Researching a Niche: Tools & Techniques
When looking to start a new website or blog, choosing a niche is one of the most important decisions you will make, and it may require some time and research. Fortunately, there are a number of tools and websites available that can help with the research. Throughout this article we’ll look at several of the most helpful resources to help you on your way, and we’ll also go over some items that can influence your decision to proceed in a particular niche or to keep searching for a better one.
Some niches are ultra-competitive and others have little to no real competition. Of course, those that are competitive tend to have the largest audiences, which means higher traffic (and most likely income) potential. Niches with less competition may not have the same potential, but they tend to be more realistic, and in many cases the traffic and subscribers will be more valuable.
First of all, if you are planning to start a blog or any type of website that will require consistent time and effort, you will be in the best position to succeed if you choose something in which you have a strong interest. Without that interest and passion the work becomes harder and your chances of making money keep falling.
What Should You Look for In a Potential Niche?
Almost any niche you choose will have some level of competition. If your blog or website is going to be a one-person operation, some competitors will obviously be out of your league because of the resources and money that they have at their disposal. For instance, starting a new search engine to compete with Google, Yahoo, and MSN would give you about a 0% chance for success.
You don’t really want to look for no competition, but you do want to look for a niche in which you have potential to compete favorably. In most niches you won’t have to be the #1 website or blog in order to be successful and profitable. Can you compete well enough to take a share of the market?
Competition isn’t really a negative. Having other successful websites means that the niche has real profit potential. If no one is making any money, that may be a sign that the niche is not profitable.
A Passionate Audience
The audience is really what determines the success of the niche. A strong group of potential visitors/readers/customers should be seen as a huge plus. In fact, the level of involvement and action of the audience is just as important, if not more, than its size. Passionate visitors are much more likely to buy or to recommend something to friends and family. If your research leads you to several websites in a particular niche that seem to have a very poor following, it should be a warning that the audience may not be there.
How you plan to make money from your website should be considered when deciding on a niche. If you plan to sell your own products or services, how much competition is there and what prices are being charged? Will you be able to find customers who are willing to pay your prices, and will you be able to make enough money at those prices?
Many website owners make money with affiliate programs. If this is your goal, of course you need to choose a niche that has strong affiliate products available for you to market. It would be a shame to choose a niche and start developing a site only to find that there are no good affiliate programs.
Another monetization opportunity is to sell direct ads. In this case, you can get an idea of how much interest there might be from potential advertisers by paying attention to who is advertising on other sites in the niche. Some of those advertisers may also be interested in buying space on your site. Remember that not every banner ad you see is a direct ad, it may be an affiliate ad.
Room for Growth
Unless you plan to only maintain the site for a short period of time, you should choose a niche that is not merely a trend or fad that is likely to be short-lived. For example, if you are interested in starting a targeted blog on music, consider choosing a topic such as a particular style of music rather than just a single band or artist. That way your success will not be so dependent on the status of that band or artist. If they loose popularity, you will too.
You’ll want to find a niche that is current and popular, but look for something that will still be around and equally, if not more, popular in a few years. Jumping in to a grow niche can help you to grow along with the niche. If you can start to build your site before the competition heats up you’ll be ahead of the game when everyone else is following behind you.
Available Domain Names
You may also want to include some domain name research in your initial legwork. If you’ve attempted to buy a domain name before, you know how difficult it can be to find one that you like and that your visitors will be able to remember. To see some free tools to help you in the process, see 8 Tools to Help You Find the Right Domain Name.
Once you’ve created and launched your new website you’ll obviously have to do some marketing and probably some networking with others in the niche. This can potentially be much easier if there are strong community sites within the niche. This would include forums, social media sites, groups, etc. One of the strengths of the web design community is the many valuable community sites that exist. I have personally benefited greatly from sites like Design Float, DZone and CSS Globe. If you find a niche that has this type of community, you will probably have some important opportunities to market to targeted visitors. If the niche you are considering is too unique to have other sites, you will have a harder time with marketing since you won’t know where to find potential visitors.
Tools to Help with Your Research
Researching a niche doesn’t have to take days or weeks of researching and studying. The tools that are available online can help you to gather some essential information pretty quickly. Of course you won’t want or need to use all of the resources listed here, but using a combination of a few of them can provide you with enough information to make an intelligent, informed decision.
Google Search – One of the most basic ways to do some research is to simply run searches for words and phrases related to the topic of interest. This will give you a good idea of what sites are highly ranked for some of the more important search phrases. Earlier I mentioned that you want to find a niche that will allow you to compete. After doing several searches you may get an idea of how competitive a niche will be. If you’re finding small blogs and websites doing well in the SERPs, chances are you’ll be able to compete.
Google also offers some useful options in the advanced search features. On the advanced search page you’ll see “Page Specific Search.” Here you can enter the URL of a page and Google will find others that are similar. This can be helpful if you know one of the leading websites in a niche and you quickly want to see who Google recognizes as being similar. There is also an option to enter a page URL and see what other pages link to it. Google excludes many links in its results, so this option can be useful, but it certainly won’t show you every inbound link to a page (image below).
Google Trends – If you’re looking to see how much interest a topic currently has online, Google Trends is a great tool. It will not only show you what’s hot now, but it will help you to track trends (which is not surprising given its name). The front page of Google Trends will show you the top 10 hottest trends from today. Additionally, if you click on the link for “more hot trends” you’ll see a list of the top 100 trends. You can even change the date to go back and see hot trends from past days, and you can subscribe to an RSS feed for the hottest trends.
Let’s take a look at two examples to illustrate what you’ll find from Google Trends. The graph below is what you’ll find when you search for “internet marketing“. Search trends for the phrase are shown from 2004 to present, as well as news reference volume on a separate chart right below. As you can see, search volume hasn’t gone up, if anything it’s gone down. On the other hand, the news reference has increased.
Now, compare that graph to the one you see below which shows the results for “social media.” Of course, social media is far more popular now than it was in 2004, so it’s not surprising that search volume has consistently increased, and so has news reference volume. This shows that the specific topic of social media is growing while the topic of internet marketing is staying relatively the same.
Yahoo Buzz Index – The Yahoo Buzz Index will show you what’s hot now, and provide you with some basic information. The front page, of course, provides you with some information on the topics getting the most buzz, and there are also categories for actors, movies, music, sports, tv, and video games. The image below shows one of the stories on the front page regarding the death of Washington Redskins (American football) safety Sean Taylor. The story includes links to a number of searches as it details the increases these phrases have experienced in the past 2 weeks.
Google Alerts – Another tool from Google, Alerts allows you to set up an email notification regarding a particular search phrase. The image below shows how simple it is to set up. You simply enter any search phrase that you want to track, the type (news, blogs, web, comprehensive, video, or groups), how often you want to be emailed, and your address. Say you set it to send daily emails. Each day you’ll get a message with new pages (or videos) that have been indexed by Google for the search phrase you’ve chosen. It doesn’t guarantee that the pages themselves are new, but they are new to Google.
Google News – Depending on the topic you are researching, a news site like Google News can very helpful. Google News tracks leading stories on what they consider to be news websites and blogs (over 4,500 sources). You’ll see the top stories on the front page, but you can also visit category pages and run searches specifically news. The Google News search only returns items that come from the news sources, as opposed to a general Google search.
One of the most useful features of Google News is that once you’ve done a search, you can subscribe to an RSS feed that will give you news for that search term. To subscribe to a feed, scroll down a little bit and at the bottom of the left sidebar you’ll see links for RSS and Atom feeds. Google News UK is also available.
Google Blog Search – In addition to the standard search, a blog search can help to show more current results. With the blog search you’ll see how recent each blog post displayed was published. This will give you a good idea of how much is currently being written and published on a subject. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed for any search phrase.
Technorati – Technorati will give you similar information to what you’ll find with a Google blog search. If you’re just looking to see how much is being written on a topic, you can search and subscribe to a feed for the search.
Additionally, you can learn a little bit more about the popularity of particular blogs. Technorati has a ranking system based on authority, which is a measure of how many other blogs link to a particular blog. A lower number is good for the ranking, while a higher number is good for the authority. To see this, simply do a search for the URL of a blog. The image below shows the information provided by Technorati for ProBlogger. You can see that ProBlogger is the 15th ranked blog by Technorati (out of several million). The search results will show all of the inbound links to the blog as recognized by Technorati.
Techmeme – If the niche you’re researching is related to technology, Techmeme is another resource. Techmeme tracks the top tech-related news stories at any given moment. And of course you can subscribe to their RSS feed which will send you the top stories. Techmeme can be used to find the stories and topics that are getting the most attention currently. At the time of this writing, Facebook is mentioned in a number of the top stories, so obviously it is a very hot topic.
Tailrank – Tailrank is somewhat similar to Techmeme in that it tracks hot stories, but it’s not only focused on technology. Tailrank also shows how many blogs are linking to a particular story, which can also be a gauge of how much interest exists for a topic. With Tailrank you can do a search and have the option to subscribe to a feed for the search.
With the tools listed here, you’ll be able to get a good idea of the potential of a particular niche. If there are other tools you use or other things that you specifically look for in a niche, please participate by leaving a comment below.