If you truly understand your niche, you can better find relevant linking partners. If you don’t, you’re going to waste loads of time pursuing targets that don’t work out, and you’re going to end up with potential links that may give you better rankings, but don’t do a thing for traffic.
There are 10 key questions to consider when sussing out your niche.
1. What is my target demographic? If you trust it, Quantcast can help. Google Analytics has information about who’s coming to you already. If there’s an actual store/business nearby, go and see who’s there. Are there more men or women? What are their ages? The more you learn about your demographic, the better prepared you are to approach them and get links. Note: while your client probably has great ideas about the demographic, do your own research to make sure that it fits with what you’re being told, as sometimes people tend to be a bit clueless/naive about who’s really in their audience.
2. What social media communities do my target audience flock to usually? Older adults (like my poor parents) are now on Facebook but I don’t yet (thank God) see my parents on Twitter or anywhere else. I highly doubt you’d find a boatload of senior citizens socializing on MySpace. There are a lot of niche social media platforms so check them out, if they’re appropriate for your content. An old but still good list is here and here’s a more comprehensive list.
3. What language does my target audience speak? What are the key terms? Get a huge list of industry keywords and rank them in order of importance to you, as a marketer. Rank them according to search volume. Find the intersections.
4. What are the main terms that my client/site owner wants to rank for? These aren’t always the same as the ones indicated by search volume research. Some may match up (and those are the sweet spots) but you may find yourself arguing with a client that marketing the phrase “trendy plus sized clothing” is a better idea than marketing “fashionable women’s sized clothes.”
5. What are my best pieces of content? Best doesn’t necessarily mean most popular. You should have learned that in high school. Make a list of what you and the client both think are your best pages and grab some analytics data while you’re at it, so that you do get the current popular pages. Use these in your efforts to get more deep links.
6. What do I have to offer my audience? In figuring this out, you can better determine other interests of your audience. It’s not enough to know that you have great products. Do you have the lowest prices, fastest shipping, cheapest shipping costs, daily emailed deals on baby products, signed copies of Henry Rollins from his Black Flag days when he was all skinny, etc?
7. Who would be the least likely linking partners? Sites geared toward octogenarians aren’t your best bets for getting links to a site selling punk rock clothing. I’d also avoid the usual sites that are obviously selling links, have huge amounts of sitewide links, haven’t been crawled in ages, and sport lovely spammy hidden text in their footers.
8. What neighborhoods should I avoid? I don’t just mean bad linking neighborhoods here, I mean sites that just kind of suck. If you’re taking the trouble to approach people and ask for a link, why bother getting it on a site that no one in your demographic would trust? Traffic and trust mean a lot to a marketing campaign, too. Unless I’m just nuts, a site devoted to Joy Division isn’t going to throw too much traffic at your pet care site, unless, of course, you’re selling seriously sweet little puppy shirts with Ian Curtis’s contorted form emblazoned upon them.
9. What tactics should I avoid? This is more than black hat and white hat; it’s figuring out which approaches are the least likely to work in a link building campaign for your site. My link builders approach linking for finance and apparel clients in completely different ways, because target link partners have shown some fairly massive distinctions in how they respond to certain tactics. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, the fashion bloggers we deal with don’t usually try to point out that our rates are 50% below market value. There are certain niches that we just approach with a very “this is what we want, can you do it?” mentality, and there are others that we approach with a “let’s get into personal stuff and maybe talk for ages about our bad childhoods.” Well, that’s a bit of an extreme example and I swear that it only happened that one time.
10. What are your industry competitors doing? These can be brick and mortar competitors or online ones. What are the sites who rank where YOU want to be doing? While I’d not advise spending loads of time on this, it’s definitely the best way to give you an idea of where you currently stand in relation to everyone else. If you’re representing a big brand, ask around to see which other brands are viewed as competitors. Depending upon which group you ask, you may get totally unique results.
Julie Joyce owns the link development agency Link Fish Media, is one of SEO Chicks, and contributes to Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Gurus.