How do you begin your research for new niche sites? What do you use as the determining factors of whether to tackle a niche or not?
For most people, the first step is to open up a keyword tool and start looking up search terms. They’ll probably start with some bigger search volume keywords first, and check the competition for them. After looking at a few metrics, they’ll usually decide to move on to a more long-tailed keyword with fewer searches, but weaker competition.
But the process is fundamentally flawed and here’s why.
When I first started out building niche sites, everybody’s been preaching the same thing: find the long-tail keywords with no competition. And it worked well. I was finding uncompetitive niches with barely any competition, ranking my own sites, and profiting. Then Panda and Penguin came around and changed the entire landscape of how niche sites should be built.
The thing is, while our backlinking strategies have evolved (for most people) to adopt to these changes, our niche analysis strategies have not changed at all.
Whatever search you look up today will bring back results full of really strong competitors on the first page.
You rarely see micro niche sites with a bunch of weak links on the first page anymore. Yet, still people are still teaching the same niche research strategy as if nothing has changed. Since we were trained to avoid competition, that leaves almost every high search volume keyword off the table.
All that we’re left with are baby keywords, getting under 1000 searches a month. And that’s not the proper criteria for building a dominating niche site that has the potential to bring in thousands per month in revenue.
If your looking to build out highly profitable niche sites generating 4 to 5 figures per month in revenue, you have to first change your criteria for niche selection.
Moving towards the authority model
You’re probably familiar with the term, authority site. But what does it mean in terms of niche and competition analysis?
Basically, it means realizing that authority websites don’t rely on a few keywords to determine their success, and then adjusting your niche analysis strategy to suit.
There are various definitions for what an authority model is, and everyone has their own idea of how an authority site should be built. For me, it literally means becoming an authority in the niche.
If my niche is blue widgets, I’m looking to be the central resource for everything about blue widgets.
This mindset changes our niche analysis strategy completely (at least in the beginning). No longer are we contemplating whether to tackle a niche based on competition of a few keywords. It becomes a decision based on popularity. Fortunately, competition is a pretty clear indicator that a keyword is a popular topic, and a popular search that your target audience is interested in.
So how should you be starting your competition analysis?
For me, it no longer becomes about backlink profiles of the competition and metrics based around them.
I still start by using the keyword research tool, but high competition for 1 or 2 main keywords is not the deciding factor in whether I enter the niche or not. What I’m more interested in is the growth potential within the niche.
What kind of traffic numbers are possible with organic search when we eventually become an authority in this niche? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
Authority sites are designed for the long-tail. In the long-run it’s not unusual for large authority sites to have over 90% of their search traffic come from long-tail keywords, even if they’re ranking for big volume keywords.
So, the first thing I do is look up is the first page on Google for its biggest keywords that I want to target.
What I’m looking for are in the results are sites directly built around the niche.
So if you see things like Wikipedia, eHow, Forbes, etc… that’s not what I’m looking for here. If my keyword was about dog training, I’m looking for websites that are built specifically around the dog training niche.
Why? Because it’s most related to the site that I’m going to build. Sites like Wikipedia, eHow, Wikihow, etc. target everything. They’re too general.
Check traffic volumes to that entire site
If it’s on the first page for a high search volume keyword, chances are they’re ranking well for a lot of other terms as well and bringing in a lot of long-tail traffic.
So the first thing I want to do is get an idea of how much TOTAL traffic is going to such a website, and how much of that is from organic search.
Let’s run it through SimilarWeb.
With SimilarWeb, you’re able to get a fairly accurate estimate on how much traffic the entire site is getting per month, and from which sources. It’s free to use.
I decided to check out Petfinder.com first.
3.6 million visits per month. Impressive. A lot of their traffic is coming in directly, and from referral sites, so we can assume they’re a popular resource in the niche with a lot of fans.
33.68% of their traffic is coming from search – so roughly a million visitors. That’s a great sign, and what we were hoping to see.
The more the better, since we’re just looking for a rough estimate of how much organic traffic a top site in the niche is getting.
If the top sites in the niche were only pulling in something like 50k visitors per month from search, it may not be worth the effort in growing out an authority site in the niche (unless I plan to only tackle it as a category).
Let’s look up another site, CesarsWay.com
They also seem like a pretty big authority in the niche. The site covers basically everything you need to know about dog training. A perfect example of what we want to model our own site around.
They’re getting 2.2 million visitors per month, with 79.52% from search. So roughly 1.75 million visitors per month from search.
They could be doing a lot better by working on other traffic sources as well, something to keep in mind for our own site.
Another awesome sign that this is a great niche. Let’s take a look at their biggest keywords.
The main reason for checking this is to make sure that close to 90% of their search traffic isn’t just a brand search where customers search for their site by name.
These sites have insane backlink profiles
CesarsWay is ranking #1 for “dog training” and “dog training tips.”
A quick look at their link profile through Moz shows a very strong link profile.
Those numbers are enough to turn away most people from entering the niche.
Would I still tackle this niche?
The short answer is, yes.
An analysis of some of the other competitors shows some very high competition ahead of us. Of course, there are a lot of other niches where the competition is a lot less severe than this one, so I’m not saying this is the best niche to enter by any means. It’s just as an example.
But this goes back to what I said in the beginning: We’re not looking at competition for a few keywords to determine if we tackle the niche or not.
Sure, “dog training” and “dog training tips” have some seriously strong competitors. But we’re not looking to build our entire site just around those keywords.
Are we still going to target them? Yes. They’re the main, most popular topic of our niche site (at least the one in this example). If I decide to build out a site and take on this niche, I’m doing so with the mentality that I’m going to be one of the biggest and best authorities on the subject – and you can’t do that by avoiding keywords just because they’re competitive.
We won’t outrank them anytime soon, but we should be able to pull in a lot more traffic than they are when we do start ranking up there with them.
Look at the content on the first page
This is one of the main things I’m looking for. The sites on the first page are all authority figures in the niche with really strong backlink profiles. But their content sucks.
A lot of the pages are only a few paragraphs long with no real in-depth information.
That gives us an opportunity to build something great that the current leaders aren’t providing.
How would I build out this site?
If I were to build out the site, what I would do is analyze content and keywords for expansion down the line.
When we do build out our site and gain authority, we want to be able to take advantage of that and pump out content through our domain. At that point, our site can rank for various long-tail keywords almost immediately after being published, with no external backlinking needed.
So, we want to make sure our niche isn’t too limited. Is dogs/dog training a big enough niche where we can continuously pump our articles around it and continuously grow our traffic through long-tail?
If not, I would start out the site with a more broader domain name rather than something specific like caninecentral.com (off the top of my head).
Then, I would go one layer broader and maybe plan to go into pet training in general. That way, I can expand to other animals once I build up authority.
I would still target dog training first and build out the site. But I want to leave myself the option to expand into other pets on the same domain.
It becomes a lot easier to rank future competitive keywords on our established domain, so that’s the move I would take.
I’m not saying don’t do any competitor analysis at all. What I wanted to get across to you was that you should base your niche selection based on a bigger picture, and show you a different way of approaching your research.
It still seems a lot of people base their niche selection on keyword analysis for a few main keywords. Most high search volume keywords today are filled with high authority sites no matter what you search for, so that leaves nothing on the table except for baby terms that bring in no traffic.
Instead, change your mindset of the type of niche site you’re going to build out. Don’t think quick rankings for easy keywords. Those will come automatically once you build authority with your site.
Approach it with the mindset that you’re going to become a major player in the niche. Millions of visitors to a website can be a real business. It’s enough traffic to replace most people’s full-time income.
But you can’t get there creating new niche sites targeting a few 500 searches per month long-tail keywords. It’s worth taking the time to enter into more competitive niches even if it takes more time and effort to make it to the top.
Consider these things the next time you decide to enter a niche or not. Don’t let competition stray you away from building out a highly profitable niche site.