There are a wide variety of things for you to consider when deciding on the best industry, or niche, to start a site in.
Some sites out there will teach you an in-depth, mathematical, data-led approach to finding the most profitable niches…
Good for them.
I’ll be honest:
Their approach is without a doubt the best way to do things if you have large amounts of cash and time to invest, and if you’re already experienced in creating websites, ranking them in Google and flipping them for profit.
I can’t deny that the things I teach you in this post will not, ultimately, be as powerful as a scientific formula.
Why won’t I teach you about the best, data-driven method for doing this?
‘Cos I’m not a fucking nerd, that’s why.
You think I’ve got time (or the ability) to be doing complex research or pivoting spreadsheets?
I need those hours to pump iron and drink beer and do other things that cool people like me definitely do.
What I’ll teach you is my simple, effective approach for someone of average technical ability looking to make it big on the internet.
Oh, and I won’t neglect the ‘human factor’, something a spreadsheet won’t be able to incorporate.
You will have to do some research, and I’ll show you some extremely easy methods, but the bulk of niche selection can be done using your eyes and brain.
In the world of Premier League football — that’s soccer, for those of you following outside of the UK — we see intricate tacticians arriving from overseas with masterplans for success; every step and pass in the gameplan mapped out to the finest of details.
Whilst the rewards for sexy football can be huge, you need to be a true master of the craft to achieve as a manager with this style.
You need to work incredibly hard, you’ll need a team all singing from the same hymn sheet, too, and even then it will be hit or miss as to whether you’ll be a roaring success or a miserable failure.
English managers on the other hand — and I realise this is coming across as way more #brexitmeansbrexit than I’d anticipated — generally have a reputation for having less technical and tactical savvy, relying more on a ‘just fakkin’ run around and try to kick the ball in the fakkin’ goal’ approach.
Generally, this style sticks to the basics, relying on hard work and belief rather than complex gameplans.
This style tends to see higher lows, but lower highs. You won’t win the league, but you may have more chance of being able to compete in the league of riches.
I really hope this analogy is making some sort of sense to you:
You can make it online by keeping things simple.
With a strategy of following the basics, using your head and putting some effort in, you probably won’t be the most successful person in the whole world at the niche you choose to enter…but average footballers still make a lot of cash.
I’m not the best marketer in the world.
I’m not the most knowledgeable person in any industry I choose to enter.
…But I’ve still managed to make enough money online to support myself full-time for the past few years.
If I can do this, you definitely can.
I’m breaking this post down into two distinct sections.
We’ll start by focusing on you, and the things you need to consider on a personal level when trying to find the right niche.
Then, in the second half, we’ll move onto looking at a bit of data surrounding competition in the industry. I know, so exciting.
Let’s start with the most human element of all.
Yes, we’ll be looking at some tools and data when the time is right — we will have to see some numbers to establish whether a potential niche has legs — but let’s start with you, your mind and the way you operate.
Everyone is different.
I can’t give you answers here, only questions to ask yourself and suggestions to go with them.
This is the most obvious place to begin.
If you’re already interested in a specific area, it could be technology or fitness or photography or whatever else, you may be able to use this interest as the foundation for your new site.
You’ll want to be much more specific than those niches above — you’d be unlikely to compete short-term by trying to cover a huge industry like those — but you could use your existing passion in a broad subject to create a site around a subsection of that passion.
I’ve had a long-standing belief that I can get interested in anything if I thought that it could make me some money.
Maybe that’s the same for you?
If I thought I could create a site about tractor engines tomorrow and it could make me a pretty penny, I’d be out on the farm today getting deep and dirty into some hands on resear-oh who am I kidding, no I wouldn’t. I don’t leave the house.
If you believe you could start a website about anything, you’d benefit from researching the niches with the most profit potential compared to the level of current competition.
Also consider current trends — do you want a quick big win but with no longevity, or do you want an established industry that you could stay in for 3+ years?
Acting on trends can see quicker growth, but it can also lead to ‘falling off the cliff’ drops in demand, and lower valuations if you were ever looking to sell up.
Trying to get interested in a new subject is an approach that isn’t for everyone.
It requires not only finding the new niche, but also learning about it to such a degree that you can teach other people about it.
One tip I have for learning a niche as quickly as possible is to completely immerse yourself in it.
Because I spend almost all of my time on the internet, I change several parts of my online browsing experience when I need to learn about a new area:
By doing things like the above, you find yourself being hit with information at times when you didn’t expect to be, meaning you learn more naturally — as well as more quickly.
With all of the above said, I actually recommend that you look to start a site around something you already have an existing passion in because you’re most likely to stick with it in the future.
The niche you end up choosing could depend a lot on how much time you have spare.
Are you looking to do something that will become your full-time dedication?
You can choose something a little more competitive if you have more time to put in.
On the flip side, if you’re looking for a site you can run with an hour a day, or a few hours a week, you’ll need something more specific and with less competition.
Remember, most incredibly profitable niches will already be very competitive.
But that doesn’t mean a very small niche couldn’t be highly profitable to you if you could take a big piece of the pie.
More money means you can enter a slightly more competitive niche.
See above. Like, above that above.
More experience in the world of websites and online marketing means you can enter a slightly more competitive niche.
This doesn’t mean if you’re unexperienced you can only enter tiny, uncompetitive niches, it just means it would be easier for you to become established if you did that.
Like me, if you just can’t help yourself but get attracted to new ideas and projects, entering competitive industries will be tougher because you may not be able to stick with it long-term — something very important to cracking a saturated area.
I couldn’t say this strongly enough, based on my experience of project hopping and more failed ideas than I can even remember:
You should try to choose a niche that you could still see yourself in in 5 years time.
Do whatever you can to stick by the same idea and see it through to a successful conclusion, i.e. a sale or a really comfortable income, ideally an income that no longer requires you to work too hard yourself for.
Whatever industry you choose to enter, you should know that it will probably take you at least 12 months to see any form of real results.
Short-term successes are anomolies, not the norm.
This is part two of this guide. We’ll now be looking at judging whether a niche is right for you based on how well-equipped the competition is.
The number one thing you need to establish when looking to set up a site is can you compete with, or even beat, what the competition is already offering?
You don’t have to beat everyone out there, although aiming to become the biggest and best site in your niche is a great target that I would advise having, you just have to make sure there’s a place in the market with your name on it.
I’ll talk openly and honestly with you about my strategy here on ClichéWebsite:
It’s going to be extremely hard for me to compete in the industries I wish to compete in.
The aim for this site is to be a hybrid between teaching people different ways for how to make money online and how to market a successful website or online project (whether it be a YouTube channel, or whatever).
The ‘make money online’ industry is one of the most competitive on the internet.
It’s mainly full of bullshit-artists and snake oil salesmen, but it’s competitive nonetheless.
In online marketing, on the other hand, I’m coming up against the best people in the world at what I do, and a whole load of other wannabes like me too.
When compared to the world’s best online marketers and SEO experts, I pale in comparison.
I’m pale in comparison, too.
I won’t be able to compete by playing these people at their own game and you probably won’t be able to compete in a highly competitive industry either, especially if you just try to be a copycat type site.
My plan is to do things a little different around here, and yours should be too.
The best way you can be unique is through hyper focus; targeting a very specific niche rather than a broad one.
For example, instead of starting a site based on technology, you’d want to pick a very specific area within the tech sector.
You can hone your craft within that extremely specific niche before eventually looking to expand the site in the future.
Look at this guy who made over $80,000 in a month from highly-focused tech product guides, just a few months after starting his site, focusing on niche (but high value) products like wireless routers.
He didn’t try to write about everything you’d expect to find on a site dedicated to technology, like apples and tablets and life as a virgin, he picked very specific parts to focus on and this worked to great effect.
Whatever area you’re thinking of moving into, try to see if you could drill down into an even more specific part.
If you think you’ve got an idea for a website and the types of things you’re going to write about or sell, the first thing you should do is try to see how many other sites are doing exactly the same thing.
Then also see how many other sites are covering similar things to what you aim to put out there, but aren’t quite direct competitors.
Seeing people doing what you want to do isn’t an issue, but seeing thousands of people doing it…that’s where you might have a problem.
I said this in my $200,000 blog in a year post, so I’ll try to go over this in a different way to prevent being too repetitive for those of you that have read both.
As I said in the intro of this guide, I don’t like to do anything too complex.
And by ‘don’t like to do’, yes I do mean ‘incapable of doing’.
For me, I like to do things in as simple and cheap of a way as possible.
The most simple thing you can do to establish whether you think you could compete in an area is a simple eye test and judgement call.
We will look at using data to back up your findings shortly, but I believe that if you check out a range of sites at the top of a Google search and you think they can be improved upon significantly, you have found a gap that you could fill.
Start by creating a spreadsheet — Google Sheets is free — then search in Google for 5-10 phrases that you’d like to show up in search results for.
If you’re creating a blog about footwear for running, an obvious (but highly competitive) thing you’d like to show up for is ‘best running trainers’, perhaps followed by the current year.
So, the plan would be to search that in Google, then make a note of the websites that show up.
Repeat this for a variety of other search phrases and then you should be left with a spreadsheet showing 10-20 websites that show up for 5-10 phrases, so 50-200 websites in total, some of which will be duplicate entries.
You can then look through and see which websites are showing up regularly; the main competitors for your chosen niche.
If you don’t have enough websites that show up to make a decent spreadsheet with, you could already be onto a winner — or ask, why aren’t more sites doing this already?
Let’s say you narrowed down 10 potential competitors (and ideally very few, or even none, would be household names).
Go to the post or page that shows up for your chosen keyword on each of these 10 websites.
Now make a judgement call on how good their pages are:
If all 10 websites of your biggest competitors come back and they each have incredibly detailed content that looks great and engages customers, you already know that you have a lot of work to do just to catch up.
It may be best looking towards a less saturated industry, or at least one where the competition isn’t as strong.
If you can compete short-term in content quality, you might be able to compete long-term in revenue.
I’ve found that the more boring the industry is, the lower the standard of competition will usually be. People generally find it hard to market boring things — that’s an opportunity for you to step in.
Authority within Google is a huge thing.
If your site can become recognised and respected by Google as a provider of high quality information, you could be set for major success.
It’s not just the quality of the content that is important, but it’s how well it’s set up to rank highly in search engines.
Building authority can be a tricky thing, especially if your target industry is already filled with huge companies, or, on the flip side, if you’re entering an industry which is extremely niche.
The main thing Google authority relies on is backlinks from high quality websites.
You then combine this authority with other on-site optimisations to rank highly for popular search terms.
You want to get natural mentions (with links) from relevant pages on respectable websites.
Getting a link to your amazingly interesting running shoes blog from the website of the world’s biggest running club, or from a well-known manufacturer of running apparel, would be pretty much perfect.
On the other hand, posting a link to your own article on an irrelevant online parenting forum…virtually pointless. Don’t waste your time.
Quantity and quality of links both matter, but we’re going a bit off-topic here.
We’ll cover dem backlinks in another lesson.
However, the reason you need to understand the importance of them right now is because you will need to determine how strong your competition is before you get started.
There are a variety of tools you can use to check the quantity and quality of backlinks that other sites have.
Most of the tools in this area are premium products (i.e. you gotta pay to play), but you may be able to make use of a free trial, or use a tool on a paid basis for just a couple of months if needs be.
None of those links are affiliate links or paid for in any way, they’re just recommendations.
A number of people include two or more of these tools in their marketing arsenal, but if you’re just starting out on a low budget, this isn’t essential.
You want to use backlink checking software to see how many links your competitors have from different websites, and which websites are linking to them, too.
If multiple potential competitors of yours have thousands of links from the world’s biggest websites, you may have trouble building the authority you need — unless you too are capable of earning these links.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Backlinko, arguably the biggest tutorial site in the SEO space, has links from 14.2k different sites (referring domains) and has a Domain Ranking of 86.
Note: Domain Ranking is a unique metric that Ahrefs calculate. You’ll see other tools using their own metrics, such as Domain Authority with Moz. The higher the number out of 100, the more ability a site is said to have to rank effectively in Google.
That is an absurd number of referring domains for a ‘one man’ brand.
A general rule of thumb is that the more links your competitors have, the longer it will take you to generate passive traffic.
If they’ve got thousands of websites linking to them and they cover exactly the same type of content you planned on covering, you’re gonna struggle.
It’s not all about quantity, though. A large number of people try to spam backlinks to their site and it just doesn’t work most of the time.
You can use Ahrefs or Moz or whatever other tool to see exactly which websites are linking to your competitors — judge whether they’re high quality websites and whether you could potentially obtain similar links.
Using Backlinko as an example again, it doesn’t take long to see that the quality of his backlinks is also incredibly high:
I highlighted a number of the sites that I thought almost all of you would be familiar with.
Personally, I know of almost every single site on that list — the majority are hard links to get.
The number of backlinks required to compete also varies massively depending on industry.
I’m gonna need thousands of websites linking to this site to outrank Backlinko.
There’s still a great load of traffic to be had if you rank second or third, but in this industry…everyone has a lot of links.
So I won’t even try to compete in those areas.
On my super niche betting site, I earned enough money to quit my job from just 10-20 links from good quality websites.
Don’t be put off by one or two big players in the industry, but if it’s packed full of multi-million dollar businesses with full marketing teams, you will struggle…
…but I won’t say it’s impossible because you never know.
You can also see how competitive specific terms and phrases are in Google by using keyword research tools.
I personally use KW Finder and have done so for a number of years.
Signing up via this link will earn me a small amount of money to help keep the site going. I genuinely use and pay for the service myself and would not recommend it if I did not.
It’s cheap and hey, free version available.
Keyword research is a much better indicator of working out whether you’d be able to compete for specific terms, rather than the industry as a whole.
It can also be used to judge whether there may be money to be made in the niche, although you should primarily use it to see how hard it may be to rank for certain terms versus others, and what the reward would be (in terms of traffic) if you managed to rank for it.
Let’s take a recipe site as our first example:
You won’t make money.
Great, now let’s look at a second example:
Picking a random subject off the top of my head here, and clearly I am hungry whilst writing this; barbecues.
As the least manly of all the men, I’m not actually familiar with the world of barbecues — if any of what I say over the next few paragraphs doesn’t make any sense or is surprising then I apologise.
In one of the most simplistic and vague examples of keyword research you’re ever likely to see — we’re just looking at a very basic level here — I’ve popped the word ‘barbecues’ into KW Finder.
We can see various terms surrounding barbecues, or BBQs, some of which I’m not familiar with like infrared grills and Brinkmann grills — if I did want to start a niche site in this area, these could be some potential areas for me to investigate further.
We can also see that these terms have CPCs, or ‘Cost-Per-Clicks’, that are respectable, with ‘infrared grills’ having an average CPC of $1.12.
The CPC can sometimes be used to judge if there’s a lot of money to be made in the industry.
For comparison, at the time of writing, the CPC for the phrase ‘How to Make a Website’ is $7.17, and that specific phrase can be extremely lucrative if it ranks highly in Google.
Some gambling-related terms are over $100 per click.
The CPC on ‘Brinkmann grill’ is low-ish, at $0.53, but the SEO competition is also lower making it easier for you to compete. The probable lower pay-off is balanced out with a potentially easier win.
The other thing with CPCs is that they have to be smaller if there’s lower profit margins, or if conversion rates in the industry are lower, and there’s a variety of other factors too. So always remember not to make a judgement on a single metric.
And it’s the SEO competition score (the ‘KD’, or Keyword Difficulty) that you should mainly be focusing on here; how easy will it be for you to rank for that term, compared to other terms?
We see that terms like ‘best grill’ and ‘barbecues’ have higher Keyword Difficulty scores — and therefore higher competition in Google — because they’re both sales-focused terms.
People searching for these things are either looking to buy a product soon or they’re writing this exact blog post that you’re reading right now.
Usually, if the intent behind the search is to buy, rather than to find information, the competition will be higher.
For example: ‘what is the best barbecue?’ and ‘how do I turn on my gas BBQ?’ are both informational searches, but the first one is much more likely to generate a sale — and is also searched for more regularly — both factors that lead to higher competition.
Intent is a little too complex to get into in this beginner-friendly guide, and you know what, this has been going on a long time now. Shall we wrap things up here?
The final thing to establish is:
Can you take a big enough piece of a niche pie?
If there’s a huge-ass pie out there that is big enough for lots of people to take a tasty chunk, and you’d be capable of taking that chunk, you should go for it.
But what if there are already tens of thousands of well-equipped websites feasting on said pie?
Well, then you probably need to look elsewhere.
I remember before I started my biggest affiliate blog, I was doing a bit of research for it and I was eyeing up a small delicious niche lorraine and salivating.
If you realise that there is an obvious opportunity then it won’t be long before someone else sees it, so get stuck in as quickly as possible.
Even if there are already people doing what you want to be doing, there’s often room for one more — especially if you can do it better, or differently.
Many people and businesses can thrive in the same industry.
All you need is to stick to the basics, work hard and make good decisions.
Read next: How to Design & Brand a Website Efficiently