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Let’s Find A Profitable Niche Together (Live Niche Research Walkthrough)

By Chris Lee 48 comments

Most people will agree that finding a niche is the toughest part of building profitable sites. There are so many options available and you can get stuck in the research phase for months and months.

I’ve been doing a ton of niche research myself lately, and in this post I’m going to take you through my process and go over some important things you need to consider.

Let’s find one together! I’ve done no research and planning prior to writing this article. I’m just going to open up some tools and start digging into niches I haven’t analyzed before, explaining what I’m looking for live as I go through them. If you’re looking for niches, awesome. Follow along!

First, let’s talk about goals

Before you get into doing any kind of research, you first have to think about your goal with the site you’re planning to build.

For example, one goal of mine this year is to start a big project. My goal is to build the largest authority site project I’ve ever undertaken. I’m giving myself up to 5 years to (hopefully) grow it to a 7 figure valuation, and then exit at an appropriate time.

*An appropriate time is usually when scaling plateaus to a degree. For example, scaling content and link building doesn’t move the needle as much as it used to, which happens when you get to larger numbers.

Everybody’s different when it comes to their blogging goals.

Some people might just want to build a site that make a couple hundred dollars per month. Some people might want thousands per month to replace their day job.

Some people are able to go full-time on their projects, while others will only be able to spare 1-2 hours per day.

It’s important to clearly identify your blogging goals early on, so that you can find the appropriate, most suitable niches during your research phase.

Once you’re done that, we can move onto the first step.

The first step of the process

The first step is to get some ideas out. Very basic stuff.

What I like to do is just list out a bunch of topics/niches that I’m interested in.

Here’s what that would look like:

Running
Tech
Kayaking
Hiking
Golfing
Camping
Travel
Personal Finance
Saving money
Keyboards
Laptops
Standing desks
Work chairs
Web design
Graphic Design
Dogs
Nice homes

This is very generalized and it doesn’t need to be organized, or even make sense. I’m not thinking too hard, and am just jotting whatever comes to mind. FYI: I stopped after about 30 seconds. I can (and you should too) be able to just jot dozens of ideas in under 5 minutes.

You’ll get more data to get more specific in the later stages of the process. For now, just write whatever pops up in your head. And remember… they should be things you’re at least a little bit interested in.

Next step: Estimating max traffic potential

This is one of the first things I research, and it’s a good way to ensure you meet the goals you set in the beginning.

Basically, we’re calculating the maximum level of traffic we might receive as one of the top sites in that niche. Market size can vary greatly, and you can’t really judge the size of a niche accurately based only on adding up a few big keyword search volumes.

For larger niches, traffic might be in the millions of visitors per month. For smaller ones, it might be capped at less than 100,000.

Knowing this is extremely important. If you’re entering any niche, you want to get a good idea of what a “success” will mean. (ie. What will becoming one of the biggest sites in the niche mean in terms of traffic and revenue?)

How to estimate potential traffic in a niche

Here’s how you do it. Let’s take one of the ideas we jotted down earlier: Hiking.

I’ll start out by Googling some short to medium tail keywords

These are just off the top of my head. For example, I’ll start off my searches with keywords like “hiking tips, how to hike longer, best hiking gear.”

One of the reasons we use short to medium tail keywords is because usually the most authoritative sites rank highly for broader terms like these (i.e. If they’re ranking for “hiking tips” they probably rank for a lot of other keywords related to hiking as well).

Here’s what a Google search brought back.

What I’m looking for here are ONLY sites specifically targeted toward hiking. I’m ignoring all the broad sites about multiple topics like NPS, Outdoor Australia, and Nerd Fitness.

Why?

Because we’re looking to build a hiking site, so we want to analyze other hiking sites.

Next, I’m going to input them into SEMrush one by one

SEMrush is a paid tool, and pretty expensive. It’s not absolutely essential to use SEMrush for this step. It will help you to get more accurate info faster, but you can just skip this part and do manual Google searches instead if you need.

But if you want to try it out, you can sign up for a 14 day free trial here.

I’m going to take one of the sites from the Google search result, and input it into SEMrush.

And if I click on “Competitors” I’m able to see a full list of all the competing sites in this niche. SEMrush lists the amount of search engine traffic each site receives, so I can find the biggest ones from the list.

Here are a few big ones that I found.

Clever Hiker
Search engine traffic: 145.9k

Section Hiker
Search engine traffic: 85.8k

Note: Choose the sites you analyze according to what you plan to build yourself. For example, I’m ignoring ecommerce sites, simply because I don’t plan to get into ecommerce for this project. I’m choosing content sites because that’s probably the route I’ll be taking myself.

This is important to note as well: As I’m doing research in the hiking niche, I’ve found that a lot of the bigger sites are broader. They’re not just specific to hiking, but target all outdoor adventure. This is important to take note as I might decide to do the same if “Hiking” by itself is not a big enough niche to meet my goals with this project.

A few of these sites include:

Switchback Travel
Search engine traffic: 355.3k

Outdoor Gear Lab
Search engine traffic: 358.4k

Next, use SimilarWeb

SEMrush only gives you the search volume data, and not the overall traffic the site is getting.

It also filters by country and device. So in the screenshots above, that was for US search engine traffic on desktop only.

We need to use SimilarWeb to give more accurate overall traffic numbers.

So, let’s input the 2 big hiking sites we found in SEMrush into SimilarWeb.

Starting with Clever Hiker.

400,000 visitors per month is a good sign, but not great.

Remember this site is one of the biggest in the hiking niche. So for one of the top sites to be getting 400,000 means that growing to millions of uniques may not be a big possibility in this space. But we’re not completely sure yet. We’ll have a better idea when we look at other sites as well.

The next thing we need to check is traffic source. We need to make sure that that traffic is mainly coming from search.

Good!

What we don’t want to see is a huge percentage of traffic coming from social. Again, this is because my own traffic strategy won’t involve much social media traffic, and will depend on search as well.

So now let’s look at the second site we listed: Section Hiker.

Another good sign at 500,000 visitors per month, and pretty consistent with the first site we saw.

And the traffic source is looking good too, with the majority of that traffic coming from search.

Analyze more sites

NOTE: Similar Web isn’t always 100% accurate. These two sites very well can be getting over a million uniques per month. So it’s important to analyze more sites. In our example, we only walked through 2 sites. You can (and should) analyze 5 to 10 competitors if you’re serious about entering the niche.

You can find more sites to analyze in SimilarWeb, too by scrolling to the bottom.

You can also just use Google and SimilarWeb if you don’t want to pay for a SEMrush subscription.

But if you do decide to enter any niche, it can be extremely helpful to have SEMrush, as you’ll be able to see exactly what keywords each competitor is ranking for.

Like this:

Next step: Analyze backlink data

The next step in the process is to analyze the backlink data of each site.

No need to get too deep in this section. We’re just trying to get a quick idea of how strong their backlink profiles are, compared to how much search traffic they’re pulling in.

To do this, I’ll just quickly run them through Moz and Ahrefs.

What I’m hoping I don’t see are huge domain authorities and hundreds of thousands of links.

Clever Hiker

Moz shows only 71 total links from 29 domains, and a domain authority of 32. Seems really low.

Let’s check Ahrefs.

2300 links from 379 domains. Makes more sense.

But nothing too crazy. I can definitely build a stronger link profile than this site.

Section Hiker

Moz shows that Section Hiker has a stronger link profile and better DA, but again… nothing too crazy.

Let’s check Ahrefs.

316,000 links from 2200 domains. Section Hiker is definitely a stronger site with more links, and it makes the next part make more sense.

Content Analysis

The next step is to analyze content. Ideally, I would like to see really thin, ugly, outdated articles on the site. That means that I can easily create something 10x better.

To do a quick analysis, I’ll open up BuzzSumo and check out their most shared content.

So let’s go through each site.

Section Hiker

And if we take a look at the top most shared piece of content…

You’ll see that it’s very bare. It’s just a list with thin content. Descriptions are short, and there are no nice visuals on the page.

It can definitely be improved. Easily.

This is what we want to see.

Clever Hiker

Let’s take a look at Clever Hiker now.

A lot more shares than Section Hiker. I’m also noticing that Facebook is the platform with the most activity in this niche. Good to know.

Let’s take a look at the content.

Their content is perfect, exactly the kind of content I would want to create myself. They have beautiful images (taken themselves it looks like) and they’ve organized the content perfectly with in-depth descriptions, and a lot of external links to helpful resources.

They’re a site I would want to model my own content after.

Thoughts on link profile and content

The link profiles make the content and traffic make more sense. Section Hiker’s content is on the thin side, especially when compared to Clever Hiker, but it’s pulling in more traffic because it has a much stronger link profile.

This is more or less a good sign for us. The site with strong content are not good link builders, and the site with good link building are not great content publishers. So there’s an opportunity there if we can create great content AND strong links.

Last step: Monetization Options

The last step isn’t crucial, but it’s important to have an idea of how the site is going to make money.

I’ll do this by checking how competitors are monetizing their sites. For the 2 sites that we looked at here, it looks like their sole monetization strategy is affiliate. They do best product reviews, and link out to the purchase links with an affiliate link. I don’t see any display ads, or sales pages for their own products.

Section Hiker doesn’t collect emails, but Clever Hiker does (but not aggressively). They also seem to only be sending out emails on a monthly basis.

It doesn’t seem like email is a big part of their growth or monetization strategy.

Monetization opportunities

One thing that I would do is be more aggressive with email collection, and engage the list on a weekly basis. That would help with both traffic, and in rolling out new monetization strategies in the future.

Although I feel that affiliate marketing should be the main monetization strategy, there are some other methods I can experiment with in the future.

1. I can sell info products (trail guides for the most popular hiking trails, or survival guides). They wouldn’t be huge products, most likely in the $20-$50 price range.

2. Physical products (things like a Hiking Kit, hat, shoes, etc). Of course, this would only be far into the future once I do build up good branding and a loyal audience.

3. Sponsored content. If the price is right, sponsored posts from outdoor brands could be pretty lucrative if I’m getting a lot of traffic.

But it seems pretty clear that affiliate marketing can be pretty profitable on its own for this particular niche.

Further analysis in the niche

One more step that you can do if you really want to go deep into the niche research process is to analyze smaller sites.

Look through SEMrush and find the smaller sites. Analyze their content, traffic, and backlinks.

Answer these questions:

1. How old are these sites?
2. Why are they not receiving as much traffic as the other ones?
3. How strong is their backlink profile and what kind of search traffic is that equating to?
4. How strong is their content?
5. Are any of these old, inactive sites that I could potentially make an offer for purchase?

Final thoughts about this niche: Does building a hiking site make sense?

So based on everything we looked at here, does a hiking site make sense? Would it be “enough” to make it worth the effort?

Yes, the niche looks pretty good if we’re looking only at the data we got from this analysis (that may change if we analyze more sites).

But… I wouldn’t target just hiking alone.

And here’s why…

The niche itself looks great. But I think there is more opportunity here. At this stage, I can only conclude that growing to millions of visitors per month with search traffic isn’t going to be very possible, unless I expand into other niches as well.

Hiking is very closely related to most other things that are outdoor adventure. This is truer here than it might be for other niches.

For example, if you’re starting an authority site about golf, it wouldn’t make sense to just target “outdoor sports” instead.

But hiking… if you’re hiking, you most likely love the outdoors. And that means niches like camping, kayaking, mountain climbing, etc are also viable niches to target under the same umbrella. That makes it much easier (and profitable) to expand and take advantage of your domain authority and power in the serps in the future.

If you remember, we did note that earlier…

A lot of the bigger sites that showed up in SEMrush had 3 to 5 times the traffic that these hiking sites were getting.

I’m not going to go through the entire process again here, but the next step would be to run this same analysis for those sites as well and compare it to hiking alone.

And then you may even want to go further and analyze each individual niche that they’re targeting.

Conclusion

Doing niche research properly and effectively is a lot of work. And depending on what you’re looking for, it can take a lot of time as well.

Hopefully this walkthrough has helped you better understand what exactly you should be thinking about, and looking for during each step of the way.

Originally, the plan was to analyze several niches in this blog post. But we’re already over 2,000 words in, and it seems like it would be overkill to go through everything two to three more times.

If you’re interested in more niche analysis articles, let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to share some of the things I’m finding from my own research, and maybe do a few more of these posts where we analyze niches together πŸ™‚

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Leave a Reply

48 Comments

  • Reply Karan

    Nice post chris

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks Karan!

  • Reply Genti

    Great post Chris. Loved it. But I was expecting in the Monetization Opportunities for you to mention Adsense and will it be profitable using it in this particular niche analysing the CPC of these keywords.
    I want to see other posts like this one, this time analysing Graphic Design niche since you note it down. How profitable can it be with AM and Adsense and is it worth pursuing?

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Ah, right. Should have added that. Good catch.

      For this niche, the most profitable (and easiest) way would likely be affiliate, using Amazon and other companies if I can find them.

      Adsense should be used to monetize content pages not promoting any products, which I don’t see any of the sites doing at the moment. A lot of missed revenue with the given traffic numbers.

      • Reply Genti

        Yes, that’s why Adsense is important for these sites. A lot of passive income is missed. Having 400k pageviews a month equals to more than 10k in AdSense if optimized right. Affiliate can bring a lot of money, but since Adsense it’s passive it’s a shame not to maximize the profit.

        • Reply Chris Lee

          For sure!

  • Reply Akash

    nice guide about niche research. thank you for share this content.

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

  • Reply rob

    Excellent info, clear and precise. I purchased your course and my frustrations are staying focused and to attack this methodically. Your course is great, no fluff just the meat. Thx!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks a lot, Rob πŸ˜€ Happy to hear that.

  • Reply Amin

    Great ones as always chris <3 but iam really confused about link building tell now!
    you talked before that quality over quantity but in this article you focused about quantity? am with you that the both are important but this is hard to get alot of contextual backlinks from relevant authority sites! so backlinks by nuke or gsa such as [ article postings- web 2.0 – wiki posts – social bookmarking ..etc ] are under umbrella of quality backlinks! or what? kindly more clarify and if you can write in the future post talking about how we get good backlinks profile it will be really great ^^ have a nice day..

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Building quality links doesn’t mean building few links.

      And building lots of links doesn’t mean blasting it with weak links!

      πŸ™‚

      Check out some of my other link building posts to see what kind of links I’m building out.

  • Reply Steve

    Super interesting!

    I like the logical process as well as the β€˜keeping your eyes open’ aspect for what info you might gather for that specific niche.

    Yep, I’d like to see more along this line. Even if your next posts were simply going over the next niches, it would still be interesting.

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Cool, thanks for the feedback, Steve. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Reply yousaf

    Very nice article, kindly make an in depth similar post on content creation for such sites as I always find myself stuck in content creation. Thank you

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks for the feedback.

  • Reply Jennifer Gregory

    Hey Chris!

    Thanks for the insightful walkthrough choosing a niche. Do you have a cutoff for Ahrefs DR? In your example your competitors had DR 50 and 55. What would be the max you would go, before competition is too tough?

    Thanks!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Hey Jennifer!

      Good question. That’s kind of changed for me over the years. Not really specifically looking at that at this point. Not if I’m looking to build a large authority site in a competitive niche.

      The only thing that changes when I see very high DR and DA is the initial keyword strategy, where I may focus on targeting more long-tail keywords for traffic.

  • Reply Jove

    Hey Chris,

    Thank you very much!

    This walkthrough surely made this process become much more clear to me. Finding the “right” niche and making sure it is profitable can be so difficult and frustrating you can end up having done so much research, but still end up not having even one site built.

    These steps and how you plan to expand your niche sites make so much more sense, as well, especially when almost everybody around the block are teaching that one must niche down, as much as possible, and build very targeted niche sites.

    Would be interested in more niche research like this. Can you suggest though a free and reliable tool that works similar to SEMrush?

    By the way, I really like how your site is so clean and organized. Just perfect!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Hey Jove, happy to hear that πŸ™‚

      At the moment, I haven’t come across any free tools that are similar to SEMrush.

      Thanks! I’m glad you think so πŸ˜€

  • Reply David T

    Hi Chris,

    Great post, and a very solid strategy. Do you ever give consideration to the amount of pages ranked in the sites you are researching? Some sites might take lots of pages to achieve the same traffic as one with lots left. I just thought that might affect the resources you need to achieve the results you want.

    Cheers, David

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks David! Excellent point, and also checking pages indexed is helpful to see how large the sites are.

  • Reply Owen

    Hey Chris,

    For the monetization part you mentioned creating info products – guides for hiking trails in this case. If you were to enter this niche, how would you create a guide like that? By actually hiking all the popular trails?

    On the same note, do you have to be an expert in a niche to create an info product? What if your niche requires you to show your face (for eg video courses work better in certain niches) and you’re not an expert?

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Hey Owen,

      Most likely would try to find someone off of Upwork, or through a listing on a local job site like Craigslist. Really depends on how large the site is at that point and how much time/money I’m willing to invest into creating it.

      I think being the founder/creator of a large authority site with a strong brand is enough to make you an expert in a lot of cases (if you’ve been actively involved in the writing and content publishing of the site). Read this post: https://www.rankxl.com/expert-authority/. Of course, for some niches like medicine or any kind of official training requires real-world expertise. But it’s rare that people enter niches like that with no knowledge.

      As for courses where you’re going to show your face, if you have absolutely no knowledge of the topic you’re supposed to be teaching, you shouldn’t be creating a course about it. Hire someone instead.

  • Reply gautam nagraj

    This is Gold Mine, Chris i Wanted to ask you something. You are expert in Blogging, SEO and Money Making Stuff with blogs so if i wanted to make blogs on health, golf, hiking then being not expert in that kind of niches how i can manage them ?

    • Reply Chris Lee

      I’ve built plenty of sites where I had no experience in the topics. It depends what kind of site you’re creating.

      With RankXL, it’s very much a personal blog.

      With my other sites, I’m creating helpful guides/resources on the web. And it’s more about researching, curating, and presenting the information in the best way. You can also hire others to write content for you.

  • Reply Dex Antikua

    Hi Chris

    This is just an eye opening post. I will follow your deeply analyzed points. Thank you.

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dex!

  • Reply Whitfield

    Hi Chris, is your strategy the same each time for affiliate and Adsense websites? Also for those of us just started out, what would you recommend for us to do if we don’t have Semrush? For example, I use google serps to check competition and then when possible I use the free version of Semrush to check keyword difficulty or the free version of Keyword Revealer but even then I’m still limited. So before you had Semrush, how did you do your research on your sites?

    And I would definitely love to see more niche analyzing articles like this one!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Yeah, it’s pretty much the same. Those are simply monetization options. Traffic and opportunity are more important to analyze.

      You don’t need to get semrush. You can do the research manually just by Googling sites, and analyzing link profiles.

  • Reply Anton

    Hi Chris! Thanks for the detailed analysis you’ve put up here. There’s a question though. You’ve said:

    “2300 links from 379 domains. Makes more sense.

    But nothing too crazy. I can definitely build a stronger link profile than this site.”

    I’m wondering how you can build over 300 unique domain links with outreach methods you use? Especially if you personalise almost each outreach email.

    Even with skyscraper, I need to send out 10000s of emails to be able to convert potential targets into around 300 live links. With guest posts, it’s a ton of work and money to invest to land around 300 guest posts etc.

    I hope you understand my logic and confusion. What’s your take on that?

    Thanks!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      There are plenty of ways to help scale your outreach link building efforts. I’ll write about this soon.

  • Reply Edson

    Hi Chris,
    thank you for the post one more time.

    I have a website for about 4 to 5 months with 0 visitors and around 10 to 12 posts.
    My niche is about cisco networking and computer virtualization and my problem is that i only find brand websites results when i search for a keyword, so its hard to have links there.
    Should i change the Niche?
    Please give me an advice.

    Thanks

    • Reply Chris Lee

      I have no idea about that niche. You should check if there is enough traffic opportunity there, and if there isn’t then I would probably switch or just pivot slightly to something a little less complex.

  • Reply JL Faverio

    Very informative, Chris. I’ve used all the tools you’ve mentioned above, but you gave me some good ideas about how to use SimilarWeb more to my advantage. Keep up the great content!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks JL!

  • Reply Bhuboy

    Thanks for this very helpful tutorial , will sure to read about it again when I start another site

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Good to hear πŸ™‚

  • Reply Edson Zandamela

    Hi Chris, thank you for this helpful Post.

    I am on a big trouble and i need your advice.

    SEMrush showed that My new blog MAIN ORGANIC COMPETITORS are:

    1 – Google
    2- Askubuntu.com
    3- Cisco
    4- Columbia.edu etc.
    I don’t understand why that is happening, its so bad to have those competitors.

    Please i need your advice.

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Your main organic competitors are sites that target the most similar keywords as you. Not sure what kind of keywords you’re targeting to be seeing those results!

  • Reply Nigel

    Yes, as you say Chris, the traffic figures that these tools provide us with needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Sometimes the figures can vary wildly, depending on what tool you use.

    Although I have noticed that SimilarWeb have a function now that allows site-owners to verify their data by connecting their Google Analytics account. So that’s useful.

    But yes, the figures are only ever a rough guide – we can’t take them as gospel.

    Cheers for the write-up! It was an enjoyable read πŸ™‚

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks Nigel! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Reply Ollie

    Another stellar guide, Chris. Thank you.

    Like a few other commenters, I’ve used the tools mentioned individually, but seeing how you’ve used them together has opened my eyes to new possibilities.

    Keep up the great work.

    Thanks!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Cool, thanks Ollie!

  • Reply Ron

    Chris,
    Seems I am a little late to the party, but….
    I really enjoyed this post and found it very helpful. Thank you for posting such great content!
    I would definitely like to see more inch analysis articles!
    A quick question – signing up to all the tools you mentioned will cost hundreds of dollars each month even if you go for the cheapest options. Can you suggest free/cheaper alternatives to those tools?
    Thanks!

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Thanks Ron! I agree they’re expensive! I haven’t found anything similar at a cheaper price, unfortunately.

  • Reply david

    yes i would love to hear more on your niche research. i really appreciate your insights. thanks. – david

    • Reply Chris Lee

      Cool, thanks David!