Finding your place on the web, when it seems so crowded out here

place on the web

By Mark Schaefer

One of the things I have written a lot about is the concept of the “saturated niche.”

The idea is that before you go headlong into any sort of content marketing strategy, you should assess the current competition to determine your best opportunities to maneuver. If an industry category is flooded with helpful content from competitors, it might be difficult, or impossible, to break through and get attention for your content. You need to find some strategy that you can own.

One of my students in the Rutgers Digital Marketing program asked me this question:

“Niche saturation. That phrase was driving me nuts because it seemed like you were saying that if the industry is saturated, just forget about it. I am a digital marketer and my niche is service professionals or coaches. Sure, digital marketing as an INDUSTRY is saturated and ever-growing. But I’m not going to give up on my career. What do you do in the case of a saturated niche?”

Finding your place on the web

Of course I am not saying that anybody should give up, I’m just saying, be intentional about your strategy. Let’s look at digital marketing as an example.

A search for “digital marketing” provides 141 million results. Indeed, this is a very saturated niche. If my friend simply started a blog about all things digital marketing she would be lost in the noise.

The fact is, companies who have built a tremendous amount of content on this topic over a period of years have such high domain authority that even if they stopped right now, they still may own the search results for years to come, even if you worked your heart out on your content. That may not seem fair, but that is life in the Google World.

A search for “digital marketing for service industry” provides 26 million results. Still saturated, but we’re heading in the right direction.

If my friend primarily works in one region, she might look at “Philadelphia digital marketing” — 3.8 million results. Now we’re starting to make some progress in terms of a category that is somewhat less competitive.

A close look at this niche shows that most of the content from this search is about digital agencies in Philadelphia, not necessarily digital marketing in Philadelphia. And none of the results are videos. Could she own a niche by creating video content for customers in her region?

In my book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I explore many ideas for owning some content niche even in a crowded content environment. Although I was writing about establishing a personal brand, these ideas are applicable to any company really. Here are a few ideas:

1. Move to an unsaturated social channel

suzy trotta

Trotta

There are more than 6,000 licensed real estate agents in my county. That is one crowded space! The biggest real estate firms are creating lots of online content, newsletters and Facebook posts. How would a newcomer stand out?

My friend Suzy Trotta has done just that by creating an awesome, personal, and hilarious Instagram account. Unlike other realtors in her area, she isn’t posting photos of homes and “for sale” signs.

She posts incredibly entertaining pictures from her life in the real estate business. This is human, accessible content in an unsaturated channel that is going to break through and appeal to a lot of people, especially the younger Instagram audience.

Suzy is one of the rising stars on the local real estate scene … and that photo? That’s Suzy in front of her new agency!

There is lots of opportunity for channel innovation within a niche. Can you start your industry’s first podcast? The first Snapchat line of storytelling?

2. Vary the content type

In 2013, YouTube came out with a very useful whitepaper describing the three kinds of content created by every successful brand. These are:

Hygiene — Answering every day customer questions. The “they ask, you answer” kind of format.

Hub — Evergreen content that might feature more in-depth stories about your customers, employees, history and values.

Hero — The epic content that goes viral.

An example of a company dominating a niche with this technique is Nike. Adidas sponsored the last two World Cups but Nike took over the social media conversation by creating hero content — epic mini movies — that received millions of views.

Look at the type of content being produced in your niche. Is there room to maneuver?

3. Try a new content form

One of the things I predicted was that the heightened competition from Content Shock would usher in an era of innovation in new content formats. For example, if Content Shock makes it too difficult and expensive to reach people with a simply YouTube video, the world will probably come up with alternatives.

One of my favorite examples is Tom Fishburne who carved a very successful niche for himself in the crowded digital marketing space through his outrageous Marketoonist cartoons.

strategies to stand out

There are endless opportunities to establish a niche by content form. Could you become known for amazing and informative infographics? Quizzes? Q&A on Facebook Live? Slideshare presentations?

4. Content quality

Avinash Kaushik

Kaushik

In the digital marketing space Avinash Kaushik only blogs about once a month. But his epic and thoroughly-researched posts are so informative (sometimes extending to 10,000 words or more!) that he has built a loyal fanbase based on quality, even in an extremely dense marketplace.

Another example is Jon Loomer, who has become known for his deep-dives into Facebook advertising concepts.

Specifically, the digital marketing space is flooded with me-too content. It is certainly possible to create a stand-out voice through expertise.

5. Promotion and volume

steve rayson

Rayson

It’s a sad thing, but it’s possible to bury even the best content out there if you do a good job with promotion, SEO, and sheer volume. Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo recently wrote a very comprehensive thought piece on this “pump up the volume” content strategy. He showed that sites with very average content — even content written by computers — can get more social sharing through volume compared to companies focusing on fewer, quality posts.

I know that sounds disappointing and strange, and I don’t think that is the right strategy for everybody (including me!), but that’s the way the dynamics of the web works for now. And we have to run our businesses based on what is, not what we wish for.

6. Curation

In nearly every industry, there is one ambitious person who creates a curated newsletter that highlights the best news and information of the week. If nobody has done that for your niche, that could be an extremely effective way of standing out, even if there is a lot of content.

In the digital marketing arena, this has been an effective strategy for Scott Monty whose pithy “Full Monty” newsletter has become the standard source of news and insight every week.

7. Content frequency

john lee dumas

Dumas

My friend John Lee Dumas was able to stand out in the very crowded podcasting space, in part, due to the frequency of his episodes.

Years ago, John was in the real estate business in Southern California and he spent a lot of time in his car. He longed for a business podcast that he could listen to every day, but he found there was nothing like that.

He started the daily Entrepreneur On Fire podcast and it has become a million-dollar-business based on the enormous popularity of the show and his spin-off properties.

On the other extreme, Tom Webster and I only produce one Marketing Companion podcast every other week. Many listeners have said part of the appeal of this lower-frequency format is that they are always left wanting more and eagerly anticipate each new show. In this way, these two shows stand out in the crowded digital marketing space, at least in part, due to their frequency.

8. Approach and tone

isadora becker

Becker

How many food bloggers are there out there?  20 bajillion. That is a real number. I looked it up.

So to stand out in that kind of an arena, you are going to have to come up with a new angle. And that’s what happened for Isadora Becker.

Isadora combined her love of TV and movies with cooking. Her YouTube channel features famous recipes from the movies — as she dresses like the characters. Her approach has led to sponsors, books, and a television contract.

Even in a crowded niche, combining a core value (like humor, family, or spirituality) or interest (like movies, sports, or style) with your industry topic can create a new angle that creates new fans in your industry.

9. Demographic Target

If your niche seems saturated with competitor content, look carefully for opportunities they may have overlooked — like a demographic group.

I was brought in to help one global brand who was at least three years behind in their content marketing. Everywhere we turned, their competitors had filled the web with Hollywood-quality videos, breathtaking photography, star-studded blog posts.  There seemed to be no room to maneuver.

But we did a careful analysis and found that the average age of the competitor’s customer had aged and they were completely overlooking youth-oriented content opportunities on Snapchat and Instagram. It’s too early in their process to see if our work translates to sales but their audience in those channels has exploded.

Conclusion

Just because you’re late to the content game doesn’t mean you don’t have options. In fact, the sky is the limit if you apply some research, resourcefulness, and determination to your approach.

You don’t have to be all things to all people. Find a niche with an audience big enough to help you achieve your goals, whatever they might be, and create helpful content consistently.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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