How I Sold a Blog for $20,000 in 8 Months
In my first year of University I sold a blog for almost $20,000 after only eight months work.
It was then that I realized that making money online was something I really wanted to give a shot. Since that time I have sold several other blogs for similar price tags. In this post I am going to show you what I did in those eight months and how you can create a blog that someone might just want to pay big money for.
I am going to divide this post into three sections:
- The pre-blogging stage
- Building a blog worth some money
- Selling your blog
Nothing in this post is particularly insightful or new, if you know where to look. What I wanted to do though was write a post that lays out the whole process so that everything is in one place and you can continue to come back and reference it as you move forward.
The pre-blogging stage
This section is about all those little things you need to do before you start your $20,000 blog. If you already own and run a blog then you should still read it and just see if you think it is worthwhile continuing with your current project or perhaps starting something new. Most of the time you will be able to keep doing what you are doing by just making a few little tweaks.
1. Write a blog you believe in, or pay the price
One of the things all the pro’s tell you is that you need to do something you love. I know how tacky it sounds. Every time I read it I die a little bit inside. But, to be honest, it is actually a really important thing to think about both from a self fulfillment point of view and a profit point of view. Here’s why.
Firstly, if you spend eight months working on something you don’t believe in or something that disagrees with your personal morals then you are going to end up hating yourself for wasting that precious time. Unless you really believe in the project then don’t even bother doing it because you will end up with lots of regrets later on. I, for example, would never do anything in the adult industry because I don’t believe it has a good impact on society.
Secondly, if you don’t enjoy working, writing and building the blog you will lose interest after about a month. Glen from Viper Chill talks about this a lot. The initial excitement of making a bucket load of cash wears out really fast, especially if it doesn’t go as fast as you anticipated. If you don’t enjoy writing those posts you will pay the price from a profit point of view.
2. Pick a niche with depth
The next thing you need to do is pick a niche, but make sure it has depth. You need some room to move and grow and expand. If you pick something too narrow you will find your readership doesn’t expand despite all your hard work. If you pick something too broad you will find it is far too hard to compete with the existing sites.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you really want to do a blog about content or copy or sales writing. It would be very hard to compete with Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com as he is largely considered the authority blog on this niche. But if you had some experience with offline sales copy you might want to write a blog that is more focused on that – sign writing, brochures, TV ads, etc. You have a niche but it is not too big or too small.
3. Don’t worry about dominating the niche
When I first started trying to make money from blogs I wanted to have the biggest and the best blog on that particular topic. I was frustrated if I was ranking number four or five on Google instead of number one. But after time I realized something. You don’t need to dominate the niche entirely to make money. Sure, being number one is amazing but it isn’t a requirement. The internet is big enough for you to still be successful without being the dominating website in your niche. Remember that.
4. Have an idea about how to monetize the blog
Before you start this journey you want to have some idea about how it is going to make money. Why? Because people are only going to buy your blog if it is profitable. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you get, how many great articles you have, etc. unless you make a good profit. I have seen some amazing blogs for sale that get tonnes of traffic and have some really good subscriber levels but buyers just aren’t interested in them unless they can see a way to turn a profit without much effort.
5. Choose a good domain name and brand the blog well
In this post on choosing a domain name I talked a bit about how to choose the right domain name for your branding. This is SUPER important when trying to sell a blog as people are essentially going to be buying your brand equity – your reputation. The blogs that do really well are the ones that get a lot of traffic, make money but also the one’s that people know about. Make sure you differentiate yourself from the competition in both your look, feel but also the content your produce. It is something you cannot ignore.
6. Set up your blog on WordPress
If you want to sell your blog for $20,000 you need to be on WordPress. Why? Because it is a blogger’s dream. It let’s you add hundreds of different free plugins that change the way your site works, it is perfectly optimizable for Google and allows you to post articles with ease. I really am a little bit obsessed with it. If you don’t use WordPress to publish your blog then you are not giving yourself the best advantage. I will be writing a lot more about how to use WordPress to your advantage so make sure you subscribe to the feed.
You’ll need your own host to do this. I’ve written an article about the best WordPress host that will help make the proces as simple as possible.
Building a blog worth some money
Now I want to go into the stage where you actually have a blog and are trying to gear it towards a sale in a few months. I want to go through all the things I did (and do) in order to give it the best possible chance of selling.
1. Produce a lot of valuable content
The most important thing you need to do is produce content that is valuable. And you need a lot of it. The whole purpose of a blog is to help users in some way so unless your content is doing that you are going to fall short.
So what does valuable content mean? Well that is what you have to figure out for your particular site. Sometimes valuable means having a lot of articles that touch on a lot of different keywords and as such bring in large volumes of traffic that click ads. Other blogs get better results by getting subscribers to sign up and then selling them affiliate products over time. I have had websites that work both ways – it depends largely on the niche and the way you structure and run your site.
Figure out what will make your content valuable and produce it accordingly. Keep tweaking it over time as you may find that it takes a while to get into the right rhythm.
2. Have a clear call to action based around that content
In marketing we have a thing called a call to action which basically means that you encourage your visitors to do something. Once you have figured out what type of valuable content you are producing you need to figure out your call to action based around that content. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you have a blog about the latest BP oil spill disaster. You might be producing content that is all about keeping people up to date with the developments of the leak – essentially a news site. In that case you might find that the best call to action is one where you ask people to subscribe to get the latest news on the progress. You know people are interested in what is happening now (otherwise they wouldn’t be on your site) so then it follows that they will be interested in future updates. Work with that.
3. Make it super easy to subscribe, comment and navigate your blog
Your blog’s content is what brings visitors to your site. The last thing you want is a crappy design sending them away. It is critically important that you have all the design elements in place so people can easily subscribe to your feeds, leave comments and navigate around all the different sections. Not doing so could cost you money.
Imagine you write a three part series on how to look after your heart. Now imagine it gets Dugg and Stumbled and starts to go viral. Thousands of people get sent to a post in that three part series. But what if you failed to show people how to navigate to the other parts in that series? You would lose a lot of readers on that initial page. That is a navigation issue – something that happens all the time.
Your design has to work with your content to get more page views, better interaction and more subscribers. Take a look at Darren Rowse’s multi-million dollar digital photography school blog – everything about the design makes you want to look further, explore different categories or buy a product from one of his affiliate links. None of it is an accident.
4. Interact with every single comment, email or forum thread
I once sent Darren Rowse an email telling him that I was having problems leaving a comment on his site. I told him not to worry about it too much as it was obviously working fine for everyone else. He replied in about ten minutes telling me that every single one of his readers were important to him and then tried to problem solve the issue with me. Instant fan for life.
You need to make your blog more than just a soap box platform and more like a discussion over coffee with mates. Talk to your readers in the comments, answer emails and take the time to make it feel like you care and you are available. Why? Because one loyal reader that returns each time you post something new is far more valuable than 100 visitors who don’t interact in any way. And you have to recognize that people become loyal to other people, not to random websites.
5. Install Google Analytics on day one
One thing I will talk more about later is the fact that all potential buyers who are serious about the transaction will want to look at your statistics. If you only have a few months on record then you will almost always lose the sale. This is a mistake I have actually made more than once. I get so caught up in just pumping out content that I forget to install the statistics. Here is why that is stupid.
Firstly, you need to constantly monitor your statistics to see what content, keywords and design elements are working on your website. If your bounce rate is 95% you need to start to figure out why. If 80% of your Adsense income is coming from just two successful posts don’t you think it would be a good idea to know which ones they were and optimize the crap out of them?
Secondly, if you can’t prove all of the statistic claims you make in your sale period then you won’t get a buyer. You need to have physical proof that you get a certain amount of views, rankings, clicks, etc. Syncing your blog with Adsense and Analytics is the best way to do this. Make sure you do it today if you haven’t already.
6. Spend 20% of your working time on other websites
This is an extremely important point. Please read it carefully. If you have 10 hours a week to work on this blog you need to spend two of those hours on other websites leaving comments, writing guest posts and interacting in a meaningful way. This might seem like a lot but, in actual fact, it is free advertising that gets you more readers, better rankings on Google and a bigger profile in the industry you are in.
- How to comment properly
Make a folder in your bookmarks called “Comment Blogs” and every time you find a website in your niche bookmark it for later. Each week you should visit all those websites and leave a comment or two on their latest posts or popular posts with a related link in the URL section. Make the comment useful and helpful and always related to the content of the article. In a few weeks I will show you how to find hundreds of relevant posts to leave your helpful comments.
Make sure you sign up with Gravatar with an image that will represent you for years to come. You want people to instantly recognize the logo or picture and associate it with great comments and a good knowledge base.
- How to guest post properly
The best guest posts are the one’s you write an have to sit and think about whether you actually want to post it on your own website because it is so damn good. Find the top guys in your niche and email them casually about some unrelated topic. Perhaps chat to them on Twitter for a few weeks in a cool and friendly way so you can build a rapport. Finally, when you have an amazing post written, send them your idea and a bit of an excerpt. Nine times out of ten you’ll get the gig.
Make sure your bio line in that guest post is very catchy and draws people over to your website. And make sure the links you include have a good anchor text with relevant SEO keywords. I have seen my rankings for particular phrases skyrocket after doing guest posts with good links on a top website. Don’t muck it up.
None of this should have the feel of spam. You are a real person interacting on other real people’s websites. Make sure you are adding something nice that represents your own website in a good way.
7. Plan your articles around keywords and topics and then people
You will often hear the big boys talk about writing for people, not search engines. And while that is a very good rule that you should abide by, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend a good deal of time making sure the topics you write about are keyword focused. You see, writing articles for Google is, in a way, writing for humans because Google build their search engine to help people find what they want. What I’m trying to say is you can’t do one or the other – you have to make sure your articles are written for both.
Here’s what you need to do. Brain storm a whole bunch of topics in your niche and then get online and start researching keywords. You need to come up with a whole bunch of main keywords. You then need to come up with a dozen long tail keywords for each of your main keywords. Once you have done that, you need to turn them into interesting questions/post ideas that appeal to real readers.
For example, you might run a blog about cooking. Your main keyword might be potato curry and your long tail might be recipe. You then have to create interesting articles around those two like Are Potato Curry Recipes Bad for Your Health? and How to Cook a Potato Curry Recipe in Five Minutes.
8. Develop social media accounts and leverage connections
A big part of building a successful blog is building successful social media accounts. Why? Because you can then use these accounts to promote your website and drive more traffic and better interaction. It is also a big plus when it comes to sale time – buyers love to see that you have Twitter and Facebook accounts with certain amounts of followers.
Sign up for an account under your real name if it fits with your blog’s strategy and then create a background image that sells your blog. Darren Rowse does it perfectly here. You should start by finding people in your niche and following them and some of their followers. Make sure all the people you engage are relevant to your blog. Tweet on a daily basis and reply to questions and interact with topics. Post any new article you produce on Twitter and occasionally ask for a re tweet. Again, if you provide value you will get a good response.
Make sure you install the Re Tweet plugin on your blog to make it easy for people to Tweet.
Facebook is becoming bigger and bigger in the blogging world as they make changes like adding a “like” button instead of “share this”. You can also now use FBML to change the look of your Fan Page to make it more unique and branded. Create a Fan Page, not a group, and develop a high res sidebar image that takes up all of the available 180px x 540px. Make sure your sidebar text has a call to action and feel free to add a fancy splash page using the FBML extension.
Don’t spam Facebook. Don’t use it as much as Twitter. You should think of it as more of a reminder that your website exists as opposed to a conversational tool like Twitter. Keep it simple by asking relevant questions about interesting topics.
You should also be on Stumble and Digg and all the others and make sure that you use them regularly. These things don’t really pay immediate benefits but, over time, they become extremely valuable for your blog and your long term success in the industry. This is especially true when you begin to connect with the big players in your niche. Such contacts often lead to valuable back links, guest posting jobs and so on.
9. Knowledge is power
The blogosphere is constantly changing. New technologies, plugins and trends emerge and it is vital that you stay on top of them. Furthermore, it is important that you become good at writing blog posts or outsourcing them efficiently, whatever it is you are doing. For these reasons and more you should read and then read some more. Follow blogs like Copyblogger, Problogger, Viper Chill, Dosh Dosh and SEOmoz and everything they write. These are guys who do it extremely well and pass on a lot of good information to their readers.
Selling your blog
Now we can get into the final curtain call, the time when you decide to sell your blog. In this section I am going to go through all the main things that you need to know in order to maximize your sale price, stay safe during the sale and finish it off quickly and without stress. Of course, if I miss anything please leave a comment and let me know.
1. Gather data and discover your site’s value
The first thing you need to do is figure out how much you are willing to sell your blog for. This is called valuation and is an area that is extremely controversial amongst web marketers. There are three questions that need to be asked and answered here:
- How much does it make?
How much does your site make per month, on average? Is that a consistent level or are you having spikes. Is that income stream at all inefficient and as such could be improved before or after the sale. Figure out exactly how much it makes before we move on.
- How much are you willing to let it go for?
Your blog might only make a few hundred a month but you might perceive it to be worth a whole lot more. This can be an issue at sale time as your potential buyers won’t have the same emotional attachment that you do. You also need to know this in case you want to reject the bids you get in order to develop it further.
- How much is someone willing to pay?
This is the ultimate answer and, realistically, the only relevant question. I have heard Yaro say it and I heard my dad say it to me when I was in high school. The only true valuation is what someone is willing to pay. The other methods are just speculative.
The general equation that people go by when it comes to website valuation is 12 x monthly revenue. So if your site makes $500 a month it is worth around $6000. That being said, I have seen blogs sold for closer to 24 x monthly revenue on a lot of occasions.
2. List your blog on Flippa.com and point other listings to that sale
The best place to sell your blog is, without a doubt, Flippa.com. This website is solely designed for selling websites and as such it has a lot of serious buyers with real money to spend on quality websites. There are other places to sell your blog but most of them don’t have the same protection and reputation that Flippa has so what I do is just use them to direct traffic to my Flippa listing. For example, you might want to create a thread on Digital Point Forums about selling your blog but then say that the purchase can only be made over at Flippa.
3. Create a truthful and enticing listing with all the necessities
Your listing must be enticing but it must also be truthful. If you lie on any of your statistics or earnings you will get found out. The guys spending $5k plus on websites know what a cheat looks like and the will, most of the time, take legal action if you mislead them. Make sure you sell your website as much as possible but don’t manipulate any of the facts.
Your listing should:
- Have a catchy title
The title is what draws attention to the sale. Make sure it is catchy and sells the benefits of your website. Include things like a high Page Rank, monthly income, large traffic numbers, etc. if they are what is working in your advantage. For example, if you have a lot of RSS subscribers but not much income your title could be something like: Cooking Blog with 5000+ Subscribers, Top Google Rankings, Massive Opportunity. Always take the option to list your sale on the front page of Flippa. It is expensive but worth it.
- Include screen shots of your data
You need to include screen shots of your important data items like traffic proof, income proof and so on. You can also go one step further and take screen shots of popular articles and Google rankings. This is not required but it really gets people interested. To take a screen shot on a Mac just do Command-Shift-4 and on a PC just press Print Screen and then Paste it into a blank Paint Canvas. Windows 7 users (well done!) you can just use the Snipping Tool. Make sure you blur out any sensitive information like account numbers and number of click in Adsense.
- Use dot points to show benefits
A website listing is just like a blog post – people only skim read. Use dot points and headers to divide your listing in to areas of traffic, revenue, subscribers, etc. You should also make a summary dot point list at the top of the sale showing all the advantages and benefits that the buyer will get when purchasing your site. Focus on benefits, not just features. If you have a number one Google ranking tell them why that is going to benefit their business.
Don’t be stingy on the amount of time you spend writing this listing. All your hard work can be undone by laziness at this stage. Spend some time looking at the other listings that have lots of bids and see what they did with their advert. Make sure you really have a tight, easy to read and enticing listing before you put it up.
4. Price it properly
When I list a price for my website I always put it at slightly higher than what it is worth using the 12 x monthly revenue model. This has the effect of leading your buyers to believe that it is a quality site and getting them to delve deeper to see why it is priced so. I then set the reserve price at the level I am ready to let it go for. What often happens is you get into negotiations with a potential buyer over email and work out a price that suits both parties. If you set your initial price too low than you can’t bargain up, only down. Keep this in mind.
5. Make sure your site is clean and working
Something that a lot of newbie sellers do is forget to tidy up their website before the sale. I even remember visiting one listing and noticing that the site had just been hacked. A very unfortunate bit of timing but you have to make sure it doesn’t happen when you are trying to make a good impression.
Before you post the listing up make sure your links all work, your site is cleanly coded and there are no cross browser design flaws. For example, sometimes people’s sidebars go a little out of shape in IE or Safari. Make sure all of these issues are sorted out before you sell.
6. Accept payment only through Escrow.com for above $5,000 sales
Escrow.com is a website that makes your sale very safe. Why? Because they only release the domain name to the buyer once you have received the money. Here’s how Escrow works.
You open an account and then create a transaction between you and the buyer. You both agree to terms and then the buyer send their money to Escrow’s third party website. You then send the files to the buyer and once they have approved them in the Escrow website they send you the money they have been holding. The idea is that you don’t send them the domain name until you are certain they are going to pay. Escow makes sure of that.
Paypal is a wonderful service but I have heard so many horror stories about people who have transferred their domain and then had the buyer charge back the money. They lost out big time. Quite often you can get your domain back but it is massive hassle I would try to avoid.
7. Check your local tax laws
Before you make that sale ring your accountant and check your local tax laws. In Australia, for example, if you sell an asset after owning it for less than a year you get an rather big tax penalty. Selling a blog after eight months might, in that case, be a bad idea. Make sure you know how much tax you are roughly going to be charged and what category the sale falls under. For example, is it part of your income or is it a capital gain?
If you follow these steps you will, hopefully, have a nice smooth sale of a very valuable website. Once you have done it once the task is then, as I am doing, to build tens or hundreds of them at once. Now that is a nice income! If you ever have any questions about your blog sale or development just drop a comment and I will try to help you out.