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Mike Partee

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What type of sites and where? Content sites are pretty much always sold as a multiple of monthly profit, not revenue.
Normal affiliate-monetized content sites with 100% organic traffic.

Also, correct. They *are* sold by EBITDA, but with the largest ongoing cost off the P&L.

Maybe the industry has changed but at least when I was helping to broker content sites in 2020/21 at a place that specialized in it, the only costs written on the books were fixed hosting and (maybe) plugins costs. Meaning the sites would sell at ~99% profit.

I'm not an accountant, so bear with me for this next section...

The reasoning is that although Content Writing is often an expense that site owners have to cope with to maintain and grow rank, it's not recorded in the P&L/Income Statement because it doesn't directly contribute to revenue. One could argue that writing articles in hope that it'll rank is speculative in nature, so I don't think it fits in the COGS section of your P&L.

Therefore, it's categorized separately as a Capital Expenditure, which isn't on the P&L. If you write content, you might or might not make more money as a result of improved ranks/traffic. If you stop writing content, you'll still make money (for a time) if you let the site sit there. It's sort of a "passive" asset at that stage.

I don't agree with the practice because an owner will always need to pay for writers, but it is what it is.

Therefore, the multiples were, and still are *massive* due to a combination of factors:
— Somewhat "Passive" model, at least in the eyes of the buyer
— Extremely Scalable Business Model (just sell other people's stuff)
— Almost no expenses on the books (contributing to insane valuations)

Some other time-relevant factors:
— Huge outside interest during the pandemic, as it could never be shut down.
— People buying a bunch of stuff with stimulus.
— People spending WAY more time online.
— Cheap money propping up asset prices across the board.
 
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Mike Partee

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@BizyDad Sure, I'll throw the hat in the ring.

I'll admit it's been a while since I've dealt with these types of assets but I'll pull up the notes.

Do you have any general advice you'd like to share?

This may end up being a brain dump from a guy who's spent no time building a site myself, but a LOT of time selling and evaluating them. So, here goes...

— Flipping sites is very lucrative, but also very short-term and risky. Things can (and will) change on a dime. My supervisor had some affiliate sites selling insurance or something, cranking out $100k per month for about a year, and then one day the traffic just...vanished. Some Google update killed it. Should've sold at the top. He still has PTSD : )

— Basically all the SEO stuff I've forgotten by now. But listen to the Authority Hacker Podcast, they are top notch and helped me really understand the landscape much better. They'll go over how to pick a niche with a good balance of potential revenue vs competition.

— At the end of the day, Google is like a utility. Search the documentation for their ranking factors (at least what they reveal) and give them exactly what they're looking for. Their preferences evolve over time but in general: Create a site for humans to read and use, not computers.

— That means while effective to a limited extent, keyword stuffing and low-quality articles written by AI or third world writers won't get you that far. Gaming the system isn't the best strategy long-term.

— When selling, organic traffic is good as gold. Social or Paid media-dependent sites require ongoing active strategy, which can be a headache for a new owner. Therefore, sites with the majority of traffic coming organically commands a higher multiple.

— USA traffic websites usually command a higher multiple. BUT...there's a growing market of foreign-speaking content sites that are highly, HIGHLY undervalued at present. Examples: Acheter / Vendre un Site Rentable (Média, SaaS, e-Commerce, Entreprise) I DotMarket.eu

— It's better than nothing, but when it comes to monetization, Amazon Associates is the lowest IQ and most unforgiving option. During the pandemic, Amazon-only sites were killed as their rates were slashed. See if you can go direct with your affiliates to avoid this or go with non-physical products (selling leads/call connects instead).

— If you go with Amazon, use Genius Link to localize your links for the appropriate AMZ country store.

— When you're looking for companies to promote as affiliates, you can even reach out and set up custom agreements with service providers who don't have an affiliate program yet. Not only will you have exclusive access to that vendor but you can also command more favorable rates. I've seen this a few times and is a really great, creative way to make everyone more money that isn't the standard plug-and-play stuff

— If you serve ads, we've seen sites double revenue just from hooking up to Ezoic/Mediavine. That said you have to be careful; If you have a high-commission product you're selling on your site, it may LOWER your overall earnings because you're diverting visitors from high-ticket purchases via ads.

— We've seen Mediavine perform much better than Ezoic, although Mediavine has higher traffic requirements.

— One of my favorite parts of this was figuring out creative ways to get high-quality backlinks. You can always measure how search engines merit your site by checking your Domain Authority on aHrefs. For example, right now The Fastlane Forum has a DA of 48. That's incredibly good!

— One strategy people use to get a head start on rankings is to buy expired domains with some level of relevant backlinks. It's pretty clever. True example: We sold an affiliate site (selling coffee products) that was built on top of a domain that used to be a local coffee shop. The coffee shop went out of business a while ago, but someone snagged that domain and had some pretty good backlinks to local news outlets and the like.

— Speaking of backlinks. PBNs (Private Blog Networks) are very powerful tools to improve rank. But they're extremely risky. Either build your own PBN, or pay a premium for one that's with a trusted party/few sites. But NEVER buy links from places like the Hoth, it's extremely stupid and can jeopardize your rankings.

— One of the best ways to get super-high-quality backlinks is to do HARO (Help A Reporter Out). Approach someone in the media to be a subject matter expert. That's really how very small sites get on Forbes and such.

— Same goes for Press Release stuff. Do people read press releases? Not really. But if you can find a way to get your link onto one, boom you're on Forbes.com and command a higher authority.

— Guest posts are another thing. Do it legit with other sites in the space. Paid guest posts aren't good. You could get your site penalized (against Google TOS).

Do different revenue streams generate different multiples?

YES absolutely. We had a metric called traffic-to-earnings ratio that helped determine multiples. Stuff like selling insurance is extremely lucrative but also extremely competitive. Of course if they have healthy SEO metrics and nothing is shady, those signify stability and thus a higher multiple as well.

What's the thing that people wish they had done differently when they're at the finish line that they didn't know when they were at the starting point?

— Sell when traffic's going up, it won't last forever. Google updates routinely decimate sometimes *legitimate* sites, and can even rank shit sites higher. I've seen this a few times.

— Monetize sooner. Every month you don't monetize is a month of income (times 3-5x) that you won't get on the exit. So, just imagine that you could be making $2k/month right now by monetizing. Every month you don't, you're really turning down $6-12k at that moment because that's what you'll get when you sell!

I could probably go into more but will pause for now. It's a fascinating industry with a lot of nuance!
 

BizyDad

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Google did an update targeting AI generated content. Didn't want to post an update too soon, because I wanted to be sure.

But that is what the last several weeks showed me. My traffic down 70%. Rankings fell off the mountain.

But here's the (first) interesting thing. It's only 4 pages. I started digging into why. These 4 pages were some of the earliest pages we wrote. So I thought maybe it had to do with site structure, # of clicks from the home page, that sort of thing. But I ruled it our because some of our older content still ranks fine.

Then I talked to the writers, and one guy spotted it immediately. These were the articles he used Jarvis/Jasper to write. Early on, we were playing with that tool. And of course early on we focused on some of the higher traffic/low competition phrases, so as a result some of our best performing pages got hit, and traffic tanked.

So he gave me a list of the 8 articles he used AI to write, and I cross reference that. 7 had been showing up and all 7 had rankings drops. (The first 4 had first page rankings, the other 3 had deeper page rankings, and the last one targeted a tiny phrase that apparently never got off the ground.)

BUT... Our other pages are still ranking basically were they've been.

I find that interesting because Google said the spam/quality update was supposed to be a site-wide update, not a page update. Also, the date we got hit doesn't line up with the spam/quality update.

Feel free to check your rankings for the week of Sep 23rd. I'd love some corroboration on this.

BUT here's the second interesting thing...

They are pulling back on the update. The last 10 days or so, we are seeing rankings recovery. And thus far, we have done nothing to the site other than continue to post content. The rankings and traffic aren't all the way back, but they have shown solid improvement.

Here is a chart of the last 3 months

1666805501440.png
And here's the last interesting thing...

Google admits to a "logging error" on Sep 21.


Now that could be an explanation for all of this.

But a "logging error" that only impacted my AI generated content? And if this was a logging error, and search data just went "missing", then why did I still see some search volume for these article corresponding to a big drop in ranking?

Naw, IMO this is a sign of things to come. Google knows the difference between human written and AI written, and they are starting to draw a distinction. We cancelled Jasper a while back. Now we'll be rewriting those 8 articles. I don't want to be in the line of fire when Google drops the hammer.

---

Lastly, we lost a team member this week. She decided she's not cut out for marketing, she's going back to her previous career. So this project is up in the air ATM.

Personally, I want to pivot to a new niche that is

1-More established
2-Has more traffic. I mean WAY more. Both more phrases and higher volumes.
3-Is actually less competitive. (Surprising)

I found one. I just have to convince the team. I could just "force" it, but you get better buy in when everyone is free to draw their own conclusion.

We chose this niche because it could lead to a proper business. The thought was monetize via ads, then affiliate, and if that worked well, convert it to ecom.

But now, we don't want to be in the ecom business for this niche. We all agree on that. And I didn't realize back then how much $ one can make just off mediavine. So I want to pivot. The team is on the fence, which is better than 2 weeks ago when they wanted to keep pushing forward in this space.

I'll keep you all posted...
 

MTF

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Naw, IMO this is a sign of things to come. Google knows the difference between human written and AI written, and they are starting to draw a distinction. We cancelled Jasper a while back. Now we'll be rewriting those 8 articles. I don't want to be in the line of fire when Google drops the hammer.

Google may have a way to identify some of it but I doubt they can identify content that's AI-generated and (heavily) edited by a human.

The worst part is that you can hire someone to write content for you, they'll use AI without telling you, and you won't ever know this but Google will (and penalize you).
 
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BizyDad

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Google may have a way to identify some of it but I doubt they can identify content that's AI-generated and (heavily) edited by a human.

The worst part is that you can hire someone to write content for you, they'll use AI without telling you, and you won't ever know this but Google will (and penalize you).
That's not a big concern. There are online checkers. Here's one for example.


I'm not a computer science guy, but my understanding is there are different foundations upon which these are AI tools are built. So one AI detector may not be able to detect a different kind of AI written content. We plebs have to use a variety.

But they all do basically the same thing. Spit out a percentage chance that something is written by AI.

My writer, I am led to believe, heavily edited the content from Jarvis because we knew this was already in place. I have been wary of AI produced content. Once he played with it and saw that it would just flat out spit out false "facts", he definitely went through it with a fine-tooth comb. I don't know how much true rewriting there was though.

Now I have run about 30 articles through various testers. The eight articles that were written with Jarvis all scored at least 70%, and most were over 85% likely hood of being written with AI.

Meanwhile the 20 or so other articles I have run, that I know my guys have written without Jarvis, most of them have spat out an snow well under 15% chance of being written with AI. There was one article that had a 30% chance. It was an outlier and we have no idea why, but we still kind of laugh about it.

So I'm not really worried about a writer trying to slide one by me. The checkers seem to do a pretty good job.

And if the checkers are doing a good job, then I believe Google is doing a better job.

The only real question is, how much is your heavily edited content truly edited compared to that of my writers. YMMV, right? Just Google for AI content checkers and run some of your heavily edited stuff through it. It'd be great if you could report back some results. I'm genuinely curious how your content will fare.

But the reason we canceled Jarvis was because my writer said he spent more time editing the Jarvis content, and he could just produce the article faster if he wrote it himself. I think that speaks to how much time he spent editing.

So there's that...
 

msufan

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That's not a big concern. There are online checkers. Here's one for example.


I'm not a computer science guy, but my understanding is there are different foundations upon which these are AI tools are built. So one AI detector may not be able to detect a different kind of AI written content. We plebs have to use a variety.

But they all do basically the same thing. Spit out a percentage chance that something is written by AI.

My writer, I am led to believe, heavily edited the content from Jarvis because we knew this was already in place. I have been wary of AI produced content. Once he played with it and saw that it would just flat out spit out false "facts", he definitely went through it with a fine-tooth comb. I don't know how much true rewriting there was though.

Now I have run about 30 articles through various testers. The eight articles that were written with Jarvis all scored at least 70%, and most were over 85% likely hood of being written with AI.

Meanwhile the 20 or so other articles I have run, that I know my guys have written without Jarvis, most of them have spat out an snow well under 15% chance of being written with AI. There was one article that had a 30% chance. It was an outlier and we have no idea why, but we still kind of laugh about it.

So I'm not really worried about a writer trying to slide one by me. The checkers seem to do a pretty good job.

And if the checkers are doing a good job, then I believe Google is doing a better job.

The only real question is, how much is your heavily edited content truly edited compared to that of my writers. YMMV, right? Just Google for AI content checkers and run some of your heavily edited stuff through it. It'd be great if you could report back some results. I'm genuinely curious how your content will fare.

But the reason we canceled Jarvis was because my writer said he spent more time editing the Jarvis content, and he could just produce the article faster if he wrote it himself. I think that speaks to how much time he spent editing.

So there's that...
I'm glad you are seeing that Google can generally tell what is written by AI. I wonder how much longer that will last.
 

BizyDad

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I'm glad you are seeing that Google can generally tell what is written by AI. I wonder how much longer that will last.
Again, I'm no expert. IMO, forever. The thing is, a computer cannot produce true randomness. It is always based on an algorithm.

Therefore, another computer should be able to evaluate to see if the algorithms are in use.

The only way I can imagine hiding this is if somebody or some entity invented their own AI writing algorithm completely from scratch and never released it's code to the public. That would make detection much harder (impossible?).

But since all of the current softwares out there are being based on algorithms that are based on research done by universities, I am not too concerned about AI fooling the AI detectors.

I also think we're probably past the point, or at least close to passing the point where AI writing can fool humans. @Andy Black shared something in the rant thread today about AI generated videos and scripts that would definitely fool a human.
 
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BizyDad

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Quick update. No charts this time.

Not sure if rankings have recovered, but our traffic has. No time to do a deep dive of the why's or wherefores, the loss of the team member has made me pretty busy again this month. But I like it. I'm in a groove agency-wise.

In fact our traffic has rebounded to the point that I will be working to add some monetization to the site.

BUT...

We as a team have already decided to pivot away from this niche after all. I plan on keeping the thread going rather than making a new thread. It's the same idea, we're just starting over now that we are armed with greater knowledge.

I've taught my writers a little bit more of my SEO research and tactics, and once they saw the numbers I saw, they agreed switching topics is a good idea.

With their year end vacations coming up, we agreed to look at launching the new site Jan/Feb.

I have also identified a freelancer to help me replace the workload of my previous employee, and I'll have her start around that time too. I've known this lady for 10 years. We've sent work back and forth over the years. I expect she can accomplish twice what the previous employee did, and we've agreed to a set retainer which will be roughly half what I paid in salary. Her solo agency (she has always been a one woman show) has taken a hit since she moved, so she is happy to have the retainer she can count on. And I'm happy for the experienced help. #feelingblessed.

In the meantime, this site will live on. At a minimum I can use it as an SEO testbed. But I have a feeling I might be able to find other ways to add content and keep this one going and growing. The new one clearly has much greater potential, but I don't want to just dump all the work we put into this first endeavour....yet.
 

BizyDad

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If you've been reading this thread, you probably already knew this...


My take: I don't think their systems are "fool proof" no matter what they want us to believe. But I also know once Google starts attacking some tactic, they get better and better at attacking it.
 

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