Should I do SEO for Niche Market Clients?

Oct 13th

SEO Question: Where would you begin with a client that markets exceptionally niche products? Or would you simply pass on the opportunity and just work with clients with more mainstream products/services?

SEO Answer: Certain markets, like insurance, are brutal to jump into, no matter how much you are willing to spend. Other markets are easy to dominate with little effort. Traditionally niche markets are less competitive than established competitive markets, and thus it is easier for a small amount of SEO to go a long way.

There are a few major considerations when deciding if it is worth it to do SEO on a niche site:

  • Is there market demand? Is their trending demand? It is hard to get people to change the way they use language or create demand where none exists unless the marketing goes beyond SEO. If the customer ranks #1 for their core keywords, but there is no traffic then SEO is a moot point. Do keyword research before considering SEO. You may also want to search to see if people are talking about similar ideas. Don't forget to use something like Google Trends if the market is seasonal. If possible set up an AdWords campaign. If they are in a deep niche there probably is not going to be much competition for their core target keywords, and they may even do well by spending $100 a month on AdWords.

  • Is there an overshadowing important market? Another thing to consider is how established and authoritative are the sites currently ranking for your target keywords. In some cases they may be prohibitively authoritative and not worth the expenses required to outrank.
  • How relevant are the organic search results? If the organic search results are irrelevant and AdWords has no competition then it might be hard to justify an expensive SEO campaign if AdWords, Overture, and AdCenter are working well enough.
  • Does the site have any trust? If the site has no trust at all it may be easier to rank pages on other sites. For example, you could put up a Squidoo lense (or similar), point a link or two at that, and try to rank it.
  • Are people talking about the site? If the site has been mentioned in the past by people without much of a push marketing campaign then odds are it is remarkable enough to really citation worthy, especially if you are working with a Purple Cow. If the site is interesting or you can relate it to something of great interest then viral marketing as SEO is great stuff.
  • Budget & Fun: The other things to consider are how fun would the client be to work with, how bad do you need work, and are they willing to give you enough budget to adequately value your time and provide long-term value. In some niches there might be huge upside potential. If they are starting from scratch (or nearly from scratch) it might make sense to gain an equity position in the website. You also have to evaluate how scalible your model is. Ongoing quality SEO services require a low client to service provider ratio since each client has exceptionally unique needs and SEO service business models are hard to scale.
Published: October 13, 2006

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Comments

Allen
October 13, 2006 - 4:48pm

"If the customer ranks #1 for their core keywords, but there is no traffic then SEO is a moot point. "

Great point Aaron - that is a situation I'm running into with a potential client. Their site is ranked #1 organically for the primary keywords, so I'm not so sure there is anything I can do that wouldn't otherwise seem spammy - or expensive! The site could try to rank higher in the sponsored search results for more mainstream keywords, but that would be a bit too expensive considering the products already small margins.

Blake
October 13, 2006 - 5:11pm

Aaron, what's you thoughts on this viral marketing advice from Peter?

"Limit the connections between the [viral] story and your commercial activities. If the story backfires you can always walk away and try another day. Create a separate website to recieve your links on. After the site has outlived its usefullness place a 301 redirect to your normal website. "

October 13, 2006 - 5:15pm

Hi Blake
Not sure if I would publicly advocate that as the best solution for everyone, but certainly it has, does, and will work well for some people.

ken
October 13, 2006 - 5:21pm

Another point is that sometimes certain keywords may bring in very little traffic- and yet the competition for those keywords are very high, and sometimes the opposite is true, and certain very high traffic keywords may be very easy to rank for due to lack of competition.

Another factor which sometimes affects this is the market i.e. real estate related keywords are often more competetive than keywords relating to the gaming indsutry.

So I therefor beleive that what an SEO should do is find the most "bang for the buck" keywords that your client's Web site has potential to rank for (of course this is based on the client's budget/market/goal)

October 13, 2006 - 5:23pm

I've alwas looked at SEO as just one facet of online marketing and that you can do more if you look beyond SEO to all the other avenues of online marketing. If it's a small niche, ranking #1 should be just the first step. The second step would be to create awareness of your product or service through more traditonal means(ie. Advertising).

As marketers we have to remember that iPods, Ringtones, and Xbox 360 didn't really exist 10 years ago. All of those things had to have the awareness and demand built up for them over time and through advertising of some kind. As SEO's we look to established markets and try to dominate them, but as marketers we should learn how to build new demand in small markets to make them big markets. If you can learn to do that, then you've really got something.

ken
October 13, 2006 - 5:30pm

I couldn't agree with you more blackbeard. Very intellegent comment.

A good example of building up a market for something new is the market for an "seo book."

Aaron Wall's SEO book did not even show up in the overture keyword research tool initially. Now, it certainly does show up and Aaron Wall has created a decent sized market for an SEO book.

Adding value to the world/or to a specific topic or thing/ or creating something new, innovative or different, is a great way to succeed.

ken
October 13, 2006 - 5:54pm

By the way: Aaron Wall,
Did you notice that your Web site seobook.com now has a page rank 7 in google? Very impressive. Now you are tied with Matt Cutts.

October 13, 2006 - 5:56pm

I have at least 3 PR7 domains, and this is probably the weakest of the 3. PageRank doesn't really mean that much to me anymore though.

ken
October 13, 2006 - 6:05pm

Really... interesting.

How have a question: I know that you say that old domain names are much easier to rank in Google since google "trusts" them more; however I would like to know: do old domains also have a an advantage in attaining a high page rank?
As I know that pagerank is a measure of the total authority of all the links that your url receives, however: does say a link from a Web site help an older domain more than it does a younger one.

P.S. I have been a bit of a domain invester lately: I even own 1 "exact match domain" that has 800 hits, as is shown by the keyword research tool, for the keywords that it ranks 5th result in Google for.

ken
October 13, 2006 - 6:12pm

Allow me to word this more clearly:

Does a link from a spefic Web site help an older domain name achieve a higher pagerank more effectively than it would help a younger domain name achieve a higher pagerank?

Jack M
October 13, 2006 - 7:18pm

Good post, Aaron. ken on defines PR as a matter of links only: I know domain name that achieved PR4 in less than 4 months with almost no links (6 or 7 total, none of them from higher than 4 PR pages, none of them from theme related sites). So PR is not just a matter of links: what else could it be, Aaron?

October 13, 2006 - 7:20pm

PageRank is just link equity. A friend has a PR7 site with about a dozen inbound links. Many of those are authoritative links though.

Jack M
October 13, 2006 - 7:36pm

Thanks for the comment. I've been watching this site for almost six months now, using many tools and I tend to believe PR must be something more than inbound links.

ken
October 13, 2006 - 8:00pm

The reason I asked is because I know that Google favors older domains, and I figured that since page rank is a measure of "how important a Web page is on the Web" I figured that if Google favored older Web pages, then they obviously feel that they are more "important" and might also be able to acheive higher pageranks more easily than younger domains.

From what you said it looks like every domain has an equal chance of getting a getting a high pagerank no matter the age.

Another good reason to think that older domains have an easier time attaining a high pagerank is because many older sites tend to have a higher pagerank and many newer sites tend to have lower pageranks.

So Aaron... my next question therefor is what is it then that many older sites tend to have a higher pagerank than newer sites?

My guess is that your answer will be because the older sites have had more time to gain links, and also because since they rank better in the Google search engine they are found more, and therefor of the people that found these sites in Google- some will end up linking at these high indexed sites.

Justin
October 13, 2006 - 8:46pm

I somewhat disagree with your position that a client shouldn't waste SEO money if the current demand for their good/service is too small to generate enough traffic to justify the expense).

Let's consider a hypothetical scenario:

Your client has started a business like... e-harmony style travel groups for baby boomers just entering retirement (they create a profile, organize small groups with other people who have profiles they like, and then travel to places everyone in the group wants to go).

A couple of years ago this would have been a niche market for sure--primarily because that demographic was mostly uncomfortable with meeting people online, still somewhat computer illiterate.

Now let's say in 2007 the demand for this type of service goes through the roof. All the fifty/sixty somethings are doing it, there's an article about this type of service in the NY Times, etc.

That's probably not the best time to start doing SEO for a company that offers that service. The time to start is now, when you can easily establish yourself as the authority and Google and others will recognize that (at least, we guess they will--if we really knew Google's formula, we'd be sitting on our own private island sipping Pina Colodas with scantily clad, beautiful young Tahitian women).

It's like you were saying a couple of weeks ago, when you mentioned that three years past the "standard frame of thought in the SEO market was that there was no market for a book or ebook." But guess what? Things change. Right?

If you went out and purchased babyboomergrouptravel.com (still available if someone out there wants to snatch it up) and other keyword names, set up a solid website and optimized the hell out of it--you're likely going to be very easy to find on the search engines a few years down the road when this type of thing takes off.

So is SEO appropriate for small, niche sites? It's my opinion that SEO is appropriate for any type of site, unless you specifically DO NOT want people to find your site. And like you said, if you run an Adwords campaign and nobody clicks on your links, so what. Let the client manage the campaign him/herself, then there's really no loss--and you don't feel like you're wasting your time.

(steps down from soapbox)

Allen McGuire
October 13, 2006 - 9:24pm

I don't give PR all that much merit either, but I would obviously like to see my sites PR higher rather than lower. My site (http://www.madtownlounge.com) had PR4 with very few inbound links and it isn't even 8 months old yet. I've used just about every means to get it there, however (SiteMaps, AdWords, AdSense, Analytics, etc.)

One way to gain awareness for a niche product or service with a low budget is to run AdWords and AdSense in conjunction. I spend a couple bucks a day and make a couple bucks a day - a wash. However, I'm building a user base for virtually free since they are finding my site via AdWords. In turn, those folks are telling their friends, etc. This is one viable way of promoting a site with very little revenue up front. I know you hate to lose someone due to an AdSense ad, but chances are those users are just surfing aimlessly anyway.

I think there can be a fine balance between organic traffic due to SEO and a well thought out sponsored ad program or programs.

October 13, 2006 - 9:35pm

Hi Justin
Agree with your position if the client has the foresight to see two years down the road or is big into brand building and mindshare building, but most people looking for SEO services are not buying for years down the road, so while helping them might be a great thing to do it will require a lot of trust on their part to hire you based on hoping it will all work out in a couple years, and a lot of customer to service provider conflict may occur between point A and point B.

Justin
October 13, 2006 - 9:42pm

I forgot to mention one important caveat:

A few years back I paid to have my writing and design business listed in the yellow pages. It was probably the worst marketing decision I ever made.

Why?

Because I had to constantly deal with tire-kickers who weren't serious, didn't generally understand the importance of the services my company provides (I refuse to try and CONVINCE someone of the importance of good writing working harmoniously with effective design--if they don't already get it, they're not the kind of client I'm looking for), and more often than not, I invested a considerable amount of time preparing quotes only to have the potential client inform me that she refused to pay more than $500 for a complete website, or something along those lines.

What a headache!

For that same reason, I don't invest any time in SEO or pay-per-click campaigns, which are sort of like an online version of the yellow pages, except not in alphabetical order. I stick with referrals and well thought out, targeted marketing.

So in that sense, SEO is not always the way to go.

October 13, 2006 - 9:49pm

Part of the problem there might also be in client screening Justin. Most people do not place appropriate value on SEO or web design because they think it should be easy or that it is free money, etc.

Justin
October 13, 2006 - 9:49pm

Definitely agree about the foresight point. I guess I'm just talking about getting their online presence well-established from the start--making sure their new site is well-optimized, helping them with appropriate link placement, showing them how and where to post articles, rss feeds, blogs, etc etc.

Then just step back and let them take over.

That way, if their niche market suddenly is no longer a niche, their in a prime position to capitalize on the trend.

Justin
October 13, 2006 - 9:53pm

Good point. Basically I'm saying my client screening now starts in the marketing stage, rather than trying to get as many people to inquire about my services and then screening out the jokers.

October 13, 2006 - 10:08pm

Aaron,

Some of this has already been covered but I'll give you my take on it. It's all about the competitive environment for that industry on the Internet. No two are exactly alike.

If Internet marketing is immature I don't think trustrank etc. matters that much. As long as your domain does not have penalties against it there should be accessible avenues to dominate the SERPs.

In more mature markets it may be somewhat difficult to break into the highest SERPs but by using SMO and other mehtods a smart marketing team can identify and access alternative streams of qualified traffic.

Obviously there are hardened markets; Viagra comes to mind, and with these the best remedy is a boatload of cash.

By coincidence, I was working on the Internet Market Analysis page for my new website yesterday and I covered some of the same things. My conclusion is that a businesses maximizes its ROI by seeking the best avenues in which it can compete with the resources that it has available without over-reaching.

Everyone talks about dominating the SERPS and getting creative. (like I did above) But let's face it. Few SEO/SEM/SMO professionals talk about where to stop. If a market is immature, for example, I could easily spend $X and have my domain plastered everywhere. But if I can be #1 in th SERPS and get my domain seen in the .net locals where my target market congregates for only $X*.25, then that $X*.75 is wasted.

Know your market
Know your resources
Craft your plan
Work your plan
Maximize ROI

Cheers!

Allen McGuire
October 13, 2006 - 10:13pm

Justin,
I agree with some of your points. However, I don't completely agree that a well designed, thought out site will rise to the top just because it's laid out well. Unless of course your site planning deals with addressing alt tags for images, proper title tags, using header (H1, H2, H3) tags properly, etc. If you are speaking from your vantage point, I'm sure you do all those things. But some 3rd part website design company probably doesn't have a clue about those aspects of SEO. For example, I'm now doing SEO for a company called Madison401KRollover.com. The site is laid out fine, well thought out, etc. However, their banner image has no alt tag, their title tag on the homepage used to say "Home", they didn't utilize header tags, etc. That site will never rank very well in comparison to others of its kind. They may, in their opinion, thought it out well, but some SEO is needed in this instance to get it where it needs to be.

Just some ideas - I believe you cover all those bases when you do your design, but most of your potential clients probably don't.

October 14, 2006 - 1:42am

Is there is a difference between "well designed for the web" and "well designed for the web with SEO in mind".

Captain Jack says "Me thinks not!" (I don't know where that came from.)

There are graphic designers and there are web designers and the later had better be aware of SEO in all of their designs.

A graphic designed website is why we get the SEO jobs.

October 14, 2006 - 6:47am

I think there are a lot of opportunities for a niche market. Back in the day one of our clients sold scissors online and did quite well. Nowadays I think one of the best ways to develop a niche site is to creat a community for your visitors. Of course there is a lot more involved but most of that has been covered. The most important aspect in my mind is what SEOcritique.com said and what you refer to in your first point and that is 'know your market'.

Allen McGuire
October 14, 2006 - 4:54pm

Gary,
You pose the question

Is there is a difference between "well designed for the web" and "well designed for the web with SEO in mind".

Yes, there is a difference actually. I've seen many sites that are well thought out in terms being visually appealing, but that doesn't mean they have optimized their site for SEO. Nor will the site, by default over time, get ranked descent by the search engines. In the past day I've gained two potential clients and although they have visually appealing and well laid out sites, they are not even close to being optimized for search engines. They used graphics for paragraphs of text - then didn't use alt tags. They didn't give their header/banner image an alt tag. Their title and description meta tags are not useful - although I know they don't get the weight they used to get.

note: I use Lynx to at least find out what text is available to the bots. I found that even with my site, the MadtownLounge.com, I was using too much JavaScript, which many bots can't figure out. I've also had to supplement my AJAX code with some more static links to some of my content, otherwise it will never get indexed.

A "well designed for the web" does not mean that the bots will find it "well" ;-)

That is where SEO comes in, along with a well rounded sponsored ad campaign.

Allen McGuire
October 14, 2006 - 5:03pm

David,
You are correct about the "creating a community" for niche markets. I think that is best done through link sharing in most cases, but for my site I did create a complete user community - almost like a mini-MySpace. Since I had venues that I wanted users to write reviews for, I though "How can I get more interest in the venues?" So, I introduced the ability to put event calendars per venue, got bands involved, and created a little community for Madison, WI music fans as well. It's working quite well now, as I get about 30K page views per month. Nothing huge yet, but your idea is correct. You have to form a community around your product and know who your audience is.

October 15, 2006 - 3:25am

If all you are concerned about is getting higher in the SERPs, then niche markets may not seem appealing. Where I work, we take a different approach and try to find and single out the niche markets. Why?

Because you can do a lot more for them, essentially becoming their outsourced internet marketing company. Not only can you drive traffic to their sites, but you are afforded the ability to drive quality traffic toward their sites. That makes them even happier because the people that find them are more likely to inquire about their services.

You can't really do that with more generalized markets.

Justin
October 15, 2006 - 7:26am

Will,
Plus it's easier to show results. You can promise a top spot on Google and, depending on how obscure the niche, actually deliver!!

And what's more, you don't really have to do all that much work to earn those high SEO fees. You don't tell the client that, of course.

Smart thinking, just hope those clients don't wise up.

October 15, 2006 - 7:33am

I think you also have to consider where that business might be going. A niche won't always remain a niche. As soon as one business succeeds in a certain space, more businesses enter that space. The more that enter the more likely the niche can reach beyond its initial space.

Getting a good jump on seo can keep your business as the business within a space as that space grows.

Your own skill in taking on a client will also likely factor into the decsions. From the perspetive of the SEO we won't always get the best and most desireable clients from the outset. Taking on a niche busines that is easier to get into a dominant position can lead to word or mouth from that business. it can also prove to be a great learning experience. If you can build traffic for a niche is it reasonable to think you could build traffic for a broader more competitive business?

Aaron the answer to the question of whether you should take on niche market clients depends a lot on who you're asking the question to. Should you Aaron Wall take on those clients? Maybe not. Should someone just starting out as an SEO take on those clients. Probably so.

Justin
October 15, 2006 - 9:53am

Steven,

You make a provocative point, one that's quite relevant to the somewhat facetious comment I made to Will.

I'm no SEO guru. In fact, I think few are. That's because the "rules" (at least many of them) seem to constantly be changing and it's really a guessing game, to a certain extent.

Of course, some make better-educated guesses than others--an ability that comes with experience, continual study, and a keen ability to remain abreast of the ever changing SEO landscape (the latter two are where Aaron comes in!).

And those more-qualified individuals have a right to charge more for their services.

The problem arises when the not-so-qualified pass themselves off as experts to their clients, charge them an arm and a leg, and do little more than alter the meta tags, add some alt tags, and exchange a page or so worth of links.

This relates to the niche market conversation because hack SEOs can fairly easily show positive results (not necessarily resulting in outcome) and therefore convince the client that they've done an extensive amount of work for them, when really they've just charged them $1000 or more for a days worth of work at most.

Adam
October 18, 2006 - 1:23am

Aaron,
Are insurance sites really that hard to place if you are willing to spend the money?

October 18, 2006 - 1:49am

Look at the search results and see if you can compete with the top ranked sites. Some of them are using generic domain names or domain names associated with brands worth 10s or 100s of millions of dollars. And some of them are about 10 years old. Plus there is a flood of governmental related resources clogging up the SERPs in Google in that vertical.

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