Finding Your SEM Niche

    December 8, 2005

Ecommerce on the Internet continues to expand exponentially. The big question is always how to mark your piece of that huge pie. As a marketer, the trick is finding things to set you apart and a large part of that is finding and developing a niche. WebProNews publisher Rich Ord listened to some masters impart their wisdom on just this very topic.

Editor’s Note: Need to know something about finding a niche in search engine marketing? Talk about it with the experts at the WebProWorld SES: Chicago forum.

This session, entitled “Developing Your SEM Niche” provided quite a bit of useful information for anyone interested in making their mark. The session was moderated by Chris Sherman and included a number of experts who offered real substantive educational material for those willing to learn how to find their niche.

First up was Todd Malicoat, VP of Sale and Marketing at We Build Page. First he went into some specific types of niches on could develop. He listed web developers, SEO’s paid search agencies, public relations and affiliate marketing all as areas where niches would work.

Then he asked a key question: “Why choose a specific niche?” He said it allows one to specialize and gain an absolute advantage or a comparative advantage and it’s an advantage to partners. The people who have experience doing SEO have an absolute advantage and the newer SEOs have the comparative advantage.

Malicoat also discussed some of the threats and opportunities. He said search engine marketing is becoming oversaturated. He also said there is not a direct benefit for designing to W3C specifications. Google doesn’t care but Malicoat recommends it for other reasons. There also lots of people in the split testing and conversion studies web design niche.

“From a development standpoint,” he said, “there are lots of old nasty content management systems. Now they are really having a hard time getting their sites indexed by the search engines.”

He went on to say one of the SEO consulting threats is always moving content. The search engines are not going to give you specific guidelines.

Another area to work on he mentioned educating your clients is key in the SEM world. Bridging the gap in vocabulary between the IT and marketing guys is important in performing good SEO. As traditional media migrates into search, there will be plenty of opportunity for search engine marketers to work with major ad agencies.

He ended by listing additional paid search threats including client poaching, rising click costs which means lower ROI, and it’s a tough model for smaller clients. Paid search opportunities include long tail keyword still being available, yellow page migration, other media migration and tracking. His final statement summed up a lot: “Affiliate marketing is kind of like the wild, wild west. Very volatile.”

Next up was Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR. He followed in the same vein and started by saying 43% of the search engine marketing agencies have ONLY started in the last two years. He said, “This creates some interesting challenges. But is the challenge for the new people? No. You are making the established SEM’s work harder.

“All of us hear the term the industry is maturing. What does that mean because we’re not rich yet. What do we have to? Let’s focus.”

He also asked the question “Why specialize?” His answer was pretty straightforward: “Because you can charge more. If we’re all doing the same thing, we’re going to be paid minimum wage.”

He suggested reputation management has become a brilliant opportunity for experienced search marketers but said some want to focus on paid search. “We actually got out of that business next year. There is just too much to keep up with. We now offload PPC search.”

“How do you specialize? The good news is that this problem has been solved? Peter Drucker identified four possible strategies for any market:



Ecological niches

Gretzky said skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is. So how do you know where the puck is going? You must look ahead. The key is called demographics. Younger people are going to get older … you can predict that.

There is an opportunity for all of your hear to find every niche specialization. Just mine the data … get known as the person who has cracked this formula to a niche via demographics.

There is another strategy. Wee Willie Keeler: “I keep my eyes clear and I hit ’em where they ain’t.”

Part of finding your niche is finding what is not taken. Both Google and Yahoo have places on their site like Yahoo maps or Google local for mobile … they are investing serious money … so maybe that is a niche for you.

Those are search engine optimization challenges yet to be solved. You could be the expert and own that niche! You could then charge higher rates.

Mia Hamm: “i’m just a soccer player. That’s pretty much all I know.”

Sometimes just focusing on what you do best can become your niche. That is what Patricia Hursh has done in the B2B space. She’s focused on it … she knows it.

64.4% of companies don’t implement SEO recommendations. There is a huge opportunity for a company to solve this problem for companies. It is a company realignment problem. This is a niche for someone.

Calvin and Hobbes: “NO sport is less organized than Calvinball”. We all play Calvinball. The only rule is your can’t play it the same way twice. I know how to beat “Alta Vista to its knees!

We have had to reinvent ourselves in this industry. Half of what we knew a year ago about search marketing is obsolete. Just compare 2004 SES handbook with the 2005. Over 60% of the vendors are new. This is a challenge and an opportunity for search engine marketers.

We believe that if you are big you don’t need to specialize. But, even the big guys are running the hamster mill … sweating it. Everyone must specialize.

Then came the very Patricia Hursh, President of Smart Search Marketing, Jarboe mentioned above. She talked about her recent experience:

About 5 weeks ago at AdTech we launched Smart Search B2B. It used to be that just being a search engine marketer was kind of unique. But now you must differentiate yourself in this space. To appeal to more people your must narrow your focus. It was time to do that for us.

There is new market research that is indicating that it is not just consumers but business professionals using search engines too. We found that the B2B market is bigger than the B2C market and it is underserved by SEM agencies.

If you are going to select a niche and go for it you have to think about a marketing plan. We built a “story” to credentialize Smart Search Marketing as a leader in the SEM B2B space.

Our B2B clients are very interested in working with a company specializing in B2B.

Justin Sanger, president of Local Launch said this:

I was at SES San Jose and women handed me a business card. I asked me what do we do. She answered we do SEM and SEO. What makes you different? Well, she answered … we do it better. Hmm

It is extremely difficult for SEM’s to differentiate themselves. You can begin to build factors that are niche, which enables you not to sell your service based on price alone.

It is better to focus on one core competence than doing all things for all people. The day we did this everything changed. We focused on local search. We became experts in this space. But once you call yourself an expert in a particular arena you come to embody that niche.

You can then further exploit niches within our main niche.

Local search is a $15 billion marketplace … that is where the yellow pages are.

There are considerable niches with the local niche. Everyone of those niches within a niche is a potential opportunity for an SEM.

By becoming an expert you can create a viable business model.

Then Nacho Hernandez, CEO of iHispanic Marketing Group, wrapped up the speaking portion explaining why he’s doing what he does, which is focusing on the Hispanic market.

Why the Hispanic Market? It is just huge… 434 million … online has 61 million people.

Five of the top 7 main Hispanic sites are search engines.

The second most popular language searched in Google is Spanish.

It all comes down to the degree of rivalry when entering a niche.

Looking at the search engine marketing industry as a whole … new niches offer opportunities.

The market is going to grow where the Spanish population currently exists. This includes most major cities in the U.S.

Become my competitor. Come to Miami. Committing to this market means not just targeting to Hispanics, but targeting as Hispanics.
Muchas Gracias!

They followed up the presentation with a great question and answer session:

Greg: What happened when the niche you are entering is not big enough to pay the bills? You need to supplement it with mainstream work in SEM or SEO. You need to realize that down the road the niche will grow.

Nacho: It didn’t pay my bills at first. Focus on what you want and build it up … you can really do it.

Justin of LocalLaunch – You need to be an early thinker in order to lead a niche. It is the newspapers and yellow pages that are threatened online media. Well… that’s our niche…. empower them.

Greg… I’m Greg and I’m a search engine marketer who has found a niche. (AA joke) The good news is your friends get you through the rough times.

Nacho: Use partners for things you don’t want to focus on.

Patricia: If you are going to try to develop a niche in any industry this is a good one because it is growing like gangbusters.

Justin: Yes, don’t stop making money from your original source until your niche is fully developed.

Greg: The whole process here is part of the industry is changing. Only half of the industry is changing. You can go niche to niche to niche. I talked to a Black Hat in Stockholm who says this is actually his business model. I will change to my next niche after Google catches me.

Recognize that after you pick the wrong niche… just go back, analyze and find the next niche that may work.

Chris Sherman… Look at thinks like help wanted and new patent issues to find new niche opportunities. There are a lot of environmental clues out there. Just think about it. As Patricia said it is growing so fast…

Patricia: Maybe you are already in a niche… just expand on that. That’s what we did … we just proactively marketed it and over time changed our focus.

Justin: We for nine years were doing local search … but it wasn’t until we focused entirely did things take off.

When I get done with this local search thing I’m going to focus on political marketing. The key is to be the best at something and focus on it.

Greg – One other point … it is a technique … a tactic. We have always taken on pro bono clients … they are grateful for anything we do. You then build up your own experience… You get to fail miserably without the pressure. This lets you hone your skills.

The other trick … I mean tactic … we deliberately go after investment banks to get insight. If we position ourselves as a PR agency that does SEM rather than SEO PR, we are in trouble. SEO is hot. PR is not.

Justin: Develop a niche within a particular vertical.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.