Finding a (Good) Niche in Affiliate Marketing

The question I get asked the most often – hands down – is how to go about finding – and evaluating – a potential niche in affiliate marketing. Most people give the same advice. Find something you love and go into it.

If this were 2002, I’d have laughed at that advice. I’ve always joked that I can learn to love anything that makes me money. The first niches I competed in were telecom, weight loss and satellite TV – and they certainly weren’t “hobbies” I was passionate about, LOL. But that was before the “blog era” when an affiliate site could easily survive as an anonymous presence without a face behind it on the web – and in Google.

But this is 2012. And Google is doing everything possible to reward brands, verify the identity of content authors and kill any affiliate site that doesn’t bring a “value add” to the web. Times – and the affiliate game – have changed.

Are there loopholes to this? Absolutely. Do crap affiliate sites still rank? Of course. Is Google working to close those loopholes? Yep. So if you want to build something legitimate that has a chance of surviving long term on the web, you need to choose your niche with the above in mind.

Deciding on a Niche

Diamond in the roughWhile I’d still recommend that you go after a niche that has the potential to be the most profitable, you also need to be willing to publicly associate yourself with that niche and do whatever it takes to bring value add. You will need to become an authority – to fill some void or need – in that niche. Choose a topic you can push through The Dip on without losing interest. And typically, that means choosing a niche that surrounds a topic you truly enjoy. What are your current hobbies? What topic would you love to learn more about and immerse yourself in?

Go narrow with the ability to expand wide

Let’s pretend you love to cook and want to create a recipe blog. “Recipes” is a very competitive arena to build a brand new brand in. So you may want to narrow the focus a bit and choose a specific recipe style – low carb recipes, Paleo recipes, recipes portioned for one (AKA single people living alone), low fat recipes, dessert recipes, holiday recipes, etc. Almost every broad niche has multiple sub-sects within it that may hold an opportunity for you. That said, I’d ensure the domain and brand you go with have the ability to expand into wider content and monetization opportunities as your brand grows.

Ensure an audience is there and that you’ll be able to reach them

Once you think you have a good niche, you want to ensure there is an audience looking for information on the topic and that you actually have the ability to reach them.

  • Check out the competition on PPC advertising in the niche. If people aren’t paying to advertise on the topic, it may not be profitable.
  • Check who and what is ranking in the search engines for the keywords in the niche. Is all you see the root domains of big brands? Or do you see some indie blogs or subpages on larger sites ranking? Make sure you’re not setting yourself up for inevitable third page rankings.
  • Check out how much effort it will take to outrank the current competition. Do they have a million links or 200? Can you compete?

I’ve written about the above previously in more detail here.

Ensure you’re willing to do what it takes

I’m not saying that as a recipe blog owner that you need to keep up with what the Food Network is doing. But, you do need to understand that pictures are absolutely required if you want to have success in that niche. Looking at all of the popular indie blogs on the topic will make that absolutely clear. Are you willing to actually MAKE the recipes you’ll be blogging about and take pictures of them? Are you willing to invest in a good camera and spend time reading tutorials learning how to take better pictures? Every niche you look into will have a “minimum” formula across the successful indie blogs within them. Make sure you’re willing to meet it. If not, you’re going into the niche without the ability to truly compete and simply wasting your time.

Verify that there are multiple revenue streams within the niche

I’m never comfortable building a site in a niche where the potential revenue stream boils down to only a few avenues or merchants. A long time ago I built a site in a niche where there was only one affiliate program to monetize it with. When the affiliate program shut down, I was left with a site I’d spent time and energy on – that was ranking and had traffic – and I had no way to monetize it. Granted, this was before AdSense existed, but even if Adsense had existed, it being the only potential revenue stream should have sent me in another direction.

Ensure there are multiple affiliate opportunities and advertiser demand in your niche (so that there is the potential to make more from additional revenue streams in addition to utilizing affiliate programs).

Continuing with the recipe blog scenario… I’d be comfortable with that because it has tons of potential to market a variety of products… pots, pans, cooking utensils (like specific measuring spoons or spatulas), cooking appliances (like handheld mixers or crockpots), specialty foods (recommend a specific oil that is hard to find – link to it at Amazon), aprons, cookbooks, cutlery sets, bakeware – this list goes on and on. I love niches like this that have few limitations on what you can market and tons of potential merchants to partner with. I’ve already discussed how to make money from a blog once you can confirm there are things you can market.

Check out whether or not the niche is defensible

In this day and age, attacking a niche that has promotional possibilities OUTSIDE of the search engines is a smart move. The truth is, building traffic through these alternate methods initially will actually help you rank better IN the search engines. Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ (haha, I had to)… are there any niche avenues? For instance, the larger recipe sites often let users submit recipes – can you utilize that to promote your blog? Are there blogs in the niche that accept guest posts to help you build your brand, user base and link profile?

Ensure you’re not out of ideas before you even get started

If I’m building a site with the intention for it to become a brand, I will detail out a minimum of 60 flagship post ideas before I even get started. Flagship content is your extraordinary content. It’s not your everyday posts. It’s content targeted at the exact topics your potential user base is searching for and that goes above and beyond in delivering them information on it.

Some of this content will be informational (18 Healthy Lunch Ideas Kids Will Love) with the point being simply to get users to see your brand and get them onto your site. Some of this content will be informational with a commercial undertone (Crockpot Wars: And The Best Slow Cooker Is…) to directly profit from the content.

What’s the Best Niche for You?

I know you want me to tell you what the best niche – with high traffic, low competition and most revenue potential – is for you to target, but unfortunately, there is no one size fits all answer for that. It’s like asking me what the best dress for you to wear to a wedding is. The “best dress” depends on your body type, skin tone, hair color, hair style, flaw areas, etc. Finding a blogging niche is no different. It will depend on your personal interests, knowledge, willingness to learn and what you’re willing to do to compete.

But the above should at least help you flesh out your hobbies, interests and potential topics to see if going after them would be profitable. And once you do? Run them through the niche research test to make sure it can show you the money. ;-)

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

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The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

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Comments

  1. Laura Orban says:

    Thanks for another great post. Would mind elaborating just a little on, “you also need to be willing to publicly associate yourself with that niche…”. Should every affiliate site therefore have the author’s name and bio on an About page? What if the author is unknown in that field? Is it just a trust issue, that putting your name somewhere on the site gives people comfort that there is a real person on the other side?

  2. Hello Rae
    Thanks for the actionable info. I recently started a blog, the initial idea was to make a tea blog, but I decided to be more specific so I narrowed it down to a Japanese green tea blog.
    So far it’s going well, I have some subscribers and the traffic is slowly increasing. I do realize, however, that building a successful blog takes quite a lot of time.

  3. Great article! You eloquently combined the two rival strategies of “pick what you like” and “find the most profitable market” into a plan that should work for anyone willing to put in the effort. You also made me realize that I should not enter the wedding dresses niche!

  4. Since I run a network, I am aware of new niches that arise and since i am an affiliate as well, I would want to get into these niches as soon as possilble..however, i will stay away from niches i kn ow little to nothing about because I want to come across as believable too. niche marketing is one of the best ways to monetize traffic but there is a fine line between picking a niche and picking something that is so narrow that you wont have a parayer of having stable traffic over the long run

  5. Wow! What a helpful and high value post on how to go about uncovering a good niche!!

    By the way, I now feel especially blessed and lucky to have found this information since I’ve recently decided to bravely get up again like Rocky Balboa after my 7 year long painful and shocking struggles to start to make any money online.

    Having said that finding a niche market has been one of the hardest and most difficult things in the entire process of getting started online because believe or not, I’ve actually wasted years of my time and energy trying to “unlock” or uncover the right niche for me.

    So, you know, I’d be spending hours and hours a day using different keyword research and so called keyword clustering techniques in order to finally find that golden niche if I can express myself that way.

    Lately I’ve luckily met an internet millionaire like you, Rae who’s actually helped me open my eyes and understand how easy internet marketing is exactly the way you explain here.

    On top of it, I am glad to share with you that I have now also learned about how to adopt the right mindset of a super productive online entrepreneurs like yourself that will surely help me get rid off all my perfectionism when it comes to finding the right niche market.

    It would be very interesting and helpful for me to learn here about other people’s failures, successes as well as dream visions as the result of their online success.

    Please, feel free and welcome to visit my blog and post your comments there.

    In advance thanks a lot with the depth of my heart.

    Bruno Babic

  6. Hi Rae,
    That’s a wonderful post with real insight on niche decision and thereon. I have always thought and have changed several niche for better options earlier and I personally feel that all niche will take its own turn sometime later.
    Its better to BEND WITH THE WIND than to stay straight and get uprooted :)

  7. Obviously no sure way about this, but you do help us noobs along a bit better. I especially appreciate the advice on fleshing out 60 ideas before starting. I’ve found out the hard way on this for several sites that are now collecting virtual dust.

  8. Hi Rae, I think the right niche is the most important step in affiliate marketing. If you choose the wrong niche, you can be doomed from the very beginning. Need a buying niche not just one where people are looking for information. Also you only mentioned it briefly at the end, I think promoting something you know about or is your passion makes the process a lot easier. Great post though, Tom.

  9. Deciding on your niche is the most important part to any affiliate marketer. If you set up a website in the wrong niche, then you may get a lot of traffic, but you will never actually end up getting any sales as you might have chosen a keyword that people only want to get free information, for example “affiliate marketing free” rather than “affiliate marketing fast”

  10. Good article! I think there are a lot of hopeful “wannabes” who want to get everything without doing the work. You don’t have to have 10+ years of experience or be the all-knowing guru at the top of the mountain, but you do have to be willing to invest in the effort that is required to be successful. However, I have made good headway into a number of niches by going against the grain. If they say you should post a lot on your current activity, I don’t. I tell my audience why I don’t, I make sure that they understand that I am different. Sometimes, however, to establish trust and rapport with your audience, you do need to offer some kinds of proof or authority. Its very difficult to fake these and its better if you know something about what you’re doing. Once you have more experience, it becomes easier to enter a niche and position yourself as an expert. It’s funny but you tend to get smarter and absorb more information as you move up in the internet marketing world. Thanks for the great information!

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