An Interview with Justin Cooke

Adsense Flippers is one of my favourite blogs. Run by Justin Cooke and Joseph Magnotti, the blog focuses on how both marketers build websites that make money through Google Adsense. They document their ups and downs and use their blog as a platform to sell the websites they develop.

They work on a lot of other projects too. Their ebook Building A Niche Site Empire has proved very popular on Amazon and they regularly host a podcast too. I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to interview one half of the Adsense Flippers Crew: Justin Cooke. I hope you enjoy the interview :)

How did you first get started working online?

Joe and I had worked for a Local SEO company years ago, but were primarily involved in running the business and didn't have much of an online presence ourselves. In 2009/2010 we moved to the Davao City, Philippines as we had built an outsourcing company there that we were looking to expand. While we did have a website and were somewhat visible online, we quickly realized we'd have to take it even further if we wanted to get noticed.

We ended up losing a major outsourcing client at the end of 2010. We wanted to keep our trained and talented employees, so we decided to put them to work building out niche sites. We started blogging about it in 2011 and that's when we formed AdSense Flippers. Over the last 20 months or so we've since added a podcast, created a WordPress theme, and are continuing to expand our reach and message online.

All of your online ventures were developed with your business partner Joseph Magnotti. How did you and Joseph first meet?

In 1996/1997 I was in the US Navy and stationed in San Diego. Joe was in San Diego for work, we had mutual friends and ended up hanging out quite a bit. We remained friends for years and it was Joe that got me involved in the Real Estate / Mortgage industry in 2003.

He ended up moving to Brazil for a year or so while I continued to develop my skills and contacts in Real Estate. We'd been talking about starting a business for some time and we decided to meet in Thailand to talk about getting things up and running. We met in 2004 with another (now uninvolved) 3rd partner and decided to get things up and running the next year.

From there we were on a bit of a roller-coaster ride with our mortgage company, working for a Local SEO company, starting our outsourcing company, and now building an online publishing empire.

You're currently based in Davao City, Philippines. What are the benefits to working overseas?

Entrepreneurs often struggle with keeping their head above water while they put in the required time to get enough friction for their business to take off. The amount of time you have to get things working is often referred to as “runway”…the amount of months you have to operate without any revenue.

With the lower cost of living, moving to places like Thailand, Vietnam, or the Philippines can increase your runway by a factor of 2x, 3x, or more. Personal savings of 30K won't get you 9 months in San Francisco while it will comfortably get you 2+ years in places like Chiang Mai, Davao City, etc.

Asia's where it's at right now. There's a huge growth curve throughout the region and we're seeing more and more expats heading out here, taking advantage of the “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy. Whether you like the clean, structured feel of a place like Singapore, the beachy, hipster vibe of a place like Bali, or the Wild West craziness that comes with the Philippines…there's something for everybody.

Your “AdSense Project” quickly grew into your main project online. Did you have a feeling this would happen so quickly?

No, not at all. Our original thought was that we'd start the blog to help build exposure for our Flippa sales and to build a list of potential/actual buyers. Because this was a side-project for us, we decided we might as well share our exact process with others through our blog posts. This really resonated with readers and we started to get more traffic than we expected.

It's funny…if we would have tackled this project like we have previous businesses we never would have shared as much information as we have. It's only because it wasn't as critical to us that we decided to be completely open about what we're doing and how it works and it blew up pretty quickly.

You make a lot of money from selling on websites that have proved to make good money through Adsense. Do you have any regrets of selling on profitable websites rather than keeping them more long term?

We started selling websites early on because we wanted a way to scale/grow the business quickly and it was either fix our cash-flow problem or wait a much longer time for the profits to roll in to help us build the business. I actually wanted to put more of our own money into site creation to scale, but Joe and I debated it for a while and found it would be better to realize the profits through site sales and reinvest that cash…which turned out to be a good idea.

We've now passed the point at which we would have made more money holding onto those sites than we would have selling them, but I doubt we would have been able to grow our business nearly as quickly if we would have held them all.

Ultimately, profit fuels your business. Figuring out ways to realize payments or profits up-front will give you the capital to do bigger and better things within your business and allow you to grow.

Adsense Flipper Websites for Sale Page
Adsense Flipper Websites for Sale Page

You make money through hundreds of websites. What tools and services do you rely on to manage such a large portfolio?

Joe and I run an outsourcing business in Davao City, Philippines and much of the work is done by members of our team. Still, we've found quite a few tools that have helped us speed up the process:

  • Long Tail Pro – Keyword research is critical to our business and this tool allows us to quickly find profitable niches to target.
  • IntelliTheme – This WordPress theme for niche sites was created by us and makes site creation and optimization so much easier. We looked around and there wasn't a theme like this to use so we built our own.
  • SEOmoz – If you're in the business of creating or building websites, this service is sort-of a given. It's not cheap at nearly $100 a month, but they have a ton of tools that we use to explore niches, check out the competition, etc.

I was really impressed with your recently released WordPress theme IntelliTheme. How has the product been received by niche website builders?

We've been really pleased we were able to get this product launched this year and the feedback has been great. Honestly, we believe this is THE best WordPress theme for niche sites and we've recently rolled it out to all of our niches…more than 1,000 websites as of this interview.

The only critical feedback we've had is in regards to a lack of customization. This was intentional…our theme does its own split-testing and will optimize towards the layout or preset that's most effective. If we include too many options or variations that type of split-testing would be almost impossible.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=126ZNcg9XJo?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

* Check our our review of Intellitheme.

Both you and Joe are very up front about your earnings, your successes and your failures. I have no doubt that being honest about the ups and downs of your business has endeared you to so many of your readers and been a key factor in building such a loyal readership. How important do you think this trust will be to the future of your business?

I think this trust is critical. I've read recently that more content has been created in the last two years than has been in all the years before. This means that there is a TON of content out there competing for attention. If you want to rise above the noise you're going to have to be remarkable and you're going to have to build trust. People buy from people they know, like, and trust and this will become even more important as more content continues to be created.

The changes that Google has made over the last year has greatly effected the potential for small niche websites. Do you see your company moving more towards authority websites?

I don't think the strategy of building niche sites and monetizing with advertisements and affiliate income will change much, even if the tactics used will have to. We've taken some hits from Google since we've started, but we've been able to continually bounce back and I see us continuing with niche sites through 2013.

We have a plan to “level up” our niche site creation process, though, and to target larger niches with more profitable sites. We'll roll this out along with our smaller niche sites so that we can target higher-end buyers with our site sales.

You guys also broadcast a podcast every few weeks. How did the podcast get started? Also, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the show, can you tell us a little about the topics you focus on.

Neither Joe or I paid much attention to podcasts up until a year or two ago, but our friends Dan and Ian from the Lifestyle Business Podcast encouraged us to try it out. We published our first few episodes and realized that podcasts are a great way to build a deeper connection with your audience. It's also more difficult to apply the “fake it till you make it” strategy with a podcast. Listeners can tell right away whether you have business chops or not and can help your content to stand out.

The AdSense Flippers Podcast has evolved a bit since our earlier episodes. We started off talking about niche websites, keyword research, content creation, etc. but we've evolved a bit over the last few months. Some of those topics are still discussed, but we do it through the lens of scaling and building an online business.

If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently?

I think we could have done a better job marketing our outsourcing company. We were still applying “old school” business principals to our marketing and we could have done much better by really connecting with others to grow the business. We're now looking to apply some of the same things we've done with AdSense Flippers to our new site: Outsourcing For Startups.

Building A Niche Site Empire

What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to make money through adsense?

To anyone just getting started with building sites, AdSense, etc. I would highly recommend check out our free guide, “Building A Niche Site Empire“. This details our exact process step-by-step and is a great way to learn all the fundamentals on how to build an online business.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they're starting their online business is that they look for the easiest way to do things, the shortcuts, the magic bullets. Not only should you stop doing that…you should actively seek out the path that's more difficult. This will stand as a moat around your business…a barrier to entry that other people aren't willing to cross. Don't worry about the fact that it's not completely automated or you might have to get on the phone…you can build automation later once you've proven you're on to something profitable.

What does 2013 hold for you and your business?

I know this is an opportunity to put something positive and forward-thinking here but, honestly, Joe and I really need to sit down over the next week or two and plan that out. We have a TON of things we've been talking about, dancing around, etc. and we need to cull that list down to the few things that will continue to drive our business forward.

One thing I know for sure is that we'll be launching our new Outsourcing For Startups site. We have some great content ideas planned for the site and I'm really looking forward to getting this up and running.

The other thing I'd mention is that we'll be adding new types of sites to our niche building and selection process throughout 2013. I can't say much more about that quite yet, but we'll be targeting more challenging niches, exploring monetization options, and figuring out how to hammer out a process that we can scale using our team of people here in the Philippines. Fun stuff!

Many thanks to Justin for taking part in this interview. You can find out more about Justin at AdSense Flippers or on Twitter @AdSenseFlippers. AdSense Flippers also deliver a great newsletter that is really useful. I recommend signing up :)