I can tell you're excited to see inside the process I used to build one of my sites. And I'm excited to show you how you can do it, too.
If you haven't looked through the comments on part one, I recommend that you do. There were a lot of great questions. Many of them I answered right away. There's plenty to learn reading those comments.
One of the top things you asked was how I chose the niche for the site. I'm going to answer that in this post.
But first, I know you've all been waiting to see which of my sites we'll be using as a case study.
It's my podcasting tutorial site.
I know. It's not the most attractive thing. I built the site myself in 2005. Back then I knew very little about WordPress. But I'll talk more about how the site was built later in this series.
For now, let's take a look at the exact process I used to choose the niche idea for this site.
Step 1: Brainstorming
During the summer of 2005, my wife and I stayed in Alaska to escape the NYC heat. My main objective for that summer was to create a new niche site income stream.
I can still picture in my mind the yellow pad where I scratched out as many niche ideas as I could. For several days (or possibly even weeks), I had that thing at the ready to capture any little idea that came to mind.
I made lists of my interests. I wrote down unique experiences I'd had. I noted things I wanted to learn. I paid attention to problems around me that needed solutions.
I wish I had a scan of that pad of paper to post here, but it's buried in a box in an attic in Utah. Some of the ideas I had include:
- Learning guitar
- Visiting Alaska
- Recording music at home
- How to learn french
- Digital audio
I wrote down many more than this, but you get the idea.
Niche Idea Generation
Here are a list of questions to ask yourself when brainstorming niche ideas.
- What talents knowledge or skills do you have?
- What would I do even if I didn't get paid for it?
- What kinds of things do people come to me to get help with? What do people count on me for?
- What are things that I want to learn more about?
- What kinds of things do I do for fun? What are the things that make me lose track of time when I do them?
- What problems do I see around me that need a better solution?
- What kinds of experiences have I been through that taught me valuable lessons?
Once you answer those questions, ask 2-3 trusted friends to answer the questions as well about you. They might come up with some things you missed. Often we take for granted the things we are good at. It takes an outside perspective to help us see it.
Even More Niche Ideas
If those questions don't turn up enough options for you, here are some other places to look for ideas.
- 43 Things - this is essentially a list of the top goals that people want to accomplish in life
- Magazines - if there is a magazine for it, then you know there is a market for it
- For Dummies Books - one of the largest publishers has done all the research for you to find viable niches
- E-How - another treasure trove of topics that people want to learn about
The Clickbank Marketplace is also a great place to get ideas. If you check the gravity of a product you are intersted in, you can see if there happens to already be some interest in that subject/product. The higher the gravity score the better!
Once you have a big list of ideas, narrow it down to the 3 or 4 that interest you the most. These are the ones you'll take into the evaluation process below.
Podcasting was at the top of my short list. I'd seen it mentioned in an e-mail newsletter. I had no idea what the word meant, so I Googled it. Right away I was fascinated. So I wrote it down on my idea pad.
Podcasting really appealed to me because it combined my interest and knowledge in the Internet, new technology, teaching others, marketing and audio recording. It felt like a great fit for my talents.
I could see myself learning new podcasting things, testing them out and sharing them with my audience. This mad eit my top pick for a niche site.
Step 2: Niche Evaluation
This is one of the most important steps. Careful evaluation up front makes content creation, traffic generation and making money a ton easier moving forward. Here are the five criteria I look at when evaluating a niche.
Criteria #1: Demand
Question: Are there enough people actively looking for the topic online?
If there's a Dummies book or magazine for the niche, that's good proof of demand.It's not necessary, but it's one thing that you can look for as an indicator.
You can also rely on your own personal experience to give you a sense for the demand in the market. Be careful with this one. It's easy to assume incorrectly.
One of the best indicators of the demand for a niche online is the number of people that search for it in Google. You can use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to know approximately how many people search for a given topic each month. I'll make a video for you about this in the next post.
Interesting enough, podcasting was so new that there weren't any search numbers available. There wasn't a magazine. There wasn't even a dummies book yet. So I was mostly going off of gut feel.
Something told me that more and more people would be looking for help to start a podcasting in the coming months and years. It also seemed only a matter of time before it went beyond a few geeks in their bedrooms and businesses jumped on board.
As the years have proven, my hunch was right.
Criteria #2: Usefulness
Question: Does this niche speak to a group of people with either an urgent pain (e.g. recovering from divorce, treating heartburn, how to get grant money) or an irrational passion (e.g. golf, scrapbooking, Jeremy's no longer secret love for macrame)?
It's tons easier to attract people and sell them a product you tap into their emotional drive. If an athlete has just had knee surgery, is looking for info to help her return to her top performance and she comes across your site with videos and an e-book answering her most pressing questions...
...that is a GOOD position to be in as a marketer.
The way I saw it, podcasting would be a powerful new strategy in any marketer's tool belt. Every business loves free or low-cost ways to reach new customers, connect with them and sell more products. Podcasting could be used to do that. So, yes, it was a useful niche.
Criteria #3: Profitability
Question: Are people actively buying product (and ideally digital information products) in this niche?
If you see others advertising and selling online in the niche, that's a sign that there is money to be made there. If you can't find anyone selling products, then I would move on.
Yes, maybe you have found an untapped vein of gold. But it's more likely there's a reason no one is selling. Because no one is buying!
Unless you are a seasoned entrepreneur, find a niche that's already been proven by others. Don't be a pioneer. Now, I realize that makes this a "do as I say not as I did" scenario.
Here are a just few indicators that a niche is profitable:
- You find blogs or sites that are selling products in your niche
- Clickbank has products listed in the niche
- When you search in Google you see lots of advertisers at the top or on the side
Be sure to search for a number of different keywords related to the niche when checking for profitability. You just need to find one or two that show proof of money being made.
Based on this profitability criteria, I shouldn't have chosen podcasting as a topic for my niche site. However, I had a strong enough gut feel that people would buy info products in this niche. I wanted to be the first to offer them the chance to buy. Keep in mind this was not my first site. So I was more confident being a pioneer.
I did have my moments of doubt (more on this in a bit), but in the end decided it was worth launching the site to see what happened.
Criteria #4: Competition
Question: Based on my long-term goals, can I stand out in this niche given the effort I plan to put into this site?
In order to make noise in a niche, you need something that will help you stand out. Be sure you can use one or more of the following strategies as you can to give you the edge against competition.
a) Focus on an a specific audience
Choose a specific group of people that you connect with to target. This is likely a past version of yourself. Ideally find a group that is under-served in the niche.
For example, you could teach social media specifically to lawyers, help home business owners stay fit , work with baby boomers that are retiring to make the transition more smooth, help fathers with attachment parenting tips, etc.).
Most businesses make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. By laser-targeting a specific audience, you'll be sure to rise above the competition.
b) Target lots of long tail keywords phrases
Long tail search phrases are typically three to five words in length. These phrases have much less competition because most people chase after the more popular one- and two-word phrases. The trade off is you get less traffic from these words. But if you target dozens or even hundreds of them you'll see significant results.
When we first started Internet Business Mastery, one of our primary keywords was internet based business. It was much easier to rank for than internet business.
As we got more established we switched our focus. After some time and effort, we've now achieved a top ranking in Google for the more popular phrase, internet business.
c) Have a solution that gives people a reason to come to you over other options available to them
When we started Internet Business Mastery, we stood out by using a new channel that no one else was -- podcasting. In addition, we took a "two normal guys just sharing their journey" kind of approach while others were branding themselves as gurus on the mountain.
Ask yourself this: why should my target market come to me over any other option available to them?
d) Put in the time and effort to eventually "outrun" the competition in the search engines
This is where the long-term goals come in. With internet business mastery we knew that we could eventually rank for internet business and other popular terms, but it could take a year or two. We were fine with that.
There were plenty of long tail phrases to target in the meantime. Plus we knew that early on iTunes would be the primary source of traffic.
The nice thing is I had next to no competition in podcasting. That is the upside of being a pioneer.
There was very little info on the Internet about podcasting. The info that was available was all written by techie guys that were geeking out on RSS, enclosures, mic specs, aggregators and other things that would just confuse a new, non-techie person.
My experience teaching tech to musicians in college had shown me I was good at simplifying things, making less intimidating and more useful. It would be easy for me to stand out.
Criteria #5: Passion
Question: Can I see myself having fun learning and creating content for this topic? Is it in line with my personal goals?
Passion gives you drive. It motivates you through the tough times. It also makes you a more compelling and entertaining content creator. Make sure you'll enjoy the topic long enough to reach your goals for the site.
Don't chase a niche just because the numbers look good. The first thing we teach our students is to define their money goals, desired lifestyle and Definite Major Purpose. Only build sites and businesses that line up with these goals.
Step 3: Final Niche Selection
From your top three niche ideas, choose the one that you can answer yes to all of the evaluation questions above. If none of them pass the test, go back to the brainstorming phase. If more than one pass evaluation, use your gut to narrow down to one.
Yes, choose only one. It's important to focus. Place the other(s) on the shelf for now. You can always try them later.
For me, podcasting felt like the obvious choice. It had a higher uncertainty (since it was such a new thing), but a large potential payoff.
Step 4: Overcome the Doubt
Let me take a moment here to talk about doubt. This step could really arise at any point during the other steps. It's very common (and totally understandable) to doubt yourself at some point in the niche selection process. It feels like such a weighty choice.
What if you choose badly? What if you fail? What if you waste time chasing the wrong niche?
Let me first say that there is no right or wrong niche when getting started. Your goal at first should be to learn the process and make your first income. You can always switch gears later if you find something more promising.
Just get started!
It might seem like I chose podcasting as my niche with total confidence. It's certainly easy to look back and feel like it was a total win based on the results I've had.
The truth is I was really struggling with my confidence the summer leading up to starting the podcasting site. Even though I'd had some success online, it still felt like it could go away at any time.
I hadn't yet had my "ah-ha" moment about financial freedom that we talked about in a recent episode. That would come later that fall.
In fact, this podcasting site really helped boost my confidence in my own skills as an entrepreneur.
I almost didn't pursue the podcasting idea at all. I can distinctly remember the conversation with my wife where I was trying to talk myself out of doing it.
I was worried about whether my gut feel about podcasting was right. Would it grow? Would people spend money to learn it? Could I really be the top expert in podcasting? Thankfully she helped me see the light.
Just think. If I hadn't launched this podcasting site, I wouldn't have ever created Internet Business Mastery with Jeremy, had a podcasting book published, been an international conference speaker and a reached number of other things that came from this one success.
So the point I want to make is this:
Everyone will have that moment where they can either talk themselves out of moving forward OR they can take bold action. That will be a turning point in the process. Whatever you need to do in that moment to not back down...do it! Talk to a mentor, mastermind or friend that can help you process the fear and then move on.
When you have triumphed over that moment of doubt your capacity to manage that doubt increases and will lead you to success. This is one of THE most important personal tests you'll face as an entrepreneur. Don't let it stop you!
The risk is not choosing the wrong niche. The risk is the time you will waste by not getting started. Believe me. I hear new entrepreneurs say all the time, "why didn't I start sooner?"
Step 5: Define Your Target Market
By now you should have given some thought to the kind of people you want to reach and help. This goes beyond just choosing a niche/topic/market.
As I stated above, being specific about your target audience here will really help you stand out. Do not try to be all things to all people. I love this quote.
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." -- Bill Cosby
There are a number of reasons for focusing on a specific audience.
- You get to work with the people you like to help most
- You attract more loyal customers
- You create better content
- When your ideal prospect comes to your site, it will be apparent to him immediately that he's in the exact right place
- It will be much easier to get people to buy
We have our students use a specific process and worksheet to create what we call "a customer avatar." This is a description of the ideal person that you want to attract and work with. The more specific your description, the better.
Imagine you were having a conversation with this person in a coffee shop about your chosen topic. What would they ask you? What words would they use to describe their pain/passion? What makes them tick?
Spending some time now thinking this over will make it easier to target the right keywords and content moving forward.
My audience were the people that over the coming months and years would want to use podcasting promote their business, build a brand and make money.
While I was happy to have hobbyists and educators use my info, I knew the people that would spend money with me would be the ones that stood to make more money from my info. I also knew I needed to target very non-geek, non-technical people that wanted it the process broken down step-by-step.
With that in mind, it was time to choose my first keyword phrases to target.
Step 6: Keyword Research
This is where you climb into the mind of your target audience. There are tools on the Internet that let you practically read their minds.
I'm currently putting together a video tutorial to cover this step. Watch for it soon. Then I'll get into how I built the site, optimized it for search engines and started getting lots of free Google traffic. Until then...
What comments and questions do you have?
Please ask your questions in the comments below. I'll answer them for you there. There were so many fantastic questions on the last post. Let's hear some more!
Also, if you have other insights about niche selection to share, I'd love to hear them.
Thanks for sticking it out with in this long post. I wanted to give you as much detail as I could.
And don't forget to take action. If you're ready to start your first niche site (or create another one), commit now to follow the process above. Set aside an hour or two to take bold action. Make it your goal to get it done in time to read the next post.
Other Niche Site Income posts:
- Niche Site Income | A Real-Time Case Study Pt 1
- Niche Site Income Pt 3: Keyword Research Made Easy
- Niche Site Income Pt 4: Three Niche Site Monetization Models
- Niche Site Income Pt 5: Choosing a URL that Will Get You Ranked
- Niche Site Income Pt 6: How I Tripled My Income