Every marketer is looking for a niche, or an angle. From the basement affiliate to the Fortune 500 CMO, we share that in common.
With 10 years and counting as an SEO, it feels like a never-ending quest to uncover something that the competition isn’t giving the proper attention to. Or a new niche to invest in that looks ripe for the taking.
Jumping into a new niche might mean buying up an existing domain from someone who isn’t maximizing its potential. It might mean adding a new section to your existing site that is already doing well, and pushing into a new set of keywords that you know you can rank for in short order. Either way, it’s about grabbing more traffic and making more money.
How do you separate the profitable opportunities from the ones to avoid?
Here’s what catches my eye and screams “go get it.”
Old copyright dates
One of the simplest things that throws up a red flag to me is a few high-ranking sites that have copyright dates from 2005. So, say you go out and search a few keywords around a “money” keyword like “HCG diet.” (This is hypothetical; I’m not sure what ranks for this keyword these days.)
You see a few WordPress blogs, and a crusty old site that looks like it hasn’t been updated since the pre-Facebook days. Right down at the bottom you see it blaring out at you “Copyright, 2005.”
Bingo! There are numerous things you can decipher from a search result page that has an old site ranking that highly. First, it’s not that competitive of a niche. People must not be actively doing good SEO to take on that keyword. Second, it’s not a keyword that Google is giving much attention when it comes to indexing fresh content (some call this QDF).
Dashed-domains, and non-.com extensions
Another sure sign of a niche that is ripe for the taking is one with a lot of “keyword-keyword-keyword.com” sites or “keywordkeyword.org” sites ranking in the top 20 search results. Be sure to click through these sites and look at how much content they have, how they are monetizing it, and how dynamic the content publishing is.
Chances are you’ll see a lot of these sure-fire signs of some weak sites:
- 10 pages or less of actual content.
- A bunch of AdSense in prominent places on the site.
- Similar affiliate offers across multiple sites in the top 10.
- Crusty content not attributed to a real person (is there a name and a face?).
- Lack of social shares of the content.
Any time I see a combination of those cheesy, easy to register domains stuff with dashes and keywords and some “thin” sites with AdSense on them, I know it’s time to get into the niche. These sites ranking high says to me, “It doesn’t take a lot of work to rank in this niche. People are doing it easily, not keeping up with their sites, and not working overly-hard to monetize them.”
Of course, this might mean there isn’t a good way to make money ranking for the keyword, but that’s an argument for a different post.
Wikipedia #1 or 2
The prevalence of Wikipedia in the Google search results is sometimes annoying, sometimes welcome. Regardless, most top SEO’s will say a Wikipedia result in the top 2 positions for a keyword means it’s ripe for the taking (or is it?).
I’ll agree that it’s a hint at the overall niche being easier than par. It’s not that Wikipedia itself is easy to “take down,” because I’ve seen too many examples to the contrary in our work, but it still does mean a given set of search results is open to a new, SEO-savvy competitor to come in and make a run at it.
I’d rather see Wikipedia up there than some established commercial player who knows what they’re doing, and has a head start.
Non-existent affiliate programs
Here’s one that most people don’t consider, non-existent affiliate programs. By that I mean you go out and search something like “solar power” or “catalytic converter” and check out a few sites. (Funny, pulled these at random, and Wikipedia is up there for both).
There are some resource sites that give people information, like SolarPower.org. But there is certainly not a heavy affiliate presence in something more traditional on the lead gen side or ecommerce side.
Any niche that has a bread-and-butter lead gen affiliate offer simply attracts a lot of smart internet marketers. If you get the notion to go after “life insurance for seniors,” you would see an entirely different world than something less well-known for good affiliate payouts. And that’d be good, a sign to go ahead and jump into the niche.
Overall, this is more art than science. Each little niche of the web has its own unique set of competitors and history that could throw any of the above suggestions out the window. But give them some consideration next time. It might save you time and money. We all like that!
Nathaniel Broughton is a veteran internet entrepreneur and investor. Dating to 2002, he has helped produce 3 Inc 500 award-winning companies. Nathaniel owns Growth Partner Capital, a venture fund that provides SEO consulting, premium link building and online reputation management services. He is also owner of SuretyBonds.com, a nationwide bonding agency. Previously he served as CMO of VAMortgageCenter.com, a $65 million nationwide mortgage bank which acquired his marketing firm Plus1 Marketing in 2008. A resident of San Diego, Nathaniel often writes from his experience as an investor, marketer, and advocate of “networking like Paris Hilton parties – Nonstop”. Follow him on Twitter – @natebro.