I won’t be able to improve the rankings, and through that lens decide if it’s still a good acquisition.
All that being said, it does make sense for you to at least try to improve the SEO of a site. Here’s how I recommend you go about it.
- Find all the keywords you rank position 3-10 for. Using a tool like surferseo, and building some quality backlinks could get these keywords up to the top positions fairly easily, depending on your competition.
- Perform a full onpage analysis focusing on technical seo, and speed.
- Next look for keywords on page 2 and 3. These ones can sometimes just need a handful of links in order to get to page 1.
- Use a tool like ahrefs to identify for keywords you can build content around.
- Follow Matt Diggity’s advice in The Affiliate Lab and “Do all the things” in order to make sure your site’s onpage and offpage is on point.
If you focus on all of the above, you probably will see an uptick in your seo results, and you will be much less likely to see a downtrend (which is just as important to avoid).
Typically you’ll see better results with sites that are young and just starting to take off, than you’ll see with larger established sites, or sites that are trending down.
Whereas a site that had previously been penalized was an opportunity in the past, it’s now not worth your time. There are too many question marks around a site’s ability to recover from a penalty these days.
Fix What’s Obviously Broken
This section is here to point out that sometimes there are some easy wins when you can see something obvious that’s broken, and is easy to fix.
For example, maybe the technical SEO has some easy wins (no SSL installed?), or there are broken affiliate links.
Maybe the comparison tables aren’t mobile responsive, or the site itself is bad on mobile.
Often, these kind of things are pretty easy to fix, and can make a big difference right off the bat. You just have to know what things are broken in the first place.
I’ve listed a few things above, and some other common things to watch out for:
- A large email list never emailed. This can usually be improved upon!
- Broken affiliate links or not enough affiliate links.
- Bad internal linking
- Aggressive popups
- Ugly UX
The more you practice affiliate marketing, the more opportunities you spot. They won’t always work out, but when they do, they can be great quick wins.
The Conversion Rate Optimization Option
CRO is fairly easy to do once you know how to set up a basic split-test campaign (or just hire Convertica).
The main purpose is to tweak the layout of your page to try to get better conversion rates. You can apply it to money pages, opt-in forms, or entire funnels.
It’s hit and miss in terms of results, and doesn’t always move the needle, but is a worthy part of your arsenal, and when it works, the results can be significant.
As well as display ads, you can also look for other forms of additional monetization.
This could be any of the following, plus more:
- Email List
- Info Products
- Physical Products
- Additional Affiliate Programs
- Lead Gen
- Course Sales
There’s a lot to cover in all of these and I’ll spare the details of all of them. The main thing I’d like to discuss is the concept of doing it.
The difficulty actually ranges from easy to hard, depending what you’re doing, and the context of the site.
The easiest thing to do is simply look for additional affiliate products to promote in your existing content. This can be very lucrative if you find something that works well.
For example, once at Human Proof Designs I ranked for a review of a link building service that wasn’t very good. The review brought in a lot of traffic, and I realized if I recommended something that WAS good, I could make some decent affiliate commissions. So, I added a few lines to the post and some affiliate links for The Hoth (which at the time was a good service), and started making an additional $500/month from that post.
For you, I would recommend looking at every post that is getting more than 500 visits per month, and seeing what products exist that you could recommend in those articles. See what competitors are recommending, or what customers are already buying, and sign up for those affiliate programs.
The harder items in this list involve filling in a gap. Got a site that promote physical products but no info products? Look for some to promote, or create your own.
Got info products but no physical ones? See above.
Executing on the creation of new products is no easy feat, as is launching a course or membership, but they can be very lucrative and worth exploring as you improve your skills and knowledge.
However, it’s important that you don’t just think within the confines of doing more of the same in order to grow your site, and instead look at other potential ways of monetizing. Not only does this give you a lot of opportunity, it also makes your income more defensible.
Conclusion: It’s Not All That Easy
You’ll be forgiven for taking a negative viewpoint away from this article. I haven’t exactly painted a pretty picture of how easy it is to fix up a site ahead of a potential flip.
Good. It’s not easy.
A lot of the easiest opportunities are picked up quickly by savvy buyers, or simply don’t exist anymore because sellers already know about them.
SEO is also a lot harder than it used to be.
That said, depending on your skillset, some of the above difficulty scores may vary. A seasoned SEO may still find that SEO improvements are very doable. An email marketing expert may love buying sites and adding a funnel onto them.
An eCommerce wizard may love buying info sites and adding on an eCommerce brand to the site.
It’s all about what you’re comfortable doing.
That being said, unless you’re an expert, most of the ways you can improve a website are hard.
I wrote this post to give you an idea of the kind of thing you’re taking on when buying websites with a flipper mindset, but also to let you see which opportunities are more predictable than others.
Final note: A lot of the time, the easiest thing to do is just buy well. Pick up a good site with a positive trend, and keep growing it, without looking for some quick win/flip opportunity.