This afternoon, I was enjoying a YouTube video by Income School, one of my blogging mentors.
It was a recorded live stream. I was browsing some of the chat comments when I read this gem, submitted by user cxa011500:
“I feel like an idiot. I’ve been a part of Project24 for over a year but still haven’t figured out a niche no matter how many times I’ve gone over the classes. I just don’t feel drawn to anything.”
(Project 24 is the membership subscription offered by Income School. I’m a Project 24 Member In Spirit, which is a fancy way of saying I binge-watch their YouTube videos but don’t (presently) pay for the exclusive membership content.)
That sounds like more a question to ask your therapist than a blogger, but I’ll take a stab at it.
As I mentioned in my recent article about how E-A-T trumps curiosity, I am astonished by how backwards “choosing a niche” is for most beginner bloggers.
Most people treat it like an open-ended discovery process. “Should I write about investment personal finance? Or pet care for disabled pets? What about forgotten British literature of the 19th century?”
I encourage a more deductive approach.
- Collect all your interests, skills and knowledge clusters.
- Filter them through a niche-selection strainer.
- Whatever gets through – that’s your niche[s]!
So in the end, it’s not so much that you choose a niche so much as your niche chooses you.
So here’s my strainer for choosing a niche.
(This is an evolving list, and it’s not comprehensive. I’m sure I’ll write another article in six months about how to choose your blog niche. But for now, I’ve tried to distill some fundamental ideas below.)
1. Do You Bring IRL Authority?
There’s just no reason to enter a niche in which you have no authority or expertise. It’s not 2002 anymore. The internet isn’t a digital void waiting for you to speak a blog into cyber-existence. It’s a highly competitive international universe, and you’re jockeying alongside a bajillion other bloggers.
So pick something you know something about.
In the article “My E-A-T Beats Your Interest, Every Time,” I argued how Expertise, Authority, and Trust (offline as well as online) should form the bedrock for choosing your niche.
Because the entire “product” of blogging is to deliver the highest quality information to the Reader.
As Jim Collins says in his book From Good to Great, truly great companies have a “Hedgehog Concept,” a driving mission in which they can be the best in the world.
Chances are, there’s something you can be great at. Usually, it’s a hobby or profession.
Maybe it’s coin collecting. Or HAM radio. Or ice climbing or quilting or quick bread baking or patent law or mommy hacks.
Whatever it is, you need to be (or be able to become) great at it. You can’t develop a website portfolio that will survive algorithm updates and privacy laws by just regurgitating other information already available online. You need something unique, something you can be great at.
(Case in point: FLUB. I do not currently consider myself a great blogger. I’ve learned a tremendous amount in 10 months of doing this, but I’m still learning. But one day, when I have achieved a location-independent income through my hard work, I will be great at it.)
For me, expertise is the #1 rule of choosing a niche.
Otherwise, you’ll have to work twice as hard to go half as far as someone who actually does have expertise! And once some other publisher realizes their competitive advantage, you’ll be left in their dust.
2. Is There Significant Monetization Potential?
I come from a manufacturing background. Any time a company wants to introduce a new product, they have to answer The Big Question: Is there a market for this product?
Too often, bloggers ask themselves a superficial version of this question. They think market = interest.
Those are two different things.
A market, by definition, is a meeting of buyers and sellers. Emphasis on the word “buyers” – people willing to spend money in exchange for a product or service.
A meeting of people without any intent to purchase isn’t called a market. It’s called a museum. Which would make your blog more artifact than product.
Bloggers often think that mere interest, mere keyword search volume, equals a market. That’s not necessarily true.
Nothing gets more interest than cute cat videos. But very few people would pay to watch a cute cat video.
Lots of people watch crazy, viral videos of guys flying around mountains in wingsuits.
Most of those viewers will never actually buy a wingsuit.
Your niche should be in a space where people are already spending money.
When people are spending money, the opportunities for blog monetization are nearly endless:
- Display advertisements
- Membership/VIP sites
- Affiliate marketing and sales
- Lead generation
- Infoproducts (ebooks, swipe files, white papers, templates)
- Your own physical products
- Consulting services
Without traffic willing to open their wallets for dollars, you’ll be scrapping over pennies.
A lot of people seem to put the cart before the horse when it comes to monetization.
The biggest example of this is Amazon affiliate marketing. Millions of bloggers have built Amazon affiliate sites (what I call Amablogs) with Amazon commissions and product reviews as their bedrock. As Amazon commissions decreased, their bedrock turned to sand, and the profits crumbled away.
So yes, choose a niche in which there is monetization potential. But don’t get sidetracked by the latest guru preaching the profits of EFTs, or drop shipping, or the latest get-rick-quick scheme.
Make sure there are actual, real, breathing people who are willing to spend cash on a product or service in that niche!
That way, even if/when the online tools and platforms change, the native interest remains.
3. How Large Is the Organic Search Traffic Volume?
To have a successful blog, people need to be searching for your topic and answers online.
I prefer organic traffic, meaning traffic through search engines.
But caution: You can have lots of traffic without a market. Clickbait articles are a good example of this, where people are just “window shopping” the topic.
(Clickbait really only works for super high-volume interest websites like BoredPanda, which isn’t a blog at all, and is way outside the scope of FLUB).
You can also have a market without much volume. For instance, most people who buy wingsuits are willing to pay at least $1,200 to $2,000 for a good wingsuit. And that’s because if it malfunctions, you die. However, your opportunity for website traffic growth is arguably limited.
One of my big reasons for picking a niche in which you have experience and authority is that you already have some innate estimate of traffic volume.
Example: I’m in the RV world. I already know tire care is a hot topic. I don’t need Google to tell me that. I mostly use keyword research tools to get more granular, not necessarily as a discovery or generation tool.
Without personal experience in your niche, you have no choice but to dig deep into keyword research using tools like Google Trends, Ahrefs, UberSuggest, SEMRush, etc.
- If you have authority and experience in your niche, keyword research tools can help you sprint faster down the track.
- If you don’t have an experience or knowledge in your niche, then you have to depend on keyword research tools to limp down the path.
4. Can You “Step Out” of the Niche?
What do I mean when I say “step out”?
I mean that every website ends one of three ways:
- You sell the website.
- The website peters out to a sad, lonely death.
- You pass on before your website does.
Also, if you’re to become a six-figure blogger, then you’ll eventually need help with some of the following tasks:
- A website Virtual Assistant
- Social media marketing manager
- Staff or contract content writers
- Video and photo production
You should build your blog so that you can “step out” without jeopardizing its success.
Niche selection is a part of building a resilient website you can scale, outsource, or sell.
You can find lots of writers willing to write about travel, personal finance, parenting, job seeking, mainstream sports, pets, survivalism, politics, automobiles, etc.
Not so many people who can write fluently about quantum computing.
And definitely no one who can replicate your opinions on the current political climate.
If you choose a super technical topic, an esoteric niche, or adopt an editorial stance, you’re marrying yourself to that blog.
(Kind of like what I do with FLUB).
If you want to know more, I tackled this idea in my article about “Don’t Name a Blog after Yourself!”
5. Substantive Personal Interest
Guess what’s on the bottom of this list?
Ok, ok, I don’t really think personal interest deserves to be on the bottom of this list.
Obviously, you need to be interested in your subject matter. If you’re a new blogger working part-time on your website, you’ll likely be working for 1-2 years without any meaningful income. That’s a long time to be writing on a subject you don’t care about.
So yes, choose a niche you like.
But you’re choosing the best blog niche, not getting married.
You don’t need to fall into eternal, Hallmark love forever.
You just need to hang out for a couple years, have some good times, and then see each other on the weekends.
(That’s awful and immoral romantic advice, by the way, but you get the analogy).
I may not love the topic of, say, home construction, but for $24,000 a year, I could get on board for a while!
So, those are five of my criteria for choosing a blog niche.
- Expertise, authority, and trust
- Distributed monetization potential
- Large organic search traffic
- Convertible niche topic
- Substantive personal interest
Once you filter your interests and skills through this list, I think you’ll find that your blog niche chooses you – not so much the other way ‘round.
Let’s go back to user cxa011500 for a minute.
What are some possible reasons why s/he has failure-to-launch syndrome?
- Likes the money, doesn’t actually like blogging. There are TONS of people who think blogging is a one-way ticket to fast cars and freedom who forget that it’s still a JOB. If you don’t like writing, researching, phone calls, techy website stuff and typing at a computer while other people are off watching their favorite shows, then blogging isn’t for you.
- Has protophobia (fear of going first). This is someone who paid $449 for the first year of Project 24 membership and did absolutely nothing. S/he could be scared to take that first step. To which I say: Blogging is nothing except taking first steps. You’ve got to be comfortable operating tools you didn’t read the manual for.
- Doesn’t want to marry the wrong niche. Perhaps cxa011500 has confused “choosing a blog niche” with “getting married,” as I talked about. S/he says they’re not drawn to any topic, but is that really true? Is there nothing they could imagine writing about for 2-3 years, nights and weekends? Unless we have encountered a true anhedonist, I suspect cxa011500 has just gotten too granular. Pick a topic you like (not necessarily love), filter it through the strainer list, and run with it!