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
While 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 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 required if you want to have success in that niche. Looking at all of the popular indie blogs on the topic will make that clear. Are you willing to MAKE the recipes you'll be blogging about and take pictures of them? Are you ready 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 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 created 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 particular measuring spoons or spatulas), kitchen 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 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 amazing 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.