How to Avoid Getting Scammed When Buying a Website from Flippa
Flippa is a great place to buy a website or app that can be a cash cow. There’s all sorts of websites available for sale from brand new websites for $50 all the way up to sites earning tens of thousands of dollars per month with price tags in the 6 figure range.
However, most of the stuff you see on Flippa is absolute garbage. Some of it’s obvious where there’s no traffic history until last month when the site got 500k users and made $1k. Things like that are an obvious sign that something is wrong.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed When Buying a Website from Flippa
If you’re new to the world of making money online then Flippa is the best place to start. Flippa is a marketplace where you can buy or sell websites, apps, and other online businesses. There’s all sorts of websites available for sale from brand new websites for $50 all the way up to sites earning tens of thousands of dollars per month with price tags in the 6 figure range.
However, most of the stuff you see on Flippa is absolute garbage. I found a site for sale the other day making $1,000 per month that looked promising until I started to dig a little bit further…
When I checked back a few days later, that website had sold for $25,000. The poor sap who bought it just lit $25k on fire and they don’t even know it yet.
I am going to teach you how to avoid falling for the same trap so you don’t waste your money on a scammy website.
The Golden Rule for Buying a Website
Before I get into the playbook for analyzing a deal, you need to know the golden rule of buying websites:
When you’re shopping for a website, it’s really easy to fall in love with a website and talk yourself into buying it.
The golden rule is to talk yourself out of buying a website, not talk yourself into it. A lot of buyers will find a website they love and fall for it instantly. Even though they see issues with it or some questionable data, they look past it and talk themselves into the purchase because they can’t see the truth right in front of them.
This case study is for a website I found for sale on Flippa and thought about purchasing before I dug a little deeper and found out it was a huge house of cards waiting to crash down to being worthless.
Step 1: Site Age and Traffic Patterns
The first step is to review the listing page on Flippa and see if there are any immediate red flags. All Flippa listings have a standard format that shows:
- The content system used (usually WordPress)
- The age of the site
- Monthly profit
- Traffic stats
- Revenue, expenses, and net profit
Here’s what the listing for this specific website looks like:
The first thing to check is the age of the website. I wouldn’t buy any website that’s less than 1 year old. Scammers like to create websites, pump fake traffic for a few months, then sell the site off and disappear. A site that’s at least 1 year old is less likely to be a scam and should have a proven history that you can validate.
The next step is to look at the traffic. Red flags here would be:
- A continual decline in traffic
- Huge spikes then a return to no traffic
- Gaps with no traffic data
Traffic is one of the most important parts of any website. No matter how beautiful a website looks or how much money the seller claims to have made off of it, if there’s no traffic, the website is worthless.
The traffic graph for this website has a nice upward slope which is a good sign. That means it is growing and you can expect your earnings to grow with it.
Right below this section Flippa will have a traffic breakdown showing you where the traffic is coming from. Here’s what this site looked like and here’ show to analyze it:
First up is the channel. This site gets 91% of it’s traffic through Google. This is OK and not uncommon for a lot of niche sites you’ll find on Flippa. However, this means you are very dependent on where you show up in the search results. If you get penalized by Google or find out the seller was doing some shady stuff, you’re screwed. You’ll lose 91% of your traffic and earnings overnight.
Personally I like to see the organic search number really high. If you see a site with high referral or direct traffic then you have to figure out where that’s coming from. Generally these are signs of a scam site or a huge, popular site.
How often have you typed in “waffleironreviews.com” versus going to google and just searching for “waffle iron reviews”? Unless it’s a huge brand name selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, you should expect to see very small numbers for direct and referral. If direct and referral traffic make up more than 20% of the total traffic then you should be very skeptical. This doesn’t always mean the site is a scam but it’s definitely a red flag that something fishy may be happening.
The other traffic channel is social. If you’re buying a website with a huge Facebook following then this number will probably be higher than the screenshot I showed up above. That’s fine but just be aware that is something that you have to actively do.
Creating content and posting it to a Facebook page does require hands on time and is something you may not want to do. Personally I prefer organic search traffic because it rolls in every day, every hour, whether I’m creating new content or not. Being stuck on a content treadmill is exhausting, especially if it’s in a niche you aren’t passionate about.
Step 2: Backlinks
This is the big one. Any website that’s getting a lot of organic search traffic will have a lot of backlinks; that’s just how Google works. The more links to your website, the higher you rank in the search results.
Scammers know this and they manipulate it by using a PBN which stands for personal blog network. This is essentially a group of sites that the seller controls. They create articles for these sites and build links to their own website they’re trying to sell. If they do a good job of hiding this from Google then they can trick Google long enough to make their site show up high in the search results, get a ton of traffic, and make a lot of money.
The problem with this is that the seller can remove the links at anytime. Or Google can figure out they’re using a PBN and penalize the site. If you buy a site that was built on a PBN then your traffic could literally disappear overnight. As soon you take ownership of the site the seller could decide to delete all of the old links and your traffic would be gone.
That’s the simple view just showing the number of sites that link out to this niche site. Nothing wrong there, decent numbers that make sense with the amount the seller is claiming to earn each month. But the devil is in the details.
Here’s a list of the specific sites linking to this niche site:
This niche site reviews air rifles. You’d expect their backlinks to come from sites that are in the same niche or in something related to airsoft rifles. The domain names look weird and don’t seem to be related at all to the niche.
Going to the top 4 sites to see what they look like leaves you with this:
This is what your typical, lazy, half assed, scammy BS PBN will look like. A site that looks so ugly, no normal person would ever go to it. The content is all over the place and makes no sense. It’s not relevant to the site it links back to and it just makes zero sense.
So there it is, our reason not to buy this site. Even though everything else looked OK, the backlinks were created with a PBN. This means the entire foundation of the site is built on quicksand so all the other numbers we found are meaningless which is why we follow the golden rule. It’s so important I’m going to say it again:
Surprisingly, Google has a hard time right now figuring out what a PBN is. Until they get better at it, scammers will continue to use them to quickly rank sites and sell them on Flippa for huge sums of money. It’s incredibly unethical and the buyer probably doesn’t know what they’re signing up for.
Hopefully now you have a rough idea of what to look for if you ever look to buy a site on Flippa (or any other marketplace for that matter). Even though the Flippa listing may look good, there may be a lot of bidders and verified earnings, the site can still be a complete scam.
This also opened my eyes to the fact that it is incredibly easy to trick Google. I’m toying with the idea of testing my own PBN on a niche site I own to see if it would work. The site is only half finished and has 0 traffic (literally 0 people have ever been to it). I’ll create a new post for that to document my journey of creating a PBN and see what kind of results I can get from it.