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[E4C24] How to Build a Passive Income Empire – Empire Flippers

How to Build a Passive Income Empire - Empire Flippers


Ever wish business was easy? Every entrepreneur I’ve spoken to has told me that starting a business and growing it, was a lot of hard work, that really involves busting through your fears, and persevering beyond the point where most people give up.

Typically, along this entrepreneurial journey, you might stumble upon this concept, which has become a bit of a “holy grail” in the online world. That’s the idea of “passive income.”

However, passive income, is rarely ever “passive”. It may be residual, recurring income, that is to say that revenues come in 24/7, even if you are offline and on vacation for a week or more. But passive income usually involves quite a bit of active work.

Driving traffic, testing offers, optimizing conversions, getting your product pages ranked on the 1st page of Google. That’s work, folks.

So today I’m going to talk to Justin Cooke, a lifestyle entrepreneur who is based in Davao City, which is located on a beautiful tropical island in the Philippines. He runs a site called Empire Flippers, with his partner Joe Magnotti.

They teach people how to build websites that generate Adsense income. All the work you need to do is up front – keyword research and SEO copywriting. These sites rank in Google entirely based on keyword optimization – no need to go through the onerous task of building up backlinks.

A “successful” site brings in approximately $50/ month in Adsense revenue. If you built up a portfolio of these websites, you could easily make several thousand a month in truly passive income.

In this info packed interview, Justin shares with us:

1) The white hat SEO tactics he uses that allows his pages to rank on the first page of Google, without having to build backlinks.
2) How to optimize your ad blocks for maximum clicks.
3) The sweet spot you want to identify in your keyword research that indicates whether you have a chance of ranking on Google page 1 for that keyword niche.
4) 2 deadly mistakes you want to avoid in your keyword research process.
5) The formula he uses to calculate the profit potential of a niche
6) And much, much, more

Mentioned in this interview

Where to Find Justin

  • Empire Flippers Website
  • Follow Empire Flippers on Twitter
  • Check out Empire Flippers on Facebook
  • Visit Empire Flippers on Google+
  • Listen to Empire Flippers Podcast


[0:03:54] Lorna: Ok, so Justin, I’m so glad to have you with us on our call. I’ve been so curious about what it takes to really build up a portfolio of websites that generate passive income. I know a lot of people are really interested in how you cracked this code. But specifically, whether it’s possible to be able to do this around, niches that are kind of like more on sustainability, or lifestyles of health and wellness type of sectors because I think a lot of us who, are intrigued by passive income, see a lot of the scammy or sleazy make money online offers or think that it has to, do with making money online, and having generated passive income has to orient towards like, niches that are not so exciting or a little sleazy so–

[0:04:53] Justin: Six minute abs are.. [laughs]

[0:04:56] Lorna: [laughs] Or diet pills. Acai pills or teeth whitening.

[0:04:58] Justin: And you don’t have to do any work, you just sit back and you’re going to look beautiful when you buy my products.

[0:05:04] Lorna: Yeah, exactly. While we rebill you every month. [laughter]

[0:05:08] Justin: Rebilling, recurring, that’s the key.

[0:05:11] Lorna: Yeah. Ok so, Justin, tell us who you are and what you do.

[0:05:14] Justin: So, my name is Justin Cooke, I’m an expat entrepreneur. I live in Davao City in the Philippines with my business partner, and we originally started out here with an outsourcing company which had to turn on to more of an online presence through our brand empireflippers dot com. I’m a partner there. I’m a co-host of the podcast that we run, and basically, explain how we’ve built out a network, a mini empire of small niche sites and we help others do the same. And we also basically allow for marketplace where others can buy and sell their sites to other, passive income investors that are looking for properties to add to their portfolio. So we’ve moved into more of a buying and selling space over the last year or so and that’s our focus.

[0:05:59] Lorna: So tell me, how many sites do you guys have and, how many do you guys create every month.

[0:06:07] Justin: So we build out thousands of sites. I’d say more than 3000 sites total. And that’s aside even counting all the, small sites cos we’ve done some local CO for our outsourcing company and that we’ve created sites for them as well but for ourselves a few thousand. We have about 600 or so left, a bunch of them we either sold off or they weren’t worth renewing, they weren’t worth keeping. So we have a failure rate when we create sites, a portion of our sites maybe 25, 30 percent just fail miserably. They just don’t work.

We’ve tried to improve that number and tried to get better with our keyword research and just doesn’t seem to matter so, some of them are just losers and we end up tossing those. For the ones that win and end up taking off, generally those become investments for other people when we sell theme sites so they can expand them and change the monetization. So we know tons and tons of sites. One thing that, I have to say is that, when we started off, I did it myself. I was building up the sites. I was writing content, or having some of the content written for me through you know, a bunch of sources you can use. And after that the first couple of months we really added that to our team.

We have a team of people here in the Philippines that do a bunch of different work for us and that’s kind of really our value preposition. We have a team of people that we can hand them work, and they can make it work if we give them a clear process, they can take that and build something out. So, our real value preposition is the fact that we have an amazing team here that can do the work for us. So Joe and I had very little to do with those sites today, but we are testing out some new processes but I’m sure we’ll get into in a bit where we’re testing out expanded niche sites, buying expired domains, that kind of thing. So we’re doing some testing right now. We’re probably, I think we reviewed 25 sites this month on this larger niche sites to see kind of how they work.

[0:07:54] Lorna: So tell me what qualifies as a success and what constitutes failure? What metrics do you look at when you decide to pull the plug on a site and decide that it’s a loser?

[0:08:05] Justin: Yeah so that would depend pretty hardly on the type of site you’re building up and there’s all the current kinds of ways to build Adsense sites or niche sites. Our motto or our process was, we spend about $40 to $50 in total and that’s counting the hours spent building it and everything that goes into building the site and we want the site to make somewhere between eight and $10 a month or more. As it is typical, about 80 percent of the revenue from earning sites comes from about 20 percent of the sites so, some of them make you know, $200 a month, $250 a month and a lot of them are making $3 a month, they’re at the lower end of the spectrum. But a win for us is eight to $10 a month on a $40 to $50 investment. That’s a pretty good ROI. We’ll normally keep a site for anywhere from five to 10 months and once the site has stabilized in terms of traffic, rankings and earnings, then it’s in a good position for us to sell it and take that money and roll it into building new ones.

[0:09:01] Lorna: Ok, so how many pages are we talking about on a, 50, $60 website.

[0:09:07] Justin: So for the yeah, the 40, $50 sites we were creating just five content pages. So you’d have the home page we have four additional content pages and there will be obviously an about us and terms of service and that kind of thing. So, a couple additional pages about five content pages to start. The site we’re testing right now have 50 pages of content and they’re built on expired domains. So they cost us a bit more. I think, don’t quote me on this, I think it’s about 250 bucks for spending on the these new sites and we’re hoping they’ll make us about $50 a month which should be in line with kind of the ROI we’re looking at with the smaller sites so, we’re testing that now.

[0:09:44] Lorna: So on only five pages of content, that seems like a pretty thin site so, I like that because 5 pages of content isn’t that hard to create and for generating eight to $10 a month on it, I mean, ok. You could really crank out a bunch of these and start to generate some decent income. How many words are typically on each page?

[0:10:10] Justin: Normally some are between 500 to 700 words for the home page or for the primary keyword that we’re targeting. Additional 400 to 500 words for the secondary. So yeah, not that much content. We actually order, we have a team we call them content managers and they order the content from places like HireWriters and iWriter dot com and then when it comes back they’ll check it for uniqueness make sure that it wasn’t copied that someone’s not trying to reuse their work and then also format it and make sure that it looks great on the page when they upload it to the site.

[0:10:40] Lorna: Do you do any backlinking onto these websites or is it a purely, through content optimization?

[0:10:48] Justin: So we did some back-linking and I should make clear to you that we’re targeting very small niches so this isn’t an actual site or keyword but some more like blue ski boots. Like it’s really, really kind of direct and targeted. So it’s not like you’re going to have to have this huge backlink profile that’s going to take up really long time to rank. These are the kind of like really low-end phrases that maybe if you have a very large site about a ski equipment, maybe you would have one page kind of targeting that but we built a whole site around it, a very small site than an entire site which has a better chance to rank with that keyword. But when it comes to backlinking, we’ve done some backlinking, we’ve tested it and this is a couple of years ago. We’re building public blog network called Build My Rank and it was a blog network where you could pay and you could submit and we would use their links and they were linked to your site.

We had a problem with that when Penguin came out where it crushed a bunch of the sites that we had really built these links to through our public network. Now we choose not to build any links at all. The reason being that, if we’re going to be selling the site, we don’t want to put them at risk for our buyers. So if we have a backlink system, even if it works today, what if it doesn’t work six months from now. What if it you know, ends up causing a problem and so we don’t want to take on that risk. When we sell the site if someone else wants to attempt to do backlinks, best of luck with you, but we don’t want to do it for the buyers that we have.

[0:12:13] Lorna: So pretty much, what you’re saying, that these websites that you guys build for, pretty niche keywords, do they rank on Google page one for those terms?

[0:12:24] Justin: Some of them do. Some will get to, it’ll take a while. Maybe it takes anywhere from two to four months to get the site ranked on the first page. Sometime they get the number one position, other times they just never appear at all. So they’re on page eight and never get any better. As soon as they make it to page two, well it just depends. Now we had a lot more success at getting higher on the rankings when we were doing backlinking but also cost a bit more too. We’re spending 50 to 60 bucks for the site for those backlinks. So we’re spending less but the average of the site has gone down too which kind of makes it a wash and honestly it makes it safer long-term to not do backlink than have your backlinks to come naturally.

[0:13:05] Lorna: So if you’re not doing any backlinks, what else do you do besides creating the content and then launching the site and letting it simmer? Do you do any social media? How do you get–

[0:13:17] Justin: We do some–

[0:13:18] Lorna: How do you get your sites to get indexed and beyond hoping and praying, move up the index.

[0:13:23] Justin: So we do some I guess white hat SEO so what we do is we optimize around the keyword space on the content and we also build out internal links that are helpful for our SEO. These are the types of things that most white hat agencies will do. In addition to some legitimate backing so you can get through you know, guest blogging and that kind of thing. But we focus specifically on internal SEO we use anchor rich keywords to link between the pages, we’ll make sure that our content is really on target for the keywords that we’re looking to target. It’s really kind of, it’s the basic stuff that you should be doing and so because of that, I mean Google is pretty good at indexing sites today. I mean, years ago you should be, you’d have to like push even get it in the index who was pretty good about finding your content today so it’s not as bad as it was. I’ll tell you, I don’t know if you know Nate, I mean his name is Nick and his word Pinterest process where he was able to get quite a bit of traffic via Pinterest and so we’re actually doing pilot test run with him right now to see if we can promote additional traffic via Pinterest. [I’m not sure what you mean with this.][] I know just got some Facebook tests going on as well. We don’t know the success. It’s early and that so it looks promising. It looks like the traffic we’re getting good like I mean it’ll still take some time.

One thing you have to be careful with especially with Adsense you can buy traffic, any number or ways. You can pay for just a ton of traffic to come to your site. The problem with Adsense is that you want to make sure it’s targeted, relevant traffic. So if we, I say we just went through with some traffic broker and say hey, send us 50,000 visits to our page. They’re not going to be there for that particular topic or want more information on that topic, they might just be there because they clicked some other random link somewhere and ended up on our page. So we want people there that have an interest on the topic.

If they got there via search they’ve obviously express an interest whereas if it’s totally random traffic, that wouldn’t be good. So for example if I had a Twitter account with, let’s say a million followers and we did like daily deal updates and stuff and, I started to like kind of like funnel traffic that way, unless it was about the topic of my site so I use blue ski boots, unless it was about ski equipment like the Twitter account, that might not be so great to send a bunch of traffic that’s not relevant to the keyword. Because ultimately, you get paid on a click with Adsense right. So someone click this or you get paid let’s say 40 cents 50 cents a buck, you want to make sure that that traffic you’re getting is converting from the advertiser. Someone’s paying you at 40 or 50 cents for that dollar for the click.

You want to make sure they’re getting traffic that converts for them. Ultimately, if you’re not sending, converting traffic over them at a percentage that Google has deemed relevant, they can be problematic for your Adsense account and that’s why I think a lot of people will get their Adsense account banned or in trouble is because they’re not sending relevant traffic to the advertisers. So does that make sense?

[0:16:14] Lorna: Yeah that totally does make sense. I think one of the challenges too that some publishers might run into is how to get the best AdSense ads onto their content so I’d run into this challenge too. So let’s say I’ve got a website about solar or even if it’s a general website about sustainability and the webpage is about residential, solar panels for example, how do you tie the content with the ad because sometimes, and I will admit, I’m not an AdSense expert at all, but I’ve had placed AdSense on my websites and I just feel like why is this ad coming up.[laughter] So you know, it’s like are there best practices around optimize your content so that you have more relevant AdSense ads appear.

[0:17:04] Justin: Yes when you sign-up for AdSense, they’ll tell you the ad walks that are most popular. You’re going to want to make sure that you’re using ad blocks that are popular with the advertisers because that’s going to give you a better chance of having advertisers. If you don’t or if there are no advertisers for that niche, a lot of times they’ll you know like, what do they call them like a like a like they don’t put advertisers that they put like Wikipedia or something like that yeah it’s you know, like social-good-type sites so they’re not actually paying.

Basically, what I’m saying is that you want to make sure that you’re targeting niche that has a high level of advertiser competition. You want people competing for those keywords to make sure that you know, you’re going to get paid when people click through. So there are three or four, eight people in your space advertising for those keywords you have a higher likelihood of getting paid and actually seeing those CPCs go up over time. But basically it’s just having the right ad blocks on your sites that’s going to help.

Make sure that relevant ads are getting placed and Google is awfully kind of determining what a relevant ad is. One thing I’ll mention to you is that it’s not just contextual information based on the site and the keywords that you’re targeting, it’s also based on user interest. So let’s say that I go to the site about blue ski boots but I just been looking at GoDaddy, for example. I may see a GoDaddy ad there because Google knows I was looking at Go daddy yesterday and it’s doing some remarketing toward me based on GoDaddy’s placement. So for you Lorna you may have had AdSense on your site but it knew that you were looking at, I don’t know, Long Tail Pro or whatever else the day before [laughter] some serve you ads [crosstalk] [laughter] just following you around right. [laughter] I’m getting that all the time–

[0:18:50] Justin: We just [laughs] I don’t know, we just started a remarketing campaign for Empire Flippers I’m seeing myself all over the place. I’m going to niche sites and seeing Empire Flippers ads but that’s the reason why so, and that’s actually not bad because especially if your target, let’s say was looking up legal information and they get like the legal zoom ad, that may a click may actually pay more that’s why a lot of times in a particular niche even if they found you via not the best keyword, you get paid like a three or $5 click because it’s targeted toward them specifically based on their interest.

So yeah, basically making sure you’re using the right ad blocks and Google will tell you which ads are the most advertised. Now making sure that you have enough advertisers from those keywords or that niche will go a long way toward making sure that you’re getting a good amount of advertiser, good amount of click advertising when you send the traffic.

[0:19:42] Lorna: So you’re going to get better targeted AdSense ads if you place the ad block within the actual body of the article as opposed to, let’s say in your side bar.

[0:19:52] Justin: Yeah that’s right. So generally a really good ad placement is the 336, I mean it’s 336 by 280 right under the title of the post so, right before the content right under the title that normally gets good clicks but all this stuff, I mean, it really comes down to testing. So you know, on one niche site it maybe that a side one of the ads in the side bar outperforms one the ones that’s inside the content just because it’s that particular niche or just because the advertiser for that particular ad unit is better.

So there’s a whole bunch of stuff that goes into it. What we do is we created a theme called Intellitheme which gives you different layouts because we didn’t know like you know, what about blue ski boots may perform better with one kind of layout or look then one that’s about red ski boots for example. As crazy as that is, we figure why don’t we have a theme that can test that? So we created Intellitheme. Will rotate through these different layouts, and over time it’ll give you a statistical significance as far as which layout performs better and you could lean more towards that layout versus the others and we found that some niches, for whatever reason, one layout will work perform better than another.

There is one that performs better overall but it’s not as clear cut as we thought so that’s actually good, we can test out all these different layouts with different niches and maximize our earnings for each site that way.

[0:21:18] Lorna: So this theme that you guys created for WordPress, what is it called again? How do you spell it?

[0:21:23] Justin: Yes, it’s called Intellitheme and basically it’s a theme we created based on some of the ad units and layouts that we’ve tried before, and found it to be effective. Depending on the layout, some layouts would earn more than others in certain niches. So it’s the theme that we use in all of our niche sites. It works well with AdSense, but also works Amazon. It works with any ad based placement where you can put code in and we’ll test different ad units in that spot or it will test of a layout to determine which layout is the most effective and then you can make that your permanent layout for that niche site.

[0:21:59] Lorna: How much is it and where can we get it?

[0:22:01] Justin: Ninety seven bucks. It’s at Intellitheme dot com and it’s just, really we created it for us and then we did a launch. We sold a little over a thousand licenses when we launched it and now it just sells a couple of licenses a month but it’s something that we use on a regular basis it’s up taking that kind of thing. [I also don’t want to see this in the document]

[0:22:18] Lorna: Awesome.

[0:22:20] Justin: I’ll warn you, it’s ugly. It’s not a very good looking thing. I’d much prefer a layout something like ThemeForest or Genesis or Thesis, and those are all responsive. Our theme is not responsive, which it should be and we’ll probably fix that eventually but it just happens to be those layouts that performs really well for the niche sites we created.

That was one of the biggest complaints like, well this is just kind of ugly. We’re like, yeah, but it kind of works [laughter] that’s why when we tested it these are the ones that happen to work best for us.

[0:22:46] Lorna: Ok so going back to kind of niche selection, so to speak. When you’re creating niche site with the goal of creating AdSense revenue, you had mention that you know, obviously if you’re dealing with search terms that have high advertiser competition, then it’s going to increase your chances of profits, like advertising profits. Is that correct?

[0:23:08] Justin: Yeah.

[0:23:09] Lorna: Ok how do you determine whether or not your niches are competitive niches?

[0:23:15] Justin: The Google placement tool, the tool that you can use and it works for Long Tail Pro as well which is a keyword research tool that we use, we don’t tell you the advertiser competition so you want to make sure that the advertiser competition is relatively high.

Don’t confuse that though with competition in Google on the first page, you want that to be low. So you’re looking for high advertiser competition and low first page competition. And what I mean with by first page competition is that you don’t want to see sites that are authorities in their niche that are a root domains that are targeting your keyword.

So if you find a very authoritative site and it’s the root domain and they’re targeting that keyword, there are a bunch of those in the first page, that’s probably not the keyword we would target. It is maybe a more long term keyword and we take a much I think stronger site to rank there and it’s not the type of niche that we’re looking for. So we’re looking for the secret niches. The ones where there’s not a lot of content out there about it or Google hasn’t found any good content about it yet, but that does have some advertisers. So it’s valuable to advertisers but content marketers haven’t targeted that keyword as well at this point.

[0:24:26] Lorna: So how would you then determine whether or not there’s too much competition on the first page of Google? I mean, some obvious be if there’s a Wikipedia listing or if there’s like a big authority news site like, Huffington Post or Mashable. For example, would those be some examples like how else would you advise.

[0:24:47] Justin: Yeah, so if Wikipedia has an article about that specific keyword, about that particular topic and that article is targeting that topic, that’s going to be difficult. So depending on how well ranked that is in the first page, if it’s halfway down or something, oh that looks pretty painful because they’re going to be hard to beat in that space. If it’s a Wikipedia article that has a slight mention of something about that keyword and it’s not particularly targeting that keyword, that might still be ok because you know, Wikipedia is pretty powerful getting ranks so if they’re specifically targeting that keyword based on whatever or they have an article about it that might be a bit more difficult. But there is a slight mention of those keywords somewhere on the page that might be something you can beat.

Really, you know, that’s kind of like the subjective piece of picking whether we want to target the keyword based on the first page analysis but a more objective way to do it would be to look into Long Tail Pro which is a keyword research tool we use. It pulls information from Google and what it will do is it will give you a keyword competition score, and they call it KC, and that basically gives you a grade based on the analysis of the first page and the data that it pulls with that keyword.

So we typically look for a KC score of 40 or less. If it’s 40 it means it’s doable. No guarantees but it’s going to be more doable using our process. So we use a mixture of looking at the KC being under 40 and then actually looking at the first page, analyzing it, determine whether or not we’re not going to be able to rank. So sometimes that keyword it might have a KC of 36, and we go, ah that looks hot, we go on the first page and our analyst will say, “Oh no that’s not going to work, we’re not going to target that keyword, that’s not good enough”, and it may just be because of one or two problems, meaning that someone ranked in that 7th, 8th and 9th position and they’re really highly targeted toward that keyword. They’ve been there for quite a while. They have a lot of page authority and just looks like something that we’re not really wanting to go after so we will dump it.

So that’s kind of the final check is the first page analysis done by our analyst that look for keywords It sounds complicated, it’s really not that bad. We have a guy that really goes through that. You can check out, we will talk about that towards the end or whatever but it will walk you through keyword research step by step.

I would say, that’s kind of the most important part of our process is determining we’re going after the right keywords, so it’s really worth getting it down and when you start off doing this you’ll probably going to screw up a few times. I did. I went for a global search numbers instead of local search, so I was getting about a bunch of keywords are being searched for in the U.S. and that’s what it’s trying to target and it turned out it they were in different countries. I also did broad match instead of exact match so, partials of those keywords are being mentioned but not the exact phrase so, I find a keyword and say, “Oh this looks like such a winner”, and it turns out no one is searching for that phrase in particular. Maybe like 40 people then, [giggles] so that wasn’t very helpful. I was like, oh I’m ranked at number one and number two but that’s not great if only 40 people online are searching for your phrase.

[0:27:50] Lorna: So you’re recommending that researchers go by the local search numbers rather than the global?

[0:28:05] Justin: And it looks like 70 percent of my traffic is from the U.S., that’s ok. If it’s 30 percent and there’s only let’s say 800 searches a month, that I may want to look where the other 30 percent is. If it’s in the U.K., you may still want to target that keyword but you want to keep your content in-line with that. So make sure that you’re using if you get a content writer, make sure you get a British-speaking content writer probably someone from India to write that content for you. So you can still target the U.K., you can target Australia, just make sure that you know where they’re coming from where whereas for example, my targeted keywords where 70 percent of the searches were getting done in the Philippines, that’s great if I had something to sell to people in the Philippines. But if I’m looking for AdSense advertisers in general, they’re not looking for Filipino traffic. So it’s not going to be as helpful for me when it comes to advertisers, it’s probably not going to be a high-paying traffic. You’re going to want to get something from the U.S., U.K., Australia, something like that.

[0:29:02] Lorna: So what’s the minimum monthly search volume that you guys look at before you decide the niche doesn’t have enough traffic and it to be worth the time and effort to create these sites.

[0:29:15] Justin: So it’s normally going to be a balance between search volume and stated CPC. So we’ll go as low as 800 exact match searches a month as long as let’s say it’s yeah, local. As long as it is mostly from a country that we’re looking to target but it better have a higher CPC. So it need to have a higher CPC of a buck 50 or more for us to go after it if it has let’s say, 1800, 2000 exact match local search volume. Then will maybe willing to go down on CPC a little bit.

Basically, we want to be some multiple of 10 bucks or more. So if I take let’s say, exact match CPC of a thousand, and we’ll multiply that by the CPC of a buck and multiply that by one percent, I want that to be $10 or more. Does that make sense? So, so I with a thousand times one that’s a thousand bucks, multiply that by 1 percent that will be $10. That ratio needs to be 10 bucks or more for us to want to target it.

[0:30:15] Lorna: Ok that’s a really good formula. Thank you for sharing that with us. So I guess–

[0:30:19] Justin: We actually we built out a tool called Niche Profit Calculator, so you can put in the exact match search and the CPC. It’s free, it’s just something you can use if you want to check it out, but it will basically determine whether it will be a go for us. Now this doesn’t guarantee, it’s not always accurate on determining how much you’re going to make with that site. There’s so many things that go into that, it just won’t work but it does give you kind of a great comparison. So if I’m thinking about targeting this keyword or that keyword, it gives you a better idea on like where your focus should be and the potential. So if my potential is three times as high with this keyword than it’s with this. I think it’s about the same in terms of difficulty to get ranked. I might as well target the one that has three times potential.

[0:31:01] Lorna: Ok cool, so where do we access this calculator? Do you know the URL out of the top of your head? We’ll definitely include it in the show notes.

[0:31:10] Justin: I don’t but you can go to Google and just search for Niche Profit Calculator and pretty sure it’d be number one for that.

[0:31:14] Lorna: Excellent. Ok, so we have gotten to some nitty-gritty of niche research but I think just kind of to take a step back and to look at it from bigger, higher perspective like more of a 40,000 foot view so to speak. Ok, so we have gotten to some nitty-gritty of niche research but I think just kind of to take a step back and to look at it from bigger, higher perspective like more of a 40,000 foot view so to speak.

Niche research is really hard for a lot of people to grow. So can you give us like the basic overview of what people need to do in order to determine whether a niche has enough traffic, and has enough profit potential to be worth the investment of building a website. So there’s obviously this formula, but I mean, if you could cut us take a step back and summarize like maybe the list of things they need to do, that would be so helpful.

[0:31:57] Justin: Yeah so the formula is helpful but there are also, there are other considerations that aren’t quite so formula [inaudible] and so I don’t think I’ll talk about this or that. It also has to be something that people are interested in purchasing. So there has to be some buyer intent with the search trace.

When you’re looking at these keywords or you’re looking for targets, you want to think about is someone actually searching for this keyword to purchase something or they’re just kind of like looking for information and they’re not really in a buying mindset. So for example, we built the site at around a particular painter right, and it was about kind of his painting style and stuff and it got quite a bit of traffic because it’s ranked really well and I think we were one of the very few sites kind of really talking about his types of paintings and his style. The problem is, that no one is buying so they would see the ad blocks and it was really a harder thing to get relevant advertisers for Google to serve up relevant ads for that site, so we create traffic and very low click-through rate whereas if I’m targeting a particular product or something where people are looking, it’s kind of like laying their last search before they make a purchase, they’re much more to buying mindset.

So when they go to our site they get a bit of information, they see it right there for sale they might go, ok well hey, I want to go purchase that, I’m ready to make my decision, they’ll click-through with an intent to buy so, looking at buyer and when you’re targeting a niche I think it’s important. One of the things I’ve heard said, I think this is pretty interesting and I think it’s mostly true, is that there’s real value in targeting, if you’re just getting start off, targeting like personal or private problems you might not want to ask your co-worker about. Let’s say, you want to do a research on a particular STD right? You might want to tell–

[0:33:40] Lorna: You read my mind.

[0:33:41] Justin: Yeah you–

[0:33:43] Lorna: What could possibly, oh yeah like, home STD kits.

[0:33:47] Justin: Your warts problem is like bigger, you have a friend right, so I mean that’s supposed to be when I ask for advice about. That would be a little uncomfortable. So it is something that you might search out though privately, you and Google might take a look, and so these types of keywords are the kind of things that you are really searching for because there’s a real problem and there’s are hundred who are looking to solve that problem. So you might go for like and, and don’t try this keyword review insanely difficult but around the DUI right? If I was a DUI and I have a court date, how do I deal with that? That might be not something I want to tell my boss about or my co-workers but it is something I might want to research myself on Google.

So we found some, definitely value in targeting those types of things. I’d also say, and I won’t give away any specific niches here, but we have people that sell sites and buy sites in the educational space. So any for profit educational institutions that are looking for leads, and this is not AdSense space, but if they’re looking for leads, building out a niche site around that particular niche, that particular educational institution’s niche can be really helpful on work a lot because they end up getting paid a lot for those students that sign-up, thousands and thousands of dollars. So they’re willing to pay a little bit more for leads that can lead them to getting them signed up.

[0:35:02] Lorna: Do you know of any niches in the sustainability or in the health and wellness sectors that are really good to get into?

[0:35:08] Justin: I don’t. I’ll just say, I should say this is that, it becomes a bit more difficult when we try to limit it, right, so when we’re doing keyword research, we never know like you plug in a general keyword and then it will spit out a bunch of different other options that meet our criteria. A lot of times though, those aren’t even kind of in the space that we thought they were going to be. So let’s say I search for, I don’t know, couches or something and it comes up with like upholstery cleaning right, or it comes up to be something totally random comes up. It’s not as close as I thought it would be but it’s fine as long as it meets our criteria. I’m actually fine pursing it but if you’re looking specifically for the sustainability industry, I think it might be a little more difficult. In fact, I’m not sure, I think you can do the keyword research process if you have a site that is in the niche. I mean, you can look up keywords and target your content around it, but I’m not sure that I would get into sustainability solely based on keyword research.

I wouldn’t want to. That wouldn’t be my primary driver for picking the niche but it would be something I’d use long-term to build the site out with additional content.

[0:36:14] Lorna: I see. Yeah I’m just trying to think of certain markets that might be interesting to my audience for example. I can see like on one hand you’ve been doing this from a pure profitability stand point but from that passion or interest stand point that might not be as compelling to build out a bunch of portfolio websites on upholstery cleaning and blue ski boots and…

[0:36:44] Justin: Yeah, one thing that is important though is this process right, and some of it is pretty boring. They’re really building small, even people that dig the process and it’s profitable for them, it’s not that they really get fired up about that particular niche site that they’re creating. But what is important I think is that you get these fundamentals down so building up these type of sites you’ll learn how to quickly put sites together, how to put them on the web, how to work really well on WordPress, how to order content, how to do keyword research in any niche that you’re in.

So let’s say that I have a site that’s based on alternative energy right, it’s like got alternative energy review and I do some pulling of other articles and I kind of analyze them and that kind of thing. Finding out what keywords people are searching for in that niche is critical to me getting search traffic. So what this will do in creating sites and niche sites, we’ll show you how that works and that’s relatively a low-cost way to test through it so I really recommend a keyword reading search part what we do even for bloggers, even for large, large sites because it’s wonderfully effective and making sure that you’re targeting the right keywords and the right search volume for your blog or for your industry.

I think it can be even more effective on a larger site that you’re able to do some of that internal keyword linking. Even you can grab to more slightly more aggressive keywords. So maybe you do a KC of 60 or less, because you’re able to do some internal links from your other pages to this keyword to this page that you just created. So you’re able to do your own internal linking to help boost the ranking and go after more competitive niches. So yeah, I would definitely do it for if you have a blog or site on renewable energy for example, you can find keywords in that niche and it will kind of drive your content creation and make sure that you’re picking up all the organic traffic that you should be getting.

[0:38:37] Lorna: Do you offer any tutorials on your particular keyword research methodology that you guys use?

[0:38:42] Justin: Yeah so we have a guide it goes to our entire process from start to finish, it’s free, it’s called Building a Niche Site Empire and it goes through, it’s spent quite a bit of time on the keyword research we kind of discussed here briefly. But some of these get into like our content sources who we use for hiring content, how we order that content, how we check to make sure it’s unique before we put it in our site so we’re not putting copied content or someone else’s work on our site.

I really recommend checking it out so it’s not going to cost you anything and I think it’s a great way, if you haven’t built out these sites or you don’t know exactly how to target keywords based on search volume, this would get you completely up to speed to get you testing through it.

[0:39:20] Lorna: Excellent. So when you guys build these Adsense sites, do you market any affiliate products through it or do you just keep it purely AdSense spaced?

[0:39:28] Justin: So we don’t market any affiliate deals through our sites. It’s been AdSense only. At one point we had tested some lead generation stuff and I think we had, I think one or two working well, the other two were not. But it’s not always we explore in-depth, but I would say that a lot of website buyers do this. So it’s a great way if you’re buying sites to improve the site, to expand the site.

You may see a site that’s monetized with AdSense and generally speaking, AdSense is a lower form of monetization. So if your site is getting let’s say 10,000 plus visits a month, you should seriously look at improving your monetization and not just using AdSense. The AdSense we’re talking about 800 visits a month or something. If you’re getting 10,000, 15,000 a month plus, you should look at improving it through affiliate offers through selling your own products directly and that’s a great way for when you are buying a site to actually expand the site to earn more money to get a better return on your investment.

[0:40:22] Lorna: Ok so is it possible to generate a viable sustainable income purely on a portfolio of AdSense sites or is the money really in flipping the websites?

[0:40:34] Justin: Yeah so it depends on what kind of your goals are. So originally when we did it, our plan was not to flip sites necessarily and [inaudible] our blog or anything. The idea was to hold them. But we realized that it was very expensive to keep expanding the process. We’re spending more money. If we had to wait for the income to catch up this is like a three to four month lag time, so if we’re expanding and spending more money and we’ve got that lag, we’re going to be quite a bit of a hole. So our goal originally was saying why don’t we just realize cash flow up front. Some of the sites [?] led people looking to build that site similarly. I know we can take that cash and reinvest it and that was really successful for us.

Other people that I know they like for example, some site buyers they get absolutely crazy to be selling off online assets so they generally will buy and hold. So, like I was just talking to you pre-show, there’s this guy named Mark up in Chiang Mai right now with his girlfriend and he has a large network of AdSense type sites where he maintains and holds them. He sold quite a few sites through us, but he also buys sites and holds a bunch of sites himself to see if he can improve the traffic and do a long term. He’s making five figures a month on it and he has this some other stuff. Then you have guys like I interviewed for a show called the Drew Sanocki and he works as a partner at a company where they are looking for sites in like 500,000 to like 3,000,000 range. They buy them up and their goal is to flip them inside 12 months. So they’ll look for sites that have potential for improved monetization where they can make some changes to the site to the business and sell it off for two to three times what they purchased it in 12 months. So that’s their business motto just buying, improving, and selling the sites. So I think it just kind of depends on what your goals are.

If you want just the sites that you work on you want to have, let’s say 20 to 40 sites or even 400 sites, you can do that. You just better have a team in place that can manage the sites long term. If you have 400 sites and by a little bit of work every month, you’re probably going to want a few VAs working for you. If you have 20 sites that require a bit more work, you’re going to have VAs but you know there’s, it’s obviously more consolidated. So it just depends on what your goals are.

[0:42:46] Lorna: Ok so you had mentioned expired domains that you have basically been acquiring them and testing their success on. I understand that building a website on an expired domain is a great way to get an additional lift in Google as opposed to building a website on a brand new domain. Can you explain exactly what expired domain is and where we would go find one?

[0:43:09] Justin: Yes. It’s funny you mentioned that. I’ll mention to you this briefly is that even when you buy a domain that is brand new, it may have had a history. So we’ve actually bought sites what we thought were brand new domains that had problems before, that had issues or they had a backlink profile or penalized in some way that’s causes issue and we run into the same problem with buying expired domains and it’s a bit more costs us too so you would have to be a bit more careful. But basically an expired domain is, and a guy who talks really well about this subject is John Haber over at authoritywebsiteincome dot com and that’s actually where we got the process from.

Joe has been testing out buying expired domains and building out sites on content that’s very similar. So say for example that we had a site in I don’t know, home furnishing. One of the last site I ran a particular keyword in the home furnishings niche. We’ll have, we were having him look for a domain and find us an expired domain in that general industry and the work build up around the keyword. So it’s not always an exact match it’s not, well this is an exact match keyword, it’s not even exactly matching the niche but it’s close enough that it has some authority in that niche to where we’re getting an automatic benefit or bonus by building on that domain. So we’ve been doing some testing. It is true especially if you find the right ones it can be beneficial. The site already has some initial authority they wouldn’t have otherwise. We’re paying I think somewhere between $40 to $100 for those expired domains. I’m not exactly sure about the process, I know that because that’s when somebody like Joe works on, that’s like his side of the house. But I can tell you that yeah we’re spending 40 to 100 bucks I think for the domains and it looks like it’s successful in terms of giving us a good ROI.

[0:44:51] Lorna: So these are doing that you find through your domain name registrar as opposed to a website that weren’t even build on Flippa. Is that correct?

[0:45:00] Justin: That’s right. Yeah that’s right.

[0:45:01] Lorna: Ok any advice on buying a website on Flippa. How would you determine the website’s value?

[0:45:06] Justin: Well I’d say if you’re going to buy a site you should come to us because we have a marketplace. But yeah the thing is with Flippa they have, they’re the largest so they’re the eBay of buying and selling websites. But it also means that they don’t have any vetting process included, so anyone can list if you pay the fee. So you’re going to end up with a whole bunch of sites that are maybe not what you’re looking for or are maybe problematic in some way.

Generally we tell people to generally avoid sites that are under $1000. If you’re looking for something in that range, you’re probably better off building out yourself from scratch. But what you want to do is with Flippa be very good at using their search function. So if you stood upright and you’re looking for sites that are say, a year older that have certain amount of revenue, it’s verified AdSense revenue, that would put you on a good start. But yeah there are a ton of different things you need to look out for with due diligence. It’s not something that you can just say, oh let me just buy a site, because you’re going to figure out over time there are a gazillion ways to, you’re going to find out that there are a gazillion ways to have problems when you’re buying sites.

So we have a podcast on our due diligence process, and there’s a whole bunch of stuff but I Google searched due diligence with buying a website and a whole bunch of results will come up. So I’d say one of the big things to worry about or to check into when you’re buying a site, and this sounds kind of odd but I would like to make sure that the seller has some kind of legitimate presence. So a lot of times they are anonymous, so they don’t have a Linkedin profile, you can’t find them anywhere else online, you have no idea who they are, and that just tells me that there should be zero recourse if things do go shady or a few things do go wrong. I’ll have no recourses this guys is like no absolutely no presence at all.

It’s not required that you’re publicly out there but it’s helpful right? But if you’re not, I think it’s problematic. I’d also say if at all possible and you’re specifically looking for like AdSense screenshots. If it’s someone that you’ve never worked with before may not be enough, it’s better to actually check out there you can do like screen share on video. That’s bankable too but it’s more difficult. So if it’s someone that you’ve never worked with before you might want to get, do a screenshare with him and make sure that some of the traffic and earnings, details that they’re telling you about are true. But there’s a lot more to it than that, but those are the main things that I look out for.

[0:47:26] Lorna: Awesome. So we’re coming to the end of our interview segment. You’ve shared so much information. There’s so many more questions I would love to ask you but I think at this point, it might involve just taking a closer look at your website empireflippers dot com because you have shared such great content with the public already on what you do. How is the best way for us to be able to stay in touch with you?

[0:47:50] Justin: Well I tweet every once in a while so you can chat me out on twitter @EmpireFlippers. Obviously you can check us on empireflippers dot com. We also have a podcast, it’s on iTunes check it out, Empire Flippers podcast.

[0:48:02] Lorna: And what do you guys cover in your podcast typically?

[0:48:05] Justin: It’s a little more broad. We don’t talk about keyword research selections as much. It’s more about kind of like living and working in the Philippines, building remote teams, building process on your business, standard operating procedures, how to hire and manage VAs. It’s a bit more general, talks a little bit more about kind of our overall business experience. Some of the things that work, some of the things that did not work and that kind of thing. So we just kind of share our business experiences in the hope that our listeners get some value.

[0:48:33] Lorna: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us Justin.

[0:48:38] Justin: Awesome Lorna. Thanks for having me on, I really appreciate it.


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Lorna Li

Chief Evolutionary Officer at Entrepreneurs for a Change
Lorna Li is a business coach, entrepreneur and Amazon rainforest crusader, with a passion for green business, social enterprise, and indigenous wisdom. She helps changemaking entrepreneurs harness the power of the Internet to reach more people and make a bigger impact, while designing the lifestyle of their dreams. She is an Internet marketing consultant to changemakers, and works with innovative tech startups, sustainable brands, social enterprises & B-Corporations on SEO, SEM & Social Media marketing.
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  • baliexpat

    I enjoyed listening to the podcast. I am also a fan of empire flippers. It is an interesting business model, but I am still confused how they get these mini-sites to rank? I know they don’t do link building, so what do they do? There was a mention of pintrest, but that was just something they were testing.

    • http://www.entrepreneursforachange.com/ Lorna Li

      Thanks so much @baliexpat:disqus ! Empire Flippers rank their niche websites entirely on long tail keyword optimization. They do no link building whatsoever. That’s because Google keeps updating its algo to discourage “unnatural link dev” & they don’t want to be in a position where their links are all of the sudden penalized.

      • Justin Cooke

        That’s right, Lorna!

        Because we’re selling the sites as investments it’s better for our buyers that we don’t put them in a position that could cause them issues down the road with problematic linkbuilding.

        Keep in mind we’re not going after really competitive niches. Instead, we target the “low-hanging fruit” that most might not think to build a site around.