In this post I’m going to give you some ideas for the very first step you should take when starting an online business: choosing a niche audience to serve.
You should choose a niche audience BEFORE picking products, or setting up a website, or diving into affiliate marketing.
There’s one key reason why choosing a niche audience is so important:
Focusing on audiences (instead of products) lets you step back and take a “big picture” view of a market. Instead of stressing out over where you’re going to get enough traffic for your Acai berry weight loss offer, or wondering how you’re going to pay this months mortgage because an offer you were promoting was taken off the market, your challenge will be the opposite: how to find the time to promote all of the products that you KNOW your target audience is looking for.
So how do you find a niche audience that’s right for you? Here are four ways for you to consider:
1. The audience as yourself. This is an obvious one, but comes with one drawback: when the audience is you, it’s harder for you to take a dispassionate, analytical view of your audience’s needs – because your own emotions, experiences, and biases might seep into your analysis.
Nevetheless, for those of you who are at a loss for WHO you should target, examining your own needs, challenges, pain points, and desires might be a good start (as long as you’re not a one-legged Albino monk – then you might not have much in common with anyone.)
2. What group of people do you gravitate toward? This might not be obvious, because you might not hang out with, or be attracted to, people in your circumstances.
Take my example: I live in a city (Ottawa, Canada) where there is a huge government presence, and therefore a lot of bureaucratically-minded people. But I can’t stand bureaucracy, and tend to gravitate toward entrepreneurs. And even though I’m 38, for some reason I feel more in tune with people who are older than me (maybe it’s because I think 20 year olds today are slackers. “Let me tell you, sonny, back in my day…” 😉
3. Take a “mercenary” approach, and just go after the audiences that have the largest presence online.
Here’s a breakdown of the largest groups online, according to a May 2010 Pew Research Center report:95% of people aged 18-29 use the internet 87% of people aged 30-49 use the internet 78% of people aged 50-64 use the internet 42% of people aged 65+ use the internet
Here’s an interesting data table from that Pew study:
Note the strong correlation between income/education and internet usage: the vast majority of people with high incomes and educational attainment are online.
Having said the above, the size of the group might not be your most important consideration. You might want to:
– Have a geographic focus. This Nielsen study reports that 99% of internet users in South Korea have shopped online, with 79% having made a purchase in the past month! (Do you think they’re buying “make money online” products? 😉
4. Work backwards, by choosing a niche topic that you’re interested in, then work backwards to identify the main audience for that topic.
This approach is as straightforward as it sounds: choose a niche (like yoga, or NASCAR racing, or Indian cooking) then use a market research website like Quantcast, Compete, or Alexa to figure out the primary audience of that niche (more on that in a second).
This is how I homed in on the target audience that I now concentrate on for my sites: overweight, middle-aged males.
It turns out that this niche audience has a LOT of health problems. But I only discovered that AFTER setting up a site offering natural remedies for a particular health problem.
Once I started getting traffic to that site I noticed in many of the emails I was receiving that people would identify themselves as a “baby boomer” or “a guy in his 50s”, or often “the wife of a middle-aged man” (guys, in general, tend to neglect their health. It’s often their wives that push them to get treatment). I also did surveys on my site, and asked for the respondent’s age. This just confirmed what the emails were already telling me.
Once I started looking at my online business through the prism of my target audience, a whole new world opened: now my antennae are constantly tuned to information and products that I could pass along to my target audience – information and products that I know will be of interest to them. My challenge now is now finding affiliate products to promote, but separating the good products from the bad in a particular category.
Here’s a quick description of each of the biggest market research sites that you can use to work backwards from your niche topic:
Quantcast is a site that provides “audience profiles” for advertisers. They have a free service that allows you to enter the URL of a website and see the demographics for that site (provided the site has a large amount of traffic). You can also sign up for a free account to gather information on the type of people who visit your site, too.
So how can you use Quantcast? Let’s say you’re really interested in NASCAR racing. Follow these steps to figure out what the main audience is for that hobby:
a. Go to Google and type in the term “NASCAR racing”
b. You’ll see the first site on the Google results page is….drumroll…www. nascar.com!
c. Go to the Quantcast site and enter “nascar.com” in the search box at the top of the homepage, then click the “View” button
d. On the next page, Quantcast will show you two kinds of data: traffic estimates and U.S. demographics for nascar.com.
I’m not too interested in traffic estimates at this point; what’s more interesting are the tables below the “Monthly Traffic” graph that show U.S. demographics.
We can see from the tables that more men than women visit nascar.com (gee, I wouldn’t have guessed that one); that the demographic skews older; that a majority have no kids (that one surprises me); and that a majority didn’t go to college.
Here’s where things get cooler: if you click on the “Lifestyle” link on the left-side of the screen, Quantcast will show you data on the interests of the demographic that visits nascar.com:
In my opinion, this is the most useful information that Quantcast provides. Demographic characteristics (like age and education) can often be guessed through “common sense”. But interests are harder to nail down.
You can use the “Lifestyle” information provided by Quantcast to round out your mental model of your target audience – and you can also use it to brainstorm affiliate products to offer to your site visitors, and to plan the network of sites that you will build around your niche audience.
Alexa.com is another cool market research site that you should check out. The statement at the top of the Alexa.com homepage sums up their offerings well: “Free traffic metrics, search analytics, demographics, and more for websites…”
Alexa.com works much the same way as Quantcast. Simply type a URL into the search box at the top of the homepage, and Alex will present you with a bunch of information on the site, and the people who use it.
Let me highlight some of the information that turned up when I searched nascar.com. First of all, check out the navigation menu just above the Search Visits graph:
o Traffic Stats is pretty self-explanatory – this page shows you the average # of visits, page views, etc. to nascar.com.
Here’s an interesting feature of Traffic Stats: the subdomains that visitors go to most often. As you can see in the screenshot below, a lot of people who like NASCAR also seem to like to buy (or at least browse) NASCAR paraphernalia: 16.6% of visitors to the site went to store.nascar.com:
o Search Analytics allows you see the top keywords that people are typing into the search engines to get to nascar.com
This is definitely a screen worth exploring, as it can provide you with a glimpse into the interests of nascar.com’s target audience.
From looking at the screenshot below, it appears that NASCAR fans have some interest in the people who drive the cars (see the searches for “Jimmy Johnson” and “Kasey Kahne”):
Here’s another use of the Search Analytics data: if you’re promoting a product that appeals to nascar.com’s demographic, try advertising on these keywords – even if the product is not directly related to NASACAR. Because you’ll be targeting the demographic, you might find some winning keywords.
o The Audience page shows the same type of demographic information as we saw on Quantcast (age distribution, education, etc.)
o Contact Info has the mailing address of the site owner, along with some company stats.
o Reviews has, well, reviews of the nascar.com site.
o Related Links shows the websites that people who like nascar.com also “may” like.
Alexa.com is a little vague on how they determine their related links, but I still think this is useful information – because if you’re targeting the nascar.com demographic, it gives you a ready-made list of sites to advertise on.
o Clickstream lists some of the sites that users went to immediately before and after visiting nascar.com. As with Related Links, you can grab this list of sites and load them up to your Google Adwords account – instant list of placement-targeted sites for the content network!
Choosing a niche audience to serve doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing process. It can be as simple as serving an audience that you belong to (or enjoy being around); or an audience that is online in large numbers; or an audience that are big online spenders. You can also “work backwards” from a topic you’re interested in and find an audience that way.
So here’s your homework for this week:
If you’re just starting out in IM, use one (or all) of the methods I describe above to start zeroing in on the audience that you would like to serve.
If you’re already promoting products and making money, give this some thought: of the products that make you the most money, what audience is most attracted to that product? Can you think of other products that would appeal to that audience? Can you research that audience’s needs further, so you can offer them more products?
And as always, your comments are much appreciated!