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Cold email guide: How to buy a website

It’s possible to buy a website without ever actually using a marketplace at all. Use this guide to successfully outreach abandoned projects.

How to buy a website

According to Ian Nuttall, someone who started acquiring and selling websites and apps in 2006, usually the best deals come from manually searching for under-monetised or abandoned projects and cold emailing the webmasters.

The benefit of finding projects like this rather than starting from scratch is the domain authority, age and backlinks. It’s possible to deliver huge growth just by having a modern design, adding content and doing basic on-site SEO.

Here are some top tips for discovering abandoned projects, finding contact details, and most importantly, how to approach webmasters properly so as to increase your chances of making a successful acquisition.

How to discover abandoned projects

One tip that has worked well in the past was searching Google for specific terms that webmasters put on their site when they are done with a project. 

this website is for sale

this domain is for sale

this website is closed

website is no longer updated

website is closing down

The problem is that these types of searches are now very well known making the process of finding something in this way a lot more difficult. According to Ian, you’ll need to think outside the box to make it worthwhile. 

Nowadays there are websites like Unloved Project which are amazing resources for finding great acquisition opportunities that are not always listed on traditional marketplaces.

Finding the makers contact details

There are many ways to ethically find contact details of the person who made the website. Often it’s just a case of checking the following:-

  • Site footer
  • Contact page
  • About me page
  • Privacy policy or terms page
  • Whois lookup
  • Indie Hackers or Chrome extension maker bio

Many of the projects listed on Unloved Project have contact details making it much easier for members to take the first step.

The fun part

So you’ve found something with potential. How do you get the maker to respond to your email?

This is the part that requires trial and error and a little bit of resilience. According to Ian it’s really a game of cat and mouse. 

“Send a lot of emails, get a lot of rejections, and you’ll start to understand what works and what doesn’t [...] You may send 100 emails and get 1-2 replies and you’ll get a lot of rejections or people looking for $1m+. The more you do it, the more you’ll get a feel for what works for you.”

How to get website owners to reply to your emails

Subject lines matter

Test your subject lines. You want them to open the emails, so you need a good subject line that makes them want to read and see what you have to say. The trick is to keep it short, catch their attention enough that they open the email, and not look spammy.

For example, if you mention the site name, don’t use the URL. “projectname.com” in the subject doesn’t look as natural as “Project Name”.

You can use some of the examples below to riff on and create your own unique subjects:

  • [Project Name] question
  • Question about your site
  • Question about [Project Name]
  • Is [Project Name] still active?
  • Broken link on [Project Name]
  • 404 error
  • Site not working?
  • Site for sale?
  • [Project Name] for sale?
  • I want to buy your site
  • I want to buy [Project Name]

Don’t just take these and use them verbatim. The whole point is to NOT do what everyone else is doing. Try to stand out and do things your own way.

Overcoming objections

If you want people to take action you need to be able to overcome any barriers or objections. If the site is very old, it’s very likely to be a labor of love for them and there may be obstacles to overcome.

Some common objections you might experience:

Email accounts. 

A lot of people have email tied to the domain name which is used for many things. If you can preempt that and offer them the ability to keep it for however long they need it, you’re more likely to do a deal.

Keeping the content free. 

These webmasters have probably spent many hours creating the content with no expectation of money. You can assure them that you plan to keep the existing content freely and publicly available.

Still wanting to contribute. 

Many webmasters don’t have the time to operate the site, but do still want to be involved and contribute. You can overcome this by offering to pay them to create new content.

Maintaining the site for the long term. 

Most site owners won’t just hand over the keys unless they trust that you have the best interest of their site at heart. Overcome this fear that the site could be deleted or quickly sold on by showing them examples of previous projects you’ve acquired and revamped. Also if possible, provide references from other people you've bought from.

If you’re able to get a back and forth going with the seller, you can explain more about your plan for the site.

Make it personal

Most spammy outreach is obviously, blatantly, templated. Services like Buzzstream send very simple, non-personal template emails. Usually the reply rate is very low. A far better approach is to write each email uniquely and tailor it to the person you’re emailing:

  • Mention their name and site name
  • Pick something unique about their site that you like
  • Briefly give an example of a similar project you’ve acquired
  • Try to be “likeable”
  • Make sure to introduce yourself, explain your background, and maybe include some social media links like LinkedIn so they can find out more about you.

Following up

Perhaps the most important step in this whole thing is chasing your leads and checking back in with them.

There’s a fine line between following up and being very annoying, so limit the number of times and take a strategic approach.

By following up 2-3 more times over the following weeks, it’s possible to increase reply rate by 5x. Ian recommends the following approach:

1 week later: “Hi John, just following up to see if you received my email last week? I’m really interested in buying [Project Name] so please do let me know if you’d be open to it!”

2 weeks later: “Hey John, I know you’re probably very busy so I won’t continue to bother you. If you do decide to sell [Project Name] I’d be willing to pay around 3-4x your annual earnings for it. Let me know either way!”

4 weeks later (optional): “Hi John, I haven’t been able to find anything nearly as good as [Project Name], so I’d like to offer you $5k for the site in cash. If you’d be willing to sell for that price, please let me know!”

It’s important to note that these snippets are all just examples. Don’t follow a set formula but do try different things all the time depending on who the person is.

If you only have a little information about them, keep it basic. Write longer emails to people where you think a more honest approach will work better.

For the last email, if you do decide to send it, go in hard with the absolute highest price you’d be willing to pay just to see if cold, hard $$$ can grab their attention.

Handling “no”

You might think that once you get a reply that you’ve got one foot in the door, but 9 times out of 10, the reply will be some form of “no”. There can be many reasons for this:

  • I want $1m cash!
  • I’m not selling ever, ever, ever
  • I still have plans for the site, just been busy, etc

For the first two, it’s better to reply saying “thanks for getting back to me, if you ever change your mind please let me know”. They’re never going to sell so don’t waste any more time on it.

It’s this last group of people that are most interesting. A lot of times, they want to work on the site but life just gets in the way. They think it still has potential, but they almost never do go back to them.

Here’s how to do it

The key to successful outreach is to be determined and patient. It can be very rewarding to find projects for sale that will never, ever, be listed on a marketplace and grow them into something amazing, something Ian has done multiple times.

Here’s a very rough example of the type of email you might send to try and acquire a project:

Subject: Is [Project Name] still active?

Hey John, I found [Project Name] recently and saw it hadn’t been updated since [year]! Is it still active? It’s a fantastic resource!

The reason I ask is because I’m running [My Project Name] and have been looking to expand. If you have no plans for [Project Name] I’d really love the opportunity to buy it from you and continue building and modernizing it. I’m really flexible so if you need to keep any email accounts on the domain that won’t be a problem at all.

I could offer you around $1000 for the site, but if you have any stats on the traffic you could share, that might change the value!

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all, but you get the idea. Experiment a little. Take the elements you like and remix them with other techniques you think work better.

Credit: How to buy websites using cold email


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