The Definitive Guide to Niche Research
This guide is meant for anyone who wants to learn actionable strategies and advice for picking profitable niches for an online business. The worst mistake you can make when building a new website is not thoroughly researching your idea before you start. If there aren’t products to promote in your niche, it’s going to be hard to make a profit. Similarly, if you can’t find an audience that cares about your topic, traffic generation techniques will be fruitless. Read on to avoid these mistakes and discover the best tips for uncovering top niches.
What is a niche market?
If you are a complete beginner you may have never heard the term niche before. That’s OK! By the end of this guide, you will know more about niches than 95% of the planet. A niche is simply a category that you build your business around. So you could build a site about fishing, or golf, or online marketing (like this site 🙂 ). Within niches there are subniches like fly fishing, golf apparel, or social media marketing. There are literally thousands of topics that you could choose as your niche.
What should you consider when choosing a niche?
When you first set out to pick a niche you should start with a brainstorm session. You are going to end up creating a lot of content around whatever topic you choose, so it’s generally a good idea to pick something you are both passionate and knowledgeable about. You can get away with only being passionate or only being knowledgeable, but it’s easiest if you have both.
With passion, you won’t get bored discussing the same topic day after day. You’ll find unique ways to position your content, and you’ll be excited to wake up and get to work. With knowledge, you’ll have the ability to deliver high quality content, which is crucial for attracting repeat visitors. When building a content based niche business you’ll be relying on gaining links from other websites, and visitors through social media. If your content is poor, you’ll be fighting a losing battle.
How to find niche ideas?
During your brainstorm, create a list of all the topics that you are passionate or knowledgeable about. Personally, I believe it’s more important to choose a niche based upon your passion. You’ll find yourself creating less content if you don’t care about the topic, which will lower your repeat visitors. Of course, if your goal is to make money from your website, you’ll need to choose a passion that has potential for profit. You’ll learn how to uncover this potential later on in this guide.
Ideally, you’ll find some topics that are in both the passion and knowledge columns. These are the ones to narrow in on and research further. To get the ball rolling consider things like hobbies, or topics you know about where people often have problems. If you can provide effective solutions, you can attract an audience.
For example, if you are passionate about golf you’ll be able to provide solutions to people about how to develop a more effective golf swing. You’ll be able to write about the best new gear and apparel. You can also create guides to the best golf courses in each state. The possibilities are endless if you have passion and knowledge.
Now that you’ve done your brainstorm and hopefully identified a couple of niches where you have both passion and knowledge, it’s time to learn how to verify whether that niche is ripe for profit and traffic.
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How to ensure your niche idea has potential for profit?
There are multiple methods for confirming that a niche can make you money. You want to find successful products within the niche. If there are already products out there that relate to your niche, then you can feel confident that the niche has potential. This is actually for a few different reasons. First off, if people have taken the time to create products, then there is a very good chance that they did their own market research and have already confirmed that the interest is there. Secondly, there will often be a way for you to promote those products to your own audience once you attract one.
You can create your own products to sell, but it’s often a good idea to promote other products as an affiliate first and make a commission. That way, you don’t have to spend the time to build a product before you even have an audience. You can focus on building your audience first, and have a way to make money right away.
Now that we’ve covered the reason to search for products in your niche, let’s go over ways that you can actually put that knowledge into action.
If your niche is hobby or activity based then there is a good chance that there will be physical products that people can buy to support that interest. Let’s first dive into doing market research for physical products.
One of the best places to search is at Amazon.com. With such a large variety of products for sale, if there are any products related to your niche, you are bound to find a lot of them there. Amazon also has an affiliate program, where you get paid a percentage of the sales you refer to them.
Let’s say you know a lot about golf and think that would be an interesting niche to tackle. This is an obvious hobby/sport, so you know there are going to be many products that cater to it.
The first thing to do is head over to Amazon and type golf in the search box. As you’ll see, there are thousands of golf related products. This is a great sign. In fact, Amazon even has an entire section dedicated to just golf. This means it’s a popular category, so you know people are searching for it. If you can find an entire section just for your broader niche, you can feel confident that people care about that topic, and are looking to buy things.
Here’s an example of an Amazon category page:
If you want to verify how well a particular item is selling, check its Amazon Best Seller’s Rank. This is an indicator of how popular a particular item is compared to other items in its category. You can see in the image below that the golf club I’m looking at has a rank in the 3,000s. This is quite good considering there are over a million products in the Sports & Outdoors category. If you plan to promote any Amazon items on your site, the seller rank can help you choose products that people are more interested in buying.
If your niche is more for people seeking solutions to their problems, you may be in the market for some information based products. Some niches won’t have a ton of physical products to sell, but you can still make money by selling information. This is where Clickbank comes into play. Clickbank is a marketplace for digital products. You can find information products on most topics imaginable. In fact, some niches that do have physical products will also have information based products to promote.
To find out what products they have in your niche head over here. Then you can either search directly for your niche, or filter by category. In the picture below there are a couple of things to note. First off is the gravity, which I circled in blue. Gravity is an indicator of how many different affiliates are promoting that particular product. Generally, if a lot of people are promoting it that means it’s converting well.
One thing to know is that having a low gravity doesn’t necessarily mean that the product won’t convert. It could mean that the creator of that product is just selling it on their own site, and they haven’t attracted many affiliates yet. It could still be working well for them. Gravity is an indicator of the number of different affiliates getting sales, not the number of total sales (though the two often go hand in hand). Generally though, I’d recommend working with products that have a high gravity, as it’s a safer bet that the product will work for you.
Sticking with the golf theme in the picture below, you’ll see that none of the golf related products have a particularly high gravity. (Good gravity can be in the hundreds). It is likely that most affiliates in the golf niche sell a lot of physical products, and just use the information products as a little extra. People who are trying to sell information in the golf niche likely just create their own products to sell, which explains the low gravity.
Every niche is different, so try searching for your own niche in Clickbank, and see what comes up. Look at the type of information for sale. If you are going the blogging route, you could even get some solid post ideas from this research!
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There are many other methods of researching products to sell in your niche. These two are authorities, and should give you a great place to start. Next up, we are going to cover how to find your audience.
Are people interested in your niche?
Now that you’ve brainstormed to find niches where you have knowledge/passion, and verified that there are products to sell to your future audience, you want to gauge the size of that audience and learn where they hang out online. You also want to see what specific things they are looking for from the sites they visit. That way you know what to provide for them.
One of the first things you’ll do is some keyword research to identify key terms that those interested in your niche will use in search engines. This is valuable knowledge and will help inform your actions later on.
You are looking for keywords that your audience searches with in Google and Bing. Learning these keywords will help you get into the mindset of your audience. You’ll learn what information they seek, what they care about, and how they think.
Learning what your users are searching for will help you discover what content to create. You’ll know the problems people are having, and you can provide the solution. You’ll also learn about the competition that targets those same keywords. This is incredibly useful so that you can analyze what they are doing to succeed. Then you can implement similar strategies, and make your own adjustments and improvements to get your site ranking well.
Using Google’s keyword planner
To start your keyword research head over to the free tool at Google, called the Adwords Keyword Planner. Adwords is the service that advertisers use to place ads on the side and top of your search results. Even if you don’t plan on doing paid advertising with your site, you’ll still end up creating an Adwords account, just to get access to the awesome keyword tool inside.
When you start creating your Adwords account you’ll see that it asks you to create your first advertising campaign. They even ask you to fill out your payment details before moving forward. If you want to get the most out of the keyword tool, you’ll need to give them this information. You can pause your campaign the second you create it, so that way you won’t be charged. Don’t forget to do this! If you’d rather not give them payment information, which I understand, you can still get a lot of information from the keyword tool that they have integrated into the signup process. The picture below shows you how to do this.
You can see that there are over four million people that search for the word golf every month. Obviously, you’ve found a popular niche. That is just the start though. You next want to identify some of the more detailed keywords that people search for. Of particular interest is whether they are searching for solutions to problems and whether they want to buy products related to this niche.
When I type in “best golf clubs”, I see that six thousand people search for that each month. This is a phrase people would search with when looking to research a golf club to purchase. This can give you an idea of the type of content to create for your site. It also shows you that a decent amount of people are looking to buy things in the golf niche, which is a very good indicator of profit potential. That’s just one random phrase I typed in. Imagine all the others, “best golf shoes”, “best golf great”, “top golf clubs”, etc. The list is practically endless. I recommend taking the time to search for as many research and buying type phrases you can come up. Then write down a list of all the phrases that receive over 5,000 searches per month. This will come in handy later when you are trying to decide what content to create and what products to sell on your site.
Also, the phrase “perfect golf swing” receives over six thousand searches per month. So there are many people looking to get better at golf. If you can find phrases that show that people are looking to get better at something, you can provide them with a solution. Any keyword where someone is looking to learn, fix, solve, or improve is good to research. This is great for learning what content your audience is looking to find. It can also be used for creating your own information products down the road.
Check out Google Trends to see how your main niche keyword has fared over time. This gives you a historical record of how popular your term has been in Google search. Is your topic increasing or decreasing in popularity? This is also a great resource for discovering the most popular subniches within your main category. Even if your main keyword, like golf, is trending well, various subniches within golf may be going up or down. Get creative and start searching. You may be surprised to find that certain areas you would assume needed the most focus, are actually not as popular as other areas you may have neglected. You can try Google trends for yourself here.
Long Tail Pro
If you are ready to get more advanced with your keyword research, you’ll want to check out a tool called LongTailPro. It’s not free, but it is incredibly valuable.
Here are some of the cool things it lets you do:
- Outputs a much larger list of related keywords when you input a phrase to research. This greatly reduces the time it takes to do keyword research. You don’t have to sit there and rack your brain for ideas. They give you the important keywords for your niche right away.
- You can add various filters to improve your search results. For example, you can choose to show only keywords that get 5,000 searches per month minimum. That way, you don’t have to go through one keyword at a time, like with the Google tool.
- Top 10 competitor search: This part of the tool analyzes the top 10 results in Google for each of your keywords. It returns the domain’s age, link profile, domain authority, and more. This is incredibly helpful for getting an overview of all of the competition that’s in your niche. You can even you this to accelerate some of the competitive analysis strategies I discuss further down in this guide.
- Learn how easy or difficult it is to rank for a specific keyword. The tool analyzes the search competition for each keyword to tell you which keywords will find you the most success for the least amount of effort. This is one area where it is far better than a free tool like the Google one above. That tool only tell you the total searches. This one tells you how many competitors are trying to rank for that keyword, and actually gives you a score related to the difficulty of ranking. This can really take your content strategy to the next level. You will know what content will get search traffic more easily, which can help your site take off much faster.
The tool is well respected among professional internet marketers who have used multiple tools.
To learn more about it you can check out a great video on their homepage that takes you deep into the tool and shows you a live example of how it can help with your niche research.
If you are interested in checking out LongTailPro they offer a 10 day free trial (without even needing to put in your credit card)! So you can literally try it with zero risk, and figure out if the added functionality is worth the cost to you. If you don’t want to get it after the 10 days, you don’t even have to cancel, since they won’t have your card.
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Discovering your demographic
You’ve identified some of the top keywords that people search for when looking for information about your niche. Now you want to dive headfirst into where your audience hangs out online. This will help you uncover how active and passionate they are. It will also give you more of an opportunity to engage with your audience directly once you have your site launched.
When searching for your audience, the first thing to brainstorm is what your typical customer might look like. In other words, what is your target demographic? You can gain some insight into your demographic by doing some analysis of authority sites in your niche. The people who visit authority sites dedicated to your niche will be the same type of people most likely interested in your website.
To begin this research head over to Quantcast.com. With Quantcast you can enter in a website and it returns the average number of visits that site receives per month. This is a great way to tell if a competitor is large enough to warrant further research or not. It also returns valuable demographic data. As you can see from the image below, when I searched for one of the top golf forums, it lets me know that the audience there skews male and older. Now I know the general type of person interested in my audience. Think about where else those people hang out. Click here to try it out.
When you want to get a second view of your demographic, and even uncover some related websites head over to Compete.com. If you get a pro account (which is costly, but worth it if you are looking to take your business to the next level), you can see all of the referring domains that send a site traffic. Think about what you could do with that knowledge. You could reach out to those same sites to figure out how to start sending some of that traffic to your own site. Try Compete here.
Compete.com also shows you sites that your demographic has an affinity towards. Even with the free search you can find three related sites to the one you search for. With the pro account, you get everything.
This is a newer research tool, but one of my favorites. Their layout is really easy to follow and the information they return is top notch. They also give a lot more information to you for free. Of course, there is a paid account when you are ready to dive in even deeper. Visit this tool here.
You’ll get to see ten sites referring traffic, the location of the site’s visitors in the world, and an overall breakdown of traffic sources. All of this without spending a dime. Particularly useful is the breakdown of which social sites and search engines are sending the most traffic. This can help you figure out where your target market is located on the web, so you know where to focus your own marketing and outreach.
Finding Your Audience
Now that you know the demographic of your niche, it’s time to find your audience. There are multiple places to look.
If your niche is popular, there is bound to be a forum or two dedicated to it. What you are hoping to find are active forums with a large number of people. You’ll be able to sift through these forums to discover what kinds of questions people are asking, how often people post, and what people are interested in learning about. This will be another resource to help guide your content creation. Down the road, you’ll even be able to engage with your audience directly through forums, and drive traffic to your new website.
To find forums check out boardreader.com. Make sure to click the link in the upper left to filter the results by forum. That will ensure that you don’t get a bunch of posts that happen to have your term but where the overall forum is unrelated.
From that search you’ll will find golf related forums that you can research further. To try your own searches go here.
Another method of finding forums is doing a simple search in Google or Bing for terms like “your niche” AND forum.
For a third forum research tool head over to the aptly named FindAForum.com.
Create a list of all the relevant forums in your niche.
You’ve already discovered the top forums where your audience congregates and uncovered some of the key demographics. Now you can use that demographic information to find your audience on the top social networks.
Interacting with your audience on social networks is key to success these days. First, you need to find them. To learn more about the demographics of each of the major social networks check out this article that breaks it all down.
This is the most popular social network of them all. There are some interesting demographic trends. First off, the overall Facebook user is beginning to skew older. In fact, the network has lost over 3 million teen users over the past 3 years. They are giving up ground to Instagram and Tumblr. That being said, there are still a large number of users in each demographic.
To find your audience, search for Groups and Pages related to your niche. You can then join those and start interacting. As this article is about niche research, we’ll be focusing on learning the size of your audience rather than how to attract them to your site. The important thing to take note of is the size of each page/group in your niche. How active are they? If you find a large audience that is actively discussing your niche, chances are you’ve found a great place to do outreach later.
This is the most popular social network for people between the ages of 18-29. There is little difference between the amount of male and female users. I won’t use this article to dive into the specifics of marketing your site on Twitter (I’ll create a separate article for that). What you should know is how to do niche research on Twitter.
Hashtags were brought back into the mainstream by Twitter in July of 2009. If you want to find your niche you can search Twitter using hashtags, which is just your niche keyword with # in front. For example: #golf, #golftips, etc. When conducting this search you’ll return all the tweets that have used this hashtag recently. What you are looking for is the popularity of that hashtag on the network. If a particular hashtag search returns tweets that have been favorited and retweeted often, it’s a good sign that there is an active community.
Another thing to do is search for the official accounts of the various forums you found earlier. How many users are following them? If some of the people following the forums have a large following of their own you may just have found yourself a competitor to research further. As you go deeper you’ll find the people on Twitter who care about your topic. Once you are ready to market your site, you’ll know where to go to reach them.
This is the social network for professionals. There are slightly more men than women on the site, but you can still find plenty of women easily. The age skews older, with the average age being between 30-49. The income is also rather high. 38% of people with a household income of $75k or higher have a LinkedIn account. If your niche is in the business to business realm, this could be the perfect place.
The great thing is that you can join groups on LinkedIn, just like the other networks. Do a search for your niche and see what groups are already there. Once you join, you’ll be able to see the activity level of each group. Just as in the other networks, you are looking to find active groups with relatively large followings.
Women use Pinterest at a much larger rate than men. It’s used to store and share pictures, and initially attracted women who wanted to share recipes, arts & crafts, home design, etc. You can now find pictures on all sorts of topics, and there is a good chance your niche will be represented. If your niche’s demographic skews female, Pinterest is likely a place where you’ll find them.
As with the other networks, search for terms relevant to your niche. Then look for the Pinterest boards that have a lot of followers, repins, and other activity. If there are many different boards within your niche, and they are popular, there is a great chance of finding success here.
When considering which social networks to focus on, it’s important to do your niche research ahead of time. Which networks have the largest percentage of people fitting your demographic? Are they active and engaged on that network? This will help you decide which networks to focus your energy on first. The fact is, we all have limited time, and it’s important to be efficient when promoting your brand. By targeting the right areas, you’ll get the most return for your time.
Competitive research strategies that will leave your mind blown
You’ve identified your demographic and found the forums and social networks where your potential customers interact. The next step in niche research is competitive analysis. You want to find your top competitors and start to figure out how they are generating traffic, creating content, and interacting with their users across multiple platforms.
You’ll want to build another list of the main competitors in your niche. You are mostly concerned with the blogs and websites that are the movers and shakers. One excellent tool to get before starting is a plugin called SEOQuake. This is a free browser extension that gives you all kinds of helpful information about the sites you visit and find through search.
Now that you’ve installed that extension, it’s time to do some research. Start out by searching for the different keyword phrases you identified during your keyword research phase. With SEOQuake installed and activated you’ll see a bar below each search result, giving you tons of valuable information.
The first thing I like to look at is each site’s Alexa.com ranking. Alexa provides a ranking of sites based on the volume of traffic. Rankings closer to one are better. Generally, if a site has an Alexa ranking of at least 250,000 it’s getting a decent level of traffic.
When coming up with a list of competitors I try to focus mainly on sites that are similar to the site I plan to create. So if this is going to be mainly an information site that creates content and profits from affiliate products and ads, I focus on other blogs or content based sites. If you were going to create an ecommerce site, then you’d focus on those. A side note on ecommerce is that other ecommerce sites are your competitors, blogs and standard websites are your potential partners, so it’s good to find both.
What you are initially looking for is that there are in fact competitors doing something in line with what you are planning. The internet isn’t as much of a wild west as it was several years ago. It’s unlikely you will find a niche that has zero competitors. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to go into that niche even if I found it. I’d rather have competitors already out there. It proves that others are having success and I can learn from what they are already doing.
So, if you are planning to create a content based site around the golf niche, you want to start creating a list of other blogs and content sites that focus on golf as well. Ignore the giant content farms like eHow. You want to find niche focused competitors.
Using Google’s Blog Search Engine:
One especially awesome tool is the Google blog search engine. This has actually been deprecated as of the time of this writing. However, there is a little trick you can use to still access it. Just visit google and filter by news. Then click on Search Tools and then “All News.” There you will see the ability to filter for blogs only. This is nice because you are filtering out ecommerce sites, youtube videos, content farms, and others that get in the way of finding your direct competition.
You can see here a great blog with an Alexa ranking of 190k. That’s a solid amount of traffic. When you click through to check out the site, you can see a lot of content. Assuming you are trying to create a content based site, you’ve just identified a direct competitor. You can continue searching the Google blog search with each of your keywords to identify other competitors.
I always find it interesting to click through and check out each of the sites with decent traffic. You can get an idea of the types of articles they are creating. How are they trying to make money from the site? This is a great way to generate your own article ideas, and to find products to sell on your site. If a product is already being sold on other blogs, there is a better chance that it can be a winner for you as well.
Competitive research on social media:
You’ve identified popular blogs and forums in your niche, which is a great start. You also verified which social networks have the most concentration of your target audience. Now it’s time to go back to those social networks and do some research on the top influencers within your niche on each network.
A great place to start is by joining related groups as discussed before. Then simply look at the people posting content within those groups (or with relevant hashtags on Twitter). If someone is active and has a large following, you will want to pay attention to them.
Create a list of the most important influencers on each network you plan to attack. How often are they posting? What type of content do they post? Can you engage them? If you can build a relationship with them, it can lead to big things for your site.
General mindset when researching competitors:
I want to take a moment to discuss something that many people ignore when first starting out. There are a few different ways to view competition. The negative way is that it’s you against them, and every site for itself. The positive way is to consider how you can turn your competitors into your greatest allies. If you are producing incredible, unique content, and have your own angle, there is generally room for multiple players in each niche. It doesn’t have to be war.
In fact, one of the best ways to jump ahead is to partner with people in your niche. You help them promote their content, and they will help you in return. As long as you come across respectfully and create a great experience on your site, smart competitors will want to help you, not hold you back.
Once you find out who the successful competition is in your niche, work to build a relationship. We’ll cover the details of how to do this in a future article, but I thought it was important to note here. It’s always good to start thinking about synergies early on during the planning stage.
When doing your competitive research, you want to get a holistic view of the current authorities in your niche. What are they doing? How are they making money? What type of content do they produce? How will you produce content that is different or better? You aren’t reinventing the wheel (the internet has been around, most niches have competitors). It’s not about coming up with things that haven’t been done, but improving upon something that’s out there. Create a better guide. Or an infographic of the information, video, podcast, slideshow, etc. What is your angle?
I’ve covered a lot of information here. You should now have a solid place to start conducting your own niche research. If you’d like some additional strategies that I’ve found helpful I recommend checking out the following articles:
The Secret To Finding Profitable Niches with Flippa (Great Read!)
Niche Hacks (A site dedicated to providing niche research shortcuts!)
Niche Site Dual (from Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome) Watch Pat build sites from scratch!
Thank you for taking the time to check out this niche research guide! You should now have the knowledge to brainstorm a niche, discover the potential for profit, research your demographics, find your audience online, and analyze your key competitors. I truly hope this has been helpful.
I’ll be creating many more guides in the near future, and I look forward to sharing them with you. Please leave a comment below if you have anything to add, or any questions at all. I will personally respond as quickly as possible.