After you have determined your shop’s mission, you should focus
on finding the right niche for your (online) business. This is closely
related to determining the preferred audience for your business.
Merriam Webster defines a niche as “the situation in which a
business’s products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular
kind or group of people”. When you find your niche your products,
sales, communication and marketing can be optimized to target
that specific group’s needs and wishes. Sounds simple, right?
Well, it’s actually far from simple.
Your niche could be anything ranging from ‘all the people that read
books’ to ‘20-24 year-old men that read romantic science fiction books
that were written before Star Wars and do not contain humans’. That
one is extremely specific, but you get the idea.
From an SEO perspective, your niche will be one of the main factors
in setting up your long tail keyword strategy. In this chapter, we will
look into the two most important pillars of your niche: your product
and your customer.
Who is your customer?
Picture a store with a little bell that rings every time a customer
steps through your door. This person has visited your store a
million times. You know exactly what he wants. You even smiled
and went into the back of your store to get the product you know
he came for. That customer doesn’t even have to tell you what he
wants. Now think about how this works online. The vast majority
of the readers of this eBook will have no notion whatsoever about
their online customers. Sure, there are tools like Google Analytics
trying to educate us on demographics and things like that. But how
solid are these numbers? We can try to use exit-intent surveys and
ask users what they came to your store for. This will only give us a
partial truth about the real reasons people visit our online store.
And even worse: there are so many different customers online,
it is driving marketeers mad.
Usually, Google is your best friend for finding information. But go
ahead and do a Google search for ‘types of buyers’. This very search
query will tell you that marketeers have been struggling with this
subject for years and years. And probably will be for decades to
come. Buyer types help you realize there is probably not just one
customer profile for your website. Check out this study about buyer
types (partially funded by Carnegie Mellon and the Russell Sage
Foundation) that divides your customers into three main groups:
1 Unconflicted, also called the Average Spenders. This is the
majority of buyers (61% according to the study). A group that
make common, logical buying decisions and that cares about
value-based pricing. Their reasoning is “I need something,
where can I find the best buy with the best reviews for the company
and product”. We think most of us can relate to that.
2 Spendthrifts (15%). A small group of rather uncontrolled buyers.
Their motto is “I want it now, even though I don’t really need it right
now”. This group is triggered by premium products and will care
less about the price. Scarcity motivates this group more than
other groups, for instance.
3 Tightwads (24%). This buyer needs more convincing to purchase
your products. You’ll need to work hard to persuade this type of
buyers. They’ll do more research, need more details. You’ll need
to educate them on why they need your product and need to buy it
at your store. More than the other groups, this is the type of buyer
that will highly value a proper blog on your website.
This is a very rough division of customers. What’s more, we think
we can be any of these three types of customers depending on the
sort of product we want to buy online, and perhaps even the amount
of money we have reserved for that specific purchase. The tough job
for you as a online shop owner is to send the right triggers to the
right people at the right time. Just thinking about how to do this
will already narrow your niche. And I’d like to add an extra question
to that: what is your product?
What is your product?
It seems very silly to ask yourself what your product is. You might
have been in this business for years. You know your product. You
probably even know your customers. This is where your online
business differs from your offline, conventional business a lot.
First of all, it’s difficult to get to know your customers. Moreover,
you’ll have a lot more competition online. If you are a small town
pen shop, you’ll probably have little competition. If you’re an
online art shop, the world is your competition.
A competitive online market results in competition on keywords as
well. If your online goal is to rank for ‘art’, stop dreaming and get
to work. It will most probably never happen. You need to focus on
more specific, long tail keywords, so to say. Your niche is described
by your product and a number of limitations or perhaps better:
specifications. For some examples of longtail keywords for Katie’s
online shop check out chapter 4 of this section: Keyword research.
B2B vs B2C
Another thing to keep in mind is: are you (mainly) selling to end
users or other businesses? You might have expected that question
in the previous chapter, but we beg to differ. When you start your
business, you unconsciously think about selling B2C (business to
consumer) or B2B (business to business). Your business originated
because you were selling to either one of the two. We think that in
most cases the decision B2C or B2B isn’t made in a business plan.
Your business grew in a certain direction because of other choices
you have made:
• What is my main product?
• What other products relate to that?
• Do all these products fit a certain product group/assortment?
• Does it pay off to invest in the option to sell more related products?
And all of a sudden you have a stock and are in business. In that
little art shop, your B2B assortment will be broader. You might also
sell coasters, paper cups, or even subscriptions (new artwork every
month!). You offer illustrations in themes, picture hanging hooks,
things like that. If you are selling to consumers, your stock could
vary in size and your customer is probably a one time (or few times)
customer. That requires a different approach.
Does it matter if your customer is a business or a consumer? We
wish we could tell you that selling online is simply selling online,
but it’s not. Consumers require other care than businesses.
Businesses will come to your site, order and go. The reason
could be that you are the cheapest one for that specific product
in Google Shopping. We think most B2B customers will be in the
Consumers, on the other hand, want to experience your company and
products. There will be more emotional buying in that group, which
aligns more with the Tightwads group. This obviously depends on
the product you are selling.
Is it possible to serve both B2C and B2B customers? Most definitely.
Example: we sell plugins. A consumer will purchase one license, a
business might want to buy several at once to use for their clients.
That is why we offer discounts for bulk purchases. We know we
serve both groups.
Figure 1: bulk-options on yoast.com
Now let’s combine your findings about your customer and your
product into a niche.
And now you’re ready to find your niche
Now that we have given you some food for thought on your
customers and your product, let’s determine your niche. Let’s find
out what the unique buying reasons (UBR) are for your products.
This process also coincides nicely with the process of finding long
If you also have an offline store, you should keep in mind that your
online niche and offline niche can be different. For example, Michiel
really likes Waterman fountain pens. He got one for his graduation
20 years ago that has a 18K gold nib. At that time it might have been
bought at a bookshop or a department store. Online, on the contrary,
that would most probably require the shop to specialize in luxury
fountain pens. Besides that, he’s pretty spoiled as his current
favorite pen shop (there is such a thing!) wraps even his refills in
gift paper. There is an important extra dimension in this: He’s in
the Netherlands, so it should ship there without any long delivery
times or excessive shipping costs.
Let us repeat the definition of a niche: “the situation in which a
business’s products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular
kind or group of people”. In the case of our pen shop, that would
mean the shop’s niche is “luxury fountain pens for people that live
in the Netherlands and are willing to spend an extra buck for quality
and extra service”.
We trust this way of specifying a niche has got you thinking about
your own niche. And the million dollar question is: are you optimizing
for that niche? Try to keep that in mind when reading this eBook.
Your niche evolves
One last thing about niches: they evolve. Or perhaps we should say
that your business evolves, and that might alter your niche. If you
sell fountain pens and find that a lot of people buy a certain brand,
you might open a brand-specific online shop. In the Netherlands,
you can buy just about everything at fonq.nl; Their products vary
from BBQs to Moleskine notebooks. But for that last product they
have set up a specialized shop at moleskine.nl because the demand
was so high. This could also be the other way around: if you expand
to a certain niche and purchase a company (or domain name) in that
niche, you could consider merging it into your main website, or
maintaining the specialized online shop. And even if you start out
with a very specific niche, you might find yourself broadening your
niche by adding extra products and services. The evolution of your
niche could, or rather should be a continuous process. Be sure to
monitor that evolution.