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Step 1: Beginner’s Guide to Building A Niche Website – Topic & Keyword Research

As a quick intro to this post. It is meant to be a work in progress. As I find more to add I will do so. I’ve done my best to outline all the steps pretty well, but feel free to let me know where I’ve been more vague and could improve. If you like what you see here, please share it. Tweets, shares, and the like are always appreciated. Looking for an easier way to read all this? Here’s the slideshare embed

building a website

Topic Research

When choosing a topic (niche) in which to build your site you should usually weigh a few different things:

1. Your Interest in the Niche. I’ve chosen topics in the past that I had no interest in and simply knew I could milk for the money. It’s not that this method hasn’t worked, but by far, most of the sites I’ve owned that have been successful I have at least found some interest in the niche. This tends to help when you are writing content for your site, writing guest posts, and promoting your site.

2. Your Expertise in the Niche. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but when possible I will jump on a site focused around something I know before anything else. Fortunately, you can always learn.

3. The Current Competition in the Niche. We’ll get into this in a bit, but the level of competition on any given set of keywords is a huge factor in my niche choices. By competition we mean who is on the front page of the top search engines. Who has prominent social media profiles? How is the content on their sites? As I said, we’ll get there.

4. The Volume Within Your Niche. It makes no sense to target a topic that has little to no potential to bring in revenue. At the same time, we don’t want to target something that is out of reach for our budget and time constraints. We’ll hit on this in a bit as well.

5. Ability to Monetize Your Site. How do you plan on making money? I assume the reason you are building this site is to bring in revenue. Whatever your plan is, does it match up with the topic you are targeting? Keep in mind there are many, many ways to make money online. We get into monetization later as well.

Choosing Your Niche

So, first off, realize that finding your niche is not something that comes with a formula. Once you’ve discovered your niche there are a number of specific processes that you can follow to target the right keywords, build your site, and drive traffic to it. But before you get there, let’s focus on ways you can narrow into a niche for yourself.

Finding A Potential Niche

I’ll show you one way to find new niche ideas, but there are literally limitless ways to find them and on top of that you may just run into them in your day-to-day. I’ll walk you through using Amazon to find niches, but you could really use any big ecommerce site with category browsing capability. The bigger the better really. You could also just skip this first step and list ideas out, but Amazon is helpful. Or maybe you already have an idea of what you’d like to work on. If either of these is the case, skip down to “checking volume.”

Down the left side of Amazon’s site there is usually a list of categories accompanied by a button labeled “Full Store Directory.” Clicking there opens up a page like this:

amazon nav

Looking through these categories and sub-categories should at least give you some brainstorming ideas. I really can’t tell you which categories to work in or which ones to explore. As I said, depending on your interests and expertise, the choices you make will differ from mine. What I can tell you is that there are so many products out there (even just on Amazon), that there is always an untapped niche to be found.

For example, let’s say I choose “Automotive Parts & Accessories” under that Auto & Industrial Category. Opening that will show a bunch of different types of products and more sub-categories. Browsing through that, I can put together a list of any products that catch my eye for whatever reason.  Clicking one more time through on another category will bring up a search page with a bunch of products as well as a bunch more category/topic ideas down the left side for me to pick from. (Feel free to check out my list here).

Realize that these aren’t keywords. They are topics or sets of topics. If you take a look at the list I compiled from “Auto Accessories,” you can see that none of them are actually product names and some aren’t even types of products (ex. “Detailing tools” is pretty broad).

I’ll usually put together a list of 20-30 topics that I want to look into. You don’t have to stick within any certain categories. For example, I could add some topics under health and beauty if they interested me right alongside my auto accessories topics.

You can repeat this process with any number of website. I’ve done the same on Newegg.com, Costco.com, Walmart.com, and more. Niche sites like Newegg are especially good at this (Newegg being mostly in the electronics niche if that is what you were going after).

Checking Volume

adwords kw toolNow that you have a list of potential topics, let’s take a closer look at them. Open up the Google Adwords Keyword Planner and paste your list of topics in under “your product or service.” Before you run the tool, make sure you change the option from “show broadly related ideas” to “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms.” This option is found under “customize your search” and “keyword options” in the bottom right of the tool. Now run the tool. Click over to the “keyword ideas” option. If you’d like to briefly look through the results go ahead, but let’s work with this data in Excel.

Hit “download” in the top right and open the excel file that downloads. Once you open Excel, cut out the extra columns. All we need is the columns for “keyword” and “avg monthly searches.” Ok, time to order our data. Sort your results by average search volume. Now we still have a lot of data that isn’t really important for us. Let’s filter out all the keywords with less than 2,000 or greater than 25,000 in search volume. Why? We are looking for topics here and we want to find something that has a reasonably high volume without being a head term like “car.” A Note: You don’t have to necessarily do this filtering step. I would suggest starting this way to cut down on the amount of work you’ll need to put in, but you can definitely still find topics out of this range.

Ok, now that you’ve got it filtered, we need to look through what we’ve got. What we’re looking to do is sort each of the terms into topics. Check out tab 3 in the Excel document to see how that can look. While you’re at it drop any terms that don’t fit the topics you’re looking to build out. For example, “garage floor mats” or “rubber floor mats” don’t necessarily fit in the automotive topics I am targeting (Shown in red in Excel).

Now, we’ve got a good idea of what topics are stronger than others (as well as a start for our keyword research once we get there). Now we get to decide what topic or topics we want to target. Looking at my example again, you’ll notice a lot of different popular terms showing up under floor mats and car covers. Either one of these would be good to check out, but let’s use floor mats for our example moving forward.

Checking Competition

Ok, now let’s figure out if your topic is worth targeting. We can already assume that there is enough volume simply from the quick analysis we ran on our keyword planner data, but can you realistically (and easily) tap into that volume with your new site?

The next step is to Google each of the terms within the topic and check out what types of sites appear on the first page. When you look at your topic’s terms you are likely seeing 2 different types of terms: (1) General Terms and (2) Actual Products. I’ve separated these two types of terms in tab 4 of the Excel document for you to see the difference. Usually you will want to pay more attention to the general terms at this point. Specific products with high search volumes are not off the table as a general topic for your site (see centaurfencing.com which is not owned by the product’s manufacturer), but you will usually want to target general terms unless one specific product/brand will bring in enough volume for your site.

Looking at our terms let’s start with the first on the list: “floor mats.” Here’s what I see when I perform a Google search for the term:

google floor mats

What’s the first thing you notice? Maybe the ads? We know right off the bat that this is at least a fairly competitive term in and of itself just because of the fact that there are so many ads targeting the term. Glancing  through the organic results tells a similar story. All big name brands that are mostly specific to automotive product. This will be a difficult keyword to get on the first page for and all these brands (both in ads and organic listings) are who we are competing with. Let’s move on to the next terms.

Googling “car floor mats” returns a similar looking results. Googling “custom floor mats” introduces one sign to look for. If look at any Google search results page, you’ll see that Google always highlights your search terms within each listing. Looking through these listings, only 3 of them contain the exact phrase “custom floor mats.” Although everything else points to a pretty competitive phrase, this tells us we are going in the right direction. With how important keywords are to ranking, the fact that companies without the exact phrasing in their titles are on the first page tells us we may have a chance.

“All Weather Floor Mats” returns another interesting occurrence to look for. The first 2 results return the same website (different pages, but the same root domain). In general Google shies away from this, so we definitely are seeing a trend of lower competition as we get into the longer tail terms.

Check out “truck floor mats” now. See how only a couple even actually say the word truck? A good sign.

Now, taking into account everything we’ve seen from the topic of floor mats so far, it will be relatively competitive and difficult to rank for these top terms. Of course not impossible and we would deifinitely look into longer tail terms, but I would prefer an easier route. You would now have two options: (1) Move on to some more advanced keyword research and continue the above process of comparing volume with competition or (2) jump to another of the topics we were just looking at. Let’s do the latter so we can show you a lower competition topic.

Let’s look at the term “shift knobs” next then. Here is what I see:

google shift knobs

So I notice a couple things right off the bat. First there are far fewer ads showing for this term. Second, look at the total number of results found by Google: 1.9 million as compared to our last search with over 19 million. We are already seeing some trends toward lower competition here, but let’s look at some more and get a bit more advanced.

Let’s take a closer look at the first organic result, Amazon.com. If you open it (or can read Amazon’s url structure), you’ll notice it’s not a product page. The result is a search for “shift knob” in Amazon. Considering Google has voiced dislike of showing search results pages, this is a definite sign of low competition. Our term also doesn’t show up in the url at all.

Now on to the more technical aspects of analysis: links. As you may know, a major factor in Google ranking websites is the number and quality of links pointing to your website from other parts of the world wide web. My tool of choice for link analysis is MajesticSEO which is relatively easy to learn to use but very powerful. Even better, there is a free version. You can do everything in this tutorial by signing up for the free version of the tool.

Now, figuring everything out in any link analysis tool will take time, so for now, lets focus on one thing, the number of websites linking to the one we are analyzing (also known as “referring domains” in MajesticSEO).

Let’s take a look at each of the sites in our top nine for “shift knobs” beyond that Amazon result:

Webpage Links Pagerank
americanshifter.com

44

2

andysautosport.com/shift_knobs.html

18

1

ebay.com/bhp/gear-shift-knobs

3

1

autozone.com/autozone/accessories/Interior/Shift-Knobs/_/N-25cr

1

0

momousa.com/tuning/shift-knobs.html

1

1

hotrodshiftknob.com

47

1

jegs.com/c/Shifters_Shifter-Knobs-and-Handles/10521/10002/-1

3

2

jcwhitney.com/shift-knobs/c10255j1s17.jcwx

3

0

americanmuscle.com/shiftknobs.html

7

3

 

You’ll notice that most of the results have very few links and there are even a few with 0 pagerank. This is perfect for us. Really, all we are looking for initially is a spot on the first page of Google. We can work on improving that position later. All it takes are a few PR 0’s with a low number of links (see our PR 0’s with less than 3 links) to get us on the first page.

Another Note: Another factor to look at is the quality of the content on the ranking sites. Can you do better? How much better? What types of sites are they? Forums generally tend to rank lower so a few forums could mean low competition. Same with wiki sites and other pages that are automatically generated (we already hit on internal search pages).

Here’s a quick list of things you can check when analyzing competition:

  1. Number of paid ads on the SERP
  2. Exact phrase found highlighted in organic listings
  3. Multiple instances from a single root domain
  4. Dynamic pages (Internal Search Pages)
  5. Number of total indexed pages
  6. Keywords in url
  7. Link analysis
  8. Type of content (forums, wikis, etc. are usually easy to outrank)
  9. Quality of content

I’ll spare you looking into any more results for now as I hope you are starting to get the idea.

Can You Monetize Your Topic?

Really quickly before we move on to your domain name, let’s make sure you have a niche that makes sense revenue-wise. Keep in mind that there is always a way to monetize a site, but often times there are better monetization options available to certain categories of product. The biggest question you need to ask yourself is “who is on your site.” You may have chosen a certain product to sell, but what else would your customer be interested in buying? Say I have a site on car covers; my customers might also be interested in car detailing supplies or car air fresheners. Not to say you need to expand out now, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Let’s assume your initial plan for monetization is simply selling the product you’ve chosen to focus on. Let’s return to my shifter knob example for this one. I’ve still got many options to choose from as far as how to go about doing this. Let’s look at a few:

Affiliate Networks. You may have heard of companies like clickbank, commission junction, and shareasale. Essentially, these companies have a platform set up for product owners to sign up to sell their product through these networks. At the same time you as a website owner can sign up (for free) to have access to selling any of the products on the network. You simply place a link on your site that contains a certain code which allows this network to track when your visit generates a sale. When you generate a sale, lead, or sometimes even simply a visit, you get paid. There is no cost to you as a website owner. The top two that I’ve used (as both website owner and product owner) are Commission Junction and Clickbank. Keep in mind Clickbank is mostly software whereas Commission Junction tends toward products.

Independent Affiliate Programs. Often companies do not sign up with the previously mentioned affiliate networks, but will still provide for similar offers to website owners. If a company has set up their own affiliate program it often allows for higher commissions than other options because there is less cost going into the program (no network fees, etc.). Again, there is no cost to you, but each option presented here has its advantages and disadvantages.

Amazon Associates. Amazon is an affiliate network in a sense. Essentially, they allow any website owner to sign up for their affiliate program (known as Amazon Associates). After signing up, you get access to generating links to any product carried on Amazon. Like other affiliate programs, Amazon will pay you when a purchase is generated by your website. There are no costs to get started (no fees or membership costs). Amazon does pay a bit less than individual programs or even networks, but Amazon also pays you on any purchase made during a customer’s visit to Amazon. Another disadvantage to take into account is that Amazon only tracks customers through their current session on Amazon. Most other programs will attribute sales to you up to 90 days after their initial visit. On the flip side, Amazon also tends to convert much better than any other site I’ve seen, so this tends to balance out.

Adsense. It almost always makes sense to at least throw a couple adsense blocks on your site. The odds are you won’t make more than $20-30 a month off of it (unless you’re placing them in ways that cannibalize higher margin product sales), but Adsense can give you a good idea of what type of customer is on your site. Just jump on an incognito browsing tab and visit your site to see what type of ads Adsense has decided work best for your visitors. At the same time, Adsense pays next to nothing compared to a good affiliate monetization.

Shipping Physical Product.

I suggest you go through each of the options and put together a list (yes, I’m big on lists) of all the different options you have of monetizing your site. Go beyond comparing each of the options. I’d suggest actually implementing 2-3 methods of monetization in order to A/B test and find the most profitable option for your site. I’ve done this several ways. You can set up your site to provide the user with multiple options for purchase (for example, show a link to Amazon alongside another option to a different retailer, then put an Adsense block in the sidebar). Another option would be setting up an actual A/B test and showing different visitors different options (or just run on for a couple weeks, then the other).

The reason this section is placed here before you build your site is that it is important to know that you can monetize the topic you are planning on. If you’ve chosen to sell some beauty cream that isn’t sold on Amazon and the retailer doesn’t offer an affiliate program, it doesn’t matter how much search volume there is, you will be very limited in how you make money. (Of course there are other options; you could build the site, generate the traffic then approach the retailer with an offer. This is difficult and risky however.)

Let’s move on to the next steps: keyword research and choosing your domain name.

Keyword Research

You’ve seen how the Adwords Keyword Planner works; now let’s briefly hit some other tools you can use. You already know the basic idea behind keyword research. What we are looking to do now is build a short list of keywords to target as we build our site and populate it with content (a good start is probably between 5 and 15). Just like before, you are looking for keywords that have a good amount of volume and low levels of competition. The Google Adwords tool has a few drawbacks and isn’t the best tool available to generate new keywords, but it’s great if you can feed it keywords from other sources. This will not only give you the search volumes for them, but also generate new terms for you.

Google Related Terms – This is one of my favorites and great because it comes straight from Google. Go ahead and google one of your terms. If you scroll down you’ll likely see something like this:

google related

What are these “related searches?” Free keywords provided to you by Google itself! Throw these into your list as you see fit, obviously filtered for relevancy (for example, “autozone” may not be an appropriate keyword for me). If you don’t see these, try another term as they won’t always show up.

Yahoo Answers – Now here is a great tool.  A whole bunch of people asking questions in their own words opens up a whole lot of long tail search terms for us to work with. Simply put a few of your terms into the search box and read through the questions then sort through some of the good ones. For example, a quick search for “shifter knobs” turns up “shifter knob removal,” “audi shifter knob,” “column shifter knob,” “switch shifter knobs,” and more.

kw tool landing pageCreative Uses of Adwords Tool – Let’s look at some other ways you can use the keyword tool to generate new ideas for keywords.

  1. Method #1 – Pull those pages from the top 10 google search results for your terms. Copy and paste the urls into the Adwords tool under “your landing page.” This kicks out a bunch of the keywords that Google has decided are relevant to the SERP you are trying to target. (Wikipedia is a great page to plug in here!)
  2. Method #2 – Try throwing different types of social media pages in here. I’ve found success with Pinterest search results, Facebook pages, and some Twitter pages (Pinterest is a huge one here!)

Google Trends – If you’ve never used Google Trends check it out, it’s a goldmine of information. What’s more is it’s also a great place to discover new keywords. Enter your terms and check out the graphical info, then move on to the really helpful stuff on the bottom right of the page: related searches (switch between “top” and “rising” to get the most out of this). The nice thing about Google trends is that you can extrapolate more info than just the static info provided by Google Adwords (Which also tends to be 3-4 months old and an average over a few months as well. Google trends will help you pick out those topics that may be trending or beginning to trend.

Choosing Your Domain

Exact Match Domains (EMDs) are a great trick to have up your sleeve. The idea is to pick your main keyword that you want the site to rank for and use that as the domain name. For the “shifter knob” example I might use shifterknobs.com, shifterknobs.net, or shifterknobsonline.com (which would actually be a “partial exact match” domain). The idea is to get a domain that has a keyword with a good amount of search volume.

This isn’t always the best option as the practice tends to attract the spammy practices and could easily be targeted in future google algorithm updates. But, for now, EMDs work great and can easily be used in a non-spammy way. The alternative is a branded site.

Realize that the idea is not to target a single keyword exclusively, but simply use the EMD as an additional bonus in your court. You will still build out targeted pages for a variety of keywords. More to come on that. Also, realize that your URL will be seen by all your customers, so something along the lines of “carcoversforsalecarcovers.com” may not be the best choice.

Anyhow, jump over to your favorite domain registrar and buy that domain and attach it to your hosting. I prefer to use Godaddy for both, but that is really just my preference. I’ve got affiliate codes for my top 3 favorites hosts/registrars. I would love it if you used them for any purchases you make (they comes with a discount code too at least in the case of Godaddy), but don’t feel obligated to do so. GodaddyBluehost, and Dreamhost (These are affiliate links. I’d really appreciate if you used them, but don’t feel obligated).

After setting up your domain, it’s just a simple matter of installing WordPress. I know that Godaddy and Bluehost both have one-click installation tools for WordPress which makes this step significantly easier. If you choose another host that doesn’t, then look into the 5-minute WordPress installation which is not quite as easy, but definitely not too difficult if you have any experience with web servers and development.

Ok, so that’s where I’ll leave you for now. Get your WordPress site up and running and start playing around with the structure, menus, and preferred plugins for your site. I’ll have some suggestions coming up in the future as well.

I’d also suggest practicing some of the processes we just went over. Find multiple niches that you could be in and explore them a bit. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them? How could they be monetized? Could I become “the expert” in that topic on the internet? The better you are at this portion of “the internet game,” the better.

Looking for an easier way to digest all this info?

What is Next?

1. (This Post) Choosing Your Topic & Keyword Research

2. (Coming Soon) Building Your Website (And Content)

3. (Coming Soon) Promoting Your Content & “Link Building”

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Jeff Kingston

Jeff is currently a business management student at Brigham Young University in Utah. Aside from his study of marketing, Jeff does some consulting in the subject of internet marketing and SEO at the small business and start-up level.

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