There are two diametrically opposite stumbling blocks encountered by beginning internet marketers: finding a profitable niche to target, and narrowing their focus to exclude seductive but distracting opportunities. Entrepreneurs paralyzed by a paradox of choice are arguably in a better position, since they could choose one of their current options at random if necessary. Having absolutely no idea where to get ideas is a much more discouraging state of affairs.
In reality, there’s no reason to get discouraged. Like potential romantic interests, there are plenty of fish in the sea of markets available. You just have to know where to look. A good niche market satisfies at least three criteria:
- It has sufficient search traffic to indicate demand.
- There are proven internet buyers.
- It is reasonably accessible in terms of competition.
I’ll leave the competition piece of the puzzle for another day, but in the meantime, let’s look at how to find a niche market using a few of my favorite resources.
The Google Keyword Tool
Most people, including yours truly, use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool for looking up the search volume and commerciality of individual keywords (i.e. the searches that people type into Google), but you can easily explore dozens of niches using the All Categories sidebar on the left. It’s amazing how many ideas you’re presented with in a few seconds of navigation.
For instance, my eye just drifted to Hobbies & Leisure, so I clicked on the heading to expand its list of subcategories, then found myself noticing Toys & Games; then I expanded its Games subcategory and click on the Games’ subcategory, Board Games, which returned a list of 800 keywords. If you don’t sign in with a free Google AdWords account, you’ll get a list of 100 words instead of 800.
For Dummies and Other Book Tutorial Series
For nearly 20 years, John Wiley & Sons has been publishing its highly successful For Dummies series of tutorial books. Unlike niches websites, which are often launched on a hunch of profitability, all prospective Dummies titles are vetted by extensive market research—if Wiley is going to spend substantial time and money targeting a niche topic, the editors want to be assured that there’s a market for it.
Head on over to the Dummies Store to browse through the complete taxonomy of niche titles. Ten years ago, I was amazed that there were over 900 books in the entire series. Today, I counted 244 titles in series’ Business, Investing & Careers section alone. If you’re considering developing an information product, you can, to some extent, model the Table of Contents of For Dummies book (available on the website) on the corresponding topic.
You don’t have to limit yourself to the For Dummies series. Any successful series of tutorial guides will do, provided you already have a general market you’re considering that you want to niche down. If you know that you want to get involved in gardening, you can look at a list of Sunset Guides.
Magazines may have lost their allure in the digital age, but this much is true: any magazine that’s been around for years caters to a proven market. Magazines live and die by advertising revenue, not sales at the newsstand or subscriptions; so if they can’t drum up enough commercial interest to cover their production costs, they’ll fold in short order. A website, on the other hand, can continue to exist in some form without having to make money or prove itself in the marketplace.
Amazon has a Magazines subcategory under its books category. You can ignore the number of stars in the review, since individual readers’ opinions don’t have much bearing on the commercial success of a particular magazine—after all, we all hate certain magazines that have done very well. You can find a link to the Bestsellers in Magazines & Newspapers section on the left sidebar, which will let you browse the Top 100, which is updated hourly.
MySimon and Shopping.com
If you’re looking for product niches, it’s possible to use Amazon, but Amazon is better for finding specific products rather than product categories. MySimon and Shopping.com both have a nifty feature that Amazon lacks: a footer link to the Top Searches for categories on their respective sites. I’m partial to Shopping.com for its Top Searches feature, only because it states that it’s updated every two weeks, while MySimon doesn’t indicate a refresh interval; but MySimon has also has a Top Products link (also found in the site’s footer), which Shopping.com lacks.
It’s worth repeating that Amazon is the hot spot for finding specific products, but the focus of this article is finding niches. We’re less interested in which sewing machine is the best model than which aspect of sewing gets the most consumer engagement. I find eBay to be a better tool for this purpose.
As an example, in Home, Outdoors & Decor, I can go to Crafts, then Sewing. Then I’ll click the “Auctions only” tab, since I want to focus which items get the most bids to signal which aspect of sewing generates the most commercial interest. For internet marketing, you don’t just want to focus on the number of “eyeballs”, but find ways to measure the number of enthusiasts who are willing to spend real money. On eBay, you can sort by “Number of bids: most first”. In this case, it’s instantly obvious that sewing machines generates way more commercial interest than other accessories, materials, patters, or other aspects of sewing.
These are just a few ways you can brainstorm potential markets without having to burn many of your own neurons. If you have any tricks of your own, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
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