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SEO Vs. The Microniche

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Part of competing on the Internet is finding a niche and crawling into it. It’s not a small town game where you may be one of two vendors – it’s a sea of would-be competitors. Many have found reasonable success with so-called “microniches,” partially because narrowly targeted products and services rank well in search. But does the microniche provide a get-out-of-SEO-free card? SEO experts say it doesn’t.

Take, for example, a website like GoTruckStop.com, a site sells accessories for big rig trucks. Thomas “TJ” Graff, the founder of this tightly targeted business is a former trucker himself and notes how Target and Wal-Mart lack any trucking-related gifts, and how truck stops along the highway are far too expensive. Such a predicament makes the perfect onramp, if you will, into an Internet business.

After just 15 months of operation, GoTruckStop.com ranks second in the SERPs for the term “trucker accessories,” among a handful of others. That positioning, he says, has really helped grow his business, which is adding customers and visitors regularly.

Graff says he was surprised at how well his site ranks for those terms in such a short time, and credits only a shopping cart software and an offline database that periodically updates the site with new inventory and information.

“I haven’t spent a dime on SEO programs,” he says. The same goes for AdWords.

BoxerHaus.com is another site tailing a very small niche market. They sell gifts for boxer dogs. Using the same non-SEO approach, a shopping cart software, and an offline database for updating content, the seven-month-old site is beginning to rise up in the ranks for certain terms.

But it is those “certain terms” that seems, at first glance, limiting the exposure these niche sites can get. The term “trucker accessories” pulls GoTruckStop up at number two, but for other terms, like “trucking accessories,” or the even more highly competitive “truck accessories,” GoTruckStop is invisible (i.e., not on the first page). And also, for a business targeting gifts for truckers, “trucker gifts” brings up GoTruckStop on page two – not bad ranking for a newer site in a broader field.

Nevertheless, for a recently-launched site relying no conscious SEO or SEM campaigns, those are some nice rankings. That brings up the question then: can a narrow target market, great shopping cart software, and regularly updated inventory negate the need for aggressive SEO and SEM?

Well-known search aficionados Aaron Wall of SEObook.com and Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped, say GoTruckStop’s microniche deserves the most credit for the rankings. And there may be other things at work that are overlooked.

“[Graff] has some links,” said Wall, “so it is not like it is just on-the-page issues that are causing him to rank. I think the site structure may relate to the crawl depth and crawl frequency, but I would say small niche is more at play than just the technology being used or update frequency.”

Lenssen thinks software can be a significant factor at times. “It doesn’t need to be ‘human consulting,” he says. “When I use a shop creation software, and this software is built with SEO in mind – or rather accessibility: no frames, clear titles, semantic markup like h1 tags, perhaps even a connection to Google Sitemaps or Google Base – then it might indeed help.

“Perhaps [Graff] also hit on a microniche, simply because he has so many different products. In the big web, almost everything has the potential to lure searchers as long as it’s somewhat unique.”

So, long story short, it seems the niche is the most powerful force at work for many small business owners on the Web – if you sell an ointment made from the hallucinogenic substance found on certain species of frogs, then there’s a good chance a searcher will find you out there. If you’re selling iPods, it could be a bit more difficult.

And though a business can grow via narrow channels and word-of-mouth, optimizing for those competitive keywords could only increase exposure – it just depends on how big you want to grow.

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