by David Broderick
One of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your career as an SEO or agency owner is whether or not to niche down.
Could it be the best marketing decision you ever make – or will the leads all dry up? How do you pick the best niche to go into? And what if you go too niche?
To help you figure this all out, we asked the Traffic Think Tank community for their advice on how to pick a niche and establish yourself as the go-to expert in it.
Read on for their insights into finding your niche in SEO – and the case for going the generalist route, too.
For a lot of SEOs and agency owners, the niches are in the riches.
“I’ve been running my digital marketing agency for close to five years now, and it wasn’t until a-year-and-a-half ago – when I decided to niche down to just e-commerce SEO – that I started to see success,” Elliott Davidson, Founder of Contrast, told us.
Brad Smith, Founder & CEO of Codeless, had a similar experience: “Our success snowballed in the early days after we (a) focused on a particular type of service, for (b) a particular type of client base, with a (c) particular type of goal or objective. This lead almost immediately to an increase in referrals (because it’s easier to share with like-minded people), lots of new inbound attention (because people look for what’s most relevant to them), and also increased pricing power (because we became bonafide specialists in a hard-to-replicate niche).”
Not convinced niching down is right for you? Here’s a closer look at some of the benefits that come from specializing the services you offer (according to Traffic Think Tank members who’ve done it themselves):
“Niching down from serving all clients to just helping lawyers allowed us to streamline our processes to get results faster for clients,” says Casey Meraz, Founder of Juris Digital. “It also meant less training time to get new team members up to speed, which quickly allowed us to establish ourselves as a true authority in the legal marketing niche.”
After struggling to get liftoff with a generalist creative agency and then a local SEO agency, Andrew Peluso decided to go all in on the pest control niche. “Pesty Marketing was born and the advantages of focusing on a single industry becomes more apparent every passing quarter,” he says. “Niching down has enabled us to operate more efficiently and drive results much faster, since we deeply understand our clients’ needs. Our margins are wider while remaining affordable even for small pest control businesses.”
“Specialising in e-commerce SEO has been one of the best moves we’ve made as a business,” Sam Wright, Managing Director of Blink, told us.
Here’s why: every new client Sam’s agency takes on makes them better at what they do.
“Each project feels like an opportunity to go deeper into the subject rather than starting from scratch each time,” he says. “And because of this, investing in building our systems and software feels exactly that – something that takes the business forward rather than a sunk cost.”
Stick to a niche long enough and you’ll build a serious moat. Sam even says: “We’re now at a point where we have substantial amounts of data for similar projects, which is creating really interesting opportunities.”
“Pigeonholing gets a bad rap. But pigeonholing is your friend. You want to be typecast as ‘the guy/gal who is great at X’. That’s basically what personal branding is – pigeonholing yourself until you’re large enough that your brand proceeds you,” explains Christian Thurston, COO of SearchEye.
“By owning one step in the process, instead of the whole stack, you make it very easy for folks to refer business to you – because they know you won’t compete with them,” Christian points out.
Dave Ojeda, Traffic Think Tank’s unofficial resident Schema markup expert, is a perfect example of this in action. For years now, Dave has hopped into just about every thread about structured data we’ve had in TTT to share his expert advice:
This has earned him a reputation as the go-to guy for Schema advice. Dave basically has his own Schema bat-signal in TTT:
Because Dave owns such a specific niche, other TTT members are happy to point people in his direction in a way they never would if he was a potential competitor.
“I always had this fear that if we niched down, we would lose out on other opportunities,” RicketyRoo Founder and Traffic Think Tank Community Advocate Blake Denman told us. “That never happened. Even though our messaging is clear with the main niche we work in, we still get leads for other niches. I literally just got a lead through our website from a law firm even though the strapline on our homepage is ‘We do one thing, and one thing only; grow home service companies’.”
You’re sold on the power of specialization…
But how do you know if a niche is worth pursuing?
Here’s our members’ advice on how to pick the right niche for you:
“I spent three years taking on work I could do, but didn’t necessarily love doing, and that didn’t come naturally to me,” explains Brie E Anderson, Owner of BEAST Analytics.
Things changed when Brie focused on what she loves doing – which is what she’s best at. “The second I went from branding myself as a ‘strategy generalist’ to an ‘analyst’, my bottom line skyrocketed. I find myself in a flow state more often, which means I’m more productive. This has led to me being able to do more (and better) work, which means far more money and happy days.”
Sam Wright and his team at Blink took a similar approach to niching down: “We specialised in e-commerce SEO after asking ourselves what we’re good at and how that aligns with potential audiences. We’re great at SEO execution, but B2B/SaaS is so product-reliant. An e-com store selling a decent amount has product-market fit by default, which makes them a great fit for what our team is best at.”
Is there an part of SEO that comes naturally to you? That you find easy but other people seem to struggle with? That’s a strong competitive advantage it could be well worth leaning in on.
Andrew Peluso was much more calculated about the niche he went into with Pesty Marketing. “I looked for two things: 1) An industry with a business model that produced enough margin to service both large and small businesses. 2) Low agency competition.”
This pragmatic approach takes the guesswork out of whether or not leaping into a niche is the right move.
After Nick launched his very first course, Master Keyword Research in 7 Days, he discovered people were willing to pay him up to $5,000 for just one of deliverables he covered in the course – the Keyword Matrix.
In Nicks’ words: “The insight I gained was that my niche wasn’t SEO, it was more specific – it was the research part of SEO – and that’s what allowed me to create the initial few client relationships for what would become From the Future”.
Following the demand is a smart way of tipping the odds in your favor when it comes to niching down.
“In the agency world, many brands niche down to a specific industry or vertical,” explains Jason Berkowitz, SEO Director at Break the Web. “We did things a bit differently and spent a lot of time honing in on our target client persona, interviewing our clients, and analyzing our best (and most enjoyable) work. This exercise led us to niche down to a specific type of persona instead of industry – in-house marketing teams of B2C/DTC brands.”
Niching down doesn’t have to mean throwing all your eggs in one basket overnight.
“My agency specializes in local SEO for small businesses – but we haven’t gone as far as to isolate a single industry,” explains Brooks Manley, Owner of Brooks Manley Marketing. “Right now, I highlight four industries for which we have repeatable processes, decent case studies, and a marketing plan. I think this sets us apart from generalists, but doesn’t limit our ability to scale or win business.”
If you’re worried about missing out on other business, you might want to follow Brooks’s lead and position yourself as a generalist agency or contractor with strong expertise in a few different niches rather than a specialist in just one niche.
“I’d always choose a niche that’s doubling every year over a niche that’s 10x larger but shrinking,” says Christian Thurston, COO of SearchEye. “Why? Shrinking fields are usually mature and will have too many competitors. Growing niches have too many buyers but also, they’ll have unique problems that almost nobody is an expert on yet. You can ride that wave early to establish a solid foundation.”
While they all took different journeys to end up in their specialisms, TTT members’ all agreed on how to establish yourself as the go-to expert in a niche: be generous with your knowledge.
“Although it may sound counterintuitive, don’t be afraid to ‘give it all away’,” says Casey Meraz, Founder of Juris Digital. “The more you share, the more you will be respected and recognized as the true authority in your niche. This includes tactics, data, strategies – anything your potential target clients will see as valuable.”
“Help others without thinking about the monetary return as the end-all,” says TTT’s resident Schema markup expert Dave Ojeda. “And find a community that you can be a part of and contribute to (I’ve heard Traffic Think Tank is a pretty good group of folks!). It’s not about establishing yourself as an expert as much as demonstrating your skills in a niche where others can see”.
Andrew Peluso recommends going a step further and working for free. “You need to collect as much data as you can early on in order to understand your clients’ needs and their customers’ needs,” he explains. “We built our first client’s website for free, ran their Google Ads for free, and created a promo video for them for free. In exchange, we got a lot of face time with the client, who shared their 20 years of industry experience. Plus, it gave us a case study to point to as social proof to bring in other clients. As we ran ads for the client, we got to A/B test ad creative, landing pages, offers, etc. That data laid the foundation for our strategy for future clients.”
Of course, niching down isn’t the only way to go. Being a generalist SEO comes with its own set of pros. And it’s a path plenty of TTT members have had success with.
Here are a few of the benefits you’ll miss out on if you chose to niche down:
For Austin Mullins, Founder at Conversion Media, “one of the primary benefits of being more of a generalist SEO is that exposure to diverse industries gives you ideas for things that might work elsewhere. I’ve grabbed ideas for product-led link building and programmatic SEO from the HR software and cybersecurity verticals respectively and applied those examples to companies I’m advising in other industries.”
Austin also thinks going the generalist route has forced him to become a better SEO. “Speaking to companies with different business models and problems leads to being asked more novel questions,” he says. “In the process of learning the answers to provide adequate answers and direction, you become a more skilled SEO consultant.”
Rather than being stuck in a lane, being a generalist lets you try on a lot of different hats. “This allows you to pick two or three areas you’re really interested in and transform yourself into the ‘T-shaped marketer’ everyone always says they want on their team,” says Ryan Jones, SEO Specialist at Land of Rugs.
Niching down the services you offer, the kind of clients you take on, or the types of jobs you apply for can be one of the smartest moves you make as an SEO. Listen to the advice our community shared in this article to follow in some of our most successful members’ footsteps.
Of course, becoming a specialist isn’t for everyone. And there are just as many Traffic Think Tank members who’ve had huge success as generalists, which comes with its own set of benefits.
No matter which route you decide is right for you, follow the advice our community has shared here for the best chances of success.
And join Traffic Think Tank today to get our community’s answers to your burning SEO questions.
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