Blogging is a lot like high school… have you noticed?
There are the popular kids (A-list), class rank (Technorati) and endless other cliques (Ad Age Power 150, Techmeme Leaderboard, Cat Blogging Superstars, etc.). All of this makes for the same ol’ hierarchical crap that tends to unnecessarily discourage people who are outside the power structure.
I guess social media is a tad less revolutionary and more like regular ol’ society than some blogging idealists want to admit. What did you expect?
The answer to this reality is much the same as it was in high school. The smart kids ignore the hierarchy and concentrate on defining their own space.
Forget Hierarchies and Get Territorial
Here’s the deal: people who succeed in social media these days don’t think hierarchically… they think territorially. Ranking on someone’s silly social media list may be nice, but it’s a lot nicer to nail down a defensible position in a profitable niche.
Trust me… there are a lot of broke people obsessed with their position on various hierarchical lists, when they should be focusing on creating a real business. The fact that they don’t means there’s plenty of opportunity for you.
When you think territorially, you’re aiming to carve out a space that is uniquely your own. And if the unique aspect that makes the territory yours also makes it difficult or impossible to dislodge you from that position… even better.
Don’t be Obscure
Now, when people start talking about “dominating” a niche, they’re usually fantasizing about discovering some brand new tiny gold mine that no one else has thought about. While new niches pop up all the time, it’s folly to think you’re the only genius on the planet who’s spotted any particular one.
More likely, it’s not a niche that anyone wants to bother with.
Sure, you can “own” the Total Quality Management for Peruvian Goat Herders niche, but who cares? You’ve got no traffic and less revenue. That’s not what we’re aiming for here.
In fact, more often than not, you want to enter a nasty competitive niche. Why?
Because that’s where the money is.
Intensify Your Niche and Carve Out a Territory
All niches—no matter how competitive—go through various phases of evolution. Brand new and mature niches alike will evolve as the audience grows weary of the same ol’ same ol’, opening the door to new players with novel angles and unique voices.
Ideally, a new player wants to come in with a fresh approach that doesn’t necessarily threaten the existing hierarchy. This allows you to develop an audience by sharing with existing players, not necessarily competing with them.
What you’re looking to do is intensify the niche by doing something more, or differently (or maybe even better) than the existing players. You do this by first evaluating and understanding where the niche is currently, and position your content in a way that pushes the envelope.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Positioning Strategies for Niche Intensification
One of the most effective intensification strategies involves personality positioning. By emphasizing authentic and even flawed personality traits, a publisher or marketer can form a strong bond based on the audiences ability to identify with the publisher.
For example, Internet marketing and work-at-home business advice are two heavily saturated markets (because there’s lots of money involved). People like Frank Kern and Naomi Dunford use extreme “anti-marketing” personalities (combined with damn good marketing) to create extremely loyal audiences.
While bigger players aim for advertising dollars based on impersonal eyeballs, personality positioning allows you to make more with fewer people thanks to the power of personal identification. It’s the same principle behind celebrity endorsements and lifestyle marketing in the big leagues, and it works even better in social media.
The downside of personality positioning is you often have to get extreme to get noticed in the first place. That might not only backfire, but it’s not something everyone feels comfortable with.
Here’s an alternate approach.
Back in 2005 when I was considering starting a blog, I was fascinated by blogging itself. As someone who had been creating online content since 1998, I viewed commercial blogging not as some idealistic movement, but as a more powerful version of what I’d already been doing for 7 years.
At the time, there were two primary players in the niche—Problogger and Performancing. I had no desire to be #3 in a niche someone else had defined, because that’s just not smart.
Instead, I realized that the two main players at the time were talking about blogging without historical context; in other words, as if it were a completely new discipline. It only took a couple of posts about titles (headlines) for me to realize that they were trying to teach people copywriting without having studied the subject.
I had. 🙂
So, Copyblogger was born. Not only did I intensify the niche by drilling down deeper and teaching the root skills necessary for blogging, I started an educational process that allowed me to take readers beyond blogging for ad dollars and teach them to start converting readers to customers and clients.
By taking that approach, Copyblogger was a complement to Problogger and Performancing, not a competitor. And by drilling deeper and wider, the approach also allowed Copyblogger to expand well beyond the confines of the “blogging about blogging” niche.
Become #1 or #2 in Your Territory
In last week’s post about Jack Welch, some people took his philosophy of “Be #1 or #2 in your niche or don’t bother” a little too literally. That’s hierarchical thinking, and that’s going to hold you down.
The key is to become #1 or #2 in your own territory. Does it take creativity and a lot of good old-fashioned critical thinking and courage to carve out your own territory?
Of course it does. Otherwise anyone could do it.
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.
Reader Comments (105)
Michael D says
Blogging is a lot like high school. It doesn’t matter what clique they are in, if you’ve got the best dope, they’re all buying it. 🙂
As Isaac Newton would say… “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulder of giants.”
Problogger and Performancing were those giants and Copyblogger hopped on their shoulders and developed his discipline.
Today, the problem is that many people try to coattail these giants and blog until they grow as big. Well, it never works. So, take a lesson from Brian here and hop on his shoulders.
Want some examples?
If you want to write about copywriting, don’t write how to do it. Brian won that round already. Instead, write about the science behind copywriting or the psychology behind it. Or, from a blogging stand point, don’t just write about blogging, instead write about how blogging portrays specifically to small business owners or lawyers.
As always a great source of information.
I might have to try and inject more “personality” into my niche.
Thanks again for the inspiration.
Domain Superstar says
Michael A Stelzner says
As a guy that some people argue is top in his niche, I must let people know that it is CONSTANT work to keep at that top position.
AND this is especially true now that social media can make people into stars overnight.
So with the great rise can come a great fall if you do not work on keeping your position.
Peter Cooper says
I remember CopyBlogger’s rise reasonably well (not as well as I’d like though, so if you ever fancy writing a post about it, I’d be an avid reader) and it was meteoric.
Your cornerstone content really grabbed the imagination and I recall your subscriber numbers jumping up at a crazy pace over the course of a few months 🙂
Shallie Bey says
Thanks for this wonderful post on blogging and dominating a niche. For some time I have been narrowing down a broad territory of all entrepreneurs to the current state of working with baby boomer entrepreneurs as they make the transition from workers to being business owners.
Your insights are very helpful in pointing out to me that I am going in the right direction. I appreciate what you have shared.
Smarter Small Business Blog
bob wan kim says
Copy, Agreed! There is still a ton of space for top of niche content… recently followed zooborns. I don’t even like cute cuddly things but they are the top of their niche. Everyone who is passionate about a niche has the space to generate traffic and revenues through their passion! @journik
David Krug says
Thanks for sharing. It’s always a constant reminder half the battle is showing up the other half is being a unique voice.
thanks for keeping it real brian.
Eddie Gear says
This is a very informaiton post. Helps in understanding the wider aspecs in blogging using niche sites.
Great food for thought!
The Story Woman says
Another great article – your content is always valuable. Todays ws great… When I think about the very short time I’ve been blogging in the huge writers’ arena, but with my narrow focus within that niche, what you say reinforces just following my path even if I’m a small fish in a big pond. I’ve been amazed already at the very positive feedback I’ve gotten, even from much larger writers’ blogs asking me to contribute to their blogs, or requesting an interview, and yesterday an invite into an ezine for my “writers’ tips.” May not seem like much to you big guys, but to me it was a lot. I read Copyblogger everyday, and love it, I’ve even linked you to a couple of my blogs & on my link/resources page. You always inspire me! Thank you so much…abundance.
Another great article from the infamous Copyblogger! And I see Mr. Hail of Prevential is up there chiming in rather quickly!!
Obie Trice will be releasing a SMASH album soon!
Dog Firebaugh says
Today, Niche rules. In social sites and content. Brian, you never cease to amaze me with what you write. Niche sites have roven to be a great source of exposure and connections for our team and efforts. Thank you dude- this is Copyblogger University for me. And I look forward to moving onto the MBA = More Brian Ahead.
Get territorial- AMEN!
Great post, best one I’ve seen on CB in a while.
Reminds me of a Seth Godin post: “The secret to being the best in the world is to make the ‘world’ smaller.”
Steve Averill says
Love it. Thanks. Big impact on my and my peeps. Appreciate the effort.
great piece…very interesting read…im on my mobile so i hope im commenting on the niche article…keep up the good work.
Tuesday Hall says
I guess you’re like the Dan Kennedy of blogging now? I think your take on the issue is really original. This is the first thing I’ve read thats more than just a “how to write a good post” post. Look forward to more fresh ideas from you 🙂
Christi Wharton says
I LOVE this post. Adding to a niche instead of competing with the giants is a fantastic way to explain. Great job!
David Dittell says
Strong points. As a screenwriter, it’s often stressed how important it is to have a “brand” — to be the thriller guy, or the comedy guy, or the prestigious drama guy. Part of it is that if you don’t have a clear identify for yourself, others won’t be able to figure you out completely. Nobody has ever opened up the Yellow Pages looking for “somebody who’s good, but I’m not sure at what.” Know who you are, and what you have to offer.
And to be #1 or #2 in that does not necessarily mean starting at the top or being a behemoth. It means finding your niche and servicing your customers as best you can. Good point there.
Paul Hassing says
Thanks for yet another youbeaut post, Brian! I have one question:
Seth Godin has just clocked 3000 blog posts. Would you say he’s hierarchical, territorial, both or something else?
REW Ryland says
Great perspective, thanks Brian.
When looking at competition within a sector of an industry it is always a good idea to be aware, being careful to identify all points on which the competitors “compete”. Then look to drop those points that you can’t do well or won’t invest time/spend in, raise those that you excel at, reduce those that aren’t congruent with your core business or model and create those that other’s don’t recognize. The redefined value curve can provide new industry space and opportunity… away from those competitors.
Akemi - Yes to Me says
I like the part to think who I can be a “compliment to”. Grow the overall niche I’m in, and my business can grow further. Plus there is nothing like referral partners.
I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding that the blog needs to have huge traffic to create substantial business. I have two blogs (well, actually one blog and a website made with WP). Total traffic is like — 8600 visits per month. Yeah, pathetic. And I made 6K in January. Not a lot, but not too shabby either for a 9mo old business.
One of my current goal is the #1 in my small niche without trying, but just by being me. I think that’s what the small kid in high school did. . . No one can imitate natural brilliance.
Charles Bohannan says
One of your bests posts, Brian — thanks for such intelligent insight.
I’ve been struggling for sometime now on what exactly it is I’m blogging about, and how it compliments the niche I’m in (happens to be this one as a matter of fact).
I’m almost there. Thanks again for your generosity.
GenuineChris Johnson says
OKAYfine. Enter and hone a competitive field. But do it with something you already care about. I care about direct, belly to belly sales…in a 2.0 context. I try and call all my twitter followers and ask for business. That would be a fun compliment to what’s happening now. I just have to focus on sometihn’.
Thanks for helping me do that.
Once I noticed Technorati in your post, I immediately started to head for that site to check my “authority.” But, as I would learn later when I finished reading your post, I was smart enough not to leave your article until I was in fact done reading it. Turns out I don’t care so much about anymore. 🙂
Thanks for keeping me focused…
jonathan jacobs says
^ echo above complements ^
Also… the point about complementing the “competition” is spot on. As a blogger who is definitely in a niche (rpgs and gaming in general), our community is small, the audience not much larger (big echo chamber effect), and the rate of getting new readers slow. The last point was the spark that allowed me to enter into a somewhat established clique and quickly make a name for myself — I thought about “how I could increase the audience for all the bloggers in our niche” a “selfless pursuit”… but it so far has worked. I started compiling an anthology of gaming blogs to showcase our best talent, enlisted the help of 30 or so bloggers in the community as writers, judges, and artists. The book, now after 6 months of work, looks great and will be published next month. It will no doubt increase our audience by bridging the online offline audience gap (goal achieved) and in the meantime I’ve become known in the community as “that guy working on the anthology project”. My traffic has doubled every month since I started it.
Sorry for the ramble… as a lurker here I just needed to chime in. This post really resonated with me.
Brian, I think more “looking back” posts examining your site would be very popular among readers.
Dean Saliba says
Very good article.
I may not dominate in most of my niches but I certainly dominate in the wrestling niche.
Time to get my act into gear I feel. 🙂
Jamey Prezzi says
I am listening. I am listening.
I think that if you focus on the territory, the hierarchy will come. We live in the age of gratification that needs to be instant and a lot of folks are not willing to do what it takes to build their territory first – they just want rankings. As long as a lot of folks continue to feel that way, I know that my plugging along will get me to where I want to be.
lawton chiles says
This is very encouraging Brian, because it can feel sometimes as if we’re drinking out of a fire hose, trying to accomplish… something but we don’t know what.
Or at least, to what end, to what mindset to we want to leave our audience with? What framework?
Thank you for helping me see more of what could be
possible and not just what is.
a new mode (eric charles) says
Great article, thank you for posting it up.
Made me realize that I should be doing more to brand my personal account on Twitter vs. spending all my time on the website account. At first I was enjoying the luxury of tweeting behind my brand name versus my personal account, but really, putting my personality out there as an individual will get people connected to me.
Amrit Hallan - Writing Services Provided says
I totally agree with what you have stated here. You can always dominate your niche without stepping upon others’ toes. The key is recognizing your true potential and then finding people who will appreciate it and pay for it :-).
The greatest advantage of being #1 or #2 is the kind of exposure you can draw. It makes you an influencing force and consequently enables you to focus upon bigger goals no matter what is the size of your niche.
Often the case of Reliance Communications comes to my mind. Before them a mobile phone was merely a status symbol or an expensive luxury. They made it so affordable by clearly defining the niche (people who wouldn’t mind slightly low quality for an extremely low price) that now they are one of the biggest players in the country simply because in India we are so many :-).
Daniel Bates says
I think the best tip for dominating a niche that I can offer is to not forget the little guys. I set up my google alerts for my niche keywords and when I see a “mom and pop” blogger has mentioned it, I check out what they have to say and drop a POLITE comment and if appropriate something like “if you want to learn more about the area feel free to visit…” and throw in a link to my website. Yeah it’s no follow, yeah it doesn’t matter to Google, but you may have just got yourself a few more readers and it took all of two minutes. Overtime these add up and you never know how that blog post might show up in the SE’s and you’ve now got a link coming from it. If you don’t provide valuable comments they’ll get deleted though. So try to actually add value and not spam.
Tom Gibson says
Intensify the space. I really like this Brian:
Chill Bear says
Social media has the potential to turn all of society into high school, everybody watching everybody, haters ever vigilant to enforce somebody else’s notion of socially acceptable behavior.
Blog is more than just high school, but it depends on how seriously you maintain it. Once you find your niche, then focus and keep it on the right way. But sometimes it’s really difficult focus, that’s why we need to go out for seeking some inspirations.
Great post Brian particularly on “personality positioning”. I’ve been seeing that the best blogs run on a “come for the content, stay for the writer” model…
Carl G says
Great food for thought. Thanks Brian.
I agree with Derek #2. Dont try to do start running in the race when they are already several years ahead of you expecting to catch up anytime soon.
Great article! I’m trying my hand at this blogging thing too. I know it’s been around a while but hey, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to this stuff. I’m currently experimenting with both a blog about anything and everything that hits me as well as trying blogs on specific subjects. My 1st specific one is on genealogy. Thanks for the great advice.
Steven Lewis says
A few years back I wrote a feature for University of Phoenix Online about Niche Marketing & Online Business. I notice even today how online marketing is cliquey like high school… Twitter proves this most. Try and message a supposed ‘guru’ on Twitter and you’ll be fortunate to get a response from them (but watch them blow up their Tweets all day long). I’ve always advised peers and clients to carve their own *special* little piece of the market and worry only about yourself. Trying to compete with the popular kids will only get you turned face down in a dumpster and ur feelings hurt. 😉 Determining a niche, realizing the problem areas and developing the solution is the ‘secret’ everyone is searching for! GREAT POST! 🙂
Portland Roofer says
What an amazing, comprehensive and insightful post. All of us, whether we blog as a counterpart to a brick and mortar business or if blogging IS our business, need to think about dominating our niche and getting specific. Don’t try to be all things to all people — try to take over your spot. Thanks
Aaron S. says
Excellent article and very helpful information! I read it twice to ensure I sucked all of the info in and I agree with many of the points you made.
Affiliate Blogging Tips says
Great advice on mastering a niche market. I agree, you have to complement others to succeed..
Copy, Agreed! There is still a ton of space for top of niche content… recently followed zooborns. I don’t even like cute cuddly things but they are the top of their niche. Everyone who is passionate about a niche has the space to generate traffic and revenues through their passion
reat post Brian particularly on “personality positioning”. I’ve been seeing that the best blogs run on a “come for the content, stay for the writer” model…
boutlagh hassane says
I totally agree with you , excellent article and very great informations .
thank you and keep them coming .
Luc Gendrot says
This is a very inspiring article, I was disparaging my recent attempts at blogging because I felt like the market was so saturated I wouldn’t survive. Thank you for helping me see otherwise and continue
Not just interesting but encouraging! I like the thought of carving out a territory, much more obtainable goal.
Nathalie Lussier says
I love reading slightly older posts, to me reading through these timeless nuggets of wisdom reminds me how great it is to focus on evergreen content. You know, advice that lands no matter what new social media platform just sprung up.
Thanks for this Brian, it’s a great way to look at creating a niche.
I judged the date of this post primarily for the singular +1 !! 🙂
I wonder what my niche would be… “blogging about inspiration to be better than you are right now” perhaps need a copywriter’s wand.
Vivek Parmar says
Dominating niche is all about proving better as compared to others.
Well according to me blogging is all about bringing something new to community and that’s what i’m working on my blog.
Thanks a ton for the informative post
Emma Styring says
Dominating niche includes constant work in my view. One cannot relax for the moment if the top spot (and subscribers) is to be kept. But that’s awesome infact. It all stays within the love and passion for the trade you have chosen.
I came here through a tip by Aaron Wall and it sure does worth reading. I guess in today’s fast-moving Internet Marketing, this is the only way to survive. At least if your long-term goal is dominating your niche you will be good to go.
Anuj Uppal says
Aaron Wall writes very well and connects to a lot of people. I am thinking of joining the seo training course, but I am afraid if there are any prerequisites for the course. I am not an IT guy but want to be involved in my small business. Not sure if i will be able to cash on full potential of the course. any thoughts and help will be appreciated.
Anuj Uppal says
I am new to SEO and website’s, Have enjoyed retail via the old brick and mortar outlets. Times changed and hence we are now getting into e-commerce side of business. I found this article very interesting and informative. I want to learn more about marketing my website. Great Work on the blog I look forward to getting educated.
Thank you for the article. Once you find that niche area, that is viable and niche enough it can sustain a business, you are on the way.
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