A Data Driven Analysis of Six-Figure Affiliate Sites
When building a content site, a lot of what we do are just educated guesses.
How much content should we add? How many backlinks? What should your referring domain goal be?
What would it be like if you could pull back the curtain, so to speak, and see actual six-figure websites in action? You would have reams of data to go over. You could create a real blueprint to help you build a fleet of high income earning sites.
Now, we can’t give you the URLs and give away the specific niches, but we can do the next best thing. We decided to look at multiple six-figure sites and one seven-figure site that we sold on our marketplace and find common trends among them.
This post will likely be a living document, in the sense that as we sell more six-figure sites, we can update this post to reflect current trends and ultimately give you more data to help you in your journey.
If you see something that was not mentioned here, leave a comment below; we’ll see if we can get the data and add that as part of this article.
How the Data was Collected
To give an overview of our process, we first looked at our internal data where we found 23 content sites monetized through affiliate offers (including Amazon Associates), display ads, or both.
Since this analysis only looks at SEO trafficked sites, we got rid of the websites that were primarily sending traffic through social media channels and just stuck with good old Google. This thinned our 23 content sites down to 19 sites that get the vast majority of their traffic from SEO.
We collected internal information on a few different metrics:
- List price
- Sales price
- Sales multiple
- Days on market
- Broad niche
Broad niche is the top level niche that the site was in, not the website’s specific niche. The majority of sites are in a sub-niche of a much bigger niche. For example, if a site on our list was talking about specific technology gadgets, we would put the broad niche as Technology.
We do this to protect the seller and the buyer by preventing copycats, while still offering something so the potential buyer knows what the website is generally about before they place a deposit and start doing due diligence.
While this internal data is fantastic, it doesn’t really give us any SEO metrics to study.
That is when we turned to Ahrefs to mine more data.
Using Ahrefs, we collected data on:
- Domain Rating (DR)
- Top five pages’ URL Rating (UR)
- Number of Referring Domains (RD)
- Organic traffic
- Indexed keywords
- Indexed pages*
*For indexed pages, I simply typed “site:empireflippers.com” into Google to get the number of indexed pages.
You can see what I mean here:
Every sold website has gone through our rigorous vetting process, so we also read through each of the 19 websites’ vetting ticket to collect more information, such as if they used an expired domain, if they built the site from scratch, their link building methods, and other interesting facts.
While I’m not going to analyze each individual site in-depth to give you everything they did, I will point out the commonalities between them. These common trends should give you the advantage when it comes to your next site or even your current site.
List Price, Sales Price, and the Actual Multiples that Sellers are Getting
Let’s define some of these terms real quick.
List price is simply what the business was listed at when it became live on our marketplace; this is what our vetting team has determined to be the actual valuation of the business. Sales price is the actual price that the business was sold for to a buyer. The multiple is the amount you multiply the average monthly net profit.
For those unfamiliar with how valuations work, you can check out our free valuation tool here to see how much your site is worth. It will give you a ballpark range using real sales data. When you decide to sell your affiliate site, our vetting team will give you a more in-depth valuation.
The valuation formula is simply this:
Valuation = Avg Net Monthly Profit X Multiple
Typically, the average net monthly profit uses a 12-month window. The multiple is then decided on a host of internal factors that we’ve found and will typically fall within a wide range of 20–60x.
Why such a big range? Well, because businesses can be wildly different from each other, even if they are using the same business models.
Now that we’ve got the definitions out of the way, let’s get into the data.
The majority of brokers out there, and even associations that release any kind of data study, often have a glaring flaw. While they will tell you what the list price and multiple are across all of their businesses, they often keep the sales price a secret.
This means a broker that promises you the world with a 50x multiple might only sell it for 15-20x, but still report the 50x list multiple to whoever is doing the study. As you might imagine, this doesn’t paint the most realistic picture of what is happening in our industry.
Our report is different in that we are openly sharing with you the REAL sales price and multiples. To do this, we can only use the businesses we’ve sold, so keep that in mind. While we are giving you as much transparency as possible, our data is limited to what we have sold on our marketplace.
But… we did win the International Business Brokerage Association for Top Global Deal Producer, an award given out to the broker who sold the most deals in the year. So we like to think we have a good quantity of data to share with you.
List Price vs. Sales Price
Across all 19 six-figure sites, the average list price was $297,186.06 and the average sales price was $293,661.26.
That’s not too far off, which is a good sign. If a broker is not properly valuing the businesses they’re promoting, then there might be a litany of other issues going on with that brokerage, considering how key valuation is to the service we offer buyers and sellers.
It is always expected that your list price is going to be at least slightly higher than the sales price through negotiations. So nothing to worry about here.
As you can see, we had one big spike in this data sample. It is extremely rare that a site is going to sell for more than its list price. Out of the hundreds of businesses we’ve sold on Empire Flippers, only one has sold for more than the list price since we started tracking this data: our seven-figure affiliate site we sold a few months ago that we wrote a case study on. If we remove this outlier, the average list price falls to $246,013.76 and the average sales price to $208,965.61.
Overall, the sales price is 98.8% of the list price, which shows a quality valuation meeting market expectations.
What does that mean?
How Long Does It Take to Sell a Six-Figure Content Site?
You might be surprised at just how fast our team can sell a six-figure content site.
One of the huge advantages you get when you’re using a broker is gaining access not just to their buyer database, but also their deal-making skills. Our team of business analysts work day in and day out in the deal-making trenches, which is why sellers can get the best price possible for their asset.
On average, a six-figure content site with SEO as its primary traffic source will sell on our marketplace in 27.52 days.
We’ve broken down the days it takes to sell here:
As you can see, the majority of six-figure content sites were sold in just a single month.
We also compared how this price rises with time on the market versus the actual sales price.
Common sense would lead us to believe that the BIGGER the sales price, the longer time it will take to sell the business. As you can see from the graph above, that is not so much the reality. We sold our seven-figure content site in less than 25 days, whereas some sub $200k sites took closer to 100 days to sell.
Investors want quality sites that they can grow, and often price isn’t the biggest objection they have. Keep that in mind when you decide to sell your business.
What is the Niche?
Now, I’ve already mentioned that we can’t reveal the actual URL and the specific niche, but we can give you the broader strokes of the niche.
This is such a common question I see in various groups that I feel I have to mention it. Yet… honestly, the niches rarely make much of a difference. Out of all the businesses we have sold, there is only one I can see where the niche clearly had a major effect on the purchase.
If you’re building a big, profitable content site, my best advice is not to worry too much about the niche. Instead, focus on how competitive a niche is and if that niche has a lot of different products and offers you can market.
Few of the six-figure sites we sold had overlapping niches:
- Beauty & Personal Care
- Home & Garden (2)
- Gaming (2)
- Apparel & Accessories
- Home Improvement
- Home & Kitchen
- Sports and Outdoors (2)
The only common trend we can say about these niches is that there is a lot of different products, offers, and informational content you can create surrounding them.
Let’s move on to the second part of this analysis: the actual SEO metrics that made up these various profitable affiliate sites.
The SEO Makeup of a Six-Figure Affiliate Site
Google’s algorithm is a complex animal even for seasoned SEOs to tackle.
It can be difficult to tell what matters the most when it comes to ranking in Google. There are plenty of SEO studies out there, and most of them using far larger datasets than what we’re using here.
Still, success leaves clues, so let’s look at what Ahrefs has to say about the metrics of these various six-figure sites.
Domain Rating (DR)
DR is the overall authority the domain has and weight it carries within Google using a complex calculation of referring domains, backlinks, and a few other metrics. The higher DR you have, the better chance you have to rank in Google.
Across the 19 affiliate sites, the average DR was 31.52 and the median DR came to an even 27.
This isn’t an extremely high DR, but it is respectable for an authority site. A new site starts off with a DR of 0 and usually takes several months of consistent work to get a site up to DR 20-30.
Since a main calculation in DR is the number of referring domains (RD), we decided to see what the average RD was for each of the sites. That average came to 893 RD.
Top Five Pages’ URL Rating (UR)
UR isn’t seen as important as DR, but it is still interesting to see. Generally, the higher the UR, the more likely that page is ranking. This isn’t conclusive, but it is a good rule of thumb.
These are also typically the strongest pages that the website has. You can think of these as your link magnet articles, which will often link to your money articles.
Often the top pages are informational since most people don’t like linking back to commercial content. The idea is that you create an awesome piece of content, you market and promote it to other website owners, and they link back to your content. Then you place links within that content, pointing towards your money content to pass that link power over to articles that are targeting high buyer intent keywords.
We took the top five pages of each website and then the average of the UR and the RD pointing to each of those top pages.
This is what we found with RD vs. UR:
Top Page #1
Nothing too surprising here. As your UR goes up, you will likely have more RDs pointing towards the page.
For the first top page, we found the average UR across the 19 sites was 20.26 while the average RD was 62.42.
Top Page #2
For the second page with the most authority, we found an average of 16.78 UR and 22.05 RD.
Top Page #3
For the third top page, we had averages of 18.31 UR and 43.73 RD. It is interesting to note that the UR and RD are both higher here than the second top ranking page. This is likely due to the keywords it’s ranking having less overall traffic, so even with better metrics, the third page gets less visitors.
Top Page #4
For the fourth top page, we had an average of 16.47 UR and 28.73 RD.
Top Page #5
For the fifth top page, we had an average 16.94 UR and 24.78 RD.
Organic Traffic, Indexed Keywords, and Indexed Pages
You might think you need huge amounts of traffic to create a six-figure affiliate site; however, that’s not strictly true.
So much of the variable comes down to how well you’ve targeted buyer intent keywords and what kind of payouts your affiliate offer gives you or even the conversion rate of those affiliate offers.
Let’s look at the averages of organic traffic, indexed keywords, and indexed pages of the 19 websites:
- Average Organic Traffic: 292,979
- Average Indexed Keywords: 62,237
- Average Indexed Pages: 1,269
To cement my point about how more organic traffic doesn’t always lead to more money, you can look at the chart below comparing organic traffic to the actual sales price of the website.
According to Ahrefs, one of the largest trafficked sites had 280,000 visitors, but sold for only $212,932.20. For some buyers, that is a huge sign of potential for a business, possibly signifying that the website is under-optimized for conversions; since it has so much traffic, there could be some BIG wins when they perform conversion rate optimization.
The main takeaway here is that traffic growth doesn’t relate equally to a website’s value.
As mentioned in my guest post for Ahrefs, the standard way of valuing SEO traffic doesn’t give you an accurate representation of what a website is actually worth. A SEO traffic value often uses PPC as a baseline: basically, you look at what it would cost you to get the same amount of traffic you do from SEO if you had used PPC instead, which is then translated into the SEO traffic value.
In a study I did recently, the SEO traffic value far underestimated the true value of the website, finding that sales price differed from the SEO traffic value by 403%.
How Are These Sites Doing?
I’ve made some charts comparing the data, but let’s look at just the raw organic traffic trends using Ahrefs.
Some of these websites were sold as package deals, which included multiple sites. For these deals, I’ve used the site that has the most organic traffic.
If you combine the organic traffic across ALL sites, you end up with 5,566,600 organic visitors per month. An interesting data observation is that if you add up the sales price of all the sites, it comes out to $5,579,563. When you take that number at a 25x multiplier you end up with $223,182.52, which makes each organic visitor worth $0.04.
Obviously, this isn’t a real benchmark of how much organic traffic is worth since the niches and their monetized offers are so wildly different. Still, an interesting number!
Indexed pages are the number of pages that Google has in their database of a website. Typically, the more indexed pages you have, the more traffic you’re likely getting. This isn’t always the case, of course; you could have ultra-long articles that rake in hundreds of keywords, sending traffic to your site without having dozens of articles. Yet, it is usually a good rule of thumb that the more pieces of content you have, the more traffic you’re going to get.
Across our 19 six-figure affiliate sites, the average amount of indexed pages is 1,269 pages.
The highest amount of indexed pages any site had was 14,700 pages, while the lowest amount was 61 pages; the site with 14,700 pages sold for $212,932.20 while the site with 61 pages sold for $140,000.00.
Out of the 19 analyzed sites, 12 had a branded portal homepage and 7 had a monetized article homepage.
What are Branded Portal Homepages?
Branded portal homepages focus on getting the website’s traffic to click into different articles. Usually, they’ll have categories of articles displayed on their webpage, such as a section of articles dedicated to reviews and maybe another section dedicated to how-to informational content.
These kinds of sites tend to have a better brand and are more capable of building some kind of community attached to the site.
An example of a branded portal homepage is Space.com
See how they have a featured article and then right below are the two categories of the site, Tech and Spaceflight, with a number of articles relating to them underneath.
Monetized Article Homepage
A monetized article homepage is something you see quite often in affiliate sites earning smaller amounts of money. When you go to the website, you are greeted by a long (often several thousand words) article that targets the site’s main keyword. Usually, you’ll find affiliate links, comparison tables, and everything else you’d expect from a roundup review article on this homepage.
While these sites do exist in the six-figure range, the majority of buyers prefer the branded portal homepage in the six-figure and up price range.
The reason? It is easier to get real backlinks, build a real brand, and cultivate a real community and email list when you go the branded route. In short, their earning potential tends to be much larger than your average monetized article homepage site.
A Quick Look at Indexed Keywords
On average, our sample of websites had 62,237 indexed keywords in Google’s search engine. The lowest amount for any site was just 6400 keywords, and it sold for $108,000.00. The highest amount of indexed keyword for any site was 378,000 and it sold for $212,932.20.
Our site that sold for the highest sales price had just 20,400 indexed keywords to achieve its $1,818,182.80 sales price.
At a median of 30,000 indexed keywords across all of the sites, we can see that the amount of indexed keywords has no strong correlation with price. So much of the value of your site really comes down to the kind of offers you’re making to the audience and how well those offers are converting for you.
Common Questions When Selling a Six-Figure Affiliate Content Site
With all of this data out of the way, I thought we could wrap up by talking about some of the common questions buyers have—questions you’ll need to be able to answer if you want to sell your affiliate site.
I’ve dived into every ticket associated with these websites, looking for the most common questions that come up. Of course, many other questions can exist outside of this small list, so keep that in mind.
Is the Revenue Real?
Even though we promote that we vet every single business before it goes live on our marketplace, buyers still want to make sure they’re looking at something real. They don’t want to throw $100k+ down on a scam.
While buyers trust us to vet these businesses, it is important that you can still back up any income claim. You should be willing to share any affiliate dashboard (usually they have a view-access option for guests) and Profit and Loss statements that you have for the business.
Also, remember that after you have accepted an offer that the buyer still has a two-week period to verify revenue. This is an extra precaution we help buyers with to make sure that revenue and traffic are on par with what the seller was claiming.
What are the Click Through Rate (CTR) and Conversion Rates for Affiliate Offers?
CTR and conversion rates are important metrics to a buyer. If they see you have high CTRs that means your copy is good. If they see you have a high CTR with a low conversion rate that might hint that they should replace that affiliate program with a similar offer that might convert better.
Either way, it is good to keep a spreadsheet that has your average CTRs and conversion rates for your various affiliate offers you’re promoting.
Why are You Sending Links From the Site to Other Sites You Own?
While not always a big deal, a savvy buyer is going want to know what is going on if they see you linking to other sites you own from the site you’re selling. You’ll want to prepare for the possibility that they will want you to remove those links and if you want to sell your site, you should be willing to do this.
If you are linking to other sites you own from the site you’re selling, you will need to make sure the sites do not compete in any way and are in different niches. If they are in the same niche, you will need to sell those sites as a package deal with the main site because at Empire Flippers, we have a policy that every seller signs a non-compete after the sale of their business. We think this is only fair since the last thing a buyer wants is someone they just gave a $100k+ to and knows their niche to start competing with them!
What List of Affiliate Networks Are You Using to Monetize the Site?
While some of these sites only worked with the Amazon Associates program, many of the sites had multiple affiliate networks bringing in revenue. Similar to having a CTR and conversion rate spreadsheet, it’s worthwhile to keep a spreadsheet of all affiliate networks and the offers in those networks you’re promoting. You may want to also keep track of affiliate offers you promoted in the past but no longer do.
A buyer can look at this sheet and tell which offers were good, bad, or discontinued. One offer that was discontinued but did well for you might have another offer that the buyer knows about and can add to the site once they acquire it.
What are the Top Pages Sending Traffic to Converting Affiliate Offers?
While it is pretty easy to login to Ahrefs and see the top five pages from a traffic perspective, it is not always easy to see which pages are making the most money for a site. When you create a spreadsheet of your biggest earning content pieces, you can give the potential buyer a mind map of what they will want to focus on after the sale.
It can also spur inspiration for others pages they can optimize better, thus getting them even more excited to purchase your affiliate site.
What Content Agency or Writers do You Use?
Finding good, reliable writers is a neverending challenge for most people in the trenches building quality content sites. As someone selling your site, you should be willing to pass along any good writers you were using.
If you have an in-house team of writers pumping out content for all of your sites, you could offer to help a buyer hire a writer for the site post-purchase, using the same methods you used to build your team.
For buyers looking to scale a content site, it is always an added bonus to have a good supply of writers or a content agency that has performed well in the past for the site to rely on.
How is Your Email List Being Used and Monetized?
The old adage in internet marketing is “the money is in the list”. Usually, when people say this, they’re talking about your email list.
Emails can be incredibly profitable for a business and can increase your overall sales multiple, but only if you are actually going to use and monetize that email list. The majority of affiliate site owners that we meet might have an email list with a few thousand subscribers, but they often haven’t even emailed the list once.
While it is nice to get those email subscribers to test out campaigns, it doesn’t really add any value to the business. If anything, having an email opt-in to a newsletter you don’t use hurts your revenue.
If you are using your email list and want to use it as a bargaining chip to get a higher price, make sure you can show the various funnels you’re using—open rates, CTR, and conversion rates—on the offers you promote to that list. You want to be able to prove that the email list actually adding real revenue to your site.
Are Social Media Followers Purchased or Grown Organically?
Similar to an email list, social media followers often just sit on a fan page or Twitter handle without really adding anything to a business’s bottom line. For SEOs in particular, the entire social media following might be just bought likes to help with social signals.
A buyer will want to know if the social following is real or fake upfront. It is pretty easy to tell if likes are fake, so don’t try to hide this if they are. Just be honest; a buyer will appreciate the transparency.
If you really are building a social media following, having numbers that the buyer can review shows the impact that social media have on your business.
Is the Affiliate Account Transferable?
Some sellers might have special deals with their affiliate network, affiliate manager, or a private affiliate deal altogether. If this is the case for you, you will want to make sure it is 100% transferable with the same deal for the new buyer to capitalize on.
If it is not transferable, you’re going to either take a hit on your sales price to reflect the kind of deal the buyer can get or you’re not going to be able to sell the business at all.
Where are the Industry Trends Going?
While it is easy to pop any niche into Google Trends to see how many people are interested in a topic, this is not always the best way to gauge how well a niche is doing or is going to do.
For instance, a trend might show that it is slowing, but the buyers within that niche might be becoming more voracious consumers. It is always good to offer some real “inside baseball” on the industry your site is in that the buyer can use to their advantage.
Would the Seller Keep Running the Business with a Revenue Share?
This is a question that institutional investors ask now and again. It can also be a great opportunity for a seller to cash out on their business but still have some upside if the business keeps going well. For the buyer, it assures them they have a competent operator to keep their investment alive.
These kinds of deals could be a straight revenue share or the seller could still have some equity in the business alongside the new owner. Make sure you negotiate the deal that makes sense for you.
This is just one of many different kinds of deal structuring investors do when acquiring online businesses.
Why are Their Multiple Amazon Tracking IDs on the Same Site?
Usually, if we’re putting multiple tracking ids from Amazon onto our website, it is to test different pages to see which convert the best. It is a nice little hack to do some split-testing and optimize for the best conversion possible.
A buyer might not realize this though and will want to understand why you did that and make sure all the revenue you’re reporting comes from only the traffic IDs living on the site you’re selling.
Do You Have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?
SOPs are considered your business’s operator’s manual for a buyer. Ideally, your SOPs should be so good that anyone who reads them can be at least 80% as good as you at performing the task.
The better and more detailed your SOPs are, the more confidence a buyer will have when it comes to taking over your business. You should have a good place where these SOPs live, whether it’s on a Google Drive or using a tool like SweetProcess.
What are the Paths for Growing Revenue You See for this Site?
While the buyer might have a lot of ideas with what they want to do with the site, they’re going to be especially interested in what ideas you have.
They want to get inspiration from your insider knowledge of building and running the site to help them take it to the next level. You should also reveal different paths of growth you tried but didn’t work; the buyer might have an idea that is similar to one you’ve done, and you can save them time by telling them why it didn’t work.
Of course, just because it didn’t work for you doesn’t always mean it can’t work for the buyer who may have a skill set that differs from your own. Still, this is golden knowledge to tell a buyer and helps them see the path forward after they acquire your business.
What Weakness Does the Business Have?
Buyers want to know where potential critical points of failure exist. For example, you might tell a buyer that the weakness is the organic traffic itself if 90% of your traffic is coming from Google. There is nothing wrong with that, but a buyer will want to know so they can either mitigate the risk over time or deem it an acceptable risk.
Other weaknesses could be a fad product or trend, a limited amount of affiliate offers, or using Amazon as your only way to monetize the site. Knowing these weaknesses and being willing to share them with a buyer will make them trust you as a credible source and ultimately be more likely to buy from you.
What Link Building Efforts Have You Done?
One of the most common questions for any SEO based affiliate site is how the backlinks were built. In general, SEOs can be very passionate about how link building is done, what qualifies as a good or bad link, what is a good or bad practice, and more.
In contrast, most buyers are not as worried about this. They do care about if there are spammy backlinks pointed to the site, and they especially care if a seller lied to them about using private blog networks (PBNs) to build the site, but they will want to see how you acquire new backlinks. This is especially true if their plan is to scale the site’s traffic and earnings.
If you did build your site with a PBN, you should be willing to keep those backlinks pointed to the site even after you sell it. The majority of sellers who do this will charge a small monthly fee in perpetuity to keep the links live.
How Often are You Updating the Site and How?
A buyer will want to know what work you’re doing to maintain the site on a weekly basis. It could be very little, from just updating some blog posts here and there, to a full-blown work week of editing, uploading, and formatting new pieces of content.
Whatever it is, you should have this outlined to hand off to the buyer so they know the realities of running the business.
If you have a special way of formatting or anything a bit out of the normal when it comes to updating the site, you should create a checklist of these items and link them to an SOP that can show a buyer how exactly you do it.
Is There Any Specialized Knowledge Needed to Run the Website?
If you have a custom content management system (CMS), special dev needs on your site, or even an industry-specific item required to run the business, you should pass this knowledge off to the buyer.
The more specialized knowledge the buyer will need to run the site, the more support you should be willing to offer that buyer. It almost never hurts to offer more support, regardless if there is specialized knowledge required or not. By offering more support, you’re showing your commitment to the site’s success and to helping the buyer get acquainted with the site. The nice thing about offering more support for simpler affiliate content sites is that it is almost never utilized by the buyer because these sites tend to be simpler to run, so less support is needed.
What Plugins are Active on the Site?
The buyer will want to know what plugins you’re using, as they may have better options. In fact, some buyers may have developed plugins that mimic the ones you have with cleaner code that will make the site run faster. Not only is there a benefit for them to know what the site has in place so they can use the plugins effectively, there is benefit in them knowing you might be using a plugin with bloated code they can replace.
They also might be surprised if you’re not using certain plugins that they prefer or know about. Knowing what exists on the backend of the site gives them that extra bit of knowledge that might be an opportunity for them to grow the website.
What Can We Say About This Study?
This study shows that there are hundreds of ways to build a six-figure affiliate content site.
If you’re stuck on which niche to choose, what keywords to go after, how many articles you need, or what style of backlink building you should be doing… don’t worry.
Instead, focus on what you’re comfortable with and what you know how to do. Whether that is writing epic guides, building PBN links, or doing white hat outreach, all options work and can work well.
Too many entrepreneurs get stuck trying to mimic other entrepreneurs and are never quite sure if they’re doing it right. The real lesson here is to simply focus on one or two things you know to work and get focused.
It might take 14–18 months to get an affiliate site really ramped up and making awesome money, but a six-figure affiliate site could be sold on our marketplace within just a couple of weeks. That money can then be funneled into the processes that work best for you to build a literal fleet of profitable websites that in another 18-24 months you can sell.
Don’t get lost in the shiny object syndrome or what’s hot in SEO this week. Instead, keep your head down and keep building.
You’re only one six-figure site sale away from being able to scale massively.
Ready to sell YOUR six-figure affiliate site? Click here to sell your site with us today.
Or are you ready to buy a six-figure affiliate site already producing a healthy profit? Click here to check out our marketplace.