The first step in any shift to the Internet is getting to know who exactly you’re marketing too. After all, what good is spending time, money, and a whole lot of effort on a marketing campaign if you’re not 100%, crystal clear on who you’re trying to sell your products or services to?
On the Internet, this is even more important than it might be in other venues. To start with, search and advertising online are hyper targeted. Let’s look at Google Ads for example – the mega successful advertising arm of Google. When you place an ad via Google Ads, you must choose which country it will appear in, which languages it will appear in, what time it will appear, which devices it can appear on, and finally which keyword searches you are bidding for. Those searches require that you research and develop a list of dozens or even hundreds of very specific keywords that will target your desired audience.
If you don’t know who your audience is, how will you know where to place your ads?
That’s where niche research comes into play and that’s what you’re going to be working on in the next two chapters. First, you should learn that niche research is important for not just advertising. You will use the information you glean about your audience to develop your domain name, the look of your website, the content you write, and the search engine optimisation you perform.
Second, you should understand that you can’t cling to whatever preconceptions you have about your audience. It might help in getting you started, but you need to keep an open mind. Measuring behaviours and their impact on sales online is an entirely different process than it is offline. Any preconceptions you have about your audience – their age, their gender, or their general desires – should be tossed out the window, because when you go into an anonymous space like the Internet, there’s a good chance you’re missing part of the picture. Start from scratch and you’ll be surprised what you can learn.
Where to Begin
When it’s time to start your research, you need to simply sit down and brainstorm. Presumably, you already know what your product or service is. You might even have a very good idea about who might be interested in it. That’s good, just make sure you keep that mind open and do your due diligence. Don’t start rushing the process because you think you already know something.
Start out by brainstorming a few things about your potential audience. Write down everything you already think you know. Write down which websites they might visit, how much time they spend on the Internet, what other products they might purchase. For now, you’re just doing a very general brainstorming – don’t worry about being thorough.
Next, you need to start doing some actual research to see what you were right about and what may need to be fleshed out. The easiest way to do this is with some basic case study research using some of the tools you’ll be marketing through later in the book. Hop onto Facebook and start searching for products in your niche that are similar. Look for people who use what you sell and see what they’re interested in. If you provide a service, try to think of what they would need your service for and search for those things.
Facebook is not the only site you can use to do this form of basic research either. Try Twitter as well as YouTube or MySpace. When you decide you want to look at more specific interests, go to forums and chat rooms that are similar to your niche and discuss your products. See what people discuss and how they discuss it. For now, this is good general research because you’ll start seeing how you can talk directly to your audience in the same voice they use.
As you can see, this preliminary research is all very basic and not very scientific. We’ll save all the scientific work for when we get into keyword research, but for now, it’s important to get a good idea of the people you’re dealing with. Too many website owners attempt to target intangibles rather than people. They forget that their customers have needs and desires. You need to not only know what those needs and desires are but learn how to tap into them directly by talking to your audience in a way that will engage them.
Research Your Competitors
The next step to your basic niche research is to wade knee deep into your competitors’ space and see what they’re doing. You might have grandiose plans for your website and how you’ll implement your sales strategies, but before you do any of that, take a look at what other websites in your niche are doing to make money – how they are connecting with the audience you hope to target and what you can learn from their strategies.
The easiest way to find these competitors is to start out with some basic Google searches. Google your product name, or the service you provide. Look for who shows up first in the listings. Here are some things to consider when you view their sites:
What style of layout do they use?
What kind of content do they provide?
Who do you think they’ve chosen as their target audience?
What mistakes do you see on their sites?
What would you do differently and why?
By reviewing competitor sites and asking these questions (take notes of your answers), you start to see what other business owners have decided your ideal audience wants to see in a website. Does that mean they are right? Not necessarily, but it does give you a place to start.
Good research of competitor sites is important, but also remember not to start assuming your competitors are infallible. They make mistakes, and it’s quite possible they didn’t bother to do the research you’re doing now. Just because they show up at the top of Google for whatever keywords you searched for doesn’t mean they are marketing geniuses. Maybe their products still don’t convert very well. Keep an open mind, borrow ideas, and do your research, but don’t assume everything you see is perfect. There are always ways to improve.
Other Niche Research Tools
Social Networks and Google Searches are well and good, but there are plenty of other tools out there you can utilise to develop your research and learn more about your target audience. Here are a few basic sites that provide a slew of information for anyone skilled enough to sort through it:
Google News – Google news will display a wide array of news stories from throughout the world. When targeting your audience, finding news stories and current events in your niche that can be leveraged into content is a major plus.
Google Trends – Google keeps close track of the trends in their search terms, showing spikes in searches, current popularity, and shifts in interest throughout the world. Keep track of keywords you’ll be researching soon and see how the interests of your audience ebb and flow. If you can stay abreast of these trends, you can be quite successful.
Quantcast – Quantcast is a tool that will allow you to see what the demographics are for a given website. Take the competitor sites you gathered earlier and start looking them up here to learn gender, age, family, income levels, and educational breakdowns for the site and its niche.
Product Searches and Reviews – If you’re selling a product or a service that is often reviewed or discussed on sites like Amazon, look through the reviews of that product. You may not find any specific information pertaining to your products, but you will quickly learn what it takes to make your audience happy.
These tools, while extremely useful, are not all of the options you are going to have when it comes to effective niche research. Most of the data you gather will actually come from keyword research tools that will be discussed in the next chapter. However, having a clear mental picture about who you are selling too and more importantly what they want from you is incredibly important.
Why You Never Know Enough about Your Niche
You’re never going to learn enough. Even after hours of research, dozens of marketing campaigns and 10 different websites, you still won’t have a complete grasp of your niche. The reasons are many, but mostly it’s just because people change and technology evolves. Getting your finger firmly on the pulse of anything these days is next to impossible.
Don’t let that deter you though. The more you keep up with your audience, delving deeper into their needs, desires, and wants, the more effective your marketing strategies will be. And if, by chance, your strategies don’t work, having that research in hand is going to make split testing and adjustments infinitely easier to accomplish than if you were going in blind.
Niche research may seem redundant. It may even seem a little silly. But, when you sit down in a few chapters and start integrating everything you’ve just learned about who you’re selling to into your articles, blogs, and social networking habits, you’ll find immediately that you have a closer, more effective link to your niche than you ever would have before. Selling something to someone is entirely different from understanding them. When you can grasp that concept and start to take advantage of it, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful marketer.