I'm very excited to share with you that I've recently settled on a niche for my new online store. For the past two months or so, I've been doing a good bit of brainstorming, research, and analyzing of ideas for potential products to sell, and I think (slash hope) that I've done a decent job of selecting a niche.
My original decision
The niche I eventually chose was not my original choice. After brainstorming and doing some initial research, I was originally planning on starting an online store selling survival gear.
By survival gear, I mean things like backpacks, knives, paracord, water filters, tents, etc. A lot of these items would be those bought by backpackers and campers; however, I had decided to target the specific term "survival gear," for a few reasons.
There is a growing community of "survival enthusiasts," people who learn and practice wilderness survival skills. This is reflected in part by the popularity of TV shows like Survivorman, Dual Survival, and Man vs. Wild.
There are also a number of wilderness survivalist online forums and blogs discussing the topic of wilderness survival skills and tools.
After doing my initial research, I thought I saw an opportunity to create an online store with a lot of well-written product descriptions, reviews, and a lot of helpful guides teaching people both how to choose a survival tool (like a survival knife) and how to use those tools (practical survival skills).
Why survival gear?
One of the big reasons I originally chose this niche was based on my keyword research. I found that there around 50,000-60,000 monthly searches for the term "survival gear." I found this using Google's Keyword Planner, which you can access through your Google Adwords account. So what does that number mean? So what if there are 50,000 searches per month? How can you know what that means in terms of opportunity?
Well, I'm still learning all of this myself, but here are the back-of-the-envelope calculations I did:
If I could eventually get to be the #1 result in Google for the search term "survival gear," then I figured I could count on about one-third of the traffic coming to my site. One-third of 50,000 would be close to 17,000 (17,000 monthly visitors). Remember, that's just for one keyword.
Conversion rates vary depending on the market you're in, but an average conversion rate for an ecommerce site is around 1-2%. That meant that 17,000 visitors per month could be expected to translate into approximately 170-340 sales per month.
The products I planned to sell (mostly knives and backpacks) would be in the price range of $50-$150, so I figured that an average sale would be about $100. This would result in a potential monthly revenue of $17,000-$34,000.
Of course, this was all dependent on the assumption that I could reach the number 1 spot in Google for the search term "survival gear." That's a pretty big assumption.
Even if I couldn't reach the number 1 spot, after doing additional research on Google results for my keyword, I was optimistic that I could be on the first page for a variety of related keywords.
Here is an example of the additional research that I did:
After Googling "survival gear," I opened all of the first-page results, and used a plugin on my browser (Chrome) to view each site's Google Page Rank. Here's what that looks like: The plugin I use to view the PageRank is called PageRank Status, and you can find it in the Chrome Webstore. Similar tools can be found as plugins for Firefox and other browsers--just search for a "page rank checker." You can also use a site like PRChecker.info to check the PageRank of individual websites, but I've found it much easier to have the tool installed on my browser that allows me to instantly view the PageRank of whatever website I'm currently viewing.
What does the PageRank number mean?
Google ranks websites from 0-10, with 0 being the worst score and 10 being the best. The higher the number, the more importance / authority Google has assigned your website.
When I searched for "survival gear" and then opened all of the websites on the first page of Google, I checked each of their PageRanks, and found that they ranged from 0-5, with the average being somewhere in the middle (about 3). I saw this as a good sign, since it meant that while there was enough competition to prove that demand for this type of product existed, the niche was not dominated by high-ranking sites that would be impossible to bump out of the higher positions in Google search results.
Another factor I checked out was my potential competitors' back links. This is related to the PageRank discussed above, but it's another way of checking how strong of a foothold the top Google results for a keyword have on the first page. If the first-page results all have a large number of backlinks, it's going to be more difficult to bump them off the first page and take their place.
I used Moz.com's Open Site Explorer to check backlinks. Just copy and paste in the domain that you want to check, and it will tell you how many unique linking domains are linking to that site.
I found that most of the websites on the first page of Google for the search term "survival gear" did not have many links (usually less than 50 or 100). With enough work, I was confident I could make it to the front page of Google for this term.
At this point, I was excited to be moving along in the process--I felt like I had a good niche, and was thrilled to start the next steps of the process. However...
Changing my mind
I had this nagging doubt about the niche I had chosen. My research looked pretty good, but there were 2 main reasons I started questioning my original decision:
1. Survival gear is a broad niche.
Selling "survival gear" would mean selling a wide variety of products, including knives, backpacks, dried food, tents, water filters, and tons of other smaller categories. I wanted to provide high-quality written content about my products, both in product descriptions and in how-to guides, so this would have been a HUGE amount of work (or money spent on outsourcing the writing) in order to create such quality content for all of the categories within "survival gear."
2. People Googling "survival gear" are probably not close to a purchase decision.
Another BIG concern I had was that the keyword "survival gear" was not likely to be used by someone ready to make a purchase. This type of search could easily be more of an informational search. For example, someone could be trying to learn what survival gear they should have on hand, and not looking to buy it immediately.
A niche within a niche
Then, I was listening to Terry Lin's Build My Online Store podcast in which he had Andrew Youderian and Ezra Firestone on the show for a round-table discussion. Ezra made a comment about choosing "a niche within a niche" in order to focus more effectively on your products and target market.
This inspired me to rethink my approach, and choose a single, smaller niche within the broader "survival gear" niche. After doing much of the same research that I had previously done for survival gear, I finally settled on the niche for my new online store:
Here are a few of my reasons for choosing survival knives as the niche for my new store:
Search traffic and competition
The search traffic is pretty good for a number of related keywords, and based on my research I think I can rank highly for those keywords.
Easy to ship
These products are small-ish, non-fragile, and easy to ship.
Good price point
The products range in price from $40-$200, but the average price is around $100 or so, which based on the research I've done seems to be a good price point for an ecommerce product.
Opportunity to add value through education and entertainment
When choosing a survival knife, there are a number of factors to consider, including steel type, blade shape, size, and several others. I think this will be a great opportunity for me to create quality content to educate potential customers about how to choose the knife that's right for their needs.
There are lots of survival skills and knife skills that can be discussed on a blog and in videos, so this niche is a good candidate for publishing interesting and educational content on a regular basis to engage customers and readers.
A chance to stand out against my competitors
Most of my top competitors in this niche are either A) camping gear stores or B) knife outlets that sell everything from kitchen knives to samurai swords.
Neither of these types of stores are focused on the specific niche of "survival knives"--usually, survival knives are a small portion of their product offerings, and they offer no educational content on how to choose or use a knife. This is a great opportunity that I plan to take advantage of.
Preparing for launch
Since settling on this niche a few weeks ago, I've been working on nailing down details like finding suppliers, opening a business checking account, getting a business credit card, and building my website.
If all goes well, I should be able to launch the website within the next few weeks--my goal is to launch on Friday, September 13.
I am really excited to see how this goes, and I'm excited to have you all looking over my shoulder as I go. This is definitely a big learning experience for me, and I sincerely hope that you find some benefit from following my progress. I'll definitely keep you updated on how things are going here on the blog and in my podcast.
I really appreciate all of you who read, listen, and comment--lately I've had the opportunity to talk with a number of you via email, and I love getting to know you. I'd love to hear about the online stores you are working on, thinking about starting, or currently running, so leave a comment below or shoot me a message!