The Niche Conundrum

Effective techniques for niche research

So, you have decided to create a website and advertise your expertise online. You want to help people, but at the same time earn money on the side.

You have a bit of experience in technology, you have some expertise in gardening, and know a thing or two about how to easily train a dog. But at the same time, you’re open to experimenting with related areas you can write something about it and people are willing to listen.

That brings us to the _question of the century_.

What topic should I choose for my website or blog?

You want the topic to be generating enough excitement out there, to have quite a bit of meat in it so that you can write pages and pages about it, and of course have something that you can relate to.

 

What is a niche?

The topical theme that we are talking about here is called a “niche”.

A niche represents a market focused on a particular topic, and related topics. For example technology is a niche, and so are gardening, health and fitness, and entertainment.

Anything that you see, do and experience can be a niche.

As you can see, any of these topics (or niche markets) are quite vast. Technology can mean anything right from computer programming to mobile devices, drones, and 3-D printing. You cannot possibly cover all areas of technology in one website or blog. To make things easier, you divide the niche into a number of sub-niche’s or micro niches.

Also, as you go deeper to concede that the number of websites dealing with a particular topic may decrease significantly. This decreases competition, and increases your chances of getting the message across in your own website. Case in the point – you can choose to write about lawnmowers alone rather than every aspect of gardening out there.

 

Which niche should I choose?

An ideal niche will have –

  • plenty of topics to talk/write about
  • a lot of people with problems, and looking for solutions
  • low (or manageable) competition

When you’re dealing with an ideal niche, you talk and people listen. You write about a problem, a solution, a product that effectively solves the problem, or how a training course helped resolve the problem, and people look forward to implement the same method/product in their lives and solve their own problems.

When you are new and start looking around to find a niche to talk about, you will often be dismayed about how difficult it can be to get your own message across. A lot of people seem to be solving the same problem, and solving the problem quite effectively.

As you learn more you see that it is not really the case.

Though a speck in the astronomical terms, our dear world holds many a topic that interests thousands, lakhs or zillions of people interested.

You want to select a niche with the below points in mind –

1. Choose an area of interest that you can relate to.
You know something about the people who are interested in the same niche, and have a generic understanding of problems faced by people.

2. Choose a topic that offers some interesting things to say.
Remember that you are building a website with potentially hundreds of thousands of words about the topic, with some videos, podcasts, etc. thrown in.
For e.g. you can talk on and on about dog training tips, but find it difficult to move beyond a ceiling when you are dealing with “ear problems in pugs”.

3. You can manage competition.
You don’t want to start with a generic mobile phone review website, and think about making your first dollar the next week. Millions of other sites are already talking about it, and you will be spending a lot of time on the site before you become successful.
You can instead drill down to a specific market within that. Start targeting a sub-niche, and move on to broader topics as you get traction. For e.g. Dust proof phones for outdoor use can be a far less competitive topic as compared to “mobile phones”.

4. People are discussing the topic.
You could write about how moon’s gravity has shaped moon rocks and moon dust, but there are not a ton of people getting excited about it. You would have to choose something that people are already talking about.
A good way to look for this information is through Google Keyword Planner. That shows whether people are searching for the topic. You can use those queries yourself to check out what indeed people are talking about in that niche.

5. Finally, there are people willing to buy stuff in the niche.
You could spend all the time to create good content about the ideals of Free Software Foundation. That certainly will get you fans, but not many people are buying software when they are looking for information on FSF.
On the other hand, people looking for lawn mowers are mostly the people looking for information in order to buy.
Although you could create wealth from offline selling of goods and services that you write about on the web, for most of us it is a MUST that the products/services are sell-able online.

You understand by now that points (3) and (4) above are not really friends with each other. If more people are talking about something, more people want to write about it (and probably become famous and earn money while doing it).

Before we go any further, note that I did not say “you have to be passionate about the niche”. As I see it – you certainly have to be passionate about creating something useful to the readers/users, but you can learn things on the go.

If you can do basic keyword research, look around to see what people are looking for in the niche, and create content around the topic – that will work just fine. You will make life easier if you choose a topic that you can relate to, else there are always people whom you can outsource to 🙂

 

How to drill down to a profitable niche?

Start from a topic that is broad enough, and a topic that you think is going to be interesting and profitable for a website or blog.

While doing the niche research, it is always a good idea to determine a few broad keywords that have the potential to rank. Although keyword research is tied invariably to niche research, bear in mind that it just forms the initial base. Niche goes beyond the initial set of keywords, but that initial set can make or break your blog in the initial days.

Let me illustrate with an example. I will select the broad niche as “gardening”.

 

1. Research the roots

There is no one place to start your research.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is surprisingly agile when it comes to updating content with the latest developments (agile for its size, and your mileage may vary).

Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardening. Go through the entire section, and give attention to the various sections in the article.

The “See also” and “References” section are of special interest to us.

niche research on wikipedia

“See also” provides various terminologies within gardening that are covered in Wikipedia. Drill down on them to see what they are about. Google the terms to check out the competition – they have the potential to become your main keyword for a less competitive niche.

A couple of facts to take note –

  • Not all niches are buyer friendly. e.g arboretum (or collection of trees), or Garden Museum may not be a topic that you want to focus on. You could certainly use them for getting some traffic and establishing the authority of your site – e.g. target Garden Museums <city>. But, don’t stop the research on the topic with these “keywords on the side”.
  • You have to drill down on topics and research further. For e.g. houseplant. You can never rank for this term as the main keyword but there may be plenty of opportunities further down.
  • Some of the keywords (e.g. Impact Gardening) have very less competition, but the search volumes are low as well. Evaluate whether you can use these kind of keywords as “foot in the door” act to get *any* traffic, OR whether they are part of a “growing niche” that people may not know about.
    researching niche on wikipedia and google search

Check out the “See Also” section to see whether there is an “Index of <topic>” – for e.g. here’s an Index of gardening articles. This page has a collation of articles on Wikipedia that is directly relevant to the topic.

Make a note, or a spreadsheet with the niche and keywords. It can be as simple as a note of niche, root keywords, and other relevant keywords.

Here’s a Google spreadsheet template – just click below to download for free. You can use the template for your own purpose by making a copy on your Google Drive.

 

Amazon

Use Amazon (or any popular eCommerce site for that matter) to get started with those profitable ideas, and see whether there are any products that people are buying in a niche.

research niche on Amazon

It is harder to get fresh ideas from Amazon since the products over there are being looked at by other niche marketers. I tend to go to Amazon to validate products available in the niche. If you are going region specific, check Amazon site for your own country or the popular marketplace for that region (e.g. Alibaba for China).

You can make things interesting by starting your research through the “Best Sellers” page. For gardening the best sellers are listed in http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/lawn-garden.

 

Digital Products

You can do the same research you do at Amazon with online market place for digital products.

Popular among them are ClickBank, and ShareaSale. You can go hyper with Gumroad, SellfySelz, SimpleGoods, and other such stores.

We will continue our gardening example with ClickBank.

Clickbank has products from multiple niches, and luckily for us – Gardening is one of them.

Niche research on clickbank

Although the screen does look confusing at first, it is quite simple really.  go through another post to understand all about product selection in ClickBank.

Sort the products to understand more-

  • Avg $/sale will tell you popular products that may also provide a recurring income. This is interesting because it is a pointer to sustained interest by customers on that particular topic
  • Avg %/sale will tell you the share of profits that you are going to receive by being an affiliate for a particular product

Next, try to identify common topics across products. In gardening some of the popular topics appear to be –

  • Organic farming
  • Beekeeping
  • Aquaphonics
  • Bonsai

More the number of products, more is the interest in that particular topic from both customers and sellers. You may also want to look at whether there is anything new that people can say in the topic.

Each of these topics, or a combination of them, can become your core niche.

 

Forums

Continue your research in the forums that are focused on the selected topic.

I typically start from Board Reader, or Google for forums.

research on forums

Once you go into one or two of these popular forums, you will not only see the most common problems that are asked, but also the most popular topics that are getting discussed on a daily/weekly basis.

Spending a couple of hours in the forums got me the below topics-

  • Use of organic fertilisers
  • Vegetable / flower gardening vs. various regions and whether
  • Container gardening
  • Indoor gardening
  • Lawnmower issues

 

Social Media [other than forums]

Next up, go and check out what people are talking about and sharing all social media.

  • You can do a quick search on Facebook. See what conversations are happening in the gardening Facebook groups.
    Check out what people are sharing on Facebook
  • Do a search on Twitter.
    Though Twitter may not be known for specific niches, you never know what it throws up.

Select social media based on your topic. While cooking and I had may be hot topics on interest, SEO is more talked about on Twitter.

You will not get all the topics by just searching for “Gardening”. You’d have to mix it up with some of the niches identified in the previous exercise.

We’ll make it easy on yourself if you start identifying the social trends from the following websites –

One of the things that I would like to do here – don’t stop at searching the topics, but also checkout the influencers in that space. You’ll discover more areas by checking out social media activity/blogs  of those influencers.

There are paid tools like Buzz Tracker, uberVU etc. that are supposed to make your life easier, but I haven’t used them.

 

The purpose of the “root research” is to find out those pillar niches that can potentially focus on. At this time, you understand that there are a few topics that are talked about in an area of interest, but you don’t know how big it is.

 

2. Find the branches

If I can summarise “find the branches” technique in one sentence it will be – “determine if the niche has enough meat in it”.

I see niche research as a cornerstone for finding out topics that help me begin a website, and having enough material to sustain updates over 3 to 5 years. I try to focus on the larger picture that will help me build an authority blog, and not something that I will exhaust in a span of six months.

Let me give an example.

There was a website until a few months ago that provided very focused research on double strollers. Imagine that, people. The guy could just go over all the double strollers available in the market, and that was the end of that.

That would have certainly worked until about 2 to 3 years back, but we have seen Google being partial to authority sites more recently. So though I could identify double strollers as a “foot in the door” niche to help me get started, that would not be the sole focus of the entire website.

Note that I did not say it is wrong. You still see niche sites like the ones below in SERPs –

Perils of narrow focus for a niche

Going back to my example on gardening, by now I would have listed out the areas that are considered hot topics in the gardening space as of date.

  • Bonsai
  • Lawnmowers
  • Container gardening

There is the time I’ll try to go do some keyword research.

Keyword research should tell me –

  • Short and long tail keywords for the niche
  • Competition and whether I’ll be able to beat it
  • Sheer numbers for search volumes, advertiser interest (buyer keywords)

You don’t capture all this in the worksheet that you already have, and think through each one of the identified niches, keywords.

Lawnmowers, although attractive, attract too much competition. A lot of people use lawnmowers, are looking for lawnmowers, or looking for lawnmowers services. Marketers want their share of the pie. The first page of Google for some of those keywords are occupied completely by e-commerce companies, making it hard to beat.

Bonsai as more focus on the images, more focus on the actual selling of bonsai plants, and have lower search volumes.

Container gardening has moderate competition, is more focused on the “how”, And can also expand into related fields including backyard gardening, indoor gardening, vegetable/flower gardening, aqua phonics, and if you’re feeling adventurous, it can venture into “survival gardening” (grow to survive, what does one do when zombies attack all the vegetable fields), and even beekeeping.

This is the stage when some subjectivity creeps into the decision. Does bonsai resonate with you, you find lawnmowers more interesting.

Study other websites that deal with the same topic, You really like to do that for the next 12/24/60 months? What is the rate at which they update the sites. Lawnmowers may require you to revisit your reviews whenever new models/technology comes out, but you may have to keep yourself more updated about what is happening in the container gardening space.

You also want to look for something that can link to other topics and grow. If you find an opportunity in a related field, you should be able to focus on that particular niche as things change in the subsequent months.

 

To summarise

Niche research is the first important step that you do to identify the pillars for your website. While you can spend a lot of time on niche research and never be able to decide, I would advise having a strict timeline (e.g 5 days) and complete all your research in that time. Hopefully the information listed above will help to an extent in fast forwarding the process.

Do you follow any system or framework for niche research? Comment and let me know!