This is a Guest Post by Dee Barizo, a loyal SEJ reader who sent this in and is very relevant to something I preach in terms of influence and linking, becoming an expert in your field. Enjoy.
I think one of the most untapped areas in SEO is developing expertise in your niche. Search specialists know a lot of link building and keyword research but how many of them are experts in the industries where they work?
Search marketers who do not have expert knowledge in their niche are leaving a lot of money and traffic on the table. I made this realization after reading Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated. He argues that niche expertise is essential to become a top performer and reach your highest potential.
He cites research showing that the best performers have a deep knowledge base to draw from. They are able to leverage it to outdo their peers. For example, the top doctors can interpret an X-ray reading much more accurately than new residents. Using their knowledge and experience, they see the subtle but important cues that the new residents miss. Also, the top pilots are much better at navigating through the chaos of air traffic control than the new pilots.
You can see this phenomenon in SEO. An experienced search marketer can look at keyword logs and stats and quickly see opportunities for traffic growth. On the other hand, a newbie will totally miss them.
Search Marketers and Niche Expertise
All of this emphasis on knowledge and expertise may seem elementary and obvious, but I see many competent search marketers entering niches without much knowledge of those niches. Because of their lack of knowledge, the content they produce is pretty boring and reads just like most of the other commercial content on the web.
Many of them still do well because their SEO skill compensates for their lack of niche expertise. But this strategy is not a good one for the long term.
See right now, you don’t really need niche expertise to compete. Most companies are clueless about SEO. You can easily outrank them even though your content is average. However, as more webmasters learn SEO and the search space gets more saturated with new marketers, it will become more difficult to rank. You will need expert knowledge to keep and grow your market share.
Now you might be thinking, as you work in a niche, you will learn more about it. That is true but your competitors are experiencing the same thing. Plus, after you learn the basics of an industry, it’s tempting to just rely on that knowledge instead of acquiring more information.
What Geoff Colvin advises is being intentional with the learning process. Niche expertise should not only be a by-product of your work but a major goal.
He writes on page 121 of his book:
Imagine the difference if you made domain knowledge a direct objective rather than a byproduct of work. If you set a goal of becoming an expert on your business, you would immediately start doing all kinds of things you don’t do now. You would study the history of the business, identify today’s leading experts, read everything you could find, interview people inside your organization and outside it who could provide new perspectives, track key statistics and trends. The exact steps would vary depending on your business, but it’s quickly apparent that you could make yourself impressively more knowledgeable about your business than you are today, and probably do so in short order. With time, your knowledge advantage over others would become large.
I think Sugarrae is a great example of search marketer who understands this concept. Here’s what she said in an interview last year on SEO Book regarding the telecom industry where she made her mark as a successful affiliate marketer:
I knew crap about telecom when I started – I learned, learned, learned the field.
Also, she gave this advice:
I always say you don’t need to love the topic, you need to learn TO love the topic. To make the best site, you have to be willing to either immerse yourself or pay to immerse someone ELSE in a topic.
The Benefits of Niche Expertise
Niche expertise is the gateway to many benefits. I’ll highlight a couple of them and how they relate to SEO.
Imagine if you could predict the next major trends in your industry. Wouldn’t that be helpful and give you a big competitive advantage?
The top experts have robust mental frameworks that allow them to see the future before it happens.
With expert knowledge, you can create content about the upcoming trends. As you predictions come true, you will attract links and gain authority and trust.
Geoff demonstrates that the innovative leaders from many different fields all had vast amounts of knowledge about their respective industries before they came up with their creative breakthroughs. There was always a long preparation period of learning before any major innovation.
Innovation has always been a great way to build links. Whoever comes up with something new that adds value gets rewarded with traffic and citations.
Search marketers have always talked about unique content as a fundamental strategy. If you want to have truly unique content, not just reworded wikipedia style content, you need to go deeper in your niche.
An expert by definition knows many things that the average person doesn’t know. Creating content based on your expertise helps you stand out from the crowd and builds your reputation.
Time is money. With a wealth of knowledge at your disposal, you can create content more efficiently and improve your site faster.
Experts can discern quality from mediocrity.
You can leverage this discernment in various ways. For example, you can hire other top performers and avoid mediocre ones. You can point your readers to the best information and warn them of misleading content. When seeking advice from others, you can distinguish good ideas from bad ones.
Once you have a solid grasp of the SEO fundamentals, start developing knowledge about your niche. Read books. Watch videos. Add the top blogs to your RSS reader. Have that same zeal for acquiring knowledge in your niche as you had with learning SEO.
You’ll get a much higher ROI if you combine SEO knowledge with niche expertise. SEO prowess + expertise in the niche = an unbeatable combination.
The industry knowledge you learn is an investment that will pay off in the long term. But even in the short term, you will receive benefits like new content ideas.
The process may seem like niche research. But unlike the common advice of doing the research once in the beginning, you will be learning on a regular basis to become an expert. Plus, industries don’t stay stagnant. They change with the times. With a regular learning schedule, you will be up to date with the latest changes and new issues that come up.
Over to You
How well do you know your niche?
What methods would you recommend for learning more about a niche?
Dee Barizo is an affiliate marketer and search specialist. His latest project is an online degree site called The Best Degrees. He is developing expertise in the online education industry by browsing forums and blogs, reading books and scholastic journals, watching videos, and connecting with students and college faculty and staff. Also, he plans on taking an online course soon.