Anatomy of a $15 Million Blog

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A few months ago a WordPress blog run by one person, Johns Wu, sold for nearly $15 million. The blog is called Bankaholic, and it was purchased by BankRate. The response within the blogging community can be summed up in a single word–shock. The sale was reported on ProBlogger, who had this to say:

If this price is true it’s a fairly decent sale for Mr Wu (understatement of the year) – the blog has an Alexa ranking of 42,168 and averages less than 20 comments per post. The blog does seem to rank very well for a lot of bank terms and I’m sure drives targeted traffic and would convert well with affiliate products – but this is still a fairly inspiring sale!

Comments left on Bankaholic after the sale were less understanding. One comment had this to say about BankRate’s business acumen:

Come on, look at this blog, on the left and right you have affiliate ads, in the middle you have copy and pasted information with the occasional opinion when the writer is not lazy.

If I was Bankrate.com I would feel like a complete doofus for this deal and see what legal options I would have to get some of my foolishly pissed away money back from this obviously lazy blogger who sold me a lump of coal.

Merry Christmas and God Bless Un-regulated Corrupt Capitalism Gone Wild.

And all of this raises the question we are going to address today–what did BankRate see in Bankaholic that led them to pay nearly $15 million for a WordPress blog? Before we begin this analysis, please understand that this is more than just an academic exercise. Bankaholic has far more value than meets the eye, and understanding why can help other online businesses build a more profitable web property. Whether you are a blogger, a small business, a real estate agent, or anybody else with a presence on the web, understanding why Bankaholic was such a valuable property can help you in your own online endeavors. So let’s get started.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover or a Blog by its Home Page

A visual inspection of Bankaholic will likely leave you less than impressed. It’s not that the design of the site is awful, but rather that it is ordinary. The site is your basic 3-column WordPress blog with an uninspiring logo and a lot of advertisements in both sidebars.

And if you examine individual posts, matters only seem to get worse. With some exceptions, the posts are 100 to 200 word affairs that were probably written inside of 10 minutes. There are a few longer posts with more in depth analysis, but most of them are quick posts referencing some online banking deal or offer.

In short, Bankaholic is everything A-list bloggers are not. He didn’t rely on social networks, he doesn’t make it easy to vote up an article on Digg or StumbleUpon, he didn’t participate in blog carnivals, and he doesn’t even have a blogroll on his site.

Let’s “Spy” on Bankaholic

So what’s going on here? The first step in understanding the value of Bankaholic or any site, is to evaluate its organic search rankings in Google. When you run a search in Goolge (or Yahoo!, MSN or just about any other search engine), the results include paid listings and what are called organic (or free) listings. With enough money, anybody can rank high in sponsored links. What we are after is Bankaholic’s ranking for key terms in the organic listings. And the tool to use for this is called SpyFu.

Spyfu will show you the keywords that any site ranks for in the top 50 (first five pages) of Goolge’s organic search listings. Spyfu will show you the first ten keywords for free. If you want to see the entire list, you have to be a paid member. I’ve used Spyfu for some time now, and it is definitely worth the cost.

So if we plug in Bankaholic, what do we find? First, we find that Bankaholic ranks in the top 50 on Google for 1,485 keywords. Of course, which keywords it ranks for is critical, but we’ll get to that in a minute. So how does 1,485 keywords in the top 50 of Google rank? Here are some comparisons:

ProBlogger–1,227
CopyBlogger–655
The Dough Roller–637
Get Rich Slowly–1,611
BankRate–14,153

Some of these numbers may surprise you. But the key point here is that while Bankaholic ranks for a good number of keywords, it is by no means significantly ahead of other blogs. And it ranks well behind a professional site such as BankRate.

Now the question becomes what keywords does it rank well for. With a paid subscription to Spyfu, you can see the complete list. That said, Bankaholic ranks on the first page of Google for keywords such as cd rates, certificates of deposit, high interest savings, and credit cards.

What’s in a Keyword?

Ok, so Bankaholic ranks for a fair number of keywords, including various finances related terms. How does that get us to $15 million? We can answer that question in two words – credit cards. If you search for the term “credit cards” on Google, you will find Bankaholic at about position 9 on the first page. To assess the value of this ranking, the first step is to estimate how much organic search traffic the ranking will yield. And a good tool to do this is Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool. Using this tool, we see that more than 2.2 million searches on Google per month include the phrase “credit cards.”

Of course, not all of that traffic will go to Bankaholic. On the bottom of the first page, Bankaholic is likely to get about 2-3% of that traffic. But that puts total traffic for that one keyword alone to as much as 67,000 visitors per month. And that’s just one keyword. Any site that ranks on the first page of Google for the keyword “Credit Cards” ranks for many other high traffic keywords.

How Did He Do That?

So Bankaholic ranks on the first page for credit cards and many other high traffic and high value keywords. The $15 million question is how did this one-man blog do it? We can answer that question with one word – backlinks. This is where we can really dig into any site.

First, using the SEO Book SEO Firefox Plugin, we can collect some information about Bankaholic. The SEO for Firefox addon will provide you with some great competitive information about other sites in Google search results. If we turn it on and search for Bankaholic, here’s what we get (click the image to view it):

bankaholic-google-search_1232323637134

This information tells us several things about Bankaholic:

  • Pagerank: 5
  • Age: August, 2006
  • Backlinks: 27,000
  • .EDU Links: 18

You’ll see more data with the SEO for Firefox, but the above data tells us what we need. What we see is a site with strong backlinks and pagerank. But we still need to drill down one more level. We can click on the backlinks link in the Google search results to see the actual backlinks to Bankaholic. For our analysis, however, we want to see what backlinks Bankaholic has to its main credit card page. To do this, we run the following search in Yahoo!: link:http://www.bankaholic.com/credit-cards. The result is over 14,000 backlinks to the credit card page and sub-pages.

This list of backlinks is a goldmine. It shows us where Bankaholic got backlinks to his credit card page. If you are in the credit card business, this information is invaluable. In fact, whatever your business market, this type of competitive research is absolutely critical.

So how did he got all those backlinks?

When it is all said and done, this is THE question. I’ve spent some time evaluating Bankaholic’s backlinks. My conclusion is that he got many of them by buying them. Of course, I can’t prove that. But when you see credit card links at the end of a post on a topic unrelated to credit cards, it’s a safe bet that the links where purchased.

Doesn’t Google frown upon paid links? Yes, which is why I don’t sell or buy links. But the reality is that many, many sites do. I’d be shocked if any site in the top 10 of Google for the keyword “credit cards” hasn’t bought links.  Am I suggesting that you buy links? No. In fact, I think there are better ways to get backlinks, but that’s for another article. In this case, Bankaholic was extremely successful in getting backlinks for credit card and banking keywords. The result was a $15 million payday.

Welcome to the wonderful, wild, world wide web.

Published or Updated: March 22, 2012
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Intriguing analysis. Do you think he paid for most of those 14,000 back links? I wonder what that cost? That would be an interesting ROI analysis. Of course, I’m sure it was no where near $15 million! Still, at $10 each …

    I’m pretty happy with where I’m ranking on a few keywords, but I have to admit that I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’m using Cross-Linker a lot. Do you think he back linked to himself and that came into play?

  2. Patrick says:

    Very interesting analysis, DR. Keyword analysis is the next frontier for me. :)

  3. PT Money says:

    Great job putting this together, DR. I have so much more to learn.

    • Whaney says:

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    • Whaney says:

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  4. Four Pillars says:

    Very interesting post – I ran the spyfu on my own site and didn’t recognize any of the keywords that I supposedly rank high for – is that good? :)

  5. Monevator says:

    Excellent analysis. It certainly isn’t easy to thousands of backlinks any more unless you’re already a big site (I’m comparing Monevator with a site I set up in 2006).

    Another way to value the sale would be by revenue generate over the year; if you have a rough idea of his traffic and what all those financial ads all over the site would add up to in returns. Or you could reverse engineer it out from $15 million — on sitepoint website sale board that would mean comedy number revenues of around $1-1.5million a month, but in the real world perhaps as much as 15x earnings — maybe $1 million a year?

    • DR says:

      @Ron: I’m sure he didn’t buy all of the links. Also, for site-wide links in the sidebar or footer, they will show up as hundreds if not thousands of links. So his 14,000 links to his credit card page did not come from 14,000 different domains.

      @Four Pillars: It’s always good to learn you rank for keywords you didn’t recognize!

      @Monevator: I suspect with his credit card rankings he was making a lot of money. That said, BankRate undoubtedly improved the rankings with its vast resources.

  6. FIRE Finance says:

    This is a great analysis. Thanks for the details :). We love your acronym “wonderful, wild, world wide web.”

  7. Pinyo says:

    Excellent analysis DR. I agree, the value of Bankaholic is in all the financial keywords. I wish I know the trick. It’s a very competitive field.

  8. Andy says:

    Very interesting article. $15 million is nice, I would take 10% of that and be happy. I have 160 top keywords in top results, which is about 10% of bankaholic’s 1500? Any buyers of saving to invest?

  9. Dan says:

    Couldn’t he have set up a small network of 2-3 financial websites, built their page rank, then made propositions to thousands of websites to trade backlinks to bankaholic in exchange for links from his other 2-3 financial websites? That’s probably cheaper than dropping $140k for $10 backlinks right?

    If you check out Mr. Wu’s other website (thebulltrader.com) you will see that he links to his bankaholic site along with, seemingly, another blog in his network (www.onlinesavingsaccounts.com).

    That’s my take, but I guess it wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy backlinks if you have that type of money to invest….just dont get caught.

  10. Dr,

    One word- awesome post. I bookmarked it and saved it under my all time favorite posts. You also won a loyal RSS reader.

  11. richard face says:

    paoli at deposit accounts is a putz

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