You launched a new website or blog. You’re excited about it. You’re knowledgeable in your niche. Your credentials are fantastic. You know there’s a market out there for the information you’re providing (and a big one at that). Yet you can’t seem to make a dent in the overall market share. The big dogs are already more established and reasonably well-known — the “go to” sites. Your target audience doesn’t know about you. You aren’t ranking well in search engines. People aren’t linking to you, sending you targeted traffic. You’re not getting type-in traffic. How exactly are you supposed to compete with more established sites?
Don’t worry. It can be done. Even the “little fish” like yourself can grow and gobble up the competition — or at least some of their reader base. Let’s focus specifically on blogging and I’ll give you some tactics for taking your blog from the bottom of the barrel to the top of your niche.
Background (and Timing)
The most important thing to remember is that niche dominance takes time. The big sites in your niche didn’t do it overnight, and you won’t either. (Okay, every once in a while someone does seem to rise to blog stardom overnight, but it’s never a smart idea to assume you’ll be the exception to the rule.)
I’m going to use myself as an example here. Just to give you some background, I’ve taken several blogs to the top of targeted niches including independent music in the Northeast region and book marketing. I also quickly grew a PR blog and run a relatively popular freelance writing blog (the only one of the four I still actively maintain). I’ve worked with different types of audiences, and learned that the same strategies can lead to significant growth in any niche. As I talk about tactics below, I’ll refer back to some of these projects giving specific examples of what I did.
Steps to Blogging Niche Dominance
Let’s get into the how-to side of it now. These five steps will help you build your blog’s audience and popularity as quickly as possible.
Step 1: Target the right niche.
Sure, that sounds obvious, but many bloggers don’t do it. The problem? They target too broad of a niche. For example, if you’re a dog trainer starting a blog with tips on training your dog is probably a good niche for you. Starting a general “dogs” blog would be less ideal (and a much more difficult niche to dominate). It’s often better to be a big fish in a small pond than a little fish in a big pond. What that means is that you’ll target a smaller overall audience, but you’ll capture a much larger market / audience share. Once you’re successful in that smaller niche, you can always branch out into related niches.
This is what I did with my former indie music blog / webzine. I ran a local music PR firm. I started the site specifically to attract area artists to grow my network and potential client base. It worked quite well. I focused not only on the indie music niche, but more specifically the artists (not the fans) and even more specifically the Philadelphia region. I knew that artists tended to know each other, and word spread virally and quickly (no search engine traffic needed). The site became a regional go-to source for local artists. Later the site expanded its regional focus and eventually went international, but through natural growth and exposure rather than a decision to target broadly up front. Expansion is natural, but too broad of a niche initially can lead to your site becoming lost in the bigger mix.
Need help finding a narrower niche? Try the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Enter a keyword or phrase for the general niche you’re interested in (let’s use our previous “dogs” example). You’ll get a list of related keyword phrases, including average search volumes. The more people searching for a topic, the larger the potential audience for your blog is. In this case you’ll get results like “training dogs,” “dog breeds,” “small dogs,” and “dog art” among others. There is a wealth of narrow niches you can focus on within any large topic area.
Step 2: Create great content.
Like it or not, going to a webmaster forum and buying a bunch of cheap, keyword-stuffed, $5 articles is not going to give you a niche-dominating blog. You might earn a bit of ad revenue, but there’s a big difference between that and a site people truly want to visit, link to, and recommend to others. An authority site offers that, and if you want to dominate your niche (or even just compete with larger sites) you have to be able to build your authority status.
This is where your own experience and credentials come into play. If you have personal background that shows you know what you’re talking about, then you automatically lend credibility to your blog. While it might sound like I’ve launched a somewhat broad variety of blogs, I have strong credentials in all of those areas. As mentioned, I used to run a local music PR firm, and that led to the indie music site. I late branched into book PR for authors in addition to musicians, and launched the book marketing and PR blog (which has since been rolled into my freelance writing blog). I’d been freelance writing part-time for nearly 10 years when I launched that niche blog (it’s now what I do full-time). The PR blog was obviously tied to my work in my old firm. I wouldn’t start a blog on gardening, because I have anything but a green thumb.
Everyone has something that they’re an “expert” at. You don’t have to have a degree or years of professional experience. You could blog about a hobby (like skateboarding or regional travel). You can start an authority blog on lifestyle topics (like being a work at home parent, or your local singles scene). When you write from experience rather than generic Web research, your readers really will notice a difference. Your personality shines through more vividly.
If you don’t feel like you can write true authority content in your target niche, there are ways around it. For example, you can hire someone who is an authority source to write for you. If you can’t afford to do that, another option is to incorporate a lot of interviews into your blog posts where you gather full interviews or quotes from expert sources to lend more credibility to your blog. An added benefit is that recognizable names might attract more viewers and natural links.
In the end, that’s the real benefit of great content — the natural attraction readers have to it. When they love the information you provide, they’ll keep coming back. They’ll spread the word. They’ll link to your content (which helps you improve your search engine rankings without any added work on your part). They’ll buy your products or products you recommend. Those reader relationships are the best way to compete with the bigger blogs in your niche.
Step 3: Be different.
Reader relationships don’t only stem from great content. If you do nothing but repeat information your readers have already seen elsewhere, what’s their motivation to get involved with your blog and spread the word? There probably isn’t any.
Not only do you need to offer good information or insightful commentary, but you have to set your blog’s image apart from the competition. If you have a strong personality, that might be enough.
In the case of my PR blog, I did it by making a point of saying things other people were thinking but not willing to say. I knew others shared my opinions through my private networking, but PR folks are naturally image-conscious. They’re always worried about offending their employer, their employer’s clients, etc. Because I worked for myself and most of my clients came to me because of my blunt, matter-of-fact style, I had a luxury of being able to speak my mind without fear. And I did. It pissed some people off (but they kept coming back anyway), and it was refreshing for others who were just waiting for someone else to be the first to call something out so they wouldn’t have to. It was easier to say “I agree,” than to have to fully explore their position independently and publicly on their own sites.
You don’t have to be controversial to set yourself apart though. You can do it in a variety of ways. For example, you can blog in a different format than others. Are interviews rare in your niche? Complete a lot of them. Are most bloggers in your niche writing simple how-to articles? Consider writing more opinion pieces. Are others targeting beginners? Target more advanced readers. As another example, let me go back to my work in the freelance writing niche. In addition to my primary freelance writing blog, a partner and I recently launched a second one. The new blog focuses on a format that wasn’t currently being used in the niche — creative, fictional audio plays tackling issues writers face. You don’t have to stick to the same old style that everyone else is using. It’s okay to be different.
Step 4: Be visible.
If you really want to achieve niche dominance, people have to know about you. You can’t be timid and meek. You have to be aggressive. You have to get your name out there (and your blog’s name). You need people to feel like they’re seeing you everywhere they go. The more often they see you or your blog mentioned, the more likely they’ll be to remember you and check out your site. More visibility can also lead to immediate trust from new readers, when you’re being cited on blogs and other sites they already trust.
How can you aggressively build your name and brand visibility? It isn’t difficult. Here are a few ideas:
- Comment on other people’s blogs regularly, and leave insightful and relevant comments with a link back to your blog.
- Offer to guest post on others’ blogs for a credit link back to your own.
- Solicit interviews (send brief pitches to other niche outlets with interview angle ideas, noting your credentials in the subject matter so they know you’re a reliable source).
- Write op-eds and letters to the editor of large media outlets (like online magazines and newspaper sites that accept them).
- Do something newsworthy (release a new product, have a collection of free tools developed and released on your blog, etc.) and issue a press release about it.
- Go back to the Adwords Keyword Tool and write articles around keywords people are actually searching for to try to build more visibility in search engine results.
- Use article marketing to make your content available on a greater number of sites (and build backlinks at the same time).
It isn’t enough to build visibility quickly. You have to maintain it consistently if you want to maximize your return. Remember, it’s not about having readers see your name. It’s about having them see your name over and over and over again as they’re exploring other resources within your niche.
Step 5: Be social.
Blogs are one of the earlier forms of social media, but interacting with your readers shouldn’t end with your blog. Use other social media tools (like social networks, Twitter, social bookmarking, and forums). They give you a chance to build broader relationships with members of your target audience and lead them back to your blog (in a non-spammy way please).
Be careful though. It’s easy to get sucked into too many social media tools and actually hurt your productivity when you’re trying to grow your blog’s popularity. (Find out why in our previous post: “Social Media: Enough is Enough.”)
From Little Fish to Top of Your Niche
You probably won’t overtake very old, large, or established sites in the search engines (or at least not quickly), but that doesn’t mean you can’t go from having a tiny niche blog to a major player in your topic area. Don’t let search engines dictate everything you do or how you feel about your blog’s level of success. Instead, put the emphasis directly on your target readers.
Are you giving people what they really want? Are they staying on your site for more than a few seconds and coming back for more? Are you seeing consistent growth in your backlinks because others are naturally linking to the content you provide? If you answered “yes,” then you’re on the path to niche dominance. It will take time (sometimes years), but I’d wager that the biggest reason bloggers fail at reaching their growth goals is that they expect too much too quickly and then give up before they see the results of their hard work. Stick with it, and consistently take care of your readers, and they’ll reward you with their loyalty and word of mouth marketing — true signs that you’re a serious player in your niche.