In this episode of the Domain Magnate show. Michael talks with Dom Wells, founder of Onfolio, about his experience managing content site portfolios. They also discuss the effects that COVID-19 has had on the industry and predict some of the trends we might see in the months to come.
Dom is the founder of Onfolio. He has been building, buying, and operating profitable websites since 2012. He’s an industry thought-leader, international speaker, and owns a 7 figure content site portfolio. Additionally, he has strong skills in operations and building systems.
SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS:
- 1:03 – 0:02:08 Dom shares a bit about OnFolio.
- 0:10:57 – 0:14:56 Discussing possible changes that may arise due to COVID.
- 0:31:21 – 0:34:28 Dom talks about his interest in buying display advertising sites.
- 0:49:13 – 0:50:04 Dom talks about his plans for selling.
- 1:01:05 – 1:01:52 Dom mentions his blog post about learning from past mistakes in business.
- 1:04:11 – 1:06:52 Dom shares his advice to those looking to buy their first site.
Michael Bereslavsky 0:10 Welcome podcast listeners. Today we have on our show, Dom Wells from OnFolio. Hi, Dom.
Dom Wells 0:18 Hey, thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Michael Bereslavsky 0:22 Thanks for joining. So Dom and I do some very similar things. We both buy and manage sites. So I’m really excited to discuss different aspects of that. I think it’d be really interesting to chat about.
Dom Wells 0:39 Yeah, definitely. I think there’s always so much to talk about so many different things to learn. So should be an interesting discussion.
Michael Bereslavsky 0:50 Yeah, so let’s jump right into that. And just for our viewers, give us a quick introduction to what you do what OnFolio does, a little bit more information about the company.
Dom Wells 1:03 Yeah, sure. Um, so basically OnFolio helps people to buy online businesses, specifically content websites. Yeah, how we do that is the majority of people that we work with want to own an online business, but they don’t really want to run it. They’re not looking to buy a job. So they basically hire us to do that part for them. And we help them to find a good website and then evaluate whether it’s a good website and what the risks are and what the growth opportunities might be. And then, if we decide, okay, yeah, this is a business we like we want to move forward. Then we help them do the migration to the negotiation with the seller, and basically take control of the website and then from there, our job is to run it for them and gro it. And turn, basically turn what is an active investment for most people into a passive investment.
Michael Bereslavsky 2:09 So do you guys manage all aspects of running a website, like setting up monetization methods like and being the head CEO doing the technical things, everything or just some of it?
Dom Wells 2:26 We do most of it were relevant. So some sites do really well with an email list and a funnel and having some digital products. And we’ve gotten pretty good now over the last year or so, had a lot of practice and seeing what works on lots of sites and what only works on one specific site and things like that. A lot of sites we run that isn’t applicable. So for a lot of sites, it’s really just making sure we’ve got the SEO turned on, and that’s kind of all there is to it. And then other sites are somewhere in between. So yeah, we manage everything, the only thing we don’t manage is the finances, we…the site owner will always be in control of that. So they’ll receive the money into their account, and then they just pay us for our services, rather than us receiving the money and paying them out. We don’t really want to be in a situation where we’re sort of having to handle everybody’s funds. So it removes a little bit of the necessary trust that the investor needs to have.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:34 Does that like make it complicated sometimes, because like, we have some sites that have like five or ten different revenue streams, so then the investor would have to set up all these different affiliate accounts and track it every month.
Dom Wells 3:50 Yeah, it can make it complicated, but it’s better than the alternative which is like all of us trying to keep track of all the different revenue streams for all the different sites and trying to avoid commingling funds. It’s a lot. It’s easier to just say to someone, “Hey, can you send us a report from five dashboards” than it is for us to try and create those same reports across like 30 or 40 clients? The same time, I think, the real hard part is actually asking investors to send us money or reimburse us for expenses and things because we want to make sure that’s done in a timely fashion. But it’s still I think it’s still a better way of doing it.
Michael Bereslavsky 4:44 Yeah, that’s that’s actually quite interesting because we so we do the same. And we usually ask investors like we give them an option. Do you want to manage the finances? Do you want to manage all the revenues and stuff, and send us the records? Or do you want us to manage it? Then we tell them like if we manage it, it’s going to be a bit more expensive because it involves a bit more effort for us. And so far, everyone said that they prefer us to manage it. Because we don’t want to deal with that, like we want to deal with as little as possible. It’s a little bit, it’s a little bit extra, like extra stuff to do. But I found it also helps us manage the business better. Because if we have, like if finances go for loss, it’s much easier for us, for example, to optimize it, to find some better affiliate programs, to negotiate deals to constantly keep improving the conversion rates.
Dom Wells 5:38 That’s an interesting way of doing it. We, I mean, we’ve had one person who said they wanted us to do it. We don’t really give people the option there. So it might be something people prefer. And I think having the ability to have all of your stuff going into one account so you can negotiate higher rates would…that’s an interesting…upside that I hadn’t really considered. I think for us it was when we first started out about…around two years ago, some people who came to us were, they wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be like another company who recently turned out to maybe be a Ponzi. And, you know, they said, that company, they didn’t trust that company, and they didn’t want to be in a situation where they lose their money. And so when I’m saying, we don’t touch your money, they felt a lot more comfortable with that. And so I was like, well, it’s not a big deal for us to…for you to manage your own funds. And if you feel more comfortable then like, absolutely, so that’s just how we’ve always done it. And then, you know, a year later that company went out of business and everyone who sort of chose us was like, yeah, okay, we made the right decision there so we kind of felt like we revalidated doing it this way.
Michael Bereslavsky 7:04 Yeah, yeah, the company that shall not be named. Of course, will know who you mean. And we had similar experiences with investors. They were like I lost money, like how do I know that you’re not a Ponzi scheme? And what we would just say is like, you would own the website, because you would have the domain name and your account, like, you can have the site and your accounts. And we send your records like can you know, this is the exact site that we acquired for you. And then that company, they just understand they just didn’t provide any details of what they were doing.
Dom Wells 7:43 No. Yeah, I mean, I had one person reach out to me afterwards and he had taken control back of his site. And I said, how much is it making? What’s the traffic? Because he was asking me, do I think it’s a good site for me to grow? Or should he sell it? And so I was saying, well, yeah, how much is it making? What’s the traffic? You know, anything else you can tell me? And he said, I don’t know. I just, you know, all I know is that this was my site and the liquidator gave it back to me. So, it turns out, the site was basically making no money. And I just recommended he sold it. So it was yeah, I mean, I guess what you’re doing is kind of a hybrid where you’re still letting the investor know what their site is, and you’re still letting them have ultimate control, but you’re just making the bookkeeping easier for them. So that is a good alternative.
Michael Bereslavsky 8:44 Yeah, also for us. Right now, like most of our assets are in our fund. So that’s a bit different. And if the fund basically everything is is under is like a register, kind of fund to the accounts, and the sites, so that’s different. And now we are setting up a second fund as well. So we’ll do it the same way. We do have some sites of individual buyers, but probably not as many as you guys do.
Dom Wells 9:14 Yeah, yeah, it’s a completely different…if you’re doing a fund then the yeah, a completely different conversation, because the only way to do it in a fund is to manage all the finances. So I think that’s actually the best way to succeed in the space anyway, is pulling money.
Michael Bereslavsky 9:34 So how many sites do you guys have right now? More or less?
Dom Wells 9:40 Between 35 and 40.
Michael Bereslavsky 9:43 Cool. And how big is your team right now?
Dom Wells 9:47 Right now on payroll, there’s 16 people, mostly full time, but some are just like contractors or freelancers that we use as needed.
Michael Bereslavsky 9:58 Yeah, it’s basically the same for us. We also work with one or two agencies for like some things like some content and some backlinks but mostly we try to do it in our team like we are trying to get our team to actually go in and do the backlink outreach and building backlinks. Because like I feel that those things which are super important that, like top priority, it’s best to develop those.
Dom Wells 10:33 Yeah, you can scale it so much cheaper as well to have it done in house.
Michael Bereslavsky 10:39 So, you know, interesting times we live in. I’m curious to discuss basically your thoughts on the COVID-19 situation and how it’s affecting the industry. What changes do you see in the past few months and what changes do you expect later this year?
Dom Wells 10:57 Yeah. So for the second question, What do I expect? Um, no idea. I think we’re still quite early, I think. So, for people listening to this in the future, we’re recording this in May 2020. So middle of Q2, and so far, we can talk about the effects that we’ve seen so far, but I think a lot of the effects haven’t happened yet. Right now something like 25% of the US is unemployed or is on some kind of benefit. And that’s huge. And those are going to have cascading effects that we haven’t seen yet. So I honestly don’t know what that’s gonna mean. Does it mean a huge… of course, it means a recession, but what does the recession gonna look like? It seems to be different from the 2008 situation when there was no credit and everyone was foreclosing and giving up their mortgages and stuff like this one, maybe seems there’s more credit available. So maybe like people being able to delay their mortgage payments and stuff. But what we’re seeing right now is essentially quite interesting. A lot of online businesses are actually making more money. Because everyone’s stuck at home with nothing to do but spend money on Amazon. So Amazon sites up until Amazon decided to, you know, slash their Commission’s they were actually crushing it. Whereas sites are monetized by display advertising…typically getting more traffic again, because everyone’s at home googling stuff. But display ads are paying a lot less right now. Because the people that would be traditionally running those ads, like retailers and big kind of traditional companies, they’re not spending as much because well, everyone’s stuck at home. So you know, no one is going to go to their shops or whatever. But because they’re getting more traffic, typically what we’re seeing is the sites still making about the same as what they made prior to the pandemic. So it’s kind of interesting because there’s a bit of a belief within the space that we’re going to see the market switch from a seller’s market to a buyers market. So multiples will go down, buyers will be able to get bargains. And I’m skeptical because sites are making more money. So why would bad sellers be desperate to sell? And also, if a site makes less money, then it’s going to be valued less but does that justify the multiple being less? So there’s all sorts of factors and some situations yeah, you’re gonna pay multiple and others situations it’s not gonna be affected. And there’s so many buyers queuing up right now to buy sites that’s kind of mitigating any pressure on the sellers from what I’m seeing. So that’s kind of annoying, because I was looking forward to getting a discount. But yeah, so far that’s that’s kind of what I’ve seen.
Michael Bereslavsky 14:27 Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah, some really good points. I’m actually seeing some sites go cheap already. I think it also depends on niches. So there are some niches that just went down a lot. Some went up a little bit, some stayed present, but what we are seeing is that because of the global financial crisis because of that unemployment, like you mentioned, people just generally have less money and when the crisis happens, Like people have less money, they have less money to invest, they have less money to buy things, they have more bills to pay. And that would motivate them more often to go and sell their business. And so I think the way I see it is more from from a global financial perspective, that the financial crisis would just cause…would just shift help shift that that market to, to a buyers market from a seller’s market right now. I think. Yeah, I think that’s gonna happen that, you know, at some point, like in the next, assuming this common situation continues, maybe for another year or two until they get a vaccine until things start to get back to normal. Although that’s unclear what it’s going to look like. But yeah, it’s maybe a bit harder to tell but probably we will see some major effects, I think.
Dom Wells 15:59 Yeah, that’s a good point. And I think it probably also depends on the size of the website. One thing I’m seeing is, sellers are a lot more willing to accept seller financing right now. And that could be because there’s fewer buyers. And I do think some froth has come out of the market as well. Whereas late, late 2019, everyone was high up the economy. Everything always goes up. And, you know, everyone believed the economy was great, and everything was gonna work. So they’d be like, yeah, I’ll buy that business, whatever. Whereas now people like, oh, hold on, like, I’m not sure if I can, if I can part with $300,000 without thinking about it. So certainly, what I’m seeing is more seller financing at a lower point. Whereas before, maybe you I’d say anything below $300,000. You’d have to pay all cash. Now, it’s probably not the case. So I think, and you’re able to get more financing as well. So maybe instead of like you have to pay 70% cash, you might be able to get away with 50% cash, or something like that.
Michael Bereslavsky 17:21 Yeah. Yeah, I wonder if that has to do with the COVID-19 situation or if there’s just an industry trend that’s developing in past years?
Dom Wells 17:36 Yeah, my guess would be it’s because of this, but it could be just, that was the way it was going. I think the Google landscape over the last two years hasn’t helped either. Because websites can just randomly get hit now. With a Google update, that means people are probably less willing to pay 100% cash. So you’ll see more earn outs as well. Not just seller financing, but actual, like, performance based earn outs.
Michael Bereslavsky 18:13 Yeah, we tried to do that as well often whenever we can. As buyers.
Dom Wells 18:21 Yeah, makes sense.
Michael Bereslavsky 18:23 And how did the Amazon commission change affect your websites? Was it a big shift?
Dom Wells 18:32 Well, I mean, obviously some categories we went down from 8% to 3%. So you tell me how that affected us but um, portfolio wide, we weren’t that deep on Amazon. So, some sites individually, they’ve gone from like, you know, six k a month to three k a month. Which is a little upsetting. But at the same time, those sites the reason they were making so many sales was because Amazon was just on fire and everyone was buying. And so even after the commission decrease, we’re still making more money from those sites than we were a few months ago. So it’s, I think, what will be really painful is when the Amazon sales or traffic kind of goes back to pre COVID levels. If it ever does go back. Then we’ll be back at the old traffic levels, but we’ll be on a 3% instead of an 8% Commission. There’s no way Amazon’s gonna say oh, okay, you can go back up to 8% now. So, right now, we’re still doing okay like year on year, month on month. It’ll be interesting moving forward, how those types of sites are affected?
Michael Bereslavsky 20:07 Yeah, it’s the same for us. We had we had quite a few Amazon sites, so maybe like one third, or even like more than one third of all sites had mostly Amazon reviews. So we’ve been working a lot in past months now on trying to shift the trying to sign up for the different affiliate programs and negotiate better rates and diversify as much as possible, like away from Amazon. And it’s, it’s been really interesting actually, like one thing we’ve learned, which is a bit surprising is there is just a huge, huge difference between in convergence between like big brands and small brands, like we have some niches but we are in and there is a lot of different companies like 50 or 100 different companies selling more or less very similar product, I pretty much the same product with different brands. And I like we’ve tried working with the ones with our lists now. And they give us much higher commissions. So that’s nice, but it just doesn’t convert, like no one is buying there. And then we would put one of the big brands, and they are a lot more difficult to negotiate with because we have so many clients like so many affiliates, but they can work very well. So it’s always a bit of a trade off. But yeah,
Dom Wells 21:32 yeah, there’s a lot of people in Facebook groups and stuff talking about they just buy Amazon sites and they just replace the vendor and they take Amazon off and they replace it. And I I don’t think they’re lying or anything but I think it’s not always that easy. I think you can if you find one niche where it works, and then you can buy lots of sites in that niche like yeah, do that all day long because it’s a great value add but um, we run probably more sites than they run, and unless we’re just completely clueless of how to do it, which is a possibility. We just haven’t seen the results. And it’s partly because of what you said, the smaller brands don’t convert as well. It’s partly because how a typical Amazon page was set up was pretty much just designed to get the click. So it’s like, hey, click here for the price. And then Amazon does work. So in that case, you would want to kind of completely rewrite the page and warm the person up for the sale more. And the third reason is, even if it does make more money, you’re losing all of the Amazon like the secondary sales that you get paid for. So I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not just a case of like, take our Amazon link and replace it with like shareasale link, it’s, you need to completely redo the site and the article. And so when you’re running 40 sites, it takes time. So for a lot of our sites, we’re not even gonna bother because they probably won’t make more money than if we just leave them with Amazon.
Michael Bereslavsky 23:13 Yeah, it’s Yeah, it’s basically the same for us. Like we just started the big ones, the top products. And we have to rewrite like, often we just rewrite a couple paragraphs. Sometimes we have to rewrite like, a big, big chunk of page to adapt to that new affiliate program. But I was actually, while some of our guys actually did some tests recently on one product, and we, they tried like three or four different programs, including Amazon to compare it, and Amazon is paying 3%. And the other programs we had, they’re paying between, like eight and a half and 30%. And surprisingly, like it was pretty similar or the conversion of Amazon. The money that Amazon made in the same spot, you know, with the three percent was pretty similar to what like other problems might like 10 or 18 or 20 or 30% Commission’s because of such a huge difference in conversion rates.
Dom Wells 24:15 So Amazon knows that I’m sure they tested these things before they pulled the trigger and made the switch. And they were like, well, you know, where are our affiliates gonna go?
Michael Bereslavsky 24:27 But I think the key is just kind of rebuilding the website because the way many of those Amazon affiliate websites are set up, is you have a table you have like 10 or 20 products every page and and these like short reviews. But if you just you have to restructure the whole thing, right, like practically as the whole website, but it’s worth it. If this is a really big website, if not that many pages, then you can direct traffic to those main advertisers that you work with. Like set up the newsletter and set up the social and everything so that it’s all focused around those top affiliate brands, then I think it’s definitely worth it because then you will have really good conversions. But like the the main thing that I agree the main thing that like most people in those forums or groups sit down ready to talk about this, how it’s just a different model, like the model they have with Amazon. The way to make it convert is very different from what would work with, like shareasale.
Dom Wells 25:30 Exactly, yeah. So like if you were starting a site from scratch, or creating an article from scratch, or just buying a site, and it was all about not affiliated with Amazon, then probably none of these difficulties would happen because you would just have to use…the article you write is going to be more warming somebody up for the sale and basically, instead saying, hey, these are the top 10 products. Go check out the reviews on Amazon. My job here is done, you will actually have to explain in your article why this product is the best. And really convince somebody or not convinced because hopefully, you’re reviewing something that is the best, but really explain to somebody why it’s the best. And then when they click through to the vendor’s sales page, you have to hope it’s not a garbage sales page. And then you’ll probably make more money than you would with an Amazon site. So if you’re building it that way, and designing it that way from the start, then it’s a lot easier than trying to take a site that’s been affected by the Amazon changes, and then simply change the links which is interesting, because there’s a lot of people right now who are saying the real opportunity in the space is to buy an Amazon site because It just became 30, 50% cheaper, and then replace the links with shareasale or whatever. And my thoughts are well, yeah, have fun with that. Because you’re gonna have to do a lot of rewriting.
Michael Bereslavsky 27:15 Yeah, I mean, it does work in some cases. But it’s definitely not that simple. So we flat with that thing that we’ve been testing, we have been able to increase revenue, basically, to the point that it’s the combined revenues like similar to what revenue was before this whole Amazon commission. But it did take quite a lot of effort. And also the traffic increased a little bit. But I’ve also seen sites where it just works where you just replace the top listing, the top Amazon listing with something that’s really good. Often something from one of those, you know, affiliate performance networks, not shareasale, but the ones that are set to convert really well, they have very high spear rate. And then it just works like incredibly well. I’ve seen sites where people just just replace they’re model link and make like five times more revenue right away. It’s extremely rare, but sometimes if it works, it’s incredible.
Dom Wells 28:20 Yeah, that is true. There are those opportunities. And sometimes, I mean, we’ve tested a couple of things. Sometimes we’ve, we’ve had a product which sells on Amazon, and it also sells on its own website. And we’ve tested just sending people to Amazon. just sending people to their website, or sending them to both. And just saying like, hey, buy from Amazon or buy direct. And sometimes you’ll find not giving Amazon as a choice is what makes you more money. Sometimes only Amazon makes you more money and sometimes having both is what makes more money. And sometimes it doesn’t make a difference, you make pretty much the same whatever you do. So it’s just a case of sort of systematically testing it. Like if you do have a site that’s been hit by Amazon. And you’re listening to us saying, oh, it’s, it’s not that easy. And you’re thinking, well, you know, I need to do something I need to try then. Yeah, you just have to systematically test and you’re going to put a lot of hours in. But you may be able to come out the other side with a site that makes more money. So it’s worth the effort.
Michael Bereslavsky 29:31 Yeah, absolutely. I agree that it’s all about testing. And I think that this is different from other type of testing, like the need to SEO type of testing because this is kind of clearly long term like once you find that working combination is probably going to keep working for you for a while. So that if it’s a big enough site that might be worthwhile to test. But also there are many, many Amazon affiliate sites that there is just nothing else to replace with, like sites selling refrigerators or some kind of items like that. They’re just like, it’s practically impossible to find another affiliate program.
Dom Wells 30:12 Yeah, that’s a really good point. Which is kind of like, I guess in hindsight, it’s like, yeah, I probably shouldn’t have built a site around that. But yeah, it is a good point. And it’s the same like some sites, maybe 80% of their sales come from other products that people buy on Amazon. So by all means, replace the links, or give people an alternative option to buy from somewhere with a higher commission, but don’t completely remove your Amazon links because you’re going to need to get something that converts as well as Amazon pays like 100% Commission. So make up for that, like the loss of those other sales.
Michael Bereslavsky 31:01 yeah. So what do you think are some of the best opportunities to buy now? Like if you were buying what what kind of things say you’re looking to buy currently.
Dom Wells 31:19 I think the longer the pandemic goes on, the more interested I’ll be in buying display advertising sites. And I don’t know if I should explain my logic because it might kill the opportunity. But, hey. So people are buying Amazon sites or people think there’s an opportunity to buy Amazon sites because of the things that we just talked about. They’re cheaper, and they might be able to get an uptick. But display advertising sites are definitely cheaper as well, because display ads are paying less. But it’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to earn more when the pandemic goes away. So you might have a site which last May made 10 to $15 per thousand visits. And now because of the way display ads are down, they might only be making six or $7 per thousand visits. So those sites are going to be cheaper for the same amount of traffic. So my theory is you could buy those sites. And as the year goes on, the RPM is going to go up anyway because q4 always pays more than q2, blah, blah, blah, but um, come next q2 you might see that that site is making 10 to 15 RPM 1000 visits again. And so essentially, you could not grow the traffic and the incomes just gonna go 50 to 100% higher just because advertisers are spending more. And the reason I think this will become more of a strategy, the longer the pandemic goes on is because it takes time for averages to come down. So if a site was making, say 10 k a month, January, February, March, and then it’s gone down to six or seven k in April, that’s not going to lower the purchase price too much. So you’re going to need a prolonged period of reduced RPMs. Because that will A make the average now lower and B it will make your arguments or the seller stronger that you’re saying no, I’m not paying based on last year’s money I’m buying based on like, post pandemic money. income. Yeah, so that’s kind of something I think is an interesting opportunity. Certainly easy. Things you don’t do anything, you just wait for the RPMs to go up. And then I think another opportunity is just being able to buy more sites with seller financing. I think that’s an obvious opportunity and aside from that, I can’t think of any screaming opportunities apart from like the kind of per site basis where there are going to be some situations where a site seller is now a distressed seller, whereas they weren’t previously, there’s going to be like, I don’t know if you can systematically find those opportunities, but there’s gonna be some of them existing where someone needs to sell in a in a pinch, if you’re in the right place, you can get a sweet deal.
Michael Bereslavsky 34:29 Yeah, that’s an interesting point about display ads. But the difficulty is, it’s a little bit like timing the market. So if you buy it like now and then let’s say this whole thing continues for another two years, then that $7 RPM might become like free dollar before it goes back to like, fifteen.
Dom Wells 34:52 Yeah, that is something I’ve thought about you have to figure out like, is this the lowest it’s going to be or could it go lower? which again, is what I think the longer it goes on, the better, I’ll feel because I feel like I’m closer to the bottom. If it’s gonna be a two year thing, and you by six months from now, well, there’s only a year to go. So yeah, that is a really good consideration as well. So I think really, we have to see what happens to the world once the lock downs end. Because I think there’s kind of two stages to this recession as there’s like, what we’re seeing now, where there’s lockdown, and people are losing their jobs and all of this, then what happens to display advertising, once people can leave their homes to advertise to suddenly spend more, or to expand the last because suddenly, we’re going to these, these effects of the economy haven’t even happened yet. So I think q3, maybe q4 is going to be a lot more insightful than where we are now.
Michael Bereslavsky 36:01 Yeah, yeah, I think it’s really good point that it might be difficult to predict but it’s definitely important to pay attention to those RPMs and we’ve noticed that as well a lot in media vine and that sounds like things are like RPM so they’ve had to go down a lot and past few months. It’s it’s interesting to see how much it’s going to correlate with the virus situation. Yeah.
Dom Wells 36:34 There are sort of chart share that is Auric said RPM is starting to creep back up. So it’s like if this is like the just need to make sure I’m actually my hands actually, in the right place. If this is I do this way. If this is like the sort of where the RPM is where last year, yeah, and then this is where they were sold April 1 when everyone’s budgets reset, and they asked slowly going back up, and right now they’re halfway back up. But it’s really hard to predict because some sites RPMs just fine other sites that are still going down. So the market overall isn’t gonna represent the individual deal that you might be looking at.
Michael Bereslavsky 37:24 Yeah, it’s, it’s very industry specific. Like there are some industries with edges that, like travel and tourism. And there are like a lot of industries that went up a lot. So that also causes a lot more advertising to be spent on them.
Dom Wells 37:41 Yeah, so travel was a really good example of either a potentially amazing opportunity, or by like a ticking time bomb, like I think I sort of saw it listed on Empire Flippers in the travel space. In March. It was Like, I think it was pretty much the week that the lockdown started. So they’d obviously been going through this listing and vetting process for a couple of months. So before the virus even started, and I think the site was listed for around $2 million. I don’t think I’ve checked it out beyond that, but I wouldn’t be able to reveal anything more about anyway. But um, and so I was like, what, I felt really sorry for the seller, because I was like, you know, you go from thinking, Oh, I’m gonna make $2 million to can I even sell this website, and you’re making maybe 60 k a month to maybe you’re not even making anything. So suddenly, your incomes gone, your potential windfalls gone. So I felt really sorry for them. But then I was talking to someone about it, and they said, Hey, that might be a really good buying opportunity, if you could buy that now, for example, for 1 million assuming the seller went for it, and yeah, let’s say you could actually do the deal. You could buy it for half And then in a year when everything opens up again, you’ve got a $2 million business for a $1 million. And it’s like, yeah, cool. But what happens if the site never becomes worth anything? Like maybe before the economy opens up again, that site gets hit by a Google update and you just wasted a million dollars, or there’s just so many there’s just, it could be a huge win or it could just be a really stupid move. In so there are so many question marks.
Michael Bereslavsky 39:34 It could also be a longer timeframe. Like what we are thinking one year maybe it’s gonna be a five years, who knows? So potentially, I could be ready to, you know, to take that loss for a while until it goes up.
Dom Wells 39:49 Yeah, maybe you could have spent that million dollars on a different website, which is is maybe not gonna double when the economy comes back, but it could just grow really well over the next six months, like kind of, regardless of industry trends, so you have to weigh on that opportunity as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 40:12 Yeah, yeah, travel is interesting to see how it’s like what’s happening. I’ve seen that a lot of businesses are just like still in denial. Like we had some sites coming in and saying, Well, our traffic has dropped a little bit. And it’s like, down the traffic and revenue and he’s like, but it’s going to recover pretty quickly. So we are not going to sell it based on these current trends. We’re just selling based on the previous revenue. And then, of course, because no one responds to them, but they’re persistent. And I guess it’s gonna take a few months until more of more of them realize that things have changed. But there is also the other end of that, like I was talking to a friend of mine who has a sizable travel business and we spoke like a month ago like how’s it going? He’s like no good. Well, how not good. So like his revenues are down 120% like, how is that possible? How can it be more than 100%? down like that’s, that’s not physically possible, right? But he says, because there are no current orders and all the previous orders requested a refund. So had to refund all the previous orders. And basically, there is no revenue coming, so it’s just frustrating. Yeah, that happens too. Luckily, we are not in trouble. We don’t have anything in travel and tourism. So that was good. Yeah, we don’t need that actually.
Dom Wells 41:45 I’m just lucky. I’m not really that keen on the travel. niche for content websites, but um, yeah, just lucky that we’re not in that space as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 42:00 there are there are many, many blocks for sale. Like there are many individual travel blocks that are like people traveling and, and kind of posting their pictures and stuff. And we’ve had a lot of those wanting to sell contacting us. often they’re not big enough, maybe they’re making like $1,000 2000 like a little bit more. But some are really big too. Yeah, and I always kind of was thinking that’s an interesting opportunity. And that’s another question. I’m curious to hear your opinion on that. Like a lot of the time we come people want to sell personal sites. So I could travel personal travel blog, personal cooking blog, personal money blog, something like that. Do you guys buy those? How the images that?
Dom Wells 42:50 We have done in the past and I don’t really want to do it anymore because You think it doesn’t matter, we’re just replace the about page and replace them. The mom blogger or the travel bloggers, persona, but a lot of these sites, that person was really driving a lot of the sales, revenue, the traffic. And it’s it’s kind of a little bit of like an iceberg situation where it’s under the surface and you don’t realize that until you actually have bought the site and taken control of it. And you started getting messages on the Facebook page saying, Hey, I haven’t heard from you recently What’s going on? And you’re like, whoops, maybe this isn’t possible to buy at scale. Now, I think if one person was buying a site, and they got the seller to introduce them as the new owner, or and I did it over time, like first year introduced as a contributor, and then over time, the seller sort of appears last and then you appear more. I think that’ll work. But when you’re a team trying to manage sites and scale it, it’s just a bit of a time sink compared to buying a site that doesn’t have that.
Michael Bereslavsky 44:17 Yeah, we had a similar experience. I’ve noticed that if it’s a personal site, but most of the traffic is organic, because the content ranks well, and then, you know, as the owner is not really that responsive, it’s not someone who’s just spending all their time responding to fans. But it’s more like proven organic traffic, but there is also a personal profile. That is usually okay. We can change it and we can adapt and then we can just keep publishing some articles and take over the existing relationships. But also in cases where it’s most the social traffic, like that’s really difficult because Social traffic, like be interested just tends to decrease over time. So you have to keep keep pinging and keep spinning. And you have to have your followers pay attention to it. And once the owner is gone and just kind of slowly goes down, and it’s much more difficult to manage those. So then, like we have a criteria that if it’s mostly organic traffic and not as much social engagement, then yeah, but if it’s mostly like social engagement, then probably no.
Dom Wells 45:35 Yeah, yeah, I mean, those ones is not really kind of like the blog. Yeah, the blog is not really driving any other traffic anyway, they’re just there was like a photo of them in the about in the sidebar, and maybe it’s, maybe it’s not even there. Maybe it’s like a stock photo or something. Like those ones. Yeah, it’s not not a problem.
Michael Bereslavsky 45:55 Well, one we acquired that actually went well. So it was there was Photos, a personal profile. And he had a big YouTube channel there. He was publishing all his videos. And like a lot of articles were personal, but he was talking about his own experiences. But because most of the traffic was organic, so that went to help, so I think we were able to adapt and the revenue, we were actually able to grow the revenue. And also because we were able to buy it a low multiple. That was really a good deal, because like most buyers just wouldn’t want to deal with that.
Dom Wells 46:33 Yeah, that’s cool.
Michael Bereslavsky 46:35 Yeah, but it does. It does vary. It does differ. And the good thing about those sites is that they usually have a much better link profile. Like it’s usually a lot more natural of high quality.
Dom Wells 46:52 Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, I mean, I was speaking to someone from a broker and he said, those are the best sites to buy and I said, Why? He said the same reason the billing profiles are natural. And sometimes the link profiles aren’t bad, which does give you an opportunity to grow the site if you know a little bit about SEO as well. Basically, there’s just kind of like, there’s less shady stuff to worry about.
Michael Bereslavsky 47:27 Yeah, absolutely. Compared to, like most affiliate sites that you know, have just been built to to rank and to make money and to sell. Like, that’s a very different profile. So what’s your plan for next like, six months? Are you going to be buying more or I’m mostly going to be waiting and see to see where the market is.
Dom Wells 47:54 A bit of both. Yeah. The thing about our model is it’s really based around buying quality websites and growing them and using the cash flow to buy more. So if we come across a deal that makes sense, we will buy it, we’re not going to hold out to hope it’s for sale for a discount or something. But at the same time, I think you’re not going to miss out on any opportunities by waiting. I think it’s prudent to wait. And I think right now we’re being a bit more cautious. So instead of buying four or five sites a month we are buying maybe one. I’m spending a lot less time on deal flow and due diligence because I’m just kind of, like, waiting for great opportunities to present themselves which could be a mistake, because maybe those opportunities come up if you do more more deal flow. But um, yeah, we kind of just Continuing as before, but maybe more cautiously.
Michael Bereslavsky 49:04 And what are your plans for selling? Do you do often sell your sites so they just plan to keep it forever?
Dom Wells 49:13 Most of them are in a bit of a sort of stage where they’re not really ready to sell like we’ve acquired them in the last year and we’re still growing them or responding to a Google update or something like that. So we don’t really have any thoughts about selling right now. But I did I did sell. So there’s two sites I was gonna sell a month ago, one of them got too badly hit by the Amazon changes. So I’m going to wait, sell it a bit later. And one of them were still going ahead with a sale. So aside from those two, I don’t really have any plans to sell any more sites in the near future. But we don’t have a particular action date in mind either so we’re always considering selling one.
Michael Bereslavsky 50:04 Yeah, we actually do a bit of the opposite. So we try to have moral not an exit date, but like more or less a plan. Let’s say we do this, we do that and then six months or nine months from now we are going to look at selling it. If all those things are done and you know, things fit. And we often try to, to see that we make double the amount we’ve spent if we are selling.
Dom Wells 50:37 Yeah, that’s a good way to do it.
Michael Bereslavsky 50:39 So like the one that you’re selling, do you like…why have you decided to sell it? Is it because you’ve made enough profit or is it because of cost?
Dom Wells 50:49 Yeah, I mean, I’ve had it for a year and in that time, I doubled the money that I paid. So I just thought good time to exit. Pretty much that. Yeah. I’m gonna use the money for…every seller says this, but I’m gonna use the money for other opportunities.
Michael Bereslavsky 51:11 It’s funny, like every time you ask someone like, I’m just gonna use my money to fund some other projects.
Dom Wells 51:16 Yeah. Maybe it’s partly true, but it’s also. Yeah, okay. It’s true. I was gonna say, yeah, I’m selling it because I can’t grow it anymore. I think it sucks. I’m gonna buy a different website. And then you’d say, oh, okay, great. Yeah, I’m in.
Michael Bereslavsky 51:31 I had that happened once or twice. Like, we asked the seller, why is he selling and he just said, well, I think you know, it’s beside is just not very good quality. Like, you can’t really grow it, it feels like it’s just kind of shitty. And I want to go and buy something high quality.
Dom Wells 51:48 That’s actually so surprising. Just because he thinks that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t see the value in it.
Michael Bereslavsky 51:56 Yeah, well in that specific story, like the problem was that he was actually right. It was a shitty site. So we didn’t end up buying it.
Dom Wells 52:07 Yeah, I mean, if it’s like a better deal for it. But you can say how you said it shitty so I’m only gonna pay 10 x right. Yeah, you know, that could be…
Michael Bereslavsky 52:16 Yeah, but you know, the interesting thing I’ve noticed in the in this past, like 15 years buying managing building sites is that there is a…there are diminishing returns for holding sites longer. Like if you have a site for like half a year or a year maybe like two years and then you manage it well and you get profit and you sell it. That’s good like that you can control but if you’re more in that place of holding sites for a very long time, I think that was probably one of the mistakes that this company with shall not be named, was probably doing. If you just…in that framework of just buying and holding sites for a long time, like eventually your risk of getting hit by some updates or the things that happened with Amazon or things like that, like drastic events that, you know, if you read that new book, what’s it called?
Dom Wells 53:18 Legacy Fragile, or the other one, Black Swan…
Michael Bereslavsky 53:22 —That and the other one. The other Black Swan is obviously like a, like you’re more exposed to a black swan event like, like a big Google update that like something that Google decides that the type of things you’re doing is just not good anymore like that.
Dom Wells 53:36 Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely had sites where I bought them and within three months, I could have sold them for double. But I held them because I thought they could keep growing or I just wanted to enjoy the cash flow a bit longer. And then so and then, maybe another six months later, there’s a Google update for just something happens and now they’re not worth as much as they were three months before. And so now you have to either sell them for less and feel a bit disappointed, or you have to hold them even longer and try and grow them back up to where they were. It can make things a bit more complicated. So having a rule where you think, okay, this website’s doubled. Yeah, maybe it could triple but maybe it won’t. So I’m just going to send it now is not a bad rule to have.
Michael Bereslavsky 54:27 Yeah, it’s a bit of having some kind of rule, but also looking at cost, like risk versus reward. So like, Okay, this site, we can grow it, we can double it, we can triple it because there are opportunities for ranking or opportunities for improving monetization. And this site is probably not gonna grow that much. But the competition is picking up. It’s probably going to be harder to rank so things like that. So, it’s a constant kind of evaluation for us like that. And yeah, like one of the first sites I had I was like looking to sell I remember, like 12 years ago, 13 years ago, I, we had a really great or form, the site was making like two or $3,000 per month, we had a great offer. And I’m thinking, yeah, I can probably grow it a bit more. And then I’ll say to, you know, to become greedy and decline and ask for more. And then a few months later, the Google updates, some really rough Google updates. I don’t remember the year, but just killed the site, the traffic went down like 10 x. And it’s like this constant trade off between whoever you think like that’s what a lot of what we do is just this kind of trade off of managing risks. Because you know, ultimately, like it’s not super difficult to make a profit when you buy a site for even for 50 x 425 x. Like if you’re reasonably good at managing it, and you’re good, you know, you don’t do really bad deals, like eventually you’ll make a profit. But the problems come just from this risk, like all these different risks that happens, like if you are able to really manage those risks, well on a portfolio are gonna scale, then I think that’s, like that’s a main thing to make it a success.
yeah, I think it’s also about, like, if it’s in a fund, I look at the overall strategy, like if it’s a bigger site and I know that if that site loses a lot of traffic, that’s going to be a problem. But if it’s a small site, frankly, that’s fine. You know, if it drops, that’s not a big deal. Like the the pain of that site dropping is not that high compared to the potential reward. This is another site that might be really a high risk and more dangerous, and then it would be very painful if it drops. But at the same time, I think, like being too greedy can actually be dangerous especially in finance. Because I mean that’s how everyone can lose their money on investing right? Like just being too greedy not selling at the right time. Like back in 2000 beginning 2019 I think when Bitcoin hit 20,000 I was like sitting there and thinking 20,000 this is probably like too much it’s probably start going to start drop soon. And I thought maybe I should just go and sell it right now but then I realized that selling Bitcoin is actually complicated. And I was like, okay, maybe I’ll do it later and then it started to drop.
Dom Wells 59:37 Yeah, I remember when I first bought in I was like, I think I bought in around 5000 and I was like, I’m gonna sell if it’s 10 and it hit 10 I’m like, I’m gonna sell if it hits 15 and then it hit 20 and I’m like, this is never gonna go down. Yeah, um, and then I could have sold at 15 and done very well for myself.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:00:00 A friend of mine is like a really successful stock trader. And he told me he just bought Bitcoin it was like 55. And he bought a bunch of Bitcoin options, because he did his analysis, his calculations. And then he just sold everything that was like 12 or so. Because he did his calculations and he’s like, okay, he’s like, I just like I have this number, and I have that number. And I have like, and I knew exactly what I was going to do. And I did it. And that’s it. He’s not worried. He just has his mark. And that’s it.
Dom Wells 1:00:37 Yeah, I bet he made a lot of bad mistakes to get that score in the first place, though. So kind of like what we’ve been doing with with affiliate sites.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:00:47 I think that’s I think that’s probably how it works every time as well. Like you. Like you have to make some mistakes, you know, like, I wouldn’t be if someone says that they’ve done a lot of deals and we’ve never had a bad deal. I Probably like wouldn’t trust them as much as if they said they did have some bad deals.
Dom Wells 1:01:08 I shared a guest post, I showed a blog post on our site. I don’t know a few months ago, and I talked about some of our biggest mistakes. And definitely some people said it made them trust me more. Not only because I’m being honest, but because they, they correctly believe that those mistakes I’ve learned from and I’d evolved my investing philosophy off the back of those mistakes. So basically, they were like, Yeah, you’ve had your big loss. So you’re a better investor. And I said, well, I don’t know if I’ve had my big loss, but I’ve had a big loss. Hopefully, I, you know, there are more ahead of me. But if there are then I’ll learn from them overall, you know, come out better on the other side as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:01:53 Yeah, I think that’s the best way to look at it. And we’ll definitely include the link to that post in the Show Notes later. So as an interesting thing I want to discuss is, the difference that we are seeing in ranges, like buying sites and five figures, six figures and moving forward to like seven figure businesses. I’m noticing that it’s quite, it’s quite a big difference. Like when when you’re looking at made high six figures or up, like it looks a lot more like starts to look a lot more like a business generally. And there are more things in both more systems and it’s also a lower risk, like when you look at the risk factors at what could go wrong. It’s generally overall kind of lower risk that things would really go really badly. But at the same time, it’s also more complex. So you have to be more organized. You have to have a better team that assistance better structures. Well, while if the smaller businesses, it might actually fit bigger businesses, it might be more difficult to grow them because it all involves a lot more processes. And then for smaller ones, like a 50,000 or $100,000 site, you can grow it faster, but at the same time, like the risk is bigger, and there is like fewer sources of income, fewer sources of traffic. So the the risks are less diversified.
Dom Wells 1:03:35 Yeah, I think the bigger ones six, seven bigger ones tend to cost more as well. I mean, at least when you hit the million dollar end, you might be paying for extra business instead of three. So that also kills the profit a little bit. The ROI.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:03:59 So what’s advice would you give to people coming into the market and looking to buy their first website potentially more or less than in a deal?
Dom Wells 1:04:11 Hmm. Well, I mean, it depends how much money they’ve got to play with, but I guess it doesn’t, because if they have a ton, like high six figures, they should maybe do this anyway. So if they want to learn everything, and they want to do everything themselves, or they want to learn how to do everything, then they should probably buy a smaller business like I don’t know. Yeah, 50 k might be a good range. Or, you know, if they can’t afford 50 k, then whatever they can, because even if they want to buy bigger businesses in the long run, a lot of the things you need to do with a smaller business is the same, so that’s actually an argument in the case of buying a bigger business, because it’s the same work as a smaller business in a lot of cases. But when you’re learning, it makes sense to learn with less capital at risk, but now if someone’s strategy is like, they don’t know what they’re looking for a passive investment with no changes, because then they should invest in your fund or they should, like hire us or something like that. So that’s kind of a different conversation. Really, I think the way to win at this space is to diversify as much as you can. Because if you can avoid having your sole investment go to zero, then you can basically do very well. And and the problem is is when you diversify, you either need to spend more money because you’re buying more sites, or you’re spreading the same amount of money among smaller sites. But because there’s so many of them, you need to hire people to help you run them. And then when you hire people, your return goes down. So the alternative really is investing in a fund, or having a large amount of money that you can diversify, because in a fund, the costs generally aren’t going to scale as the number of sites scales. And you’re getting that diversification. I mean, ultimately, also depends what is the person looking for are looking to put 50 K and then double it? Or are they looking to invest a million and make 10% a year? You know, it’s a completely different strategy as well, depending on that.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:06:53 Yeah, I get I get asked that question a lot. Like almost like every week, almost every day. Do you do get that question a lot as well from from investors?
Dom Wells 1:07:04 Yeah. And honestly, my answer changes depending on who they are and what their profile is. Yeah. Like they’re all they’re all correct answers. It’s just it depends on on what their situation is. Like I had someone who has 500 K, he wants to invest. He wants to buy four or five businesses. And he was like, should I buy one? 500 k one, or should I buy for 100 k ones? Or should I buy a 50 k ones? And I was like, well, what do you want to do? Like you want to try to aggressively grow that 500 k? As much as you can? Or do you want to just, you don’t know where to park it? So you want to park it somewhere more secure? You know, there’s just so many different strategies. And yeah, there’s no right answer really.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:07:50 That’s true. Yeah. My typical answer is that I advise people to learn about the industry sells like the best way to learn, I think really is just buying a small site. Like there are very few different courses. I personally haven’t read the courses that teach you how to invest in websites. But like I would imagine, you can probably learn more or about as much from just buying like a $2,000 website and managing it by yourself versus a $2,000 course. Because it’s different like when you buy it, and then you realize okay, so this is like the technical aspects. Okay, this is WordPress, like, this is how you manage it. This is what an affiliate program is. This is what AdSense is like, this is what monetization means. Like, this is what SEO is about. Like, this is how you work with freelancers like this is how you work with other people to get things done. And it’s it’s on a very small scale, but it’s not hugely different from doing the same before much bigger site just adds more complexity, but that really gives you a great understanding of how can online business work? Because a lot of people asking that question they often come from an offline background or people who have never managed an online business. But I agree with depends on what they’re looking for.
Dom Wells 1:09:18 I mean, I think on the topic of courses, I mean, I love taking courses, but I also love learning by doing. And I don’t think they’re kind of mutually exclusive. Like, you’re right, you’ll learn more from buying a $2,000 business and running it than you will from a $2,000 course. But the $2,000 course will kind of pour out petrol onto the fire for your learning. And so it’s like you can’t learn how to drive a car by reading a book. But if you sit in a car, having never really seen inside on before you you might not even get a meter down the road. So I guess where I’m going with that is, I think the best situation is you buy the course, whether it’s a $2,000 course or a $99 course or whatever, you buy that. And then you buy a $2,000 website as well, too. So the course teaches you what to do, but then you learn a million things from actually doing it. That’s probably the best. There’s also a lot of people that don’t want to take your course and they don’t want to buy a business and learn. They just want to invest their money. So then different strategies required for them as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:10:33 Yeah, that reminds me, my first driving lesson, I just like came in and the instructor says, okay, it down, and I’m like, going to sit down in the passenger seat. He’s like, no, no, you go sit down here. So I’m sitting in front of a wheel and he’s like, okay, drive. I’m like, I don’t know how to drive. This is my first lesson. He just, you know, you just, you just push here and, you know, you do that and that’s it. And that’s one minute later, we were driving.
Dom Wells 1:11:03 What? Was it automatic transmission?
Michael Bereslavsky 1:11:06 Yeah, yeah, automatic. Yeah. But like, Yeah, I was like, Okay, that’s it then. And after an hour, I felt okay. I kind of know how it works. Like a research lab. Obviously, I took a bunch of small lessons, but I can immediately get a sense for that understand what it’s about.
Dom Wells 1:11:24 Yeah, I mean, I don’t know, like for me if someone bought a website, and then, okay, let’s say the migration actually worked, and they didn’t mess that up. And then it’s like, okay, day one, looking at your Google Analytics. Not really sure what this means bounce rates quite high. What does that mean? Yeah. Oh, SSL certificate needs renewing. Don’t know what that means. need to update some plugins on the site break. So it’s like well, that that went well. So that’s why I think you need at least some kind of instruction manual to help you. I mean, my first driving lesson so we, I learned to drive a manual because in the UK, just make you drive manuals. kind of laugh at people that drive automatics. But there’s no way I can learn that from a book or a course, like, you know, like feeling the two pedals and finding the biting point. And yeah, you can only learn by doing so. That’s Yeah, absolutely. That makes sense.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:12:33 A few months ago, I learned to drive a big bike. And it’s kind of the same. It’s similar like you just like there is no way to learn it. Otherwise, you just have to feel that. Like when you release when you like, press. Yeah. So I guess to summarize it, our advice to people’s starting out would be first of all to figure out what they want and doing like if they want to learn by themselves, that are probably some combination of buying a course and then buying a small site. And then maybe once we feel that they are comfortable, they can go and buy a bigger site like that or, you know, go we’ve found a person that doesn’t feel.
Dom Wells 1:13:21 Yeah, I think that’s probably the best. That’s right.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:13:27 All right. Well, thank you, Dom. That was really interesting to discuss and some great topics.
Dom Wells 1:13:36 Yeah, thanks. Great to be here.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:13:39 how can people find you online? How can people reach out to you?
Dom Wells 1:13:45 Well, my website is on folio.co. So that’s where people can find my blog and reach out to me if they want to learn more about any of our services or just have a similar conversation to what we just had. But yeah, basically the best place to find me
Michael Bereslavsky 1:14:08 Thanks Dom. Till next time.
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