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How to choose the right size of a niche
Thinking of launching a new niche site? Wondering if your topic of choice is too narrow, or perhaps you’re casting your net too wide?
I’ve dealt with these very questions when choosing topics for my latest sites and I have some insights to share.
The way I see it, in order to choose the right size of niche you need to assess three parameters:
- How many people are actively seeking out information on the topic?
- What’s the extent of quality content you can produce on the topic?
- How much competition is there?
Clearly, the ideal niche would be a large one, with a huge search volume and lots to write about, but that no one has created a website about just yet.
In 2020 there are no such topics.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore niche size altogether. Not by a long shot.
If anything, you should be more aware than ever of the size of the market you’re going after, the scope of content you can produce and the level of competition.
Let’s take a closer look at the three parameters.
1. How many people are actively looking for your topic?
This is possibly the most important of all questions. If no one is searching for your niche – be it on Google, YouTube or Pinterest – there’s really no good reason to launch a website with the intention of turning a profit.
So, trilobite fossils in Worcestershire, England, is probably not the best topic for a niche site, even if you personally think they’re fascinating.
Sure, you could try and create a website for other reasons other than turning a profit. For example, you may want to share a personal passion or belief system. Or perhaps raise awareness of a rare disease. These are legitimate reasons for starting a website which you can then try to promote on social media channels.
However, as a business plan, it’s rather shaky. Especially if you’re just starting out, it’s best to find a topic that people are already looking for of their own accord.
How to tell how many people are looking for that topic?
That’s a good question and it doesn’t have – as far as I know – a very good answer.
Most people seem to rely on search volume stats provided by Google via Google Adwords. That data is then re-distributed by paid services such as Ahrefs and Semrush, or free tools like Answer the Public and UbberSuggest.
In order to estimate your niche size, you’ll need to check potential queries on your main topics and see what kind of search volume is reported. Then add this up as you go along to get a sense for the niche size.
The problem is that the initial data provided by Google is far from being accurate. As anyone who runs a large successful site will tell you, there’s quite a discrepancy once you actually get a to number one on Google and see the real stats in your Search Console.
And the discrepancy goes both ways, by the way. In other words, you could shoot for a search term that Google tells you gets 10,000 searches, get to rank #1 and see that this really generates only 1,000 views.
On the other hand, you could rank at #1 for a small term that’s supposed to have zero monthly searches, only to find out that you struck gold and that term actually delivers several hundreds of clicks a month.
Relying on the data is one reason why choosing a tiny micro-niche is risky. Even if you manage to get the best rankings in Google, the real number of searches may be too small to sustain the amount of traffic required to monetize that site.
So how to tell how many people actually search for your topics?
While there is no good way to get an accurate number, you could try and gauge the level of interest in a topic by answering the following questions:
- Are there dedicated forums on this topic? How many people actually post there on a daily basis.
- Can you find SubReddits that are dedicated to the niche? Are they large and active?
- Are there Facebook groups in that niche? How many and how large?
- Apply some common sense. If you were to tell your neighbor about the niche, would they have even have heard of it?
And in the end, you’ll be taking a leap of faith. Especially if you’re shooting for a small niche.
2. How much content can you produce?
what would you consider to be a big site?
Is 100 posts enough? Maybe 500? Or maybe 10,000?
Different topics lend themselves to different numbers of posts. Can you deliver enough posts in a reasonable timeframe to cover a larger niche?
On the other hand, can your niche support a large number of posts? If you have a budget of $10,000 and can outsource content production – can you even come up with 100 good topics for posts within that niche?
The more you niche down and focus on a small topic, the harder will it be to find enough topics for writing truly helpful thorough posts. The wider you cast your net, the higher the number of topics there will be to cover, each with meaningful in-depth helpful guides.
For example, let’s say you’re thinking about producing a website about pets. You could probably have tens of thousands of non-repetitive unique high-quality posts written for that site. There are dozens of types of pets out there. For each type you would need to cover things like care, behavior, habitat, feeding, health issues, environmental enrichment, grooming, and breeds.
Narrow down to dogs and you’re still looking at thousands of posts to write, considering how many dog breeds there are – each with various specific care requirements – and how popular dogs are as pets. After all, the more popular the topic, the more search volume you’ll have even for relatively minor questions.
You could further niche down to either a specific breed of dog, or perhaps a specific dog-related topic. For example, you could have a website dedicated to Labrador Retrievers, or one dedicated to grooming dogs. Either topic could easily generate hundreds of viable blog posts.
And then, you could really zoom in on a micro-niche which will be a cross-section of topics. For example, a website dedicated to grooming Pomeranians or training Australian Shepherds. In that case, your site could probably hold up to a few dozens of posts.
Micro-niches are limited in scope. There would only be so much you can write about grooming a specific breed before you begin to repeat the content.
Being a small site isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you hit a micro-niche that’s lucrative enough, focusing on that sub-niche and becoming the authority on the topic this could be a very viable business strategy.
However, if you’re aiming for a large site, eventually containing hundreds or thousands of posts, don’t limit yourself by choosing a niche that is too granulated.
The point is, you need to be aware of where you’re headed with your site when you’re choosing your niche.
Contentwise, should you go for a huge mega-site or go small?
If you’re a Big Shark type of publisher, with a well-oiled content-production machine in place, you may want to have a go at the larger, more nutritious niches. If you’re just a young barracuda working solo, you may need to focus on smaller prey first.
If this is your first site ever, going for the bull terrier grooming niche with a site of 50 posts in it could be a perfectly legitimate choice. Just know that this is what you’re doing and understand the grown limitations of that site.
Can you change the scope of your site down the road?
You could – if you planned ahead for that.
The limiting factor would usually be your domain name. And to some extrent, your site design and logo.
The domain name Bullterriergrooming.com, for example, will be quite limiting.
At a stretch, you’ll be able to end up with a site about Bull Terriers in general. You’ll be going off-topic with posts about nutrition for German Shepherds though, and it would definitely look super weird if you were to take that domain name and turn into a general pet site. Your visitors – and Google – aren’t likely to trust Bullterriergrooming.com when it comes to maintaining a goldfish tank.
Again, it’s fine to launch a micro-niche site. But if you’re thinking you may want to cast a wider net in the same niche in the future, it may be a better idea to choose a more inclusive domain name.
The scope of niche vs. the number of posts
To make that dent in Google’s search results you will eventually need to create some level of authority – on a specific topic.
The smaller the niche, the more of an impact you can have with a smaller number of high-quality articles.
The larger the niche, the harder will it be for you to do that.
For example, a site with 30 excellent articles all relating to bull terrier grooming can become an authority on that specific topic. You can’t achieve any level of authority on the topic of “pets” with 30 posts. Probably not even with 300 posts.
Because the competition has larger websites on these topics.
Which leads us right into the third question you should be asking when determining the scope of a niche.
3. How much competition is there?
You’re not the only web publisher out there. Lucrative niches attract site creators like sharks to blood.
Large publishing operations that can produce thousands of quality pieces of content are better suited for competing over the bigger niches. They need that amount of content creation to establish enough authority and win the more lucrative search terms.
That’s why you’ll see tons more competition, the wider you cast your net.
Searching for pets yields 1,150,000,000 results in Google. The term “Dogs” brings up 1,080,000,000 results which is not a whole lot less, actually. Try Bull terriers though and you’re down to 17,800,000 results. Which may seem like a lot (and is!) but it’s significantly lower than “dogs” as a whole. Searching for “bull terrier grooming” generates only 7,120,000 results.
The numbers may seem daunting but a fine-tuned site with high-quality content that’s directly on-topic and covers the entire topic – can still come on top.
To do that on the entire niche of “pets”, will probably take tens of thousands of quality posts. To do that on dogs, probably only a slightly smaller number of posts.
Niche down to bull terriers, and we may be talking a more manageable 200-300 posts. Niche down even further to “bull terrier grooming” and you might be able to score with just 50-100 posts.
Why niching down helps you beat the competition
Remember, you’re not chasing after the main “bull terrier grooming” phrase necessarily. At least not at first.
You’re going after a collection of guides and posts, such as “How to clean a bull terrier’s ears” or “the best tool for clipping a bull terrier’s nails”.
Those could be relatively easy to get as no other website is focused on bull terrier grooming as specifically as you are. Users appreciate the level of detail and focus you provide (assuming you produce awesome guides with breed-specific tips, illustrated guides etc). Google will follow suit, marking your site as the authority site on grooming this particular breed.
So why check the competition?
Because you might just find that someone else has created an awesome – if small – website focused just on nutrition for Pomeranians. Maybe two people have done that already. In that case, this small micro-niche may be oversaturated and you should move on.
Don’t let the competition deter you from launching a large site
If you’re seeing a lot of competition around non-long-tail queries, that’s actually a good sign. It usually means that the niche is profitable. Either because it has a lot of traffic, or because advertising rates are good – or both. Going after long-tail queries in the niche could be a smart move.
And down the road, once you have enough domain authority, you could go after better queries too. In my experience, being #3 on juicy queries can be very profitable.
So, what’s the right niche size?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing the size of your niche.
There are implications that you need to be aware of when making that choice, to avoid sinking time and money into a site that will either end up being too small or simply fail to get traffic.
Carving a niche within a niche
That’s a solution that I’m going with now. Here’s how.
With my last couple of sites, I opted for a large super-niche with tons of heavy-weight competition.
I’m not shooting in all directions though. I’ve mapped out 4-5 smaller niches within that field and I’m basically creating small sites within my larger site.
This is what some people call “Siloing”.
To give you a real-life example, here’s what I’m doing with my travel blog. The blog itself is branded as a general travel blog. The domain, logo and “about me” page are all geared towards general travel. I also have some general “travel gear” posts there occasionally.
However, I don’t just post relentlessly on every destination out there. Instead, I’ve focused my content creation efforts on 5 destinations. I have a content plan laid out with 50+ posts on each of these destinations, about half of which is complete.
It doesn’t end there. The destinations are state-level or even country-level so within each group of posts, I’m focusing on certain destinations within that destination. So, 50 posts about Spain, for example, would be divided into 15 posts about Madrid, 15 about Barcelona and then 10 each on three other Spanish cities.
This is working well so far. My blog is ranked fairly high on many destination-related keywords for the two destinations I started targeting over a year ago. I am confident at least some of the other destinations will get there too over time.
Why I no longer choose micro-niches
Although my flagship site is a leader in a mega niche (bringing in 7 figures in pageviews each month), I’ve also experimented with micro-niches in the past.
In fact, I’m still working on a couple of small niche sites that need to be finished. I’m going to build them to at least 100 posts each but will probably stop there. Simply because I’m running out of “real” topics to write about.
The wider the niche, the easier it is to find topics to write about – including great longtail terms that haven’t been covered by the competition. Even if I’m just starting out in a big niche, filled with voracious great white sharks, I can still carve out my own micro-niches on that big domain, by finding the long-tail underserved searches.
I live on the internet, and this is the best explanation on this topic that I’ve ever come across.
Thank you, Jen!
I have spent several months mulling over/debating/agonizing over how wide or narrow to make my first site and have purchased several domain names in the process because I keep changing my mind. I even made one site public woth a few posts and then stopped adding to it only one week later because I changed my mind again. I have read articles, listened to podcasts, participated in live webinars, all in a search for the right answer for me. And now, FINALLY, this article has given me the solution. THANK YOU!!! I have been freed to just get started and make my site happen. I am so relieved!!
Thank you so much for your kind words! I am so happy that you found this post so helpful!
Anne, I now get it too. Along with the spacetime analogy and creating a dent, it is way easier to figure out how to decide the size of a niche and map appropriate content.
I’m glad this helped, Anya!