If you are going to start a business blog, YouTube channel, affiliate content website, podcast or any other form of content marketing, one of the first things you need to do is pick a niche.
Now, before we go ahead, some of you might be wondering what a niche means. So let’s get that out of the way first.
What is a Niche?
A niche is just another word for the main topic around which all of your content will be created, and the primary audience you’ll target. It’s a specific group of people and their needs that you can distinguish in some way.
But if the category that you choose is really broad, then it can’t be called a niche. For example, all the people interested in golf, all the fitness enthusiasts, or all the nerds do not form a niche.
For a category to be called a niche, it has to be more specific. Here are some examples:
- Seniors interested in improving their golf swing.
- Accounting and tax calculation for freelancers.
- College students interested in learning how to cook.
- Social skills for shy teenagers.
- Women seeking to build muscle.
Note how each of these target a much more specific subject and audience. Pick any industry and it’s filled with hundreds of such specific niches that can be targeted to initiate your content marketing activities.
However, just picking a niche or target audience is not enough. You need to come in terms with a couple more things before you begin producing and promoting content, which brings me to the next part.
Content Mission Statement
Most people make the mistake of thinking that they only need to decide on a niche to begin. But what you actually need is a complete content mission statement. A proper mission statement consists of 3 parts:
- Who will be your blog’s target market? (aka niche)
- What will your content be about?
- What will it help your audience achieve?
For example, here’s my mission statement for this blog:
- Core target audience: Small business owners and marketing professionals.
- Material: In-depth, actionable guides, resources, reviews and case studies.
- Outcome for audience: online business growth.
Doesn’t that make more sense than just defining a niche? As you can see, a niche is just one component of the mission statement. It’s not the whole missing statement.
Your success in building an audience with content is massively dependent on defining what these 3 parts mean for your business and content. And once you have decided on the right mission, you have a compass which guides on the scope and direction for your content.
Not sure how to do that? That’s why I wrote this guide. It will help you pick the right audience, type of material to cover, and the target outcome for that audience. Your target mission pops up at the intersection of these factors:
Before you begin, start by identifying the areas in which you have exceptional knowledge or skill. Think about the subjects you have been studying, observing or working around a lot throughout your life.
Taking my own life as an example, I have more than average knowledge and skill in a number of areas. To name a few:
- Personal productivity and development
- Fantasy and science fiction books and movies
- Creative and technical writing
- Indian recipes and cooking
- Online businesses and digital marketing
- Web design and WordPress
- Human relations and organizational development
- Graphic design and brand identities
In any of these topics, I know way more than an average Joe would. And I have the competence to do things well.
So when trying to identify an audience for inbound marketing, I have the option to pick from these areas. Whether you’re one person or a content team, make a list of areas you know a lot about.
However, you may also end up in a situation where you’re supposed to create content for a brand operating in niches you know nothing about. In that case, you’ll have to rely on someone else in the company for information gathering.
Indium Corporation is a great example, mentioned in Content Inc. It’s a manufacturing company making soldering materials used to assemble electronics. So Indium employees knew way more about industrial soldering equipment than anyone else.
So in 2005, the marketing team resolved to share this expertise through blog posts for their target market, and social media distribution, which is rare for a manufacturing company, even today.
Since then, Indium has generated more leads at just 25% of their previous marketing investment.
Passion For Sharing Knowledge
Having a lot of skill or expertise in an area is one thing, but passion is what keeps you going on for months or years, against all odds and without expecting any short-term return.
Not everyone or every brand has the patience to keep creating content consistently for their blog’s target audience, for such a long time. And this is exactly what is needed to be successful. That’s why the ultimate payoff is so huge.
Without passion, you’ll find it extremely hard to wake up every day and get to work on creating another piece of content for your audience.
If you’re not passionate about your blog niche and creating the best content you can to help your audience, it is unlikely to have much of an impact.
As long as you really want to educate the world about your subject, you can still succeed even if you are not a perfect writer, speaker or performer in front of the camera.
The 3rd most important piece of picking the perfect niche is whether you have an audience interested in learning about it. In other words, are there people in your niche who have pain points that you can solve with your content.
If you already have a business for which you want to employ content marketing, then the subject you pick must be something relevant to your customers.
Here’s an exercise that could help. On a sheet of paper, write:
- 100 most common questions about your product or service.
- 100 questions people should be asking but aren’t.
Try to identify patterns or themes among these questions. Not only you’ll get ideas on the main niche to focus on, but also at least 150 – 200 things to write about.
If you don’t have much clue on what kind of information your current and potential customers want the most, ask them.
In addition, there are several tools that give you data on what kind of content related to your industry are people searching for, sharing the most on social media, or buying books and courses for.
- To analyze search engine keywords and volumes, you can use keyword research tools like KWFinder, Ahrefs or KeywordTool.io.
- To analyze what type of niches correspond to content that gets shared the most, you can use BuzzSumo or Social Animal.
- To analyze which books and courses are selling the most, you can look at bestselling books on Amazon, or course reviews on Udemy.
- Look for what people are posting on social media corresponding to hashtags related to your business.
- Browse Reddit, Quora and forums related to your industry to analyze what type of questions people have.
Marcus Sheridan’s business, River Pools & Spas, is an interesting case study pertaining to writing content that people care about.
In late 2009, this fiberglass pool installation company for customers in Virginia and Maryland, was struggling due to recession. Not only it was not getting new customers, but even those who had paid the deposits were looking to get them back.
That’s when they decided to invest in content marketing. Remember, this was a time when content marketing was relatively new, especially for this type of industry.
But Marcus saw that Google was exploding in popularity, and the way people searched for products and services was changing.
If there were questions prospects were asking his team, many of them must also be using Google to get answers to those questions. And the search results for those queries at that time weren't so great.
So in the next 2 years, they picked a target market, thought of every single question a potential or current customer may have and answered it on their blog.
After two years, they were selling more fiberglass pools than any other company in the entire North America region, without increasing their marketing budget.
In fact, their marketing spend came down from $250,000 in 2009 to $40,000 in 2011, while annual sales grew from $4 million to $5 million. Today they are seen as the world’s leading authority on fiberglass pools.
The story doesn’t end there. As a result of this exposure, Marcus Sheridan, the CEO was being called upon by companies all over the world to install pools and was even asked to fly in to oversee an installation.
Unfortunately, River Pools only serviced companies in a very small area and could not take advantage of the additional demand.
So it made the decision to begin manufacturing its own fiberglass pools. River Pools & Spas is now positioning itself as the leading installer and manufacturer of fiberglass pools, taking the business in a completely unexpected direction.
Transparently giving away your industry knowledge is a big trust builder, and a great way to tell your story. Once you develop an audience around your blog niche and content, the opportunities to sell additional products is almost endless.
I was talking to one of my prospective clients the other day who had some issues with his blog.
His company had been adding more and more content, almost every day. Yet the traffic was not growing at a good pace, nor converting to subscribers and leads.
So I asked my first question: Who is your target niche for all this content?
“We write content for 9 different types of audiences on our blog.” He said.
“That’s the problem.”
Your perfect blog target audience to begin with isn't at the intersection of just knowledge, passion and market demand, but also the level of focus.
If you have many types of customer segments, the first subject you pick to create content regularly should only focus on one segment.
Your niche targeting should be extremely focused in the beginning. Define your audience as specifically as you can. There are a number of factors you can use to narrow down your target market.
For example, if I were to start a blog to teach digital marketing, there could be many types of audiences interested in the subject, depending on the segmentation criteria.
Segmentation By Psychographics
You can categorize your audience based on their core identities and goals. Think about who they are and what is their primary motivation.
- People who want to build a career/get a job in digital marketing
- People who want to make money online via home-based marketing gigs
- Entrepreneurs who want to learn and do it themselves.
- Business owners who want to delegate digital marketing to a person/team.
- Digital marketing agencies/firms who want to scale their business
- Marketing professionals in organizations who want to expand their skill-set.
- Affiliate marketers, who make money by promoting others’ products.
Segmentation By Sub-Niches
Other than that, to brainstorm target markets for a blog, I can also segment by considering people interested in only a sub-niche of digital marketing, and even go deeper to find more specific niches. For example:
- Digital Marketing > Search Engine Marketing > SEO > Link Building.
- Digital Marketing > Social Media > Facebook Marketing > Facebook Ads
Segmentation By Geographics
I can also make a broad content niche more specific by targeting specific locations only. For example, all the small business owners in Melbourne.
If you already have a business and a website with some traction, you can take a look at your analytics software to see from which locations most of the traffic and conversions are coming from. Then create content to target those audiences.
Segmentation By Demographics
Another way is to pick a target niche based on what industry, business or occupation the audience belongs to.
For my digital marketing blog for instance, I may decide to target only lawyers or accountants or restaurant owners interested in digital marketing.
No matter the approach, it’s important to start with a very specific blog audience. When you are just starting, there’s no point in diluting your efforts by targeting all these audiences at once.
Only one you have built an audience in one specific niche should you think about expanding the scope or targeting related knowledge areas.
In fact, once you’ve built an audience in one niche, you’ll discover hidden niche opportunities that you didn’t even know existed.
Using web analytics, you’ll be able to see what kind of content is getting the most traffic, engagement, comments and more.
This is useful information that will help you make data-driven decisions on what subjects/audience or blog niches you want to tackle next.
Your target content niche may meet all the criteria above, from knowledge and passion to demand and specificity, but it may still miss the mark.
That’s because if it’s something your competitors have already targeted and dominated, it’s going to be harder for you to do the same.
Sadly, most companies are creating content and telling stories that are no different from anything else out there. For example, just type “start a blog” into Google, and you’ll get over 20 million results.
There are a lot of businesses talking about the same things in the same way. There is no differentiation. They simply never go through the process of finding a content niche or unique angle that they can own.
It’s like, “Hey I like fishing, and I’m going to start a fishing blog.” Really! There are dozens of other fishing blogs.
Why would anybody read yours? What is different? What is unique? What is interesting? Why would anyone stop reading the knitting blog that they’ve been reading for the last three years and read yours ever?
And if you can’t articulate that, you need to go back to the drawing board. Let’s say you rounded up all your content and removed it from the web, like it never existed.
Would anyone miss it? Would you leave a gap in the marketplace? If the answer to this is no, then we’ve got a problem. Your content should be such that it becomes an indispensable part of your prospects’ lives.
This happens only when you deliver the most impactful information your customers could ever ask for. Good enough won’t win the battle for customer attention. Your content needs to be great and unlike anything else out there.
When it comes to achieving differentiation, you have one of two options: blue ocean strategy (identify areas with no competition) or red ocean strategy (beat the competition by being better).
Blue Ocean: Pick A Niche With No Competition
The majority of content developed every day is just like everything else out there. It does nothing for the reader or the producer.
It doesn’t matter the frequency of delivery or the channel you deliver the content through; if the content doesn’t tell a different story, it will most likely be ignored.
We must find a problem area that no one else is solving and exploit that area with content. Fill a content hole that is not being filled by someone else.
Find weaknesses, gaps and unmet needs in competitors’ niche content strategy. Target a niche which is so unique that your competitors aren’t creating any content around it.
One of the best tools to discover hidden niches is Google Trends. It’s a free tool offered by Google that shows the search results and patterns of keywords worldwide or specific to regions.
For example, if you type “oil heater” into Google Trends, you’ll see that the searches peak every November in every year, right when the winters are getting started.
Now let’s go back to our example of starting a fishing blog. If we do a search for fishing, we find that overall searches are consistent year after year.
This is neither a good nor a bad sign as the demand isn’t changing. It’s not growing, but not on the decline either.
But when you’ll scroll down to related topics and queries, that’s where you will find secret niches that no one might be heavily catering to.
For example, here we see that there has been an 800% increase in searches for terms related to the niche topic - magnetic fishing. And 1150% increase in searches for information about the topic - drone fishing.
So instead of just focusing on fishing in general, the data is telling us to target something more fresh and specific like magnetic or drone fishing.
Red Ocean: Create 10X Better Content
Target the same niche by finding weaknesses, gaps and unmet needs in competitors’ content.
Fulfill those needs by creating content for the same audience but 10X better than theirs, with different approaches and fresh angles that competitors haven’t covered.
It’s easier than ever to analyze and conduct research on what kind of content competitors are creating and who are their main audience segments.
Most will have blogs which you can visit and analyze what topics they write about, how often, and the format/structure of their blog posts. Here’s how an initial analysis might look like:
Here are some additional questions you might want to consider:
- What topics and themes do they focus on?
- What needs are they trying to meet?
- Who are they targeting?
- How many comments do they get on their posts?
- How are they using this content to get leads or sell products?
See which of their articles have been the most popular in terms of backlinks and social shares.
Once again, tools like BuzzSumo and Social Animal can help. Enter your competitor’s domain URL and you’ll be able to see what type of content gets the most engagement.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have seen all the factors that go into picking the best target market for your blog or other content, go ahead and put them into action.
Once you have picked a specific niche you’d like to begin with, your job is to know your audience so well that you can anticipate their needs and create valuable content around them.
When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, it was a product so good and way ahead of competitors that the audience weren't even aware that they needed something like this in the first place.
You should have the same goal for your content. Pick a blog niche, an audience and become the go-to expert for these people.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these tips? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.