Whether you’re assessing business ideas, building a digital marketing strategy, or crafting the messaging for a PPC campaign, you’ll need to start with doing niche (or market) research. This is at the base of every effective digital marketing strategy.
Though the best niche research tool is without a doubt SEMRush, you can still do some pretty acceptable analysis by using a number of free services and techniques.
If you’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to go through, combine, and analyze the data you find, the methods in this article can give you insight into:
- Your market (or niche)
- How busy (or saturated) is your market?
- Should your focus be on content marketing, social media, or organic traffic (SEO)?
- Can paid advertising, like Google Ads or Facebook Ads help you achieve your goals?
- What traffic channels are best for achieving your goals?
- Your target audience
- Where does your audience spend time online?
- What is your buyer persona like?
- What are their problems and needs? What questions do they ask?
- What language and ‘tone of voice’ does your audience react to (or engage with)?
- The competition
- Who are your top competitors?
- What are they doing, and what seems to be working for them (strategy-wise)?
- Which topics should you focus on?
- What are they doing in terms of branding?
Note: keep in mind the following, while doing your research:
- Competitive data tools and services don’t provide exact data.
- Your conclusions are subject to the quality of your own interpretation.
- Every scenario and business is unique. There’s no way of showing you an exact one to one mapping for your own situation. Researching means, doing the work, and looking for the answers to your own questions. At times you might not find any answers, which is a valuable insight as well.
That said, let’s dive into some practice.
Below is a list of niche research tools and techniques you can use in order to answer the most important questions you might have.
Everybody knows Google Search, but you’d be surprised at how much it’s used by professional marketers in the strategy-building process.
Though a simple tool, it can provide valuable information. By shifting your perspective and applying some easy techniques, it can become a powerful research tool.
To use Google search for niche research, understand that:
- Google provides personalized search results. Location, browser history, and previous searches all affect your search results. For unbiased results use an incognito, or private window while working.. You can open a new private window by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + N.
- Location affects the search results, even in a private window. To see results for specific locations, use Google’s ‘?gl=country code’ parameter. For example: https://google.com/?gl=us. This will show the search results for the United States. Find your preferred country code here.
Find competing web pages
You can check the number of pages that are best optimized for your topic (or market) by using: allintitle:”your keywords”. This shows the number of pages that have the keywords in the page title. Pages with keywords in the title as well as content are the pages best optimized for certain topics.
This is important to know because these are the pages you’d eventually want to outrank in the search engine. These are the pages you want to compete with because these are the ones that are most probably optimized in the best way.
Checking market profitability
You can roughly determine if your niche can be profitable by looking for paid advertisements in the search results. If Google Ads are present, it means that companies are paying money to show up at the top of the search results. This is a strong indication that the investment is worth the return. There’s most probably profit to be made.
How profitable the market is, can be gauged by investigating click prices of paid advertisements. Higher click prices usually indicate a more profitable niche. Advertisers who are willing to pay a high price per click, usually have a well-thought digital marketing strategy in place that yields positive returns on their advertising investments.
Build out your content strategy
When typing keywords into the search box, Google provides a drop-down list of related terms. These related keywords are closely tied to the primary (or seed) keyword. The same search terms are provided at the bottom of the search results.
Google is clearly telling you what people are searching for within your niche. You can use related search terms to build out your content strategy. Always use these related keywords in your content optimization efforts.
A little less known by the general public, yet one of the most powerful free tools you can use to build and improve your digital marketing strategies.
Google trends can show you how your market develops over time. It shows you growth, decline, popularity, and relative search volumes of topics and searches terms. You can also compare different topics, which helps you understand the world’s reaction to global trends, as well as trends within your market.
Keep in mind that:
- Search terms give results about that particular word.
- Topics give results about that particular word, including related words (so, this is a grouping).
- Search terms and topics are basically representative of your market (or niche).
- Traffic volumes are relative and not exact. Search volumes are divided by all
- searches for all topics in that particular geography. The highest search volume is represented by 100, while other topics will be relative to that highest number.
- ‘Breakout’ means: there is more than a 5000% increase in popularity of a search term or topic versus the period you’re looking at.
Google Trends can help you:
Understand the market in a broader sense
Analyzing trend graphs shows progressions, rises and declines of your topics or search terms. You can get more insight into people’s (audience) intent, as this information generally shows you what potential and existing prospects are really looking for.
- Gauche general consumer interest in products, brands, people over time.
- Compare topics and search terms, in order to make better business decisions.
- Understand the popularity of your market in different geographies. This will help you decide which regions and locations to focus on.
Identify opportunities and threats
Trend graphs are ideal for identifying opportunities and threats in your market, because they allow you to clearly compare different topics.
- Identify the effects of seasonal influences on your market, products, and services. For example, think about how holiday seasons bump specific topics or keywords to the top and strategize how you can surf that wave of traffic.
- Compare different topics in order to identify opportunities and threats. Think about the possible reasons behind sudden rises and declines. This allows you to react accordingly to real-time situations in the market.
Find ideas for creating and better content optimization
Insights from Google trends can help you build stronger content marketing strategies.
- Decide which topics or search terms to create content for. If these are trending upwards, it means that traffic could remain steady, or increase over the coming period. It might be worth creating content for that topic.
- What are the top related topics and search terms? These are also topics or search terms that your audience is interested in. Depending on your goals, creating content for these might be a good idea.
- What is the top rising and break out topics and search terms? These are popular right now and it can be worth the effort to investigate if you can follow up on these topics.
- Better optimize your content. By using the topic names and search terms in your page titles and content, Google will better understand your content. Targeted relevance is a major ranking factor and it’s the bare minimum you always are doing.
Google Keyword Planner
This is a go-to keyword research tool for many digital professionals, including myself. If you want to use Keyword Planner, you’ll have to sign up for a Google Ads account. The tool will show you keyword search volumes, related keywords as well as Google Ad click prices and competition metrics.
Things to understand about Google Keyword Planner:
- If you aren’t actively advertising with Google Ads, the keyword research tool won’t show accurate search volume data. Instead, it will show broad ranges.
- The competition indicator at the right of each keyword, does not hint at how hard it is to rank for that particular keyword. Instead it relates to the number of Google Advertisers that are buying clicks for that keyword.
If you’re not actively buying Google Ads, and thus don’t have access to more precise search volume data, you can still you keyword planner for:
Understanding Market buildup
Analyzing the primary and related keywords that users are typing into the search engine provides a picture of how a market is built up. The number of searches is an indication of market size, while the topical relationships between keywords give clues about the market buildup. Combining this information with Google Trends information helps you understand sentiment and audiences’ interest even more.
Understanding keyword difficulty
The competitive metric provided by GKP is relevant only to the Google Ads customers. Howverm, by combining keyword data with techniques described earlier (finding the number of competing pages with Google Search) can roughly show you how hard ranking for a keyword could actually be.
Gauging Market Profitability
Keyword Planner will show the prices that advertisers are paying when someone clicks on their Google Advertisements. These click prices can be indicative of the advertising spent by market players. Further research (for example, by reverse engineering competitor strategies) can give you a reasonable idea of how potential market profitability.
Note: reverse engineering a competitor’s strategy can, in some cases, be as simple as following their advertisements and reviewing what actions they take to land clients. On the other hand, some aspects can be harder to uncover, as that might involve having to sign up their email list and following their messaging for a period of time.
Shows monthly search volumes by taking data from Keyword Planner and opening it up to non-Google Ads customers. The data includes keywords, related keywords, click prices, and Google Ads competition metrics. Keywords Everywhere integrate the data with sites like Youtube, Google Analytics, and Bing, amongst others.
If you are not using Google Ads and thus, don’t have access to more accurate keyword data, KE’s reasonable pricing is definitely worth it. Not only does it give you access to better data, but it also simplifies the research process offering data integration and some extra management options. This is an incredible time saver.
Ubersuggest can give you insight into the market, competitors and quality of your web site optimization efforts.
What you need to know about Ubersuggest:
- When you enter a search term(s) this will put you into the keyword research tool mode.
- When you enter a domain name, it will put you into a competitor analysis mode.
- Ubersuggest gets its data from Google
- The tool is divided into Ubersuggest keyword research, Traffic analyser and an SEO analyzer.
Understanding the market
Typing a keyword (search term) into Ubersuggest can help you understand your market in several ways.
- Search term suggestions and volumes – Search volume is a great indicator of market size.
- SEO difficulty – will give you an indication of how hard it will be to rank your content for these search terms.
- CPC (cost per click) – tells you what the click prices for Google ads are for the topic / or search term. The prices that advertisers are willing to pay in Google, combined with the size of the market (search volume) is a good indication as to how profitable a market is.
- Related search terms, questions, prepositions – can give you a better view of how your market is built up. These search terms are also great for finding ideas for new content.
Entering a domain name into the search box will give you useful information about your competitors website(s). You can of course use this on your own website in order to check how you’re doing.
- Domain overview – give you an idea of the strength of a website. This includes the number of keywords the website is ranking for, estimated monthly traffic it receives, the number of links, and a proprietary doman score. Comparing this information with your own website gives you a quick indication of how direct of a competitor you’re dealing with.
- Top SEO pages (by country) – shows you which pages on the website are receiving the most traffic. Thi will tell you which topics are working best for this competitor. You can use this information in order to build better content on the same topic and try to (eventually) outrank them.
- SEO keywords – show you the search terms that are driving most traffic to the pages on a specific website. This will give you an overview of the topical organization of the competitor’s website. If you are directly competing with this web site it can also give you an indication of which keywords to put more optimization effort in.
Site Optimization (SEO Analyzer)
The SEO analyzer section, provides you with a quality overview of a website, in terms of optimization. This information is useful in many ways.
- Site audit – provides you with specific health scores for several things. This can show you where you need to improve your own or competitors’ strengths and weaknesses in terms of optimization. This section will also show you some important data that is relevant for better rankings, such as site speeds, site errors, and some recommendations to implement.
- Backlinks – will give you insight into the number of backlinks that a website has and where these come from. If you’re competing with a website, this information can reveal potential link exchange partners.
Note: Ubersuggest has since some time become a paid tool. I recommend using it only for its free features because there are paid services available, I find to be much better for both SEO and market(ing) research.
Answer the public
One of the most important things to understand about building effective digital marketing strategies is to cater to the needs of the audience. This includes solving their problems and answering their questions.
Answer the public is a keyword tool that can help you understand how to better serve your audience. It turns Google and Bing’s auto-suggest search terms, into relevant questions your audience could be asking. The data is shown in easy to view visual graphs data tables.
Understanding your Audience
- Identify who your audience really is. If you find questions that you are able to answer, they are most probably your target audience.
- Uncover problems your audience might have and create specific content that solves those problems. This can increase engagement.
- Get a feel for how your audience might be discussing the topics that are relevant for your business. This can help you understand consumer intent.
Building out your content strategy
- Better optimize your content by crafting more relevant and attractive page titles for your content. The more specific and relevant you target your audience, the better you should be able to rank
Competitive intelligence s a huge part of building a strong digital marketing strategy. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your own business as well as your competitors can make or break your strategy.
Similarweb allows you to uncover competitor strategies, discover new opportunities and understand your customer’s intent. You can instantly get insights about your competitors by entering their domain name in the search box.
- Traffic overview, including metrics such as total visits, visit duration and pages per visit, traffic by country, and traffic sources (where the traffic is from). When comparing different competitors this way, it’s possible to determine their relative market share.
- Referral traffic will tell you which websites are sending traffic to your competitor’s website and where your competitors are sending traffic to. This can reveal valuable information about your competitors, such as business and marketing strategies, as well as partnership opportunities for getting similar traffic to your own site.
- Search terms that visitors are using in order to find your competitor’s website. Uncovering their top search terms for bringing in traffic, gives you the opportunity to.
- Amount of traffic received from social media. This shows which social media channel they’re putting the most effort into. It’s also an indication that their audience, which might be your audience, spends time on that particular channel. Lastly, it can also indicate which types of content work best for your audience (if Youtube drives the most traffic, then the audience clearly engages with video content).
- Similar websites show you, possible other competitors. Comparing different competitors’ sites with each other can reveal differences in their approaches. This can show you how to approach your market from different perspectives.
Facebook Audience Insights
Facebook collects a wealth of information about its users and because their base is so large, it’s representative data. This means that researching your audience on FB Audience insights can give you a good idea of characteristics the individuals inside your audience have. This, in turn, will help you build better digital marketing strategies (not only for Facebook but in general as well).
Audience insights will give you insight into, for example :
- Demographics of certain audiences, such as age, gender, relationship status, and job title.
- Interests, page likes, and activity of the audience you are researching.
You can access FB audience insights as part of a FB business manager account. Signing up for a Business Manager account is free and it centralizes all FB advertising accounts as well as the tools in one account. It’s very similar to opening a Google Ads account.
9. Q & A Sites
Question and answer sites such as quora and Reddit are a gold mine for finding out what questions, issues, or problems your audience has. You can do this by simply going to these sites, searching for specific topics, and reading all the questions and answers. This can help you build more effective digital marketing strategies – since it’s all about catering to the needs of your audience.
Some popular Q & A sites to check out are:
Understanding the market and audience
- What problems does the audience have?
- What type of content is best to create?
- Use the information to better serve the search engines and your audience.
- Build better optimized content marketing campaigns/strategies.
Feedly RSS subscriptions
Blog posts, comments, and forum discussions can reveal things about your audience and what’s happening within your market. Think about issues your target audience is facing, trending topics, and so on. Keeping up to date with a large number of informational sources is made easy by using a service like Feedly.
- Sign up for Feedly
- Install the Feedly Chrome Extension
- Surf all the forums, blogs, and sites that are relevant for your market.
- Subscribe to their RSS (if they have one)
- Check your updates periodically in order to find out what content is being created
Understanding your audience
Following what’s happening in your niche will allow you to:
- Understand what content is being created by your competitors. They’ve usually done their research too and they’re not creating content blindly. You can use the most popular content in your niche as an indicator of what’s working and what’s not.
- Using a tool such as SEMrush or SEOpowersuite, you can dissect your competitor’s strategies quickly and easily. Then you can devise a digital marketing strategy that suits your audience’s needs.
11. Analyzing Trend sites
Besides Google Trends (described earlier), you can check trending topics and stories on several trend sites. This allows you to get a feel for what’s hot, what’s not and what’s going to be. They’re also a good way to look for new business ideas and opportunities.
Popular sites to watch for trends are:
Note: you can generally use Feedly (see above) to subscribe to these sites.
Better understand your niche
Tracking trends and hot topics can be very valuable, because it helps you:
- Find new opportunities
- Start optimizing parts of your digital marketing strategy, such as SEO and content before your competitors do.
As a bonus, I’d like to add some of my best practices for performing niche research with the tools and methods described earlier.
- Always try to combine data, findings, and insights from different tools. Doing this can lead to even better research results and eventually to more effective strategies. Granted this is a lot more work, which is why it’s an underused technique. On the other hand, it can open you up to creative ideas that others have missed.
- Brainstorm your findings in order to come up with creative, out of the box strategies. In order to be successful online, you need to bring something unique. Reverse engineer what your competitors are doing build upon strategies you find and make them better, but do not ‘copy-paste’.
- Don’t get stuck in a research loop. Go in-depth, but not too much in-depth. Getting stuck in research is one of the main reasons why people fail to take action. Taking action is one of the most important things, and you can always do more research at a later time.
- Make doing research a periodically recurring activity. Markets and niches change quickly. Trends show up or disappear, new competitors burst onto the scene and new products or services will be launched. Periodically monitoring your market is necessary in order to discover these disruptions and take needed actions.
- Document your findings, insights, and conclusions in a structured plan. Depending on why you’re doing research, this could be a business plan, a digital marketing plan, or any other type of document that fits the situation.