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Building a successful website from the ground up is difficult. Usually, it takes at least 6-12 months before the site really starts earning anything significant.
Today, I’m happy to share this interview with Stephen Hockman about his experience creating a new site and selling it for $128,000 after just one year. Stephen has also sold a few other sites, including one that went for a high six figure amount.
Stephen shares a lot of detail in this interview, and I think you’ll enjoy it and come away inspired.
Key points and takeaways:
- Stephen built a site in the chainsaw niche and sold it one year later for $128,000.
- The site was sold through Empire Flippers.
- Stephen monetizes all of his sites with affiliate programs and display ads.
- He writes most of his own content rather than outsourcing everything.
- Stephen uses a combination of buying guides and informational articles with internal links.
- He builds all of his sites from scratch rather than purchasing existing sites.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
My name is Stephen Hockman and I am the founder of SEO Chatter, a website that teaches the fundamentals of SEO for beginner marketers.
I first got into making websites as an online business back in 2003. eBay was quite popular at that time and I tried to create my own version of it called N2Ads. It didn’t go very far but my passion for creating websites that made money online grew from that experience.
Around 2007-2008, I stumbled across a guy named Ed Dale who offered a free course called the 30 Day Challenge. It was a course that taught you how to create and rank simple websites that earned passive income through affiliate marketing. After putting the tips into action on a free blogging platform, I earned my first dollar online through the Amazon Associates Program and instantly became hooked on this business model.
From there, I became obsessed with SEO and all things related to affiliate marketing and building niche websites. I went full-time into niche site building and affiliate marketing in 2019 after I had surpassed the annual income from my full-time job for several years in a row.
What types of websites and monetization methods do you prefer?
I prefer to monetize websites with both display ads and affiliate products and will run both monetization methods on every web page, regardless if it is an affiliate buying guide or informational post. This is a great combination to earn money passively from every visitor who views a web page and from the people who are actively looking to purchase products that fulfill a desire or need.
I also like to create digital products and books to sell to the audiences because those products can be created once and sold over and over again to make a higher profit.
Have you ever purchased an existing site, or do you always start from scratch?
I always start my websites from scratch because of three reasons:
- I like to create a good brand name for the site that’s unique and memorable.
- I find it easier to grow sites from scratch in terms of traffic and earnings.
- I can make a higher return on investment (ROI) by building new sites and selling them versus purchasing an existing site for 30-40x monthly earnings and trying to boost the income further than what it’s already earning.
What’s your approach for content creation?
I primarily write the content myself because I have not had good luck with outsourcing. I’ve tried a lot of freelancers and writing agencies and the quality goes down fast after the first 1-2 sample articles. I often have to spend hours editing the articles for accuracy and to fix grammatical errors which ends up defeating the purpose of trying to save time by outsourcing.
However, for some article types (e.g., info posts), I will outsource content that is between 500-700 words just to get the first draft complete for me to post quickly with minimal time spent editing because the content is short. I’ve noticed that most freelance writers are better at writing “what is” content rather than “how to” content because they don’t have to have real expertise in the subject matter to create a basic “what is” style informational post.
I’ve also experimented with using ChatGPT for content; however, the information is typically too generic or surface level to post the content as in on my sites. I always need to include additional details, bullet points, and headings to help fill out the content to best meet the search intent of the user.
In my experience, AI tools like ChatGPT are good for speeding up the first draft process but fall short for creating an entire article from scratch without editing and fleshing out the content to demonstrate experience and expertise. I pay a lot of attention to the quality and accuracy of the content for my users because, ultimately, that will help my content stand the test of time for Google’s ranking algorithms.
How has your approach changed or evolved due to Google’s Helpful Content Updates and Product Review Updates?
I’ve always tried to make my content as helpful as possible so the Google Helpful Content Update has not altered my approach to creating content. My aim with every article I post is to satisfy the user’s needs.
During the initial outlining process, I ask myself, “If I was the searcher who landed on this page, does this content include all of the sections necessary to meet my needs?” If not, I reassess the outline and add in the sections that are missing to make the content as beneficial for the user as I possibly can.
I prefer this approach before hitting the publish button so I don’t have to go back and update the article later in order to compete in the search engine results pages (SERPs) against other sites who are taking the time to make the best content for the user.
As for the Product Review Updates, demonstrating first-hand experience and explaining how each product reviewed on the page compares to the other items in the list is a core element of my strategy. I’ve always done this in the past, but with less emphasis on explaining exactly why each product is better or worse than the others in the list. I would typically mention one or two things but now it’s good to fully flesh out as many reasons as possible to help guide the reader to purchasing the best product for their needs..
Before the Product Reviews Updates, I also neglected to offer first-hand experience details in every product review on a buying guide. It wasn’t really required. Now, I make sure to include those first-hand experience elements in the content for each product reviewed to add authenticity and establish trust for the user and Google’s ranking algorithm.
Examples include original photos (if I have them), personal remarks based on testing, and unique information not found in other competing posts (this can be gathered by watching unboxing videos on YouTube).
You sold a one-year old site for six figures. That’s quite an accomplishment! Can you tell us about that site?
That site was focused on the chainsaw niche. The sale happened several years ago so I forgot the exact details about traffic and earnings, but I do remember earning around $4,000 per month from Mediavine display ads and Amazon Associates. Traffic was probably around 4,000 to 5,000 pageviews per month. It was a great-earning site for the amount of traffic it had.
I built that site from scratch with the goal of selling it within one year and I met that goal. I sold the site for $128,000 which was around 32x monthly earnings.
The way I built the site was I created all of the buying guides first, then created the supporting articles for each buying guide. For the buying guides, I targeted keywords like “best electric chainsaws”, “best small chainsaws”, “best chainsaw gloves”, etc.
For each of those buying guides, I made sure to write at least 3-5 informational articles that could support the guide by including a keyword optimized internal link.
For example, I would support the “best electric chainsaws” buying guide by creating information articles like “how to start an electric chainsaw”, “do electric chainsaws need oil”, and “types of electric chainsaws”.
As a result, each buying guide had 3-5 (or more) topically related articles with optimized internal links to help boost the on-site signals for the keywords I wanted those target pages to rank for in Google.
As for backlinks, I created local citations, niche edits on outdoor-related sites, and built branded web 2.0 properties to help increase the off-site SEO signals. I did not create any social media profiles for the site. From my initial research, the competition was quite weak in terms of Domain Authority (DA), so the site did not require a lot of backlink power to rank high in Google.
What were your keys for achieving so much success within just a year of starting the site?
At the time, the chainsaw niche was not very competitive. The current-ranking sites had low-quality content and very thin content. Plus, there were many low DA sites ranking in the top 10 positions on Google for the target keywords around chainsaw buying guides. I had basically stumbled across a “hidden pot of gold” in a sense and knew I could beat the competitors by publishing higher-quality content.
From my research, I realized that I didn’t need to have a ton of backlinks to rank, so I jumped on that niche to capitalize on growing and earning from it as fast as possible before other SEOs took notice of the chainsaw niche and that strategy worked out quite well.
Jumping on a hot opportunity, plus building the site like I previously mentioned are what led to achieving so much success in one year after starting the site.
Why did you decide to sell the site so soon, rather than holding on to it?
My goal was always to build the site and sell it within one year. I never wanted to hold on to it. I wanted to generate the highest ROI for my time and effort which went exactly as planned.
You’ve also sold some other sites. Can you tell us about those?
I’ve sold several sites for $10,000 or less that were just fun, quick projects I wanted to work on as well as a big site I had spent years growing that sold for a high six figure price. The big site was in the home niche and I used all the same practices I’ve mentioned so far to help make it successful.
One tactic that worked very well to get backlinks to the buying guide pages for the big site, which is typically hard to get natural links to because they are affiliate posts, was reaching out to the brands I recommended on thost pages via email and social media direct messages. I told the brands that their product “made the top 10 list” and if they wanted to share it on social media or post a link from their news or resources section, then here is the URL.
Several major brands gave me a free backlink to the post from that basic outreach method. Having an established brand name in the niche, an active social media presence, and established rankings for other buying guides on Google are what helped this method work as well as it did.
For that big site, I also exhausted an entire content vertical for the niche before moving on to another category. For example, I published all of the buying guides for a category like “air conditioners” as well as a ton of informational articles on that topic before I moved on to “heaters”.
Following that strategy allowed me to build up the topical authority on each category much faster than trying to rank for all of the categories at once (i.e., spreading the topics too thin) with only a few posts each.
How did you find buyers for your sites?
I used Empire Flippers to sell the sites that were in the six figure range, which took several weeks to finalize the deals. I went this route to make it easier to sell to qualified buyers and for added protection during the sale.
Empire Flippers is a full-service brokerage and one of the leading marketplaces for buying and selling websites and online businesses.
- More than $450 million of online businesses sold
- Large marketplace with many active listings
- Huge audience of buyers and investors
The cheaper sites were sold just by mentioning them to people in the SEO industry that I had a site for sale. Those were private deals that were closed in a matter of a day or two from interested parties without much worry about someone ripping me off.
What lessons did you learn from your experience selling sites?
I learned that you have to be patient when selling sites, especially the higher-priced sites. In my experience, when you’re selling a site in the six figure range, potential buyers put a lot of effort into the due diligence process. It can take several weeks to get an offer and/or finalize a deal.
I also realized early on that you should be tracking the Profit and Loss (P&L) for all earnings and expenses in a spreadsheet on a monthly basis. I was not doing that before my first higher-priced site sale and it was a pain having to dig up that data for the previous 1-2 years in order to make the site listing attractive to buyers.
Additionally, it’s important to be prepared to offer support for the buyer after the sale is completed. Most of my buyers continued to ask questions about how the sites were set up, where things were located, ways I was optimizing specific elements, etc, for several weeks to months beyond the sale.
Also, just because the going rate for selling a website is 35-40x monthly earnings, for example, does not mean you are going to get that price from a buyer. As site creators, we all want to think that we can sell our sites for the maximum price, but in reality, you can only sell it for what a potential buyer wants to pay.
In my case, one site I sold went for a lower price than I expected after Empire Flippers gave it a high listing price that I was excited about. That’s because the site had declining traffic for a few months prior to listing which worried some potential buyers. As a result, many buyers thought the site was too risky to purchase based on the declining traffic. This led to a lower final offer from a potential buyer than I anticipated based on the listing price. But in the end, I felt I got a fair price for the site after all was said and done.
Going through that experience also leads to another point worth mentioning. If you sell your site on a marketplace, then you have no clue what type of buyer will purchase your site. It could be a solo operator who is new to the business model, an agency that is looking to acquire more sites for its portfolio, or a website flipper who wants to snag a great deal for a quick turn around to make a profit. Each type of buyer will have various requirements for the site they ultimately want to buy, which impacts the final valuation and sales price.
My advice for new sellers is to hope for the best price, but also set a lower limit you would be happy to walk away with in case you don’t get the maximum price you wanted. In the end, it may be better to offload a site you wanted to sell for $125,000 at $115,000, for example, than to not be able to sell it at all by not budging on the price. Your expectations have to match reality when it comes to the final negotiation stage with various types of buyers and the current state of your site’s traffic and earnings.
What are you working on now?
My primary focus is on SEO Chatter, where I teach every aspect of search engine optimization, including keyword research, on-page SEO, content creation, backlink building, etc. My goal is to make that site one of the best resources online for beginner marketers to learn SEO strategies.
I just launched Biblevise which is a website that encourages people to read their Bibles. This is a personal project of mine that I feel called to build based on my Christian faith because so few people actually read their Bibles even though it is the best-selling book year after year. The goal is to make the act of reading the Bible less intimidating and to give people actionable reading plans to follow so they feel excited to open it up on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Thank you Stephen for taking the time to answer these questions and share about your experience.
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