Building a new community: Choosing a niche

by Martin Reed on 30 November 2007 in Articles

Choose a niche for your online community

This is the first article in what I hope will be an indefinite series about the processes involved in developing a brand new community from scratch. I am currently purchasing a domain name for a new community and will detail the development of the site on this blog. As I have said before, I think it is far easier to learn by example rather than simply reading another person’s theories and ideas.

Step One: Identify a niche

You will find it far easier to make a success of your community if you can do something different to all the other communities out there. Ideally you want your community to fill a niche that nobody else has yet established themselves in. Realistically this is unlikely, however you can still ensure that you do something better than the competition and differentiate in that way.

At present, I will not be revealing details on the subject of the new community I am developing. This is for two reasons: firstly, to allow my new site to become established before inviting new competitors and secondly, for reasons of fairness I want to show that it is possible to build successful new communities from scratch without using any other influences.

I have been looking to develop a new online community for quite a while now, but haven’t done so as I have been unable to find a niche that I feel is able to accommodate a new website. Additionally I had not thought of a niche that I felt would be sufficiently interesting for to me to remain motivated in developing.

A couple of weeks ago the idea for the niche I am now establishing a community within just popped into my head. Before considering it seriously though, I needed to undertake some research in order to ensure the niche was not saturated with websites – I am not interested in setting up a site alongside hundreds of competitors.

Step Two: Investigate the competition

In order to undertake this research, I wrote a list of keywords that would be associated with the new community. When I had this list, I ran them through a variety of search engines (not just Google!) to see what kind of sites already existed in the niche.

Initially I was surprised at the low number of apparent competitors. When looking at the websites of my potential competitors, I felt confident that I could improve upon the offerings of those existing communities.

Once I had satisfied myself that the niche was not over-saturated and that I could offer improvements over the websites currently operating within the market, I was ready to choose a domain name.

Step Three: Do your research

You need to consider whether there will be any demand for your planned new community. Sure, setting up a community in a minority niche will reduce the amount of competition you face but if you are chasing a tiny number of members success will be very hard indeed.

A good way of assessing market demand for your idea is through the Google Adwords keyword tool. Simply type in keywords related to the planned subject of your new community, and click the ‘Get Keyword Ideas’ button. As an example, let’s say we are looking to establish a community for anglers.

Keyword suggestion tool

Google will return a list of suggested keywords similar to the ones you entered, and provide some valuable data on those keywords. You can click on each column to order the results according to the criteria you are interested in. Click on the ‘Average Search Volume’ column to see the most popular keywords, or click on the ‘Advertiser Competition’ column to see the keywords that advertisers are targeting. Of course, the more advertisers that are targeting the keywords, the more revenue you stand to generate from your new community.

In this example, it would appear that the phrase ‘fishing forum’ would be the best to go for as it enjoys a reasonable level of search volume, and a high level of advertiser competition.

Coming up

Next week I will detail the processes involved in choosing a relevant domain name for your community, along with my experiences of the escrow process.

Your experience

How did you decide on the niche you chose for your community? Did you look at the competition before taking the plunge, or did you establish a community based on your passion regardless of competitive pressures? Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Vyoma November 30, 2007 at 10:49 pm

Ah! The much awaited series. :)

Was writing a response – was too long. Gist of it:

Started with a broad niche, until I drilled down doing competition analysis, but had to stop at a point.
Find full response here.

Smiley November 30, 2007 at 11:26 pm

Hey, this is one area where I did well, I believe. “Friendly Chat” — how many people want “free, friendly chat rooms” — and how many FRIENDLY chat rooms are really out there? Not many !!

Many are full of abusers, scrollers, and, the biggest culprit of chat rooms —- PERVERTS.

I think my mind has a good business mind when it comes to things like this, although I am very new, I always feel an instinct.

Here’s what I thought before buying the domain, I planned ahead.

To get male regular chatters, you first need plenty of female regular chatters. It’s sad, but it’s true. It’s how the majority of males on the internet work. What do female chatters hate the most? Perverts, and unfriendly sites.

So when I first set the site up, it was clearly stated in the meta tag description, the main page, the rules page, the chat page that we enforce a “strict, no-perv policy”.

Instead of admins & moderators, we have “customer support” Username[Support], taking a friendly, customer services approach to moderating. Rather than security & enforcement approach.

The site quickly gained several regular females, and of course, regular males followed.

Once we had a comfortable loyal regular member base, I ‘toned down’ the language on the site (got rid of the “strict no-perv policy” stuff) to encourage more visitors that may have been intimidated by such strong language. Although I toned it down bit by bit, not all at once.

So, the loyal regulars stayed, and we soon developed more regulars.

I believe that this is the site’s ‘niche’.. I market the site as “THE Friendly e-Community” — and up to now, it’s working!

I research competition all the time. If you search for “friendly chat rooms” — no FRIENDLY chat rooms really pop up. So, “Friendly Chat, “free, friendly chat rooms”, “friendly chatrooms” and various other keywords circling around that specific niche have all given me good spots on search engines, and little competition.

Sure, people like going to big chat sites for the user numbers, but they seem to always pop back into FC and they always say it’s “because it’s friendlier”, “no idiots here”, “no-one bombing me in PM with ASL, CAM, MSN, get your kit off etc here”.

So yes, having a niche, or atleast having some sort of motto, slogan, or atmosphere that is different to the rest — or you make it LOOK like it’s different to the rest, is important.

Online furniture store December 1, 2007 at 9:20 am

What are the different niches you were looking at Martin? I would be really interested to know.

Amish Made Furniture December 1, 2007 at 2:35 pm

Niche is now an extremely difficult matter. Just about every niche has been occupied. The alternatives are narrowing down to geography which automatically restricts the number of your community.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 1, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Vyoma – Thanks for your comment and link; I enjoyed reading your blog post. I have since edited my article to add another important step one should take when deciding on a niche: determining if there is actually any demand! My apologies for omitting this from the original post.

Smiley – Thanks for the detailed information on your thought process. I think it is important for an online community to evolve, and it looks like that is precisely what yours is doing. Well done.

Reena – Sorry, at the moment I won’t be revealing that information for the reasons outlined in my article.

Ramana – Finding an uncrowded niche is definitely a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Remember, you can still operate in a niche alongside competition, just so long as you can improve upon what your competitors are offering.

Vyoma December 1, 2007 at 3:46 pm

:) No need for apologies, Martin.

It is pretty common sense – if there is no demand – there is no use for its supplier. Everyone would figure that out. :)

Amish Made Furniture December 1, 2007 at 6:14 pm

That is very encouraging. As I had indicated earlier, I am in the process of launching a new blog shortly, and all these ideas are carefully being husbanded. There are however so many that I am getting a bit addled!

foro de perros December 1, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Great ideas… I think I have managed to get that far, now how about driving the traffic to it?

Patrick December 2, 2007 at 3:49 pm

Very insightful post. I’m currently trying to start a forum ( and your post is helpful.

Online furniture store December 3, 2007 at 4:22 am

Thanks for that tip about Google’s Keyword Analysis tool.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 6, 2007 at 2:25 am

Ramana – I best slow down on the ideas then, eh?!?

foro de perros – Stay tuned; I’ll be getting to that stage in future articles!

Patrick – Good luck with your new forum. I like the way you have started to customise it. Just make sure you get to work creating content, and cut down on those forum categories until you actually have content for them!

Reena – You’re welcome; it is but one tool out there that can be used to gauge potential demand for your niche.

web tools December 6, 2007 at 11:15 am

Martin, these techniques are excellent, with moderate efforts, to find highly search items. But high search, sometimes means more competition from fellow websites.

Can you throw some light on how to choose a niche, which is having low web page competition and high advertisement competition, because that is exactly what is required.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 7, 2007 at 12:07 pm

web tools – I am glad you enjoyed the article. Of course, more demand should mean more competition but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as you can do something better than those sites that already operate with the selected niche.

You should choose a niche based upon your own interests, a decent amount of demand for the niche and low levels of ‘category killer’ competitors.

Tooth Fairy December 7, 2007 at 12:56 pm

I’m looking forward for the new comunity you’re developing :), goodluck and i know it will be a good one.

Web tools December 7, 2007 at 1:28 pm

Martin, what you said is right.
But still nobody wants to compete against stiff competition.
And if you are at the stage of choosing the niche, it will always be better to choose one, which has less formidable competition.
Competitor Analysis is must, before choosing your niche, howsoever strong you are in creating good content.

Learn to Speak Spanish December 8, 2007 at 6:33 am

How important do you think it is to be “passionate” about the niche you select? A lot of people will tell beginner’s that they need to be “passionate” about their niche, but some are just so profitable that it would be unwise to ignore them.

Katharina December 9, 2007 at 3:13 pm

This sounds interesting, I have to search a niche now :-)

coozies December 10, 2007 at 9:00 am

Great info
smiley I will add a no perv policy on my new project :)

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 10, 2007 at 5:47 pm

Tooth Fairy – Thanks for your comment. I am still in two minds as to when to reveal it to you all. I am sure someone will figure it out and ‘leak’ the name before long!

Web tools – You’re right; in an ideal world we would be able to easily find profitable niches without competition. If only the real world would indulge us, eh?

Spanish – I think being passionate about your chosen niche is a massive advantage. Building an online community is a huge challenge, and you will often struggle to remain motivated.

If you are developing a community around a subject that you are passionate about, you will find it far easier to keep yourself motivated and work to make your community succeed.

Katharina – Good luck, and let us know how you get on!

Coozies – Just make sure that if you add the policy, you actively enforce the policy!

Melissa Odom January 21, 2008 at 12:33 pm

The niche site I have chosen/been trying to create is for the glbt community. There are already many social networking sites targeting this community. What I am trying to do is add a different focus to the site to make it more unique and meaningful to the users.

I looked at the competition and everytime I visited a site, there was always something more that was missing in my mind. Being part of the community, I found a need and throughout my failed journey the support has been good. I still feel a need to complete the journey.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 22, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Melissa – It’s good to hear that you are looking to add a different focus to your site; it is essential that you are different to your competitors.

I am also happy to hear that you are checking out the competition – this is a highly valuable and worthwhile process that every site owner should undertake.

Nepal February 29, 2008 at 4:29 pm

I have been working on some niche myself.

I decided to do a couple.

Here is one I selected for Nepalese people worldwide.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 29, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Nepal – Thanks for sharing your site. What made you start a community in such a niche? Are you from Nepal yourself? Do you have a passion for all things Nepalese?

laser tv March 24, 2008 at 7:31 am

I sure wish you could share your niche. I understand why you won’t though.

I just dive into my silly sites with almost no thought. That probably explains a lot of things. lol

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 24, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Laser – All will be revealed shortly before the launch; I don’t want a competitor getting a headstart on me! Sometimes just jumping into a new site can work well. Often though, a little more thought and research is needed in order to ensure success.

Balinda May 5, 2008 at 6:57 pm

I have been researching possible competitors…and have yet to find one exactly like mine…but there are similarities…mine is a running site for women…I have found many running sites, but not specifically for women (without an adjoining cause) Can you look at it and tell me if it has success potential? Thankyou…I love this site…wish I would have found it before I even started!

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Balinda – Unfortunately I don’t have time to offer full site evaluations; drop me an email if you are interested in a paid consultation. I do love the design of your community; it looks like you are onto a winner. Good luck!

Bob Riley December 18, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Hi, actually this is a well put article and helps you reach much needed audience. I’m myself trying to build a community of patients undergoing chemotherapy or cancer survivors. I was surprised when I researched there were only a handful no of sites of such nature. Hopefully i’ll bring some benefit to public by building that community.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 22, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Bob – Good luck!

Anthony Gianfrancesco January 15, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I am trying to find some fast free easy blogs online that I can easily just chill and type to people. I have been involved on car blogs for antiques; and have been made fun of because I dont know much about cars. People are very mean on some blogs, which has scared me away from them. I am trying to make a comeback and find some nice dofollow blogs to chat and also promote my website on. Some are hard to find. The google adWord is really great. I love using it, it helps alot for my exact uses. Thanks for the article.

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