When starting a brand new website, choosing the right topic for your site is the most important part of the process. Everything about our brand—the name of it, what it looks like, what we publish—is determined by the topic or niche that we choose, so it’s mandatory that we spend some time discussing this before we actually begin.
When building a niche site, specifically, the target keyword that you choose to build a website around can mean the difference between success and failure.
I personally believe that anyone can compete with any keyword. Yep—any keyword. Even one-word keywords. The question is, how much time and money do you want to spend to outrank the existing competition?
High volume search terms combined with high levels of competition means that you’re typically going to spend a lot more time and money on your campaign before you see any results. That, or you’re going to have to be incredibly creative, which can work, but you also have to assume that the existing sites in those competitive markets are already heavily competing with each other as well.
This is why, at least for most of us with a limited budget, and perhaps a limited amount of time as well, it is better and makes more sense to try to dominate a niche where domination seems feasible and reasonable.
Have you ever heard of the phrase:
“The riches are in the niches.”
Well, it’s true. It’s not because there is more money flowing in smaller markets—markets within existing markets. That’s obviously not true. Get to the top of Google for a keyword like “laptop computers” and you’re golden, but the fact is that getting there is going to be difficult. Very difficult.
Niche down, and you’re more likely to land higher in the search engines. Yes, you’ll be higher for keywords with less search volume but also for keywords with less competition.
I’d rather be on the first page of Google for a keyword that gets 3,000 exact searches per month, than on the fifth page for a keyword that gets 300,000 searches per month. Nobody visits the fifth page. Heck, nobody visits the second page either!
If you’re doing a search and you don’t find what you’re looking for on the first page, what do you do?
You refine your search.
You “niche down” and get more specific with the words that you write in the search field. This is the advantage building a niche site has over building a more general website— you and the site you build are there to serve specific queries from people looking for specific answers. If you can become the ultimate resource for that topic, to serve those answers, naturally your website is going to (eventually) rank higher, but beyond what happens in the search engines, you’re actually helping people.
And THAT is my first criteria for keyword selection as we approach the official launch of Niche Site Duel 2.0: that whatever topic I decide to choose to build a website around, whatever keywords I find during the keyword research phase, that it’s a topic that I believe I can do something to help people, one way or another.
Whether that’s through my skill or knowledge within that topic (i.e., GreenExamAcademy.com), or my ability to research and curate information that I find better than what’s out there already (i.e., SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com from NSD1.0), as long as I feel like I can help, then that’s a potential topic or keyword. Then, I can investigate further.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to further define a specific set of criteria that I’m going to use when I conduct keyword research and select a topic for my website.
If you’re following along, you can use this criteria for yourself if you’d like, but feel free to change things around if you wish based on where you feel you’re at with the process.
1. Search Volume [Exact]: Min. 3,000 Local Searches Per Month
Search volume is the number of times a particular keyword is searched for in Google, and it’s typically reported on a per monthly basis, although daily is also common. It’s a decent indicator of how much potential traffic you could get to your website (from that one keyword) if you sat in the number one position in Google for that keyword.
There are three types of searches: broad match, phrase match, and exact match.
[Full Disclosure: I receive compensation if you purchase through some of these links.]
Without getting too detailed about what means what, just know that most keyword research tools, such as Long Tail Pro and Market Samurai, and even the free Google Adwords Keyword Tool default on broad match, which is dangerous because the data can be terribly skewed. Make sure you conduct your keyword research using exact match at all times.
One more time: Make sure you conduct your keyword research using exact match.
This will give you true data for how many times a keyword (and that keyword only), in that particular order has been searched for in Google.
Why a minimum of 3,000 searches?
In SPI Podcast Session #66, Spencer Haws from NichePursuits.com and creator of Long Tail Pro, shared that for his multiple niche site business, his search volume criteria was a minimum of 2,000. That’s less than 67 searches per day, and you have to understand that even if your site is sitting at the top position in Google, not all 100 percent of the people who search for a specific term are going to click the number one result. Yes, there are long tail keywords which come into play, but I’d rather start at something much higher, so a minimum of 3,000, or about 100 searches per day, seems reasonable. Again, this is a minimum, and I’m hoping for something much larger. This will simply be a part of the filtering process.
Just to give you some perspective, my primary keyword from NSD1.0, security guard training, has 5,400 exact local searches per month.
2. SEO Competition: Is there room in the Top 10 of Google?
After finding keywords that meet the search criteria above, the next most important thing to look at is what the existing competition for that keyword looks like in Google. Specifically, how difficult would it be to get on the first page? How about the very top?
As much as we can see the exact information related to specific websites that we’re competing against, determining whether or not it might be possible to get on the first page or to the top of Google is a skill that doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t come right away. Some may even call it an art.
Only through experience and learning from the example of others can we make wiser decisions about where to focus our time and effort when building niche websites.
During NSD2.0, you can be 100 percent sure that I’ll give you an over-the-shoulder look share my exact competition research process with you and everything that’s going through my head. Specifically, I’ll be looking at things like:
- Is the keyword used in the URL of the pages listed in the top 10 of Google for that keyword?
- Is the keyword used in the Title of the page, and the description?
- The number of incoming links to those pages, and the quality of those links.
- Page Authority
- Page Rank
- Anchor Text distribution.
- Content on the competing page.
With so many things to look at when it comes to competition, it can sometimes be difficult to put exact numbers on everything. A set of competing pages, for example, may look great for us except for one or two of the above. Does that mean we have to move on to another keyword?
Again, there’s sort of an “art” that comes when it comes to SEO competition, so I’ll hopefully give you some things to think about when I’m going through the process with you soon.
As I previously mentioned, I’ll be using Spencer’s software, Long Tail Pro (affiliate link – I earn a commission if you buy), to more quickly assess the competition for specific keywords. The truth is, you don’t need to spend any money on keyword research software because you can manually find the above information on your own and put them into a spreadsheet before you choose your niche, but software like Long Tail Pro and Market Samurai, among a few others can save you a ton of time.
Spencer has been kind enough to offer a $30 discount to all Smart Passive Income readers for Long Tail Pro! Thanks Spencer!
Click here to get Long Tail Pro for $30 OFF the original price!
(The above link is an affiliate link and I do earn a commission when you make a purchase through this link, at no extra cost to you. If you have any questions about the software, please shoot me a quick message on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can! Thank you!)
3. The Grandma Test
This is an easy, but important test, at least to me.
Once I find a keyword with decent search volume and relatively low competition, I’ll ask myself the following question:
If I created a website in this niche and it became incredibly successful, would I be comfortable sharing my success with my grandma?
If the answer is no, then I may have to think twice about getting into this particular niche.
4. Can I EARN Money in this Niche?
So you’ve found a niche with decent search volume and low competition, and your grandma approves too. The next most important question is, can you earn money from it?
As much as people build niche websites in order to generate an income, relatively little care and research goes into the possibility of monetization. Isn’t that absurd? That’s why sometimes you hear about people who have websites ranking high in Google, maybe even in the top position, who are making little to no money at all.
Researching monetization is just as important as doing keyword research for search volume and competition. You don’t want to put in all that work and get to the top of Google only to then realize that you’re in a niche with little or no earning potential.
Note the specific use of the term earn. It’s not make money in or generate profit from, but earn, meaning: you’re able to contribute something to the niche and get paid back in return.
When it comes to earning potential, the idea here is to understand if there is money flowing within that market, and if there are specific ways for people to pay you back for something that you provide. Here are some specific tests and metrics you can use to see if there’s earning potential within the niche that you’ve selected:
- The Average Cost-Per-Click (CPC) in Google Adwords. The average CPC is a metric that can be found in the free Google Adwords Keyword tool, and in most paid keyword research software as well. The average CPC is the average amount that advertisers who are using Google Adwords are paying every time someone clicks on an ad relevant to that specific keyword. This is not how much money we’ll earn on our website for each click if we were to use Google Adsense. If you publish ads using Google Adsense, you will earn a percentage of the overall CPC per click. A higher CPC means that advertisers are competing and bidding against each other, which is often a good sign that there’s money flowing within that specific market. More advertisers also means that there are potentially more products, tools and services that you could promote on your website.
- What Advertisements Show Up in a Google Search? This one is easy. Type in your target keyword in Google and see what ads, if any, show up at the top and/or side of the resulting page. If there are a lot of advertisers, this is another good sign that there is some earning potential here. Advertisers are willing to pay for premium spots in Google search, which means they might be willing to pay you, or work with you as a partner. If there are few or no results, than that’s something to take note of and the niche requires further investigation. Don’t completely scratch the keyword off the list just yet – not all markets have companies that advertise using Google Adwords.
- Are There Books or Products that Show Up in an Amazon.com Search? Amazon.com is a search engine. It’s not just any search engine though, it’s a search engine where we know the people doing the searching are buyers. They aren’t looking for free information like many people do on Google. They are there to buy stuff. If there’s a decent quantity and quality of products and/or books that show up relevant to your target keyword, then that’s a good sign that there are people willing to pay for information or products within that specific niche. Plus, you’ll be able to see if there’s anything worth promoting as an affiliate too.
- Are Other Sites Promoting Stuff, and If So, What? Do a quick search for websites related to your potential target keyword and see what comes up. Click around and see if any of the resulting websites or blogs are selling anything—either stuff that they’ve created on their own, or products or services that belong to someone else. Be sure to note the difference between an automatically generated advertisement (like a Google Adsense ad, which usually has a little tag on the ad itself that says “Ad Choices” or “Ads by Google”) and a real partnership or promotion. The ads are still useful, but the partnerships and affiliate promotions tell us an even better story of what’s available for us. Make note of the promotions and websites that you find. If you wanted to find blogs, specifically, type “blogs:target keyword“ (without quotations) in Google, and you’ll get a list of blogs in your search result. These are good sites to include in a database for potential outreach later.
- Search for ‘Money’ Keywords. Here another fun trick. To discover if there are potentially things that you could promote and sell on your website, run the following Google search queries (with quotations):
- “target keyword” “on sale”
- “target keyword” “for sale”
- “target keyword” “price”
- “target keyword” “affiliate”
- “target keyword” “partners”
- “target keyword” “media kit”
- “target keyword” “product description”
- “target keyword” “equipment”
- “target keyword” “services”
- “target keyword” “products”
- “target keyword” “customer review”
- “target keyword” “testimonial”
- “target keyword” “now available”
- There are a lot of other potential keywords to use here, but you get the idea. Not all of the above will produce resulting products or items that prove this is a market with money in it, but a lot of them will, and you should obviously keep track of the ones that seem legit. If you get nothing from the above searches, you may need to think again about the specific niche that you’re targeting.
Passing the above tests for earning potential won’t necessarily mean that you’re 100 percent going to earn an income if you build a website in that niche. Of course, there are a lot of other factors involved, many based on you and your website’s performance, but at least you’ll know there’s potential here and you’re not blindly throwing darts at the wall.
5. The 50-Post Test
The 50-post test is a particular criterion that addresses something else that a lot of people, including myself, tend to forget sometimes because we’re so enthralled with search volume and SEO competition.
Once we select a niche and put up an optimized website, we’re going to need to put some content on it. The 50-post test ensures that we have the ability to write a decent amount of content for our website, or at least hire someone to write for if it we wanted to.
Sure, you can choose to have a five-page website about a particular topic if you want, and if that content is great then you can make something happen with it, but personally I’m shooting for a bigger niche site, one where there’s enough content to get even more traffic from the long tail keyword searches that people type in related to the topic.
With my security guard training site from NSD1.0, I had mentioned that security guard training gets 5,400 exact match searches per month. What you may not realize is that less than 10 percent of my traffic comes from that one keyword. The rest (over 25,000 hits per month) comes from the sum of long tail keywords that people are using to find me in Google, which comes as a result of the amount of content I’ve published on the site, which at this point is about 200 posts.
(I climbed to #1 in Google in with less than 50 total posts, and I’ve just continued to add content and grow over time.)
Here’s how the 50-post test is going to go down:
After finding a potential keyword, I’m going to create a spreadsheet for that particular keyword and begin to write down blog post ideas. I’ll start with as many as I can think of off the top of my head, approaching the topic as a complete beginner or someone trying to understand that topic. If I run out of ideas before 50, which is always the case, I’ll use the following strategies to fill in the holes:
- I’ll use the primary keyword as a seed keyword in Long Tail Pro to find related keywords that I could (and should) write about.
- I’ll do a Google search to see what other sites are talking about related to the niche. I’ll use that as inspiration for new blog post ideas. I may discover other topics that relate to the primary keyword that I can branch off of too.
- I’ll go onto Amazon.com and type in my keyword to find books on the topic. If there are any, I’ll “look inside the cover” to view the table of contents to make sure I hit all of the important points related to the niche. I’ll also make note of the book as well because that’s something I could promote as as affiliate down the road. If anything, it at least it shows me who else I might need to connect with.
- I’ll search for problems or issues people are having related to the topic in discussion forums or social media.
The nice thing about this strategy is that once you have this list of 50 potential posts, you already know exactly what to publish. If you’re hiring somebody to write for you, then you can just hand them this list, or a part of it when you begin working together. These topics can also turn into videos and other forms of media as well.
If I struggle getting to 50 posts, then I have to reassess whether or not it’s a topic that I really want to get into.
6. The Ability to Create a ‘Beastly Resource’
In SPI Podcast Session #67, Neil Patel from QuickSprout.com shared some SEO strategies that really impressed me, and also made a lot of sense.
One of those strategies was the use of a massive guide or resource: an extensive, noteworthy and epic publication or tool that solves a specific problem or educates people in such great detail, that it can’t go unnoticed. To give you some perspective about what these guides look like, check out Neil’s Advanced Guide to SEO, and his Advanced Guide to Content Marketing.
Now, 45,000 words like what Neil publishes is probably a bit overkill for what we’re trying to do, but an “all you need to know” guide published on a website, as opposed to that same content put in an ebook or something, which is less likely to be shared or found in the search engines, or promoted on other people’s websites is smart, and it’s going to be the core strategy during the launch of whatever website I choose to create.
Trevor Page from SPI Podcast Session #55 used a similar strategy to jumpstart the launch of his website, which teaches people how to program with Java. In less than a year, he’s been able to get thousands of visitors to his website each month, sell an ebook and start a membership site, and it all started with a very detailed Programming 101 guide, which eventually got picked up on LifeHacker.com and other websites.
For whatever keywords fit the criteria so far, I’m going to determine if there is a way to create a ‘beastly resource’ that can’t go unnoticed. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a written guide either, but it could be something different and unique that is extremely useful for people who are looking for information within a specific niche. For example, on Spencer’s survival knife niche website, he built a matrix or table of all of the available survival knives that potential customers can sort and filter based on their specific needs.
Marketing and launching the website with this resource is a topic for another discussion, which we’ll get into in the near future once I start building that resource.
Any niche, I believe, could have it’s ultimate resource or tool, but if for some reason I can’t imagine or think of creating this resource, then it will probably reflect on my ability to serve those in that niche and may be a niche to stay away from.
Where We Are At Now with NSD2.0?
The purpose of this post was to share my thinking process when it comes to the niche that I’ll be selecting for NSD2.0. I know a lot of you are anxious to get started, and I am as well, but it’s important that we first understand the path and direction we are taking before we start the journey together.
Look out for an upcoming post about the private learning group I’m creating for NSD2.0, where you’ll have a chance to work directly with me and a handful of other people so that we can work through our niche sites together. That said, anyone can participate in NSD2.0, and I encourage you to.
I’ll be setting up a system to help us all hold each other accountable, keep track of everyone’s progress and keep each other motivated.
This is going to be awesome!
To remind you one more time, you can get $30 off the original price of Long Tail Pro by clicking the link below:
Click here to get Long Tail Pro for $30 OFF the original price! (affiliate link – I earn a commission if you buy – you get $30 off)
If you’re going to participate in NSD2.0, let me know in the comment section of this post. I’m going to randomly reach out to 5 commenters and hook you up with a free copy of Long Tail Pro (not including the platinum upgrade). If you’ve already purchased it, I’ll refund your upfront cost. I’ll reach out to the winners via email by the end of the week (Saturday May 18th, 11:59:59pm PST).
Cheers, and good luck!