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In my post on how to become a niche rockstar I said that in order to be at the top of your industry (in a lot of cases online) it’s important to know as much about it as possible. What your competitors are doing, how they’re making money and how they’re getting traffic are just a few things that you can discover with some in-depth niche research.
In that particular post I looked at the green industry from the perspective of a blogger and shared some of my findings. Based on some of the comments and emails I received at the time, a few of you were interested in how I collected the stats I did and how you could go about investigating your own niche further. I’m going to expand on that topic today, in the way I always do.
First I’ve highlighted a huge list of tools that serve various different functions and can be great resources to add to your marketing arsenal. After that I’m going to give two examples in different industries showing how you can use these services – and the information they generate – to your advantage.
Before you can use any of these tools to their full potential, it’s recommend that you grab a pen and paper (or open up a text editor) and jot down some phrases which would best describe your niche. Of course, be sure to write down anything you discover from this research as well – whether it be other sites in your industry or any marketing ideas that you discover.
Niche research is a little like viewing your website analytics where it’s really pointless checking your stats if they don’t lead to you making any site changes. In the same way, it’s really pointless using any of these tools if you don’t do anything about the little insights you’ll undoubtedly come across.
The Ice Rocket Trend tool is interesting in that it gives you an idea of how popular certain topics are around the web over time periods of up to three months. In the example below you can see how many people are talking about different aspects of internet marketing:
Do note though that different spellings get different results. For example there are a lot more people talking about search engine optimization than there are search engine optimisation (which is how I would usually write it).
This tool can be used for a number of things like deciding on which verticals of a certain niche to enter, right down to seeing which sports professionals in specific fields are garnering the most interest at this moment in time.
Spy on Web is a neat little tool that I’ve had in my arsenal for a few years now. Basically it lets you see which websites use the same hosting company, have the same IP addresses and use the same Google Analytics and Google Adsense tracking codes. This means that in many cases you can easily find other websites that someone owns if you have the URL of just one of them.
Keep in mind that Spy on Web isn’t accurate in all cases. For example, if someone is hosting websites on a shared host like Hostgator, hundreds of domains may appear which actually have nothing to do with the owner of the original domain you entered.
I’ve found this to be a tool that satisfies my curiosity more than anything else, but when it comes to SEO research, it can be interesting to see if any webmasters in your industry are operating their own little ‘link farms’. You would be surprised how many I’ve found, even after Whois checking for verification.
I first came across the benefits of this tool when I started advertising on Facebook. Most people commonly try to target a huge audience with their Facebook ad campaigns where as many people have found the best strategy is to lots of ads, each targeting a tiny sub-section of users.
The tool not only tells you similar websites that people visit based on any URL, but you can also see some statistics about the audience that visits a certain site. I ran the social news site Reddit through the tool as an example and I’m told that around 55% of visitors are male (though I expect this to be a little lower than reality) and 24% of the audience are over 50 years old.
Below is Quantcast’s estimation as to which sites people visit after Reddit. None of them surprise me, so I would say it’s quite accurate here:
Run a few sites from your niche through the tool and give yourself a better idea of the market that you’re working with.
One tool I like to use when looking for large blogs in a niche is Google Reader, and more specifically its ‘Browse for Feeds’ feature. Though many sites proudly display their Feedburner statistics, the stats can be easily inflated with Aweber and even Fiverr users offering to boost your chicklet count by another 500 readers (of course, they’re not ‘real’ readers) for $5.
In Google Reader you can see how many people are subscribing just via Google. You can do this by logging into your Google Reader account and clicking ‘Browse for feeds’ on the left menu. Then enter any keywords of sites you know:
Strangely, a number of blogs in the IM niche which have much higher overall subscriber counts than me have lower Google Reader counts. I guess this means they’re either inflating the figure with email addresses (which could be their primary aim) or ViperChill readers have a huge liking for Google Reader compared to visitors on other marketing blogs, though I don’t think that’s very likely.
Spyfu is a tool that has been around for quite a while and is very popular, especially among pay-per-click marketers spending money on the likes of Google Adwords. Spyfu helps you to see which companies are buying ads for certain search terms, and even shows the exact ad copy that they’re using.
You can also see average bid prices for any phrases, such as the information below for ‘cape town flights’:
Not only do you get pricing information, you’ll also be presented with a list of domains that are most commonly advertising for such phrases. This can be useful when you want to investigate the landing pages of these sites or just want to find other companies in your industry that are actively marketing themselves.
I found this little trick a few months ago and while it’s nothing really that special, it’s a nice little way to find out the popularity of any pages on Facebook if you were curious as to how many times they’ve been shared.
Simply type the following into your address bar: http://graph.facebook.com/http://www.viperchill.com/wordpress-seo/ changing the part in bold with the URL that you want to check. You’ll see a basic text interface in your browser with the number of shares that specific URL has had.
Similar to SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer mentioned below, SEMRush gives you a good amount of information on specific domains, though only a limited number of results are available freely. SEM Rush actually shows you an impressive list of stats, revealing which terms are driving traffic to different domains, how many results there are for that term, and where a site ranks for in the SERP’s for a particular phrase.
Running a few sites in your industry through this can give you a good idea for other keyphrases that you can start targeting that your competitors are currently capitalising on.
Though I’ve never really used this in my own research, Pew is one of the best resources online for – as they put it – “Numbers, facts and trends shaping your world”.
For example, if I look at their ‘social trends’ category, one of the latest reports is a finding that teens on social networks that are ‘mostly kind’ make up 69% of users. While those who are mostly unkind take a 20% share.
Other categories you can look into further for stats include Religion, Economics, the Environment, Legal, News & Media and Politics.
A little known feature of StumbleUpon is their popular (buzz) pages for different subjects. These pages show the most viewed articles that the StumbleUpon audience voted for and enjoyed. I’ll be the first to admit that StumbleUpon visitors aren’t the best traffic source in the world, but there’s something to be said for writing articles that capture their attention. I have a large in-depth guide to StumbleUpon as a service if you want to learn more about it here.
If you can occupy the attention of someone who is randomly clicking through websites via a browser toolbar, you can occupy the attention of anybody.
Not only will you see the pages that are the most popular, you’ll also see exactly how many visits StumbleUpon sent to them which is perfect if you have lots of ideas from this source but just want to focus on a few. I obviously don’t recommend that you copy titles or ideas directly, but instead think you should use this as inspiration for titles that work well, angles that people in your niche are taking, and the type of subjects that people want to read about.
You can find ideas in literally any niche, with some examples being their finance, gadget and humour sections. Simply change the tag in the URL to whatever you write about and you’ll find popular content around that topic.
After being sold for around $10m back in 2005 to Yahoo, Delicious is now back in the hands of its original owners and is sporting a new redesign with a slightly new focus. As interesting as that may be, I don’t personally have a use for the service any more other than for content inspiration and overall niche research.
Type any relevant phrases into their search engine and you’ll find popular sites, blog posts, videos and images which have been saved the most by the Delicious audience. This will give you some insights on how to create your own popular content.
I’ve mentioned Open Site Explorer a number of times on this blog and for good reason: It’s a fantastic tool built by a fantastic company. Though you do get far more features with a premium account (it’s not cheap at almost $100 per month), you can still do some basic research with the limited results that you’re shown.
I know that many people use this tool for checking backlinks to competitors in great detail, but what I particularly like is the ‘Top Pages’ section you can view on any domain. If you run a few sites from your industry here you’ll likely find some type of content that was very popular for them – since they have the most backlinks – giving you inspiration for your own content creation efforts.
I have put this in a separate section to the StumbleUpon Buzz resource simply because I think this is a great way to find active participants in your industry and in many cases…influencers. When browsing StumbleUpon via their toolbar you’ll be able to see the people who are submitting the stories that are related to your niche.
For example, if you run a gadgets website then you can set-up StumbleUpon to show you gadget related articles and websites. Every time you hit the Stumble button you’ll find new articles and new submitters. A lot of submissions will be from the content owners themselves (which gives you a chance to make some solid connections) but others will be simply from people who really care about that topic.
Click on their username via the toolbar and you’ll be able to go through other submissions that they’ve made to the site, often resulting in the uncovering of not only great content, but major players in your chosen industry.
Compete offer a nice little service which lets you compare analytics (traffic volume, referring websites & search terms) between different websites. While it only gives you an idea of how much US traffic a site is getting – though it’s not entirely accurate like many traffic estimation tools – it does give you a good indicator as to which sites are popular in your niche.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Compete has registered around 3.2 million unique visitors for Pinterest last month. The results page also shows you traffic stats over time and, like Quantcast, displays ‘similar’ websites.
As with other similar tools, the results you get here in the free version are quite limited compared to their PRO offering.
Like Compete, Alexa also gives you a good idea as to how much traffic websites are getting and some of the search terms that are sending them traffic. Right now Alexa claims that the top terms driving traffic to ViperChill are:
While the top results in Alexa are not the same as my actual analytics stats, some of the phrases are definitely there. And, as expected, spikes in my traffic do tend to line up with spikes in Alexa as well.
Shown above, another nice feature of Alexa is the ability to compare the traffic levels of sites that belong to the same industry. If you don’t already have the Alexa Sparky extension for Firefox then I highly recommend that you install it. You’ll immediately see a traffic graph and Alexa rank for any website that you visit in the Add-on bar (footer) of your browser.
Many of you will know about Technorati and their blog directory already but it’s still worth mentioning them here. The most useful part of their site for me is their top ranked blogs section, which shows you the most talked about blogs in specific categories.
This allows you to see which sites are hot at this moment in time. The top overall blogs are what I would call superblogs and tend to write dozens of posts every single day.
Looking into the backlinks of your competitors can give you an idea of other sites operating in your industry, how competitive search results will be for different phrases and you can sometimes even find multiple sites which tend to be operated by the same people. That last point is especially common in more obscure niches, I’ve found.
I would usually recommend the Yahoo Site explorer for backlink counts but sadly in the last week they’ve terminated the service. Your options now are tools like Open Site Explorer, the link:domain.com command in Google (limited results), BacklinkWatch.com (pop-up & lots of ads), and software like Market Samurai.
Another tool many ViperChill readers will be familiar with is Google Trends. Google Trends lets you see the popularity of words and phrases over a period of time in terms of both search volume and news reports. This can be useful when trying to find which segments of your industry are the most popular or which seasons produce the most searches for which terms.
You can have all of the tools in the world at your disposal but I would hesitate to suggest that any are as good as your own personal browsing and creativity. Things I look for when looking around websites in a particular niche include:
Though sometimes rare, many sites will encourage you to share their posts or connect on platforms that aren’t the typical Facebook or Twitter offerings that you would expect. In the design and home crafts niches you’re likely to see some examples of this which you can then incorporate into your own marketing efforts.
The main aim with this exercise is to see what probably works well so you can integrate it into your own site, and then to discover what everyone else is doing that you can do better / differently.
Not all niche activity happens on the big social networks, of course. Forums have been around for as long as I can remember and it’s not surprising to see some with tens of thousands of members in various fields. Board Reader is simply a specialised search engine for finding posts about different topics on forums.
As you can see, there are over 20,000 posts about the best team in the premiership (no bias…honest) in just a three month time period. Tools like this can help you find new sites for marketing engagement in your respective industry and even help you find reactions to competitors and their products.
We don’t have to use the latest and most advanced tools of course to get some insights about an industry. Simple searches on Google or Bing can often unravel most of what you need to know. Search terms like:
These should give you a good starting point and can easily see you draining hours of your time if you really want to look at the results in-depth.
Every industry tends to have their ‘Youtube Superstar’ as my friend Alex likes to call them (and himself). I’ll be the first to admit that I have used video very little for my own sites, besides hiring an FHM model and working on a video competition with Hewlett Packard.
Videos were viewed over 20 billion times last month – a record for Youtube – and I’ve seen plenty of people who put a lot of focus on the platform to gain a large audience, especially in the health industry. If you’re not shy about getting in front of a camera, it’s definitely something you should look into.
Just like with the individual inspection of StumbleUpon users, you can use different search terms on Twitter to find which individuals are active in your niche. Additionally, searching for the names of your competitors and their products will give you a good idea as to how popular they are and what people are saying about them.
To take things further I decided that I would give you actual examples of some of these tools in use and show how they could help me based on the specific results I find. I asked on Twitter for some random niche ideas and received a few replies. One asked me to look into the surfing industry.
Since there are people who need marketing tactics that don’t just apply to bloggers or affiliate site owners, I decided I would try and give an example for product owners (and the marketing guys who are trying to sell them via the web). The most obvious product that comes to mind in the surfing industry is a surf board, so let’s go with that.
The Actual Product
I’ve never created a physical product to sell online before so don’t take the next few paragraphs as fact; especially in an industry where I have pretty much no prior knowledge of the market.
Though I haven’t made a product, I think it’s fair to say that if you’re making something a little more than ‘another surfboard’ then it’s going to be a lot harder to market yourself than if you were to come at the industry in a different angle and create something entirely new. Something remarkable.
There’s always room to market and/or manufacture every day products in a totally different way. Two examples that come to mind from the investment program Dragon’s Den are relevant here. The first idea was from Andrew Harsley who spent twenty years of his life trying to perfect a new kind of cable tie. You know those thin plastic things used especially for binding together electrical wires and cables.
The problem with cable ties is that you can only use them once and this results in a lot of wastage. Andrew’s invention, Rapstrap, is a simple cable tie that is mostly reusable, which makes his product 4x more efficient than a standard cable tie when it comes to cost and wastage. He went on to make over £36m for his efforts.
Or what about Levi Roots who launched “Reggae Reggae sauce” in the UK. When was the last time you thought about putting a Jamaican sauce on your food? Probably never. When you hear about it you’re probably a little curious. That curiosity leads to people buying the product, and, people loved it (this is important). He too is now worth over £30m (though he is currently in a legal battle about product ownership, but I’m getting away from the point).
So what does this have to do with my surf board? How can I make it something worth talking about? Well, maybe it could come with engravings of the surfers name in the board as standard, shipped directly from the factory. Or maybe it only comes in one style and distinctive colour – kind of like Apple white earphones – so anyone who loves surfing would know which brand of board it is automatically. You don’t need to see the Apple logo or even an iPod to have a good idea what those white earphones are plugged into.
There are lots of ways to go with this, but hopefully you get the idea. What matters more than the product of course, at least in this instance, is how you would get it out there.
Armed with just a few basic tools, I started my research into the market.
Some sample phrases that I used in Google include:
Not only did I come across a information that will help me with the next sections, I also came across this interesting page with a lot of surfing market related stats. Some that interested me basically stated that surfers are willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly product (which could help in the creation stages).
Another finding stated “53.5% indicated they’ve purchased hardgoods online. Among those who haven’t, 81.6% say they’d rather go into the surf shop“. You could view this as a downside if you’re marketing online or you could use it as inspiration to look at other ways in which you could bring the offline experience to the internet.
Facebook Fan Pages
Armed with a list of surfing brands I decided to see how many fans they had on Facebook and how many people were talking about certain pages. My findings are below:
Surfing Professionals on Twitter
After that I took some surfers I found on the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) website and decided to check how many Twitter followers they have:
What Does Quantcast Say about the Audience
After finding a few seemingly popular sites in the surfing niche, I decided to run them through Quantcast to get a better idea of their traffic levels and visitor demographics:
As you can see, information wasn’t available for all of the domains that I looked into.
Is Surfing Big on StumbleUpon? Who are the influencers?
The final thing I did for this example was browse the top surfing related content on StumbleUpon at the moment. I found the following post titles and have listed how many views StumbleUpon sent them:
Even after looking at just a few resources in limited detail I can already start to learn a lot more about this market. First of all, the Billabong fan page has almost double the fans of Rip Curl yet there are more people talking about Rip Curl. It would be worth investigating this to see if I can figure out why.
Also, the Billabong Girls page (I wouldn’t originally have thought of splitting pages up by gender) has well over 1 million fans yet Volcom’s attempt at a fan page for women only has 20,108 likes. It may just be because they haven’t promoted it heavily, or that it’s just not worth the effort.
I couldn’t gather too much from my initial Twitter research. Surfers didn’t seem to have that many fans, though 50,000+ followers for two of the five shows there is definitely a decent-sized surfing audience on the network. To put it into perspective with Facebook though, Kelly Slater only has 1/3rd of the followers on Twitter and the Billabong Girls brand only has 16,908 Twitter followers compared to their 1million+ on Facebook.
Based on this I can assume that if I only really had time for one social network, Facebook would be the one I interact with the most.
After just a few minutes on StumbleUpon I was left with dozens of content ideas I could use on my own site to help get my awesome engraved surfboards noticed. I also found a couple of StumbleUpon ‘power users’ that tended to submit most of the popular surfing related content. Now I know to stay in touch with what these guys are doing and maybe reach out to them at some point.
Finally, the Google queries which revealed popular surfing sites gave me a number of places that I would be able to advertise my product, a social network for surfers that I could interact on, and thanks to Quantcast I could get a good idea of how active they really were.
In just a short period of time I’m infinitely more knowledgeable on what I’m dealing with.
Two other people on Twitter suggested that I write about designer hand dryers in toilets and taps. I decided to zoom out of those specific categories and for for this blogging example look at the home decor / interior design industry.
Niche research in the blogosphere can help you to generate new post ideas, find link sources, obtain new design ideas, find how people are making money and much more. If you’re serious about your blog and aren’t picking up tips from your surroundings then you’re really missing out.
I first went to Technorati to find some of the top blogs in the home decor industry, since I’m only familiar with my friend Mihai’s site, Freshome. To be honest, the suggestions that Technorati gave me were actually pretty bad, with only a few of the top 10 results being real authorities in the niche.
I then performed a few blog related Google queries and found a list of relevant sites. I’m pretty sure they’re the biggest in the industry, but even if they’re aren’t, they’re still really big.
I decided to look at five things at once: 1) How many likes their brand pages had on Facebook 2) How many people were talking about them on Facebook 3) How many Twitter followers they had 4) How many subscribers Google Reader showed them as having and 5) How many backlinks they have according to Open Site Explorer.
I’ve charted my results in a table below, highlighting some of the more impressive numbers:
|Site||Facebook Likes||Facebook Talking||Twitter Followers||Google Reader||OSE Backlinks|
I can first of all see that all bloggers are utilising the two big platforms, though their audiences are noticeably larger in some instances on Facebook. Though that may be the case, I would clearly be trying to connect with people on both networks. Freshome is far and away the most popular site in terms of Facebook fans, so I would definitely spend time looking into why that is. I’m thinking the Facebook box in their sidebar which keeps scrolling when you do has a little something to do with it.
Another thing I noticed was that WebUrbanist seems to have almost 500,000 feed subscribers but only a tiny portion (10,000) of those are actually registered for any URL’s I can find in Google Reader. I decided to put some of the URL’s into FeedCompare to see how they’ve been growing over time in case there was anything abnormal. I then noticed something pretty amazing for another site, Design-Milk:
As you can see, Design Milk has grew by almost 400,000 subscribers in just one year. Similar to the Freshome Facebook likes abnormality, this is far more than the average growth of the competition so they’re clearly doing something right. A little more time spent looking at this site would again be highly recommended if you’re operating in this space.
Other things you should look at when it comes to niche research for blogging include:
Another pro tip I’ll give out for those of you who have managed to keep reading this far is to look at the advertising pages of the big sites. You’ll find that many of them are happy to share their traffic stats which can help give you a good idea as to the true size of your audience.
I don’t operate in either of these industries but I was willing to put in a little time to come away with some insights. Keeping that in mind, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing the exact same in your industry. Do make sure you check out the niche rockstar post for the green blogging niche example as well if you haven’t yet seen it.
It’s good to be back writing again a little more frequently so I really hope you enjoyed this post. There’s been a little delay on my $7K/m case study that is coming but it will hopefully be live next week, as will a post on how to create a ‘listening hub’ so you can keep up to date with your industry looking forward, rather than looking at stats of the past and present.
I appreciate any comments…