Should I Build a Website or Buy One That’s Already Working?


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If you want to start an online business, you’re probably going to need to build a website.

But could you shortcut the process by just buying one that’s already working?

In this episode, which is the fourth and final episode of our Showdown series this month, we’re comparing two ways you operate a revenue-generating website: building your own site vs buying an established website.

For this debate, I’ve got a couple of powerhouse guests:

  • Mark Webster from AuthorityHacker.com and the Authority Hacker podcast, one of my favorite resources for all things SEO and affiliate marketing. He’ll be representing the build side of this conversation.
  • Dom Wells from Onfolio.co is on the buy side. Onfolio, among other things, has a management service for website investors. He’s been in the website building, buying, and monetizing space for years.

build vs buy showdown

There are pros and cons to both starting and buying websites. But, as you’ll hear discussed, there are some key differences between each method and might help you lean one way or the other.

Tune in to hear both Mark and Dom discuss the different strategies behind:

  • Getting started
  • Finding a site to buy
  • Quick wins and monetization
  • Marketing
  • Pros and cons of each model
  • And more

These guys both have a lot of experience in building and buying websites. By the end of this one, you’ll have a good idea which path is best for you.

Round 1 – Getting Started With Your Own Site vs Purchasing a Site

Advantages of Starting a Site

“The main advantage of building your own site is you have complete control over the direction and the framing of it,” Mark told me.

If you buy a site, you’re limited by the way the previous owner had built and set up the site.

Mark used the dog niche as an example. If you buy a site focused on Labradors, you may find it difficult to expand into other breeds of dog from an SEO perspective down the line.

If you start your own site in the dog niche, you can give it a more brandable name and leave the possibility to expand open in the future.

Related: My free guide on how to start a blog.

How to Do Early Research When Starting a Site

Mark said he approaches starting a new site by coming up with a broad topic idea, like dogs, then he starts looking at the competitive landscape and going down various “rabbit holes.”

He looks for keywords he’s interested in, finds competitor’s sites and analyzes how they’re getting traffic and making money, and keeps digging deeper.

Mark said the research process is about exploring as many rabbit holes as possible and putting all the information together to create a “succinct vision for what your website should be.”

He also recommends starting a site on a topic you’re interested in, especially if this is your first site.

Mark said your biggest risk is your own motivation. It can take some time to start making money, so by working on a topic you’re interested in, you’re more likely to keep going.

Advantages of Buying a Site

While the niche of a site is important to someone building a site for themselves, it’s not for Dom.

“I’m buying sites at the volume where I have to be niche agnostic,” Dom told me.

Dom also said he agrees with a lot of what Mark said about researching a site. But sees some of what Mark saw as negatives as opportunities.

For example, Dom said a huge positive to buying a site is that it already has some authority and is established.

Going back to the dog niche example, unless the site had a narrow domain name, Dom could buy a site and add other breeds to the site saying the topical relevancy around dogs will help with SEO.

He also flipped Mark’s comments about taking on a site someone else had built into a positive. The benefit of taking on an established site is that you don’t have to learn all the in’s and out’s about how to start a website.

Foundational Elements When Starting a Site

“It’s really important before you register a domain name to do very thorough keyword research and site planning, and that can take weeks sometimes,” Mark told me.

This is something Mark often sees people not spending enough time on. He’s had to can site ideas himself after spending weeks researching the niche, only to decide it’s too competitive.

Mark said he usually avoids niches full of hobbyists and people passionate about a topic. It’s hard to make money from a commercial standpoint when people are willing to put so much effort in as it’s a hobby for them.

On the flip side, some niches are dominated by large sites that have been around for a long time and have built up high domain authority ratings. This is also something Mark avoids if discovers it in his research phase.

A couple of other ways you can gauge how much interest there is in a niche is:

  • By looking at Google trends to see if the niche is increasing in popularity
  • Browsing online marketplaces to see if sites in your niche are selling well

Once Mark has found a niche he wants to enter with a new site, he gets a basic site up. He then starts putting the processes in place to build a content team to work on the site.

How to Find a Site to Purchase

Dom and his team buy a lot of sites. He doesn’t send out cold emails as he said he’s found it to not be successful. Instead, he mainly uses these marketplaces/brokers:

He also has a lot of deals being offered to him through his network he’s built up over the years.

Dom said a lot of sellers come to him because they either:

  • Want a quick deal
  • Know they won’t have to pay a broker’s fee, or
  • Are hoping he sees value in their site that was rejected by other brokers (which sometimes he does)

He’s paid as high as 38x the monthly profit of a site, and as low as 20x the monthly profit.

When valuing a site, Dom takes a good look at the potential and how much the site has been making on average over the last 6 months. He said the average sale price is between 27-37 times the monthly profit.

To translate, that means a site that earns $1000 a month, would likely sell for $27,000-37,000.

With the exception of Flippa, the brokers mentioned above tend to focus on the higher end of the market. If you’re just starting out and you want a smaller site, Dom recommends checking out:

Keep in mind, you’ll need to do your own due diligence when buying sites through private deals in Facebook Groups.

Risks Involved in Purchasing a Site

With multiples in the high 30’s, it’s not cheap buying an established site and there are some risks involved.

Dom hasn’t been scammed, but he’s had websites lose a chunk of their traffic (and earnings) due to a Google update shortly after buying them.

He also purchased a site for 6-figures that was getting most of its traffic from Pinterest, only to have Pinterest ban the site a few weeks later.

He did get the ban overturned, but that was a stressful few days!

To minimize the risk, Dom looks for sites with diversified traffic sources and brand loyalty where possible.

Round 2 – Marketing

Marketing a New Site

“We’re conscious about what we need to do for link building right from the start,” Mark told me.

When building a site, Mark said he focuses on high-quality content first. He foregoes monetization and doesn’t put ads or pop-ups on the site.

When doing outreach for links, he wants other sites to see that his site’s priority is high-quality informational content.

Adding commercial or affiliate content comes at a later stage once his site already has some backlinks and has built up some authority.

Mark said the real challenge for most people is keeping motivated. It can take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years to see any real income, and a lot of people get distracted by “shiny object syndrome” in the meantime.

Marketing and Growing an Established Site

Dom said he can spot some quick wins with some of his acquisitions, while others will take some time to see improvements.

His “favorite” scenario is buying a website that has a lot of traffic and is only being monetized with affiliate links.

Dom knows he can add display ads to the site using Ezoic, Mediavine, or AdThrive depending on the traffic numbers, and increase the revenue right away.

Another win he looks for is a site that’s ranking well for a buyer intent keyword, but the article hasn’t been well optimized.

Dom will make some tweaks, such as adding in some comparison tables or a few more affiliate links. It’s not unheard of to double the income from a single page doing this.

Outside of these “quick wins”, as a general rule, Dom said he doesn’t like to change too much after buying a site as there are a lot of things that can go wrong.

His team always performs an audit on the site, they fix any technical issues, and then follow a similar process to Mark by adding content and building links to grow the traffic.

The process really depends on the site though.

Dom purchased a site last December that was getting around a million page views per month. He didn’t see adding content would move the needle much, so he focused on the email list instead.

Over a few months he 10x’d the number of email subscribers and increased the revenue he was generating from the list from $200 a month to $2000.

Round 3 – Monetization

Monetizing a New Site

“Digital products are by far the highest potential, highest ceiling that you can get,” Mark told me.

But digital products rely on having an existing audience, so it’s not necessarily a way to monetization a website you can use early on.

Instead, Mark said you can monetize with affiliate programs and display ads while building up to the point where you can start selling digital products.

The important thing is that you focus on one form of monetization and do that well, he said. If you try to create several revenue streams, you risk not reaching your potential with any of them.

Increasing Revenue on an Established Site

Dom agreed that digital products have the best ROI potential. He has one person on his team dedicated to creating and integrating digital products into the sites he purchases.

Something he’s started trying recently is approaching influencers in a niche he has a site for and asking if they already have a course. If so, he’s asking if he can white label the course or enter a joint venture with them to market it to his audience.

Closing Arguments: Should You Start a Site or Buy One?

Dom said if you have around $20k and you want to experiment with a site and can afford to lose some of your investment, he recommended picking up a small site.

If you have a larger amount to invest, say around $100k, he recommended working with someone who knows what they’re doing.

For those with very little to invest or are new to managing a site, Dom recommended building a site from scratch so you can learn the ropes as you go with minimal risk.

Mark also recommended partnering with someone who knows what they’re doing if you’re determined to speed up the process by buying a site — due to the risks involved.

If you’re a beginner, he doesn’t see any value in buying a site. Mark recommended starting a site of your own and learning everything as you go without the risk of losing a lot of money.

Links and Resources from this Episode

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