As blogs are increasingly recognized as business assets—or businesses in their own right—more entrepreneurs and publishers are looking to enter the blogosphere by buying a blog. And as we’ve already seen this week, in many cases, bloggers are happy to sell.
While blogs are often bought and sold privately, to get a reliable overview of the blog sales market, we spoke with Andrew Knibbe, Operations Manager of Flippa.
Among the little-known facts we discovered in this interview were:
- blogs make up more sales than any other site type on Flippa
- the platforms used to run and monetize a site can affect its value
- building your authority in your niche can be a big help if you want to acquire a blog down the track
- yes, Blogger blogs do sell!
For full details, read on.
PB: Today I’m speaking with Andrew Knibbe from Flippa. Andrew, thanks for talking with us.
First up I was wondering if you can tell us a bit about the market for blogs on Flippa. Not much is known about the blog sales market and you guys obviously have a good overview of what websites and being bought and sold at the moment. So can you tell us a bit about that in relation to blogs?
Sure. Blogs are probably the biggest part of Flippa. About half of our websites sold tend to be blogs. It’s probably a fraction up on previous years—it’s probably grown at two percent in 2012 based on 2011. So they’re pretty popular, they sell well, and it’s probably our bread and butter.
The next [site type] is ecommerce, and that’s at about ten percent of what blogs sell for. So blogs are a big part of what we do.
Are there particular types of blogs that sell better than others or key niches that are more popular?
Yep. The ones that tend to sell most in terms of volume are health, entertainment and internet-related niches. Entertainment and health are up on the previous year but internet’s dropping in terms of demand.
The demand tends to reflect in terms of the multiples as well. So the prices people pay for those sites is up for health and entertainment. The prices for internet sites tends to be dropping a little bit compared to the previous year.
Also I guess the resourcing of these sites kind of varies a lot, so we see different quality blogs in some of those niches come through which tend to drop the price down was well.
So overall are you seeing more developed or more advanced blogs more frequently? Or is the spread staying reasonably consistent?
Currently the spread is relatively consistent. I think about two or three years ago when Google’s SEO algorithm was a bit more lax we saw a lot more autoblog content come through. That seems to have trailed off primarily because the buyer demand is less—because they don’t perform so well in terms of search engines—so that’s trailed away.
But in terms of the sophistication of sites and blogs that come through, it’s stayed relatively constant. There’s some really awesome ones, there’s some blogs that have obviously been neglected for a while, and people are selling them off, and everything in between. It’s pretty stable.
So there’s opportunities if you’ve got a reasonably developed blog—from that point on there is an opportunity to sell it?
Yeah, absolutely—depending on a few factors. But for the most part, if it’s got something going for it—and even age is something that goes for a blog, buyers value that—that gets reflected in the price.
How blog management affects demand
So with the blogs that are sold on the site, do they tend to be more single-person operations (like just me and my blog and I want to sell it), or do you also see sales of larger blogs with multiple authors or multiple owners?
Yeah we’ve seen, as of late, more sophisticated blog operations come through. My understanding when I see some of the sellers is that they’ve become a bit more sophisticated as well. They tend to operate as “publishers” rather than pure solo bloggers. So they won’t set up a staff, but they’ll have contacts that they use to write some of the content—either in full or to supplement their own effort.
We still see a few solo ones, but we’re seeing a growth in people who outsource part of what their blog does.
Firstly, when you say “publishers”, would they have a portfolio of sites?
Often, yes, they’ll have more than one. If they’ve got a special-interest blog, it tends to be the solo person who’s got an interest in that particular niche, and that’s what they focus on. But also we’re seeing a larger segment of people who’ve got multiple interests and have multiple blogs, and kind of run it as a bit more of a commercial operation.
And so that outsourcing—does that make the blog more saleable because it’s more of a business than a personal labour of love, or because there’s automated aspects?
Yeah, I think a lot of the buyers tend to favor sites where it doesn’t take up a lot of their time necessarily, and also that means that the revenue and cost base is reflected a bit more clearly as well, because the costs are [shown] for the people who do the work rather than the owner who doesn’t necessarily cost out their time.
But yeah, we’re seeing a few more of those come through, which is interesting, and probably positive.
From the buyer’s perspective, would most of your buyers be people who are looking to add to an existing portfolio of sites? Or they have a site and they need to tack a blog on? What are most of your buyers like?
There’s probably two segments. One of them is people who are just starting out, and they tend to buy newer blogs that aren’t necessarily SEO-ranked, for example.
For the guys that are buying existing sites, they tend to own one already—it might be in a complimentary niche or it might be something totally new—but they’ve got some background behind them where they’re trying to expand out to what they’re buying. So they’re not necessarily buying a blog for the sake of having a full-time job as a result of that purchase.
Are people selling blogs in languages other than English or from countries other than the western hemisphere? Are people using them as a means to enter a new market in any cases?
Possibly. For the most part, given the internet’s global, most of it tends to be English-based. That doesn’t mean they’re from English[-speaking] countries, but they’re English-language sites.
We’ve seen a few French, Spanish, Italian sites come through. Not a whole lot, but there’s a few that are on there, and they tend to attract those sorts of buyers. Whether people are looking to enter a Spanish market and they want to buy a Spanish blog, the volumes probably aren’t enough for them to do it that way, but they might stumble onto it, and as a result get into a particular country.
The key blog value drivers
You mentioned age before. How much does that matter? Are there particular characteristics at particular ages with the blogs that are for sale that are influencing price or interest from buyers?
Age is a good one. I think at some point, age matters a lot. So if you’ve got a blog that’s been around for a few months, and it has nothing else going for it, it’s worth a lot less than a blog that’s been around for like three years and has a good lot of traffic. So that age component counts for a lot.
Having said that, once you go past maybe three, four, five years, the age component tends to drop off, so you’re not getting a whole lot more bang for your buck once you go past a certain age point. But age definitely counts, because you can’t really replace age buy building [a blog] yourself. That’s probably the biggest thing there.
If you had missed that window where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck on an age basis, obviously there would be other factors that would come into play that would affect the value of your blog thereafter. Could you tell us a bit about what those key factors would be.
That would drive blog value?
Yeah, particularly for the older blogs.
For an established blog, the biggest thing that’s going to drive value is revenue. So if your site is earning two thousand dollars a month, you’re going to get more money for your site than someone who doesn’t.
I think after that, there’s traffic. So you might not be earning revenue, or revenue might not be so strong, but if you’ve got good traffic, both in terms of the quantity of traffic—visits, for example—and also what they do on the site (so if the bounce rate’s low, pages per view are high), that tends to keep the value pretty high as well.
Outside of that, I think some of the SEO components tend to be valued very highly. If you’ve got a whole lot of backlinks without a lot of traffic, that’s something that new buyers can fix up and do something with, and then either keep or sell on.
Another one is niche. We touched on a few niches beforehand, but there’s definitely some niches that are worth more than other niches. Finance, business—those niches tend to be more lucrative because they tend to generate more revenue. So if you’ve got a thousand users on a finance blog, you’re going to get a lot more money out of those guys than a thousand users on a pets blog, for example.
Buying assets: content, lists, social media and more
The word that I was waiting for in your list of value items was content! Obviously that plays into a lot of things—your traffic and your revenue and that kind of stuff. But I know that a lot of our readers focus very heavily on content.
So how’s blog content handled in the sale? A lot of bloggers might want to retain rights to the content they’ve written. Are rights normally included in the sale? Would they retain some rights? And what about guest posts, where it can be a grey area for a lot of bloggers?
The content baseline: we run Copyscape on Flippa, so if there’s no Copyscape matches, that tends to be attractive to buyers. Unique content is good, and the quality of that content tends to be reflected in things like SEO ranking and the like.
But when you’ve got that content and you go to sell your site, for the most part that’s included. My view is that if you’ve got a blog that you want to sell, but you don’t want to sell the content, you’re really just selling the domain, and that’s a different transaction.
So usually the content’s all included. Usually they’ll try and flag that it’s unique, and that they’re allowed to publish that content, and you can take the content with the site. Guest posts I’ve usually seen go across—I haven’t seen excluded necessarily. I don’t know if the guest poster comes back later on and asks for it to be withdrawn.
But on the whole the content comes across because it’s such a big driver of site value. So you’ve got an audience that’s been built around specific content, so without that, that audience is likely to disappear and search engine rankings and possibly revenue and the like mightn’t be there either, so in most cases that content component comes across—as does the source.
If they’re using existing writers to create the content, that’s an important part of the sale as well, to make sure those contacts don’t get lost as part of the transition.
One other question I have about content is to do with off-topic or outdated content. I know that one of the other articles that we’re running this week is a case study about a blogger who bought a blog and when he was doing his due diligence on the blog he could see that there was some off-topic content and outdated content on the site.
Do blog sellers on Flippa tend to shape their blogs for sale, and remove that kind of content first? Or is it up to the buyer to know what they’re buying, and that they’re not paying money for content that they later realise is not appropriate.
It’s probably more on the buyer’s side. To be honest, I think most blogs that sell on Flippa are being sold because the owner’s lost interest or they’ve run out of time, and so it’s probably started to wind down a bit, and it’s not as good as it could be. And so they’re not really going to invest too much in the blog necessarily before they sell it, apart from making sure that it’s running and doesn’t have broken links and the like.
But very often we’ll go and visit a blog that’s been bought later on, and it usually has a whole new design, has new navigation, they’ve probably improved their tagging of some of the content and I’m guessing they’ve fleshed out some content as part of that as well.
So it’s definitely more on the buyer end where they try to fix some of those things up and ultimately improve the ranking of the site as a result of that.
So that sounds like potentially good opportunities for buyers, in that if they’re buying a site that has room for improvement rather than necessarily looking for a site that’s at its peak.
Actually there’s probably two things there. I think some buyers are looking for the sites with awesome content that are broken in some other way, and they’ll tweak whatever it is, and suddenly make the content more available, and the site picks up from there.
And there are others that are looking to fix up broken content on a site that’s otherwise doing well and take it to the next level as a result of that.
As well as content, I know there’s some other assets that bloggers see themselves as having: one would be social media accounts, and the other would be lists—email lists. And you’ve also mentioned contacts in terms of content generation, but there may be other contacts that a site owner has made. Are those kinds of things often included in the sale?
Again, it depends. I think that the email list is the interesting one. Some site owners will buy and email list and attach that to the sale, even though they can’t really sell it. So I guess the smarter buyers will check out that it’s a double opt-in arrangement with email, and it’s for the site being sold.
We’ve got in our terms that you can’t include items that come from sources outside of the site being sold, but it’s almost impossible for us to police that. If we know about it, we’ll shut it down, but otherwise the buyer’s in the best position to check that stuff out.
The social media footprint is an interesting one, too. If the blogger or the person selling has done it right, the social media’s all attached and quite clean. But if they’ve got their personal Twitter account, for example, that’s driving traffic to the blog, that’s likely to not be included as part of the sale, and that’ll probably reduce the value of the blog if that’s a big source of traffic for that blog, or the audience. So that’s an important point.
I think the social networks themselves are a bit of a grey area in terms of transferring some of those accounts over, but in most cases it goes through. I’ve not heard of someone who’s bought a site with a Twitter account and had problems with it once it’s been moved across.
What about Pinterest? Are people selling Pinterest [accounts] as part of their blog sales?
We saw a whole bunch of Pinterest-type clones come through when Pinterest was big—eight or nine months ago.
Since then we haven’t seen much of a focus on that. I’ve seen a few ecommerce sites where Pinterest is driving a lot of their traffic—they’ve got an account with a lot of Pinterest followers, and they drive traffic to their ecommerce store from that. There’s probably a smattering of bloggers that do the same. I think it might depend on the individual nature of the blog as to how big a role that plays.
Brands and audience engagement: a balancing act
The next thing I wanted to talk about is the personal blog or the personally branded blog, versus a business branded blog, or one that’s not got your name attached to it. And then also grey-area blogs, like ProBlogger in a way. ProBlogger’s got its own brand, but then everyone associates Darren Rowse with it.
Do you see more personal blogs or more business? I’m assuming you’d see more business blogs?
Yeah, more non-one-person-associated blogs. I think that grey area is probably a relevant one, when the persona of the person who runs the blog even though it’s generic—I think even TechCrunch had that happen when they sold, as well—they tend to be taken into account, but it doesn’t necessarily drive the value.
I think, my name (AndrewKnibbe.com), if I tried selling that it’d be almost impossible—not because it’s just rubbish, but even if it was awesome, I think I’d be reluctant to sell it, because someone else has got my name, and they’re publishing things under my name, which I’d have no control over. But at the same time, the person that buys it has to try to stay authentic with an audience that knows I’m no longer there.
As a result of that—and they’re my two assumptions—we don’t see a lot of personal-brand blogs being sold on Flippa, because I think they’re kind of impossible to sell.
We definitely see a lot of blogs being sold where the person who’s founded the blog is very much front and center on the blog, and I’ve seen different ways people have managed that.
Can you tell us about those?
The ones I’ve seen that’ve worked most successfully is when someone who’s kind of in the same niche or industry, and who comes from a position of authority, takes over the blog, and takes it to the next level, which is a good thing.
Blogs that tend to get sold aren’t necessarily at their peak—they need a bit of attention—and so when someone [like that] takes it on, they’re likely to reinvigorate the audience, the content, and everything else, and then those people appreciate that. They don’t want to be getting low-quality content on a blog they used to love.
So I think the personality thing is a good question, but I think it’s manageable, depending on who takes it over.
A seller of a blog like that—would they be a bit selective about the person that they’re selling to?
It varies. It’s not always a price thing. My assumption would be that the one who’s willing to pay the most money is the one that the seller’s most likely to sell the blog to.
In a lot of cases we’re seeing people who’ve probably got an interest beyond pure money—in terms of making sure that their baby continues off into the sunset in a way that they like. And so they’ll ask a lot of qualifying questions of bidders to say, “Why are you interested in my blog? What would you do with it?”—that sort of thing to qualify them before they accept bids. It’s interesting.
So from the buyer’s point of view, if you wanted to buy a blog in your niche, then it’s probably a good idea to be building your authority for that purpose as well.
Absolutely. Especially if you come from a nicely related niche that’s complementary rather than competitive, that tends to work quite well. I’ve seen people do that—they’re in sport for example, and they’ve got a few sport blogs and they’ll go onto parallel [niches]. They’ll be into tennis and they’ll go into hockey or something.
They have some authority in one space and they kind of transfer that and people see they’re serious in what they think about it, and that comes through when they try to buy.
When those transactions happen, is it common that people would stage that so that the new personality is introduced to the audience rather than an immediate cutoff of the seller]?
I think it varies. I’ve seen in forums, where people who are active in forums who aren’t necessarily the owners of the forums, feel a sense of ownership over the forum so if the forum sells, they’re not so happy about it.
I think blogs with a lot of activity from the audience, they might feel the same way—they feel like it’s their platform to a certain degree. And when it sells they want to make sure that’s being done properly.
I’ve definitely seen some buyers take over a blog and they’ll contact the subscribers and let them know what they’re doing, what their plans are, and why it’s so awesome to stick around. Others I’ve seen not really do a whole lot in that regard, and I think it depends on how sticky the audience is to a certain degree.
Are there particular niches where that is more common?
Yeah, possibly the softer niches, pet or entertainment niches, or home style niches. That’s usually where that kind of approach is taken.
The value of a blog business, and the platforms it’s built on
We’ve talked a bit about key factors influencing a blog’s value, but one aspect that I wanted to look at were blogs that have a business attached to them, or where the blogger’s taken their blog and now they run a course, for example, so they’re selling a course through their blog. Or other products, like ebooks, or maybe they have an online store attached to the blog which is selling curated affiliate products.
Does that approach tend to be valued more highly than the traditional publisher monetization strategies like ads?
If when they go to sell that’s all included as part of the sale, in terms of those affiliate pages, definitely—don’t know if you want to hear it—but advertising models are the lowest performing. So if you’ve got a blog that relies on AdSense or BuySellAds or something, our stats show that these guys are earning typically less than two cents per visit off those blogs.
As soon as you include things like affiliate sales—again it depends on the niche—but monetization methods that are a bit more effective, like affiliate sales or drop-ship or some kind of ecommerce arrangement, suddenly you see the yield per visit just shoot through the roof.
Sometimes you’ll see people buy a blog that’s been monetized with AdSense, and within a few months it’ll be an affiliate network blog, and these guys are making a lot more money off the same audience simply because they’ve got a better monetization method plugged into it.
If you’re able to show that when you go to sell, if you’ve been able to monetize your audience better than through straight ads, that contributes to the sell price, most definitely.
In the stats that you gave us, one of the things that stood out to me was that in those different monetization strategies—and also within the different blogging platforms—those factors, the different ad network you choose, the different affiliate network, the particular blog platform you use, can affect the value of the blog.
Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes the match between the niche they’re in and the affiliate network they use tends to be hand-in-hand. There’s the Apple app review blogs, and those guys tend to use LinkShare as the affiliate network, and as a result they tend to get quite good conversions because people buy apps all the time from those blogs.
There are others that are more built for forums, and so they convert as well, apparently, because of that.
So with those things, like LinkShare, is the blog worth more because that network has affiliates that suit the niche better? Or is it also because potential buyers are used to using that provider?
I think it’s the former. If people pick a niche that’s got a good affiliate provider, that’s always going to work in their favor. Having said that, you can have certain niches with multiple providers, and at the same time, you can pick providers who don’t provide a good return in terms of views or conversions.
For the buyers, it depends. If they know that the network being used is low-value, and they can switch it out for a higher value site, they’ll probably pay a higher multiple for that site, just to get it and switch it across.
There’ll be other buyers who don’t necessarily have that savvy, but they want a sure thing, so they know if they’re on a network that earns well, they’ll just want to buy it and they’ll pay market rate for it and then they’ll know that they’ve got a good income from that going forward.
And in terms of platform selection, I’m just wondering if for many blogs that are sold on Flippa, the buyer would change the platform that it’s built on.
You definitely see that. It tends to trend in terms of if you’ve got a really old, archaic platform, someone might move it onto WordPress because that’s what they’re working in, or move it onto Drupal or Joomla because that’s what they’re familiar with.
We see a whole bunch of Blogger sites being sold on Flippa, which surprised me. But you can see that trend going down over time, whereas things like WordPress is always right up there and Drupal seems to be coming back as well, which surprised me.
I don’t think people necessarily stick with the platform that the blog comes in on. Having said that, it could be hard-coded and it might be a nightmare to move it—I don’t know if they’d bother.
Great. The only other question that I had was can you tell us some ways that bloggers can work out the value of their blog or get an approximation?
I think valuations are inherently pretty hard, because no two websites are the same. A lot of people use Flippa to do valuations, so they’ll do a search on Flippa to try to find sites or blogs that are very similar to their own, and then they’ll watch those auctions and see them play out, and get a bit of a feel for what kind of demand there is, and what kind of values these sites go for.
Outside of that the rule of thumb is that the blog tends to go for between, say, 12 and 36 months’ worth of revenue, and that’s influenced by what we talked about before in terms of niches and traffic quality and the like.
Otherwise, you’re probably looking, by our rough guesses, at about 50 cents per monthly visit when you go to sell. So if you’ve got 1,000 visits, that’s $500 that you’re likely to sell for. It’s highly variable, based on a whole bunch of things, but that seems to be the middle ground, which might be helpful if you’ve got no idea at all.
It’s worth checking out what the current market’s doing, cause that gives you the best feel for what real buyers are paying for these sites.
Cool. Thanks very much for your time, Andrew.