Up until now, this process has been mostly dealing with automated processes, statistics, numbers, math, databases, etc.  Contacting the owner is a whole new ballgame.  I honestly feel like I could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll do my best to summarize in one single blog post.

Once you narrow down a list of target websites, you can start contacting the owners to see if they would be willing to sell.  In my experience, I’ve found that you only end up buying ~1% of the sites on your target list.  But if your list is 1,000 domains long, that’s 10 sites!  You can’t go into this attached to any single website.  Most sites aren’t for sale.
I Built an Email Script

I built a semi-auto script to make it very easy and quick for me to send off custom-looking initial emails to the domains on my list.  It was simply a web form with the fields: Email, Domain, Low, High, SUBMIT!.
When you hit submit, this email gets sent off:
$to = “$email”;
$subject = “Interested in purchasing $domain_name”;
$message = “I’m interested in purchasing $domain_name – both the domain and content.  I’d likely be able to pay in the $low – $high range for it.  Let me know whether or not you are open to hearing a formal offer.
(My Name)
(My Company)
(My United States Address)
(My USA Telephone Number)”
Let’s break this down:

  • To Email –  This is sometimes tough to find.  Obviously, start by checking the “whois”.  Be sure to also look through the site to see if they left a contact email anywhere.  If you find multiple email addresses of potential owners, you can send off multiple initial emails.
  • Domain - Duh, the domain that you want to buy.
  • “both the domain and content” – You want to make it clear right off the bat that you want both the domain and content.  Sometimes sellers are only willing to let go of the domain, and have some emotional attachment to the content.  The sites I would target (and the ones you are also probably targeting) rank well because of their content.  I typically wouldn’t ever buy a domain without the content.
  • Low/High – This is going to be your off-the-cuff estimate for the site’s value.  On my spreadsheet, I had all the data about each site right there in front of me (alexa, SEMRush, Compete, etc.)  I used some Excel magic to come up with a low and high range of value for each domain.  The reason I include this on the initial email is to help weed out the owners that have an insane valuation of their website.  It also helps show that I’ve spent some time examining the value of their website, and having a dollar amount portrays a more serious buyer.  The values would be rounded to the nearest $100, so they would come out looking like ($3,200 to $7,800).
  • “open to hearing a formal offer” – This is to show them that you have ran the numbers to come up with a hard offer, but will spend the time to do so if they are actually willing to sell.
  • Name/Company/Address/etc – A lot of the time, a website owner might think this is a scam, being offered money out of nowhere for their website that they had forgotten about.  A proper email signature with an address in a familiar city might help ease their nerves.

While I built a web-form to help speed up the process of sending initial emails, these emails might end up getting caught in spam filters more often.  If you manually wrote the emails straight in Gmail or whatever, it might make it into the owner’s inbox more frequently.

Then I Built a Follow-up Script

I would give them a few weeks, and then throw their contact info into the follow-up-anator 5,000.  This is another script that I made that will send a follow up email once every 2 weeks until I remove them from the follow-up list.  It will randomly send out one of several pre-scripted messages that make it look like I’m a real human who is not trying to scam them.  Here’s an example follow-up email:

“Hello,

I’m contacting you because I’m interested in purchasing $domain – both the domain and content.  I sent you an email some time ago, but never heard back.

Since your site was started way back around $year, there’s a chance you don’t use this email address anymore.  If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll keep following up and trying to find different ways to contact you (other email addresses, facebook, telephone, snail mail, carrier pigeon, ESP, etc.)

If you aren’t interested in selling for any price, kindly let me know and I won’t ever bug you again.

If there is a chance you are willing to make a deal, let me know and we can talk more.

Looking forward to hearing from you!”

If I were to do this again, I’d create some sort of email series that they receive for a set time if they don’t respond in a given amount of time.  You can then tweak this series of emails to best suit your needs.  Also, you’ll know when they finish the series of emails unsuccessfully, and be able to go to more extreme methods of contact to get in touch with them.

If you STILL don’t get a response

Which, you probably won’t.  I’d say that at least 50% of people NEVER respond.  Don’t get broken-hearted.  There are a few more steps I sometimes do to get a hold of the owner:

  • Pick up the phone – The whois will often times have a contact phone # listed.  Call them.  If they don’t answer, leave a message explaining that you’ve been trying to get a hold of them regarding the sale of the site, and since the domain is so old, you’re going to assume that if you never hear back, your calls/emails are getting lost in cyberspace.
  • Snail mail – The whois will also have an address.  Print out a letter and mail it to them.
  • Scour the website for contact possibilities – Maybe the site has a guestbook?  Contact us form?  Comment system?  Anything that can be used to notify the owner that you want to give them cash money for their website.
  • Be a detective – Sometimes they will list personal information, such as their name, business name, location, anything.  Use Google, Facebook, Linked In, Bing, Twitter, MySpace, Youtube, Google+,  or whatever to try and dig up some alternative way of getting in touch with the owner.  The owners who are hardest to get a hold of are probably your best profit opportunities.
  • Check the expiration date and backorder – If the owner is completely MIA, they might not pay to renew the domain.  You can scoop it up for under $100 (just the domain though) through a backorder service like SnapNames.com.

When you FINALLY get a response

You’ll get a variety of responses.  A lot of them are very unique, so simply require common sense and negotiating skills.  Here are the most popular and how I’ll typically respond:

  • “No thank you” – Great.  You can cross this one off your list.  Be sure to respond with something open-ended and nice: “Totally understandable.  Thanks for getting back to me.  Let me know if you ever have a change of heart!”
  • “What an insult!  My website is worth $100 billion” – At least you get to cross them off your list.  I will come back with something passive-aggressive like: “It is understandable that you may value your website highly.  I simply cannot justify making an offer above $xxx for (domain).”
  • “Actually, www.UselessOnlineWebsiteValueCalculator.com says my website is worth $xyz!” – Man, this annoys me so much.  There are dozens of those automatic website value calculators out there.  I’ve seen some that show a value for my website which is less than I make in a month!  I’ve also seen them value websites that make NOTHING at tens of thousands!  Anyway, I usually come back with a few points.  I try to word it in a way that isn’t too mean:
    • “Its good that you are doing your research before selling the website you’ve worked so hard on…”
    • “There are dozens of these online calculators, all with very different values” – then I’ll go through and link them to 5 different value calculators that show a considerably lesser value.
    • “Value calculators do the estimate automatically without actually looking at your site”.
    • “I have cash behind my offer, and am ready to buy your site; these value calculators do not represent cash real offers”.
  • “Maybe, but I don’t want to sell you the content!” – I will typically let them know that the content is a big part of the deal.  Sometimes its just a matter of removing their name from the site, or just a portion of the content.  If they are still hesitant about the content, just come back with a super-low-ball offer for just the domain, and then get a cheap writer to come up with your own content.
  • “What are you planning on doing with it?” – They typically don’t want you to turn their baby into a porn site.  I’ll usually say something to the effect of: “I specialize in acquiring older sites and fixing them up.  I’ll start by applying a modern-looking template, improve the navigation, add user-interactive features such as a comment/question/answer system, and then try and recuperate my costs by selling a few ad slots”.
  • “I don’t know how to transfer a website, you seem like a scammer!” – Most people think that anyone on the internet is a scammer.  Kindly let them know that you’re willing to send them payment however they prefer (paypal, paper check, bank check), and you are the one sending them money.  Also, show them your facebook page, twitter account, past sites you’ve bought, personal blog, etc.
  • “Yes, lets do it!” – Finally they agree.

Congrats, you’ve just finished a 1,600 word post!  Next up: Making the Payment and Transferring the Website.

 

Locked Down my Travel Plans through 2013!

The first thing I did was buy my last plane ticket, from the US to Medellin, Colombia.  I thought this would be the most expensive plane ticket I’d have to buy, but it turned out to be the cheapest.  $150 for a flight from Dallas to Medellin, Colombia.  Would have been $117 if I didn’t have any luggage (they charge for carry-on items as well).  Spirit Airlines somehow managed to offer this ticket for a third of the price of everyone else.  I don’t want to know how they’re doing it.

My month of bumming around starts October 15th and ends November 13th.  After 11/13, I’ll be in Medellin until the end of the year.  The month of bumming around is going to look like this: Portland -> Reno -> SF -> Miami -> Savannah -> Atlanta -> Nashville -> Birmingham -> New Orleans -> SF -> Austin -> Dallas -> Medellin, Colombia.  Whew.  It was exhausting even typing that up.  All plane tickets have been booked.  Now just a matter of filling in the remaining details like lodging, rental car, etc.  Any suggestions or tips on those destinations would be appreciated!

I’m excited to move forward with the adventure, but also saddened to leave Portland.  By the time I leave, I’ll have called it home for nearly a year here.  I’ve had some incredible experiences and met some amazing people here.

I also get to go through another iteration of minimizing.  I’ll be shedding a ton of possessions, selling my motorcycle/car, and moving my life back into a backpack.  It’s nice to have to go through the process of elimination and minimization every once in a while.

 

A perfect example of an “aged” site.

So you’ve narrowed down your target list to about 50k worthwhile domains.  We now have to create a rapid-fire method to actually view each site and determine if there is any point in contacting the owner.

I built a script for “Sifting”.

This was a fairly simple script.  Since all your target domains are in a database, I built a web-based application.  It was a framed page, with just a top bar that has some basic traffic stats (PR, age, alexa, etc), and the buttons “ACCEPT” and “REJECT” at the top.  The lower/main frame would load the actual website directly.  The “Sifter” would briefly look at the page, and click “accept” or “reject”.  Once the button was pressed, it would save the answer to the database and automatically load the next site for review.

This really simplifies the process.  The “Sifter” only has to click once per domain.  I actually hired my little brother to do this task at $10/hour.  I believe it took him about 300 total hours to sift 50k sites.  It was a very unique job, and he often times had difficulty explaining to friends exactly what he did.  I was the only one who could relate on the perils of this task.

The one downfall with my method is that my little brother could definitely skip some potentially profitable sites.  If you wanted to take this a step further, I’ve had some ideas:

  • Outsource overseas on a per-site-sifted rate.  You could hire MUCH cheaper labor than my little bro at $10/hour.
  • Hire multiple “Sifters” and require a majority-vote to fully accept or reject a site.  This could help ensure the accuracy of this very subjective process.
  • Create as many automated filters as possible before the sifting process.  Build scripts to automatically search the sites for phrases such as “add to cart” (probably a sign that you don’t want to buy) or “guestbook/webring” (cha-ching!)

This is a VERY subjective process.

Trying to determine the likelihood an owner will sell simply by looking at their webpage is a pretty impossible task.  While I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and selling websites, I can’t call myself an expert at this.  I do know that there are some decent indicators though.

The bottom line is that you want to stay away from sites that appear to be active.  The whole point of going after neglected sites is that the owners will hopefully let them go for cheap.  Red flags that might indicate the owner will be reluctant to sell:

  • Sites that are continuously updated.
  • Sites with register/sign up buttons.
  • Add to Cart buttons or e-commerce sites.
  • Personal homepages, eg “BobsFamilyPhotos.com”.
  • Pages for real-life groups eg “SeattleRacingClub.com”.
  • Sites for showcasing art/photography/crafts/other stuff for sale.

Anyone who has been using the internet since pre-2000 can easily identify websites that are obviously antiquated.  This does not guarantee an owner that is eager to sell.  Also, the more neglected the site, the harder it may be to get in touch with the owner.

Bonus!  The 2,110 domains that made the cut!

I’m feeling generous today.  This is my final list of 2,110 domains that made it through all my filters, and that were “accepted” in the manual review process.  Some of these I have bought, others have rejected my offer, but most have owners that are MIA.  You may do whatever you like with this domain list.

target_domains.txt

Next up: contacting the owner and negotiating the sale/transfer.

 

Awesome travel backpack I saw at the store.  Complete with a flashlight and stuffed tiger.  Everything you need.  Almost bought it.

It’s been about 5 months since I’ve last posted about my travel plans.  At the time, I was thinking I’d head to South America at the end of September, maybe Bogota or Buenos Aeries, or both: Getting my Travel Mojo Back

I also posted about my 6-month plan for learning Spanish: How I am Going to Learn Spanish in 6 Months

First, I’ll talk about travel plans.

I’m very set on going to South America for 6 months, but I’m thinking of posting up in Medellin, Colombia or Mendoza, Argentina.  I was considering riding a motorcycle down, but that’s not happening.  Too much prep, and takes too long.  Also, my Spanish isn’t where I want it to be for an adventure like that.

I’m not going to leave until the first or second week in November.  I’ve got a tour through the Southern USA with my good friend John (who I traveled in Europe with) set up for the last two weeks in October.  We’re visiting: Miami, Savannah, Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, (Mobile) and New Orleans.  After, I’m flying down to South America.

Still planning on doing 6 months in South America, but I’d like to do less backpacking, and more living.  My business is still not as automated as I want it, so I can imagine I’ll need a place with reliable internet to continue working on everything.  Of course I’ll still be doing some side trips around South America here and there as well.  My little brother is currently studying in Sweden until June of 2013, so I’m still planning on leaving South America in May and flying up to Sweden to hang out with him, and spend the summer somewhere around there (Europe).

I’ve switched my socks, underwear, workout shorts and workout shirts to wool.  I have nothing but good things to say about wool clothes, especially for traveling.  More about my travel gear in another post.

5-Month Spanish Progress Report

I’m not even close to fluent.  But I guess that was to be expected.  However, I’m much more comfortable in a conversation.  I understand a lot more than when I started, however I’ve still got A LOT to learn.

What I’ve learned through this process is that there is MUCH more to learning a language than just vocab and verb conjugations.  So many phrases don’t translate exactly.  Spanish is such a different way of speaking than English is.  The most helpful things (in order of most helpful) have been:

  1. My 4x/week Skype Spanish tutor.  I’ve found that having conversations with her is the best way to drive in all the vocab, conjugations and grammar that I’ve been learning.  Also, having a real, living tutor that I pre-paid for a bunch of lessons really forces me to follow through and continue having the lessons each and every day.  She holds me accountable!
  2. Weekly Spanish Meet-Ups.  There are two meetup groups that I go to each week here in Portland.  Both have people with varying levels of skill, but there is always someone much more fluent than I to help teach me.  Again, I’ve also found the best way to REALLY learn the language is to practice actually using it.
  3. Spanish flashcards.  I use the program “Memory Lifter” and created a bunch of custom cards.  Its insanely boring, but helps increase my vocab/verb tenses.  I definitely need to use the vocab in conversation to really remember it though.
  4. Watching Spanish TV/Movies.  Its tough because it’s sometimes really hard to follow.  It helps when there are subtitles/CC in Spanish as well.  This is something I do more just for fun and to get a little bit more practice.
  5. I didn’t switch my phone/computer to Spanish because it was too annoying.

I figure that my Spanish comprehension will skyrocket once I arrive in South America, but I’m still trying to cram every last bit I can before leaving.  My plan is to continue taking Spanish lessons while there as well.

What I’ve Been Doing the Last 5 Months

The time seems to have flown by, even though I’ve done a ton.  I took trips to Arizona, California, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Boston and New York.  I went to two awesome music festivals (Sasquatch and Stagecoach), went skydiving again, and went on a lot of smaller adventures up here in the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve definitely enjoyed my time being settled down in one place, but also feeling the itch for something more adventurous.  More about my experiences as a non-nomad in another post.

…Part 4 of the Finding/Buying Aged/Neglected Websites series coming up!

 

I just realized it has been 2 months since the last post in this series.  I’m glad you are all patiently waiting.

In Part I, I explain why it is advantageous to buy aged/neglected sites directly from the original owners.

In Part II, I show you how to estimate a site’s traffic to help you get an idea of the value.

In this post, I’ll be showing you how to essentially short-list all the sites on the internet to just the ones that you might want to acquire.

Warning: This is a highly theoretical post.  There are MANY ways to build this list.  I programmed it myself in PHP/MySQL.  There are definitely other ways to do it.  Also, this is not a programming class.  There are a billion resources on the net if you want to learn how to program.  You’ll have to Google it.  Don’t ask programming questions here.  If you’re afraid to learn how to program, you can always find someone on Odesk or Freelancer to do the programming stuff for you.

Find Every Domain that Might be Worth Something

There are over 200 million domain names currently registered.  It wouldn’t make sense to manually estimate traffic and visit each one.  We are going to get a list of domains, and build a robot to create traffic estimates for every single one.

Start with the Alexa Top 1,000,000 domain list: http://s3.amazonaws.com/alexa-static/top-1m.csv.zip

Next, grab the Quantcast top 1,000,000 domain list: http://ak.quantcast.com/quantcast-top-million.zip

There will definitely be some overlap between these two lists, so you’ll want to build a script to somehow remove duplicates.

Narrow Down by TLD

At this point, you have a database of over a million unique domain names.  Each domain must have a morsel of value since it made it on either the Alexa or Quantcast top million list.

The first problem is that there are probably a bunch of international domains that you don’t want to waste your time with.  Or maybe there are international domains that you want to focus on.  Build a script to narrow down your list to just your target TLDs.  For example, I just focused on domains ending in: .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, etc.  I removed any with the ending .cn, .se, etc.

Collect all Traffic Indicators for Every Domain

In terms of programming, this is probably the most difficult.  You are going to want to build some sort of web scraper/API puller/etc to get data on every one of the domains remaining on your list.  Your final goal will be a database full of information about every single domain that is on your list.  There are probably 800k websites still on your list, so doing this manually is an epic waste of time.

The info you should have on each site should be:

Domain Age

The year that the site was registered is sufficient.  My script would look up each site in WayBackMachine and pull the year that the first copy was archived.  I’m 100% positive there are a dozen better ways to do this, however that is for you to figure out.

Alexa Rank

I built my script two years ago, so I believe things have changed.  You can get an API to pull Alexa information, but it looks like it is not completely free anymore.  I’m sure there’s a way pull the alexa rank for each site for free if you keep working at it.

Check out: http://www.alexa.com/siteowners/data

SEMRush Data

You could get away with just grabbing the Organic Search Traffic estimate, but it you might want to save more than just that in your database.  For example, if you also save the SEM data, this will tell you if the site is currently paying for ads on Google Adwords.  If a site is still paying for ads, it is a tell-tale sign that it is NOT neglected.

Check out: http://www.semrush.com/api.html

Compete

You’ll also want to gather the Compete Estimated Traffic figures for each and every site on your list.  From what I remember, I was limited to 1,000 API calls with the free version.  I set up a cronjob to make sure I got my 1,000 API calls each day, and I might have only grabbed Compete data for sites that already had decent ages, alexa rank and acceptable SEMRush data.

Check out: https://www.compete.com/developer/

Quantcast

From what I remember, I simply could not figure out how to get this one to work.  I figured I had enough data about each site already, but it definitely would be nice to also get a Quantcast rank for each of the sites in your database.

Again, I built my script about 2 years ago.  Today, you might want to check out: http://www.quantcast.com/learning-center/guides/quantcast-silverlight-api-guide/

Other Info Worth Gathering

If you can already fill your database with the above stats, you’ll have a great resource to really narrow down a list of 20-80k sites that would be worth buying.  However, there is a ton more info you can scrape from each site to help narrow down your list further:

  • Adsense – If a site already has adsense on it, odds are that the owner will know roughly what the income potential is, and therefor not be willing to sell it super cheap.
  • Guestbooks/Webrings/Frontpage – If you come up with a list of archaic web buzzwords, you could automatically check every site to see which sites on your list still have these words present.
  • Whois Contact – It would definitely keep things organized if you can gather the contact info for every single site on your list.

Complete Your Database in a Timely Manner

My database is 2 years old.  It is pretty much useless at this point.  Things change quickly on the internet, so you’ll want to either complete your database quickly, or program your scripts in such a way that everything is always auto-updating.

Using your Database to Identify Potential Acquisitions

Your database will help take you from a million target domains down to a much more manageable number.  This will eliminate the 900k sites that don’t receive enough traffic to justify an acquisition.  Even when have a list of 50k potential targets, this is still WAY too many to try and contact every single owner.  In the next post, I’ll show you my method of streamlining the manual review that should take place before deciding to target a site.

 

After doing the Reddit IAmA, and a guest post on Flippa, I’ve been receiving quite a few emails asking questions about my business.  A few are excellent questions – clearly the person asking the question has researched the topic, read through the posts on my site and would like to get my opinion on it.  However, most fall into the “stupid questions” category.  Your elementary school teacher might have told you that there are no stupid questions, but I can prove them wrong with some of the emails I get.

Most emails do not get a response.  I simply don’t have time to tell each person why their question is stupid, so I simply don’t respond to their email.  If you didn’t get an email back, here are some possibilities as to why:

You are asking a question that has been already answered in my blog.

This makes up approximately 50% of the emails that I get.  ”How do you make money online?”.  ”How can I start my own online business?”.  If you aren’t going to take the 5 minutes to read through my public writing, why would I spend any of my own time to personally respond to your message?

You are asking for personalized help.

“Hey, I just started the website CuteDoggiePictures.com and I’m trying to get more traffic and revenue, will you look at it and give me feedback?”.  No.  Not to sound like a jerk, but I don’t have the time to give personalized feedback on your website.  Part of becoming a successful entrepreneur is being able to figure things out on your own.  Also, I’m not a consultant, so I’m not interested in taking your money to look at your website.

You are asking me if you can ask me questions.

“Hey, I’m thinking of building a website because I don’t like my job and want to make money online.  Will you be my mentor?”.  No.  Especially because you haven’t even lifted a finger yourself.  I know way too many people who are always saying they want to start a website.  They talk about it for years and years and simply never take action.  I’ve wasted tons of time coaching friends who are like this, and definitely won’t waste time coaching strangers.

Your question is either way too vague, or the answer is simply “It depends”.

“Do you think that I should advertise on Facebook?”.  How am I supposed to know?  Facebook ads obviously work for some industries/website and not at all for others.  I’m not the all-knowing-Zeus of websites.

You want to do business with me, but have nothing to offer.

My business is extremely niche, so odds are that you really have nothing of value to bring to the table, especially if you explicitly state that you are a complete newbie.  If you want to start a website with me, the answer is no.

Blog comments are MUCH more likely to receive a response.

Again, I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, I’m just being efficient.  I do receive plenty of good questions which I use to help shape some of my informative blog posts.  If you read a post and would like further clarification on something, just post a comment!  I’m much more likely to answer a question publicly where it can help hundreds of individuals rather than privately emailing one individual an answer.

=======

The next post in the series of finding and buying aged/neglected sites is still under development!  There is a lot of info in there and it is taking me a while to compile everything I want to say about the strategy.

 

One of my good friends in Australia (Almog) is also a successful internet entrepreneur.  I was lucky enough to be the guest star for his first interview ever!  I think it went pretty well.  We talk a lot about the start of my flagship site, and how it grew to be what it is today.  Almog does a lot of affiliate marketing, but is starting to transition into running an authority community-based website instead.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think!  It’s like an hour and a half long, so grab some popcorn.

www.incomedude.com/podcast/1-TommySupplementReviewsInterview.mp3

 

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!

 

I’ve done a lot over the last 2 years.  I was hoping to squeeze everything into one blog post.  That just won’t happen.  There is simply too much background knowledge and details I must explain.  If I tried explain everything in one post, it would be several pages long, and I would most certainly leave a bunch of important items out.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

Why Listen to Me?

Well first of all, I’ve got over $200k worth of website sales on Flippa: https://flippa.com/users/166521 (You must be logged into Flippa to view this link) – Here is a link to all my previously sold websites: https://flippa.com/buy/search?q=username%3Anoonanco&sort_col=timestart&sort_dir=desc&status=all

I’m not some keyboard jockey, typing up useless guides for linkbait to my ad-rich blog.  I’ve actually gone out, done the work, made the money and am reporting my findings on the subject.

First, the Basic Earning Strategy

There are some total newbies reading this blog, so I’ll lay out the foundation before going deeper into the acquisition process.  The whole idea revolves around the business model of setting up websites, getting free traffic from Google, and monetizing the websites through Adsense or other affiliate/advertising sources.  Optimizing the site to rank higher in Google is a practice known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.  A lot of factors go into ranking, including keyword placement, backlinks and even site age.  Making money from a high-traffic site is pretty easy through Adsense.  If you don’t know what Adsense is, Google it.

I do a pretty good job explaining this in further detail in this post: How My Websites Make Me Money.

Why Aged Sites?

Anyone can go to Godaddy.com and register a domain name.  It costs less than 10 bucks and takes less than 5 minutes.  You throw up some useless content, grab a few backlinks and hope for the best with Google.  Sometimes you’ll get a few hits, sometimes you’ll get none.  Either way, Google doesn’t really fancy new sites that pop up overnight.  Of course, I’m simplifying, but just know that it is easier to get traffic to a site that is already getting traffic than it is to a site that doesn’t already get traffic.  Duh.

When you buy an older site, you are getting a lot more than a domain name.  You are getting something that has been in Google’s index for a while.  You are getting a site that already has a ton of backlinks, backlinks that are OLD, and backlinks that are coming from other aged sites that Google probably views favorably.  The internet wasn’t overrun by spammers and scammers back in the day, and in general, quality sites seem to stick around longer than spammy ones.

Furthermore, aged sites seem to have more stable search engine rankings.  I’ve seen new sites pop up and then disappear, or get “sandboxed” by Google.  (Again, google it if you don’t know what sandboxing is).  Sites that are still ranking well with the same static content will probably continue to rank well for a while.  Sites that get a spike in traffic because a linkbait article went viral, aren’t terribly stable.  You get the point.

Lastly, if you are already receiving favorable traffic/rankings, you’ll be able to leverage that into new ventures with the site.  For example, starting a forum/community because the site already gets a ton of traffic.  Or ranking well for new terms because you are linking to fresh content on the homepage.  Traffic/rankings have a lot more potential than the immediate Adsense earning power.

You can find out how old a domain is by looking at the domain whois, or checking it out on the waybackmachine.  Domains that date back to pre-2004 are probably best.

Why Neglected Sites?

If someone is updating their website daily,  they are probably aren’t going to be interested in selling it for a reasonable price.  If someone set up a site 10 years ago and has since lost interest and/or completely forgotten about it, they are much more likely to cash out when you come in with a $x,xxx offer.

If a site is still ranking well, and it hasn’t been updated in 10 years, you’ve found your diamond in the rough.  (How can you tell if a site is still ranking well?  This will be covered in a later post)

You should keep an eye out for key indicators that a site is neglected:

  • Annoying background imagees
  • Ugly layouts/frames
  • The site has a “Webring” at the bottom of the page
  • The site has a “Guestbook”
  • Animated GIFs used in the layout
  • “Last Updated: (a long time ago)”
  • “Copyright: (2001, 2002, etc.)”

Generally, anything that was popular in webdesign 10 years ago, but is totally extinct today is pure gold.  Here are some “before” examples of websites which I did acquire (and eventually sold):

http://web.archive.org/web/20080531053321/http://www.monstertrucks-uk.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20080612100515/http://www.classicbodybuilders.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20080822091818/http://www.telephoneart.com/
http://web.archive.org/web/20080515235556/http://www.brain-surgery.com/ (this one had some phone numbers listed, but just looked so terrible I still pursued it)
http://web.archive.org/web/20080531073433/http://www.studyguide.org/ (you need to scroll down and to the side to find the content)
http://web.archive.org/web/20071218001329/http://fredericklawolmsted.com/

A couple warning signs might indicate that the site is still in use:

  • Sites that have phone numbers/addresses listed.  (You can always call and hang up to see if the phone number is still good)
  • Sites that have a log in/sign up button.  (You can try signing up/logging in to see if it still works)
  • Sites that mention recent current events or are obviously updated recently.
  • Sites with a calendar that has future events listed in it.  (Sometimes you’ll find an “Upcoming events” section with the “Next Event” in 2003.  Score!)

At this point, you should easily understand the advantage of pursuing aged/neglected sites.  You should also be able to easily identify a site that is aged/neglected.

In the coming posts, we’ll be getting into how to actually find these sites, how to see if they are still ranking, how to determine value, how to contact the owner, how to complete the transaction, what to do with your new website, and finally how to cash out by selling for a profit.

 

How I am Going to Learn Spanish in 6 Months

I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language, but a few things have been holding me back.

  1. I’m bad at memorizing things. I’m terrible with names, useless facts, dates, etc.  I can figure things out if there is a formula, but it’s really hard to derive Spanish words from their English counterpart.
  2. No necessity. I spent a few weeks in Spain last summer, but that didn’t really force me to learn any Spanish.  I spent a few months in Costa Rica in 2008, but was also graduating college in the months leading up to it, so I didn’t really put forth an effort to learn it.
  3. I’m lazy. Learning a new language takes a lot of work!  Hours a day and you don’t see the improvements immediately.

Well my impending South America trip is really sparking my motivation.  I intend to do a lot of the trip solo, and I’m seriously considering doing it on a motorcycle.  Being able to communicate effectively in Spanish will be critical for a successful journey.  I don’t need to be fluent by the time I leave.  I just want my Spanish to be better than most locals’ English so that our default language is Spanish.  If you are seeking out English speakers the entire time, you won’t learn much Spanish.

The 6-Month Plan

I’m starting out at a beginner level.  I barely passed my second year of Spanish in high school, so I really don’t have much of a foundation.  My plan is essentially to surround myself in the language every day, and force myself to understand it.  I’ll be attacking from all angles:

  • The 1,000 Word List: I found a list of the 1,000 most commonly used Spanish words with their English translations.  I printed the list out, which is 5 pages, double sided.  I’ve committed to memorizing 10 words a day for the next 100 days.  On the 100 day mark, (June 22nd) I’ll be testing myself on all 1,000 words.  I carry this list with me wherever I go, so I can keep studying wherever I go.  Standing in line, waiting for a friend, eating lunch, etc.
  • Skype Spanish Tutor: I found a Spanish Tutor in Mexico who I Skype with 3x per week, 50 minutes each session.  She charges $9/hour for a 1-on-1 Spanish lesson.  We chat back and fourth, go over exercises and she corrects my speech.  The lessons are rough, but very good practice.
  • Watching Telemundo/Univision: Instead of watching garbage like Storage Wars or Ice Road Truckers, I’ll just put on one of the two Spanish-language stations we get.  Just listening to people speak Spanish helps familiarize yourself with the pronunciation, word order and common phrases, even if you don’t understand what they are saying.  As a bonus, sometimes I’ll be able to pick up pieces of what they are saying, and be able to assume what some words mean based on the context and what I see on the screen.
  • Getting Sucked into a TV Series in Spanish: When I was sucked into the show Lost, I would always look forward to watching the next episode.  When the series ended, I felt like crap knowing how much time I wasted.  I vowed never to get sucked into another series again.  I recently realized that I can use that excitement to force myself to watch series in Spanish.  I started watching The Walking Dead in Spanish.  I’ll watch each episode in Spanish first, so I’m frantically trying to understand what’s going on.  I usually can’t quite figure it out, so I’ll watch it again in English to keep me interested in the plot line.
  • Reading Goosebumps in Spanish: I loved Goosebumps books when I was a kid because they were easy to read, and the story was always pretty captivating.  I bought a few of them in Spanish, along with their English versions and I’m slowly chugging through them.  I’ll read a paragraph in Spanish, try to understand what’s going on, then read that same paragraph in English so I stay on track with the story.
  • Speaking Spanish with the Roommates: I try to use my Spanish around the house as much as I can.  Playing ping-pong, we’ll keep score in Spanish, and even curse in Spanish if we lose a point.
  • Switching my Phone and Computer to Spanish: There are language settings on most devices, so switching to Spanish helps you get that much more exposure throughout your daily life.

Hopefully this will be enough to have a solid foundation by the time I leave for South America this fall.  As long as I keep the motivation up, I believe I’ll excel.  Maybe I should get a Spanish-speaking girlfriend?  Or maybe I should start posting on my blog in Spanish?  No es una buena idea!

If anyone else has some good ideas, let me know!

Adios amigos!