I originally posted much of what you will read below in January of 2016, a year ago.
However, last week at the Inman Connect Conference in NYC, I had the pleasure of sitting in the session that was presented by Rand Fishkin, the SEO 'Wizard of Moz' (Founder of SEOMoz, which is now just Moz) and someone that the entire world considers a heavyweight expert on SEO, if ever there was one. And Rand highlighted this opportunity as one of the best content opportunities for SEO in 2017.
As his presentation got under way, he called out, in a good way, Molly Cartwright and Courtney Cooper (well he didn't actually call out Courtney, instead he credited Molly with the technique as she works with Courtney and is all over their website, SeattleAfloat.com) for their Niche blogging work on their website, SeattleAfloat.com. Here is a link to his slide deck from that presentation.
After hearing Rand, I decided to dig up this post because as each year passes, it will resonate more and more. You have to pick something and plant your online SEO flag in that Niche. Your flag isn't big enough (Like Zillow for example, their flag is BIGLY) to cover your entire market, it's just not.
Below is my post from one year ago, with the stuff in italics commentary that I added for this year.
2016 2017 is (still) going to be the year of the Niche blog.
I believe that the people that identify, and then dive into a niche market with their blogging are going to garner the most results from their content. My poster child for 2016 will be long time ActiveRainer, and friend of mine, Courtney Cooper. No pressure Courtney! haha.
What Courtney has done over the last 5 years is completely dominate her niche, Houseboats in Seattle (or floating homes, or whatever else you call them, she is there online when you go looking). So this isn't a new strategy, but as I read the Google tea leaves, I believe this strategy has the most room to make an impact in 2016 2017. Here is why.
The Shotgun Approach - Lots of Great Content, No Focus
Let's say I create 100 pieces of content in 2016 2017. I could do it via the shotgun approach, or I could go the niche route. Here's what the shotgun approach looks like. Today I write about a condo building in Seattle, then tomorrow I write about a subdivision in Shoreline, a neighboring city. Then I do a few market reports about different areas, and maybe I write about my listings in a few different cities, and then some community events in this city or that city. As I continue throughout the year, I'm creating good content, at a hyper local level, but I'm not really focused on any one thing. At the end of the year I might end up with content about 75 different topics, even though I've only written 100 posts. That thin approach to creating content, with no central focus, puts me at a disadvantage over someone else who takes the niche approach.
(This is what 99% of real estate bloggers are doing. I understand why, you sell houses everywhere, so you want to create content about all of these different areas and cities. But the problem is, Google is looking for experts about something, not generalists about a ton of different stuff. Your chances of ranking with this shotgun strategy are next to nothing. So, you have a choice, become an expert online in some niche in the eyes of Google, or remain a generalist about every city where you hope to one day sell a house. The choice is obvious.)
The Niche Approach - Completely Blanketing a Segment of the Market, Laser Focus
Let's say I take those same 100 blog posts for 2016 2017 and I decide to focus on One Thing (hat tip to Gary Keller and Jay Papasan on this one). So today I write about some restrictions on houseboat owners on Lake Union. Then tomorrow I write about restrictions on Montlake floating homes. Next week I do a market report on each area (and I continue with these reports throughout the year focused on my specific target). Every time I have a houseboat listing, you can bet I'm going to write about that. I'd write about the special permits required for owning a houseboat. I'd create links to their permits on the city website. I'd interview people who purchased houseboats from me in the past and share their unique stories of what it's like living in a Sleepless in Seattle movie every day. I'd talk about the inventory (or shortage of), I'd talk about the events happening that impact those specific homeowners, like the opening of boating season, or some of the floating parades or firework shows that happen on the lakes. I'd write about some of the historical aspects of those homes, or share a blog post about the actual house featured in Sleepless in Seattle.
But it doesn't just stop with writing the blog. I'd leverage all of that great content to present myself as the absolute expert on that niche. Courtney's been written about in Seattle Home and Lifestyles magazine and even became a sponsor of a floating homes tour that was put together in Seattle.
She COMPLETELY dove into her niche. Today, she is THE expert on floating homes in Seattle.
(In a text conversation with her while I was watching Rand talk about her strategy, she told me exactly how much of her Niche market she captured in 2016, and let's just say it's more than half, quite a bit more. And she also schooled me in the difference between floating homes and houseboats, ever the expert in her niche!)
Why Is This The Future?
Every day, your peers are creating content to market their real estate businesses. But it's not just your peers. Zillow, REALTOR.com, Trulia, Redfin, etc, are also creating content and enhanching their search engine optimization to continue to clamp down on the top of the search results. As more and more content gets created, it becomes increasingly hard to break through the noise with a laser focus on One Thing. You could end 2016 with a mediocre blog that has sporadic coverage of 50 different things, or you could have an amazing blog with in depth coverage of one thing you choose to specialize in.
Courtney didn't stop selling other kinds of homes. In fact, she ends up with lots of people in her business who might have started out wanting a houseboat, but end up buying something different. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but she's told me more than once that finding a laser focus was her best online marketing decision ever.
(This last paragraph is really important! Read it again, I'll wait. Online she has her flag in the ground, flying over her niche. But she still does business outside that niche. I've talked to 10 bloggers on ActiveRain in the last month, and I can sense their trepidation when I tell them this advice. I can hear in their voice that they want to be represented online for all of the areas they cover. It's not possible any longer. It's just not. They can choose to create content in a niche and have success, or they can choose the generalist shotgun approach and dangle in the wind as others in their market understand what needs to be done in 2017 to rank. As I talked about above, if you are writing about 10 different towns, it's totally possible that each of those ten towns has one (or even multiple) person/people writing specifically about that town. And beyond that, you probably have someone writing about specific niches inside your town.
"Yeah but, where I sell real estate isn't very big". Fine, pick a topical niche and have that niche cover multiple towns, but stay on point about being an expert in that Niche. Like Bill Spear does with 'Patio Homes in Warren County Ohio'. He covers lots of area, but with a focus on his topical niche, patio homes.)
How Do You Get Started?
You pick a niche and then you write down 20 ideas for blog posts in that niche. You put it in a member's only blog post (or it can be public if you want, I don't care) declaring what your niche for 2016 2017 is going to be, and the kinds of posts you are going to write, and then you share that link in the comment section here (1000 points for everyone that does) and then you get started!
It's the old Ben Kinney method of cleaning out the garage. You take one box per day and you clean it up. You don't do it all at once. You take steps every day toward your goal of a clean garage.
At the end of the year, you have a blog with real teeth, and you start to transform your online presence.
Some Other Good Examples
Liz and Bill Spear have been doing this for a few years with Patio homes in their area of Ohio. Bill and I communicate from time to time and he's always talking about how he's working with a client or getting ready to close on someone that found one of his patio homes posts.
Debbie Gartner does a great job with her Flooring Girl blog in Westchester County NY. Her business has taken off since she found her laser focus. Every time I speak to her on the phone she's running off to another appointment.
Cindy Jones immediately comes to mind when I think of military relocation in Virginia.
I'm positive for many of you, when you think about certain niches in different parts of the country, someone immediately pops to mind. I haven't had the chance to talk to Liz and Bill, or Debbie or Cindy in a ton of depth to what lead them to their niche, or if they even made a conscious decision to focus on it. I do, however, know that Courtney's decision was planned. She set out to dominate that niche. She's well on her way pretty much there (no letting up now Courtney!). Now it's your turn to make a decision.