I’ve been lurking on Flippa for a few months now, and although I don’t ever intend to buy anything, it’s quite interesting looking at the listings and how people manipulate and fake their stats. These scams and forgeries happen even before you’ve even won the auction or chosen a payment method; they all simply entice you to bid on a website and fool you into thinking you’re getting something you’re not…
#1 The mailing list/affiliate scam
There are lots of ‘buy likes, followers and +1’ service websites regularly being sold on Flippa. They all have the standard ‘Made $X,XXX in the past 5/8/21 days!’. What they fail to tell you is that they registered a domain name a few days ago, installed a WordPress theme, added a few pages, then marketed it to their mailing list or their affiliate buddies on Warrior Forum to make some money in the short term. Once their income starts to drop, they put the website up for sale.
You end up buying a brand new site that has no search rankings, no history, and no income (unless you have your own targeted mailing list). And these people rinse, repeat and sell the same sites over and over again, so even if you want to build up the site, you’ll be competing against thousands.
There’s also a slight variation on this which is used for all kinds of service sites and premium resource sites (such as WordPress plugins). The product is offered at an extremely low price and the seller talks about the number of sales rather than the amount, but implies that the sales were made at full price.
#2 Google Adsense scams
These come in a few different flavours.
1. Faked screenshots – they are either found on the Internet or set to show all sites in an Adsense account rather than just one.
2. Faked click amounts – if they say they’ve made $x,xxx from 2,000 visitors in a month, check the niche. Most of them are really low value areas and ads that only pay $0.01 or $0.10 per click. Even with the possibility that there are a few retargeted ads in the mix from other niches, the maths often just doesn’t add up.
3. Banned Adsense sites – they’ve been banned, so they sell the site. If the site itself has been banned, you’re in trouble. There are various tools online which allow you to check. One of the potential red flags is that the Adsense isn’t shown on the website itself with the reason that they want to avoid click fraud, which is a fairly legitimate excuse.
Sometimes they will go to the lengths of putting pictures that look like Adsense ads on the site. If they haven’t disclosed this in their listing, watch out.
People are drawn to the amount of money made in the past few months, simply view the screenshots and believe they’re getting a good deal.
#3 Paid Traffic scams
These are particularly tricksy because the earnings screenshots are right, there’s a good variety of keywords, the majority of traffic looks to be from Google…
The number one thing to check is bounce rate in the Google Analytics PDF. If it’s something ridiculous like 0.1% (or simply lower than about 20%), there’s something fishy going on. If the site is monetised by Adsense, then the bounce rate will never be that low as plenty of users tend to leave the site after clicking an ad.
What the sellers do is buy paid traffic and Google Adsense clicks. The paid searchers Google the keywords, find and click through to the site, and then click two or three pages before clicking an Adsense ad or affiliate link. The click through rate looks great (or may be watered down to look less suspicious), and the website looks to be making good money. But at best it’s not real, and at worst the site gets banned from Adsense or the affiliate program used to monetise it altogether.
Some people will also sell what they call ‘active communities’ and ‘blogs with loyal followings’. Always check the number of posts and comments, as this is usually just an excuse to push the price up or account for lack of organic search results.
#4 Search engine positions fakery
Some sellers don’t realise their Google results get personalised, so they aren’t aware that they’re the only one seeing their site on page 1 and the average Joe isn’t seeing it in the first ten pages. But for the others…
- Claiming results and not listing the country – watch out for the more obscure ones.
- Listing results and hoping people won’t check.
- Listing a lot of positions but they are all on page 4, 5, 6 or lower.
- Listing Bing/Yahoo results and just saying ‘search engines’, hoping people will assume Google
- Using very short terms methods to increase rankings which will suffer a penalty for the site after it’s sold.
- The ‘I didn’t have the time, but someone who knows about SEO will see its potential and make it rank higher’ excuse. Most of the time this is a lie, it just means the site was harder to rank than they expected.
- Listing keywords they rank for which have no searches. If you’re unsure, cross-check against the Google Keyword Tool or similar.
- Good search rankings thanks to backlinks from the seller’s other sites that will be removed post-auction. Your rankings will disappear with them, so make sure you investigate backlinks thoroughly.
There are plenty of other tools available to check what positions a site has in the various big search engines, how many terms it ranks for and so on. Another big clue is the number of pages it has – small sites rank for fewer terms.
#5 The store scam
Proof of refunds is essential. Also, how many were sold at full/advertised price and how many at a discount. Google the site in question for reviews to make sure the customers are happy and it’s not a scam or perceived to be a scam.
#6 The ‘reason for selling’ question
Very few of these are legitimate. I’ve seen everything from ‘my dad needs an organ transplant’ to ‘I want to invest my money in an offline project’ to ‘I just don’t have the time’. These are mostly fabrications as well.
This is usually a signal that the site isn’t making the money claimed. If a site is making $5,000 per month then why is the reserve $3,000?
#7 The ‘secret marketing/traffic/promotion/monetising methods’ lie
Since I’ve never bought, I don’t know if this is true or not. But these secret marketing methods statements always make me raise an eyebrow. If your methods are that secret and that guaranteed to work, why are you giving them away to a complete stranger who could easily tell a million other people anyway? Hell, he or she could write an ebook and sell them, or sit there are make millions. And if you’re so good at monetising and these methods are so advanced and failsafe, then why are you selling your websites with a reserve price of $1,000 or less?
#8 Deliberately excluding costs from the listing
These include, but aren’t limited to, PPC costs, illegitimate paid traffic, banner advertising and forum or directory listings. Many of these can be discovered via the Google Analytics PDF attachment (assuming it’s not fake).
#9 The ‘rankings tank’ evasion
Plenty of sellers twist Flippa’s ‘average earnings’ feature, which is designed to provide a more accurate idea of a site’s earnings over time, to their advantage. This type of scam increases a lot after Google’s Panda/Penguin updates when many sites lose most or all of their search engine rankings. They tend to focus on the highest month of earnings, even if it was a year or more ago. The less confident talk about it being easy to regain former rankings and traffic, they just ‘didn’t have time’ to do it themselves. The more cocky gloss over the more recent failures and hope no one will ask.
#10 The trademark scam
Plenty of people sell domain names that violate trademarks on Flippa. You’re basically playing Russian roulette because the brand in question can pull your site down at any time or even sue you. Scammers like to rank and sell these sites fast to fly under the radar. The problem is that they can genuinely get good traffic and make good money. It’s just something you should avoid at all costs.