In Part I of this series, I explained the benefits of buying aged/neglected sites directly from the original owners.  If you haven’t read that post yet, I suggest you skim through it.

Why don’t you tell me how to find these sites first?

Good question.  The logical chronology might appear to be: first find a site, and then estimate the traffic.  However this approach will waste a TON of your time.  There are literally millions of aged/neglected sites that get ZERO traffic.  We have no interest in sites that don’t get traffic.  Unless your target site is getting several thousand visitors a month, it probably isn’t worth your time pursuing it.

You should skip sites with under 1,000 visits/month for the following reasons:

  • It probably won’t generate much Adsense revenue.  An good niche will make $5 every 1,000 visitors if you are lucky.
  • You won’t be able to make an offer of over a few hundred dollars.  Most owners of aged/neglected sites probably won’t be convinced to sell their baby for $150.
  • Resale value probably won’t be very high.  You don’t want to be overpaying for sites.

This 1,000 visits/month limit will weed out most of the aged/neglected sites you’ll find on the internet.

So how do I estimate a site’s traffic?

The best way to determine the traffic that a website is receiving is through Google Analytics.  Unfortunately, not all websites have GA installed, and for the ones that do, odds are that the owners won’t be willing to just give some random stranger access to the reports.

So we have to rely on the use of some free online tools that will help us passively estimate the traffic a site is receiving.  I use the term “passively” because we aren’t measuring actual traffic numbers.  These tools are basically making a guess off of various indicators.  We’ll go over each one:

(Just a quick note: I use the “Free Version” for all these tools and it has worked out fine for me!)

Alexa Rank

“Alexa Ranking” is on a scale of 1 through 20 million.  For example, TomsAdventure.com is currently 472,546.  This mean’s that I’m the 472,546th most popular domain on the internet.  There are exactly 472,545 domains that are more popular than mine.

Right now, Google.com has an Alexa rank of 1, Facebook.com has an Alexa rank of 2, Youtube.com has an alexa rank of 3, etc.

How it works

Alexa gathers usage statistics on sites through the Alexa Toolbar that millions of internet users have installed on their browsers.  The toolbar will display the alexa rank of the website you are viewing right in your browser.  I don’t have the actual Alexa Toolbar installed, but I have a Chrome addon that displays the Alexa Rank of every site I visit in the corner of my browser.

Simply put, Alexa knows which sites are popular because they can see what a handful of internet users are looking at.

Problems with the Alexa data


Alexa rank doesn’t estimate the volume of traffic a site is getting.  Alexa simply ranks the 20 million most popular domains in order of most popular to least popular.  Alexa rank can be used as a factor in estimating actual traffic though.

Also, the userbase of the Alexa toolbar is notoriously skewed.  It is by no means a “random sample” of internet users, so it isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of ALL internet users.  For example, Alexa users disproportionately tend to be interested in webmastering/computer/internet stuff.  You wouldn’t be interested in seeing the alexa rank of sites otherwise, right?

So when examining the Alexa rank of a site, be sure to ask yourself if it relates to webmastering, internet stuff, etc.

For example, when I bought AllAboutYourOwnWebsite.com, it had an EXTREMELY skewed Alexa rank.  I actually way-overestimated traffic on this one because the Alexa rank was so good.

Also, the data can be pretty far off for sites ranking over 100k – there are just so few datapoints on lower-traffic sites.

Compete.com

Compete claims to gather it’s clickstream data from a diverse set of statistically representative users, which basically means they don’t want to tell us exactly where it comes from.  In essence, the data probably comes from various toolbars/partner websites/widgets/programs with the compete software hidden in the source code.

Compete actually gives you an estimated number of unique visitors per month, and also provides estimates (and a cool graph!) for the last 12 months.

The data on this can be way off, but at least is a good indicator of the magnitude of traffic a site gets.  For example, TomsAdventure.com doesn’t even come up on Compete.com.  Shoot.

A better example, JeepTech.com (a site I recently sold) gets 9,863 unique visitors in the month of March, according to Compete.com.  JeepTech actually got 19,161 unique visitors in the month of March.  Off by a factor of 2!  Not too shabby.

Quantcast

Quantcast is similar to Compete in the fact that they aren’t too upfront about exactly where they source their data.  They probably have similar methods to Compete.com.  Another similarity is that Quantcast will estimate the site’s actually traffic.

Quantcast isn’t perfect either.  We’ll use the example before of JeepTech.  The most recent month that Quantcast gives us for JeepTech.com is 12,030 “People” from 1/30/2012 to 2/28/2012.  Jeeptech actually got 18,258 unique visitors in that time span.  So again, not exactly spot on, but also not too far off.

One thing that I have noticed about Quantcast is that they really exclude most of the lesser-traffic sites from their database.  If the site gets less than 10k visits/month, it probably won’t show up on Quantcast.

SEMRush.com

SEMRush is a really cool tool.  It estimates a site’s Google search traffic.  If a site is receives all it’s traffic from referrals, it won’t get picked up in SEMRush.  Fortunately, we are looking for sites that rank well with Google, so this tool is right up our alley!

SEMRush works by searching Google for every keyword possible, and logging the results.  It factors in how popular each keyword is, and then aggregates the results.  When you look up a domain, it tells you the top keywords driving traffic to the site, the site’s rank for each of those keywords, and an estimate of how much those keywords are being searched.

For each domain, you’ll get 5 important numbers:

  1. SEMRush Rank – This is the same principle of the Alexa Rank – basically just how popular the site is.  The lower the number, the better.
  2. SE Traffic – This is an estimate of how many monthly visits the site receives from organic (unpaid) Google search.
  3. SE Traffic price – This is the estimate on the cost to buy the same amount of traffic strictly through Google Adwords.  It gives you a great insight into how high the CPC for the site will be.  A higher number means the site should get better Adsense earnings.
  4. Ads Traffic – This will tell you how much traffic comes from paid Google search.  If a site is actively buying traffic, chances are that it is not neglected, and not worth your pursuit.
  5. Ads Traffic price – An estimate on how much the site is spending on ads.  Again, this number should be $0 or you should probably walk away.

Ok, each of these 4 tools gives me a different number.  How do compile it all into one estimate?

I wish I could give you a simple answer.  Instead I’ll give you a few methods:

  1. Intuition – I’d recommend getting a browser add-on or plugin that shows you the SEMRush traffic estimate, Alexa Rank, Compete estimate and Quantcast estimate for every site you visit.  You’ll start to get a better feel for the numbers after a while.
  2. Compare to actual numbers – By the time I really streamlined my buying strategy, I had about 20 random sites that I owned.  I made a spreadsheet of the actual traffic numbers and the estimates from each tool.  I used this spreadsheet to see how far off the estimates usually were.  I could compare the estimates for my target site with the estimates AND actual numbers for sites that I owned.  If you don’t have a portfolio of sites already, just gather data from sites listed at Flippa.  They usually have their Google Analytics up for everyone to view, and you can easily gather the estimates from the tools listed above to start your own spreadsheet.
  3. Use the formula I developed by running a regression on my aforementioned spreadsheet.  This is going to take a whole extra post to explain.  We’re already at 1400 words for this post, so I’ll end here.

Actually, what the heck.  I’ll give you my actual spreadsheet for fun:

Click here to download my actual spreadsheet! This includes 3 iterations (the 3 tabs) of my estimates.  The newest is from mid 2010, so it is probably a bit outdated.  The fist tab “New Est Guide” actually includes a little tool to estimate traffic by literally just plugging in Alexa, SEMr, Compete and Quant data.

Now what?

At this point, you should hopefully have a firm understanding of how the 4 main traffic estimating tools work.  I’ve had individuals accuse me of lying on my Flippa listings because my Analytics don’t match Compete.com’s estimates.  You should understand why those people are pretty ignorant by this point.

What’s great about these publicly available estimating tools is that they are abundant and free.  We are going to build a tool that automatically generates a traffic estimate for every single domain on the internet!  (well, almost)… This will help us immediately identify which sites we want to target without us having to go through every site manually (well, almost)…  Muhuhahahah!

 

9 Responses to “Finding and Buying Aged and Neglected Websites. Part II – How to Estimate a Site’s Traffic”

  1. pw says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to first contact the owners of the potential websites if they are interested in selling? Doing all the traffic estimation, then not getting any response would be a waste of time, don’t you agree?

  2. Douglas says:

    Thank you for writing this article, it is very well written, informative, and helpful for a starter like myself. Though I am having some trouble-

    I have identified several abandoned, aged 12 year old+, PR 5+, 1-3k unique/m*, sites that have not been updated for 3-8 years. The problem is that the owners are unreachable, whois does not provide anymore than an e-mail address (not private registration) and the website does not have much in the way of contact information. They also expire around 2015+. What would you recommend as a way to contact the owners so I can make a valid offer on their abandoned sites?

    Thanks.

  3. Sukh says:

    Tommy

    Great article about finding traffic stats but how do you find site at first to check the stats (unless I missed something in your article)

    It is great to know how to use these sites to estimate traffic but if you don’t know domain or site name then they are worthless.

    Hope to see an article about how to find the site/domain to check traffic stats.

    Thanks

  4. Tommy says:

    We’ll be getting to actually identifying the sites in a subsequent post. This is background information that you must have in order to understand the methodology that we use in order to find the sites.

  5. Tommy says:

    This is a common problem. Sometimes you really just have to give up, but there is huge opportunity in being the ONLY one to get through to owners that are mostly unreachable. I’m actually going to be doing an entire post on contacting the owners as a part of this series.

  6. Tommy says:

    That actually is pretty much how I do it. I’ve just gotta give you this background information first so that everyone will understand my methodology. You’ll understand everything a bit better when you see my next post ;)

  7. Douglas says:

    Thank you for the reply, it is to often that bloggers will not reply to their readers questions, very nice.

    I look forward to your future articles on the subject, especially one of contacting the owners and best practices regarding that.

    Thank you.

  8. Craig says:

    Thank you for this very excellent post, I look forward to the next installment!

  9. motley says:

    Thanks for this great series of articles. I’m a website flipper, but I sell stater sites which requires a lot of setups every day.

    I’m really interested to switch to a website flipping model as you describe.

    Are you already writing the next part of the article? I hope you are :)

    Thanks again,
    Dmitrij

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