How a Laser-Focused Niche Can Boost Your SEO Agency’s Growth by @jeremyknauff
You’ve probably heard about the importance of focusing on a niche, but if you’re like many people, you may have dismissed the concept, thinking that it would limit your options.
The truth is that focusing on a highly defined niche enables you to achieve greater results, and to do so more quickly than you ever could as a generalist.
Right now, you might be thinking “No way Jeremy, a that’s not right for me, I’d rather target everyone. That give me more opportunities to find and close new business.”
I’ve heard that excuse. In fact, I’ve used it myself in the past.
I fought against specialization in a well-defined niche because it felt like it wouldn’t limit my opportunities. I felt this way despite the fact that mounds of data prove otherwise, and despite the fact that some of the greatest minds in marketing have explained how and why specialization actually creates more opportunities.
A health crisis I suffered a few years ago forced me to pivot on that mindset though.
My agency almost collapsed because during the first year of this crisis, I was rarely able to leave the couch or bed. Throughout the second year, I could move around, but was rarely able to leave the house. I managed to keep my agency afloat, but barely.
As my health started to improve, I began looking for ways to ramp back up quickly and efficiently. I was hungry, but given my current circumstances, simply working harder than everyone else was not an option.
Fortunately, I stumbled across a video from Jason Swenk on the importance of focusing on a niche. That video explained, in a way that just made sense, how he had used this principle to build his own successful multi-million dollar agency. He said:
“Picking a niche gives you the clarity of what to say no and yes too. Without clarity, we are just wandering around without any focus.”
While limitations may seem like the logical outcome of specialization, it’s actually the complete opposite. That’s because focusing on one niche creates several advantages that you would never achieve while trying to serve everyone.
Some of these advantages include:
Getting in front of the right prospective clients is essential to successfully marketing your SEO agency today.
Focusing on a niche enables you to do that more effectively because it gives you the opportunity to get in front of the ideal audience more frequently, rather than getting in front of a larger audience just a few times.
Your own marketing efforts might include a combination of channels—but imagine if instead of casting a wide net, you invested all of your time, energy, and budget in marketing strictly to your chosen niche…
This enables you to build brand awareness within your niche, while presenting the image of a larger, more powerful agency.
You’re probably wondering “How the hell do I do that, Jeremy?”
In my case, we started by aligning with the largest trade organization in the construction industry. In addition to networking with members, we also helped the staff in a variety of ways, which maximized my agency’s visibility within the organization.
At the same time, we executed a comprehensive content marketing campaign to get in front of our audience. We published valuable information, both online and in print, through the publications they already knew and trusted. An added benefit here was that it also played a role in our link building efforts.
Combined with our paid advertising, public speaking, and direct sales efforts, this focused targeting ensured that our brand was catapulted in front our perfect audience virtually everywhere they looked.
When you specialize in a particular niche, it becomes more cost effective to get in front of prospective clients more frequently because you know exactly where to find them.
You just need to figure out all the places the people in your niche can be found, and market to them there.
Specializing enables you to build a deeper knowledge of the niche you serve, creating a powerful differentiator and helping demonstrate your unique value to prospective clients.
Over time, provided that you deliver on client expectations, you will become known as the go to source within the niche you’ve chosen to focus on. You stop being just a choice and you become the choice.
This also makes referrals both more common, and more effective, because many of your clients know each other.
Think about it like this; if Tom ran an automotive dealership and was ecstatic about the results he received from the SEO agency he worked with, he might refer some of his business owner friends to that agency.
Let’s say he refers Mary, who happens to run a company that sells hand-knitted cat costumes, to this SEO agency. She might love what she hears and may trust Tom 100 percent, but she still may be a bit skeptical because “her business is different.”
You and I know that we can provide exceptional SEO services to anyone in any industry, but every business owner truly believes that their business and situation are completely different than anything you’ve encountered. You can convince Mary, but it’s going to take a lot more work.
On the other hand, if he refers you to Gary, who like Tom, runs an automotive dealership in a different city, the sales process will be dramatically easier because Gary’s trust in your capabilities, and equally important, his confidence that you truly understand his business, will be significantly higher.
The benefits don’t end there though…
Focusing on a highly defined niche allows you to precisely tailor your message to engage your audience in a way that a general message never could.
For example, which message do you think would resonate most with Gary from my previous example:
XYZ Agency has over 10 years of experience with SEO across a wide variety of industries.
XYZ Agency has specialized in SEO for the automotive industry for over 10 years.
Clearly, an automotive dealer would be more receptive to the latter because it shows that your agency doesn’t just dabble here and there — you’ve focused all (or at least a majority) of your efforts in their industry.
When you speak their language and use the words they do, you’re viewed as one of them. That helps you to connect with them on a subconscious level and build deeper trust, more quickly.
You can see this kind of subconscious connection in your own behavior. Do you remember when you first bought your last vehicle?
What was it?
Unless it was something incredibly rare, like a Shelby Cobra or a Lamborghini, you probably remember seeing a bunch of them as you drove home from the dealership.
It’s not that there was suddenly a massive wave of sales for that model of vehicle at the same time you purchased yours.
No, they were always there, but you just began noticing them because you now own one, too.
Tailor your marketing message with your clients’ language and they’ll notice, and more importantly, connect with you in the same way.
If you divide your efforts across a variety of industries, a large portion of your contacts won’t be relevant to each other. This means you’re essentially reinventing the wheel with each one.
When my digital marketing agency started to focus on the construction industry, the same strategies and tactics we had been using began to be significantly more effective because a majority of the contacts we developed were in that industry.
From potential clients to media contacts to website owners and bloggers, nearly every contact could provide value to us in some way, and of course, we could reciprocate in some way as well. It’s a classic win/win scenario.
Let’s look the power of these relationships from the perspective of link building, which is still an essential part of modern SEO.
Both generalists and specialists need to conduct outreach on behalf of their clients to earn high-quality links, however, generalists must put forth significantly more effort than established specialists.
At the onset of a campaign, a generalist needs to first research potential link partners, and then conduct exhaustive outreach to earn what often amounts to just a handful of links.
A specialist, however, can quickly develop powerful relationships in their niche, which enables them to build links faster, with far less effort because rather than a cold email, they can simply email people they already know, and in many cases, consider friends.
How much more effective do you think your link building efforts would be if you already had a personal relationship with the people who managed the websites you wanted links from?
Engage with professionals in your chosen niche, and invest time and energy nurturing those relationships in order to achieve greater leverage.
My niche is forensic site audits and related consulting. I chose this narrow focus because, after several years of performing SEO for clients, the need for audit work had become great enough that I could devote all of my energy to just performing audits and nothing else. I’d been doing implementation work for several years, and my first real audit at the end of 2006.
Then Google’s updates began having greater impact on what was, at the time, considered strong SEO. It started with universal search, then kicked up with the MayDay update, followed by several Panda iterations. So by 2011, I was spending more time doing audits, for a fixed rate, than I was implementation that was mostly hourly based projects. I went exclusive to audits and related consulting in the summer of 2012.
By the time I had shifted to mostly audits, I had already been writing articles and case studies on a number of those client projects and the results they got. I eventually shifted to writing a series of articles specifically on the audit process, and began speaking on audits at a number of industry events.
Word of mouth from audit clients, several of whom by then were agencies contracting out the audit work to me for their client sites, took over at some point, and the notion that I was very good at that work, went viral.
A big push came after performing an audit for a client of Bluelass, an agency that at the time was U.S.-based. My contact was Greg Boser, one of the company’s owners. Greg had by then become well known as a true industry thought leader, and after seeing my audit, he said he could count on one hand the number of people who really understand the deep concepts needed for a proper audit, and that I was one of those people. It was a truly humbling moment in my career.
I also became known for my brutal, raw honesty in the audit work.
Many agencies claim to offer audit services. Just as often as not though, many of those end up pushing their own services directly in the audit.
As an independent, unaffiliated outside consultant, I was able to establish a level of trust with site owners because I didn’t have an ulterior agenda or motive.
By being fiercely independent, where I refuse to give or receive compensation for work that I refer out or that gets referred to me, it strengthens the perception that I’m going to focus solely on the facts, regardless of what the tasking requires and whether it does or does not call for any particular agency’s ongoing services.
The “brutal, raw honesty” aspect of my services further sets me apart because site owners, and especially CFOs and other C-Suite executives know that I’m not going to hold back when I see something others missed, or where their own team had potentially previously failed to implement perfectly good recommendations previous SEO professionals may have given.
I’ve always been a site auditor and have worked in numerous niches over the last 20 years. But over the last three years I’ve been especially enveloped in the food blogging niche.
I would like to say it’s because I love food (and I do) but it’s mostly just dumb luck. I was invited as a last minute SEO speaker replacement to an industry conference years ago and the rest is history.
The food blogging niche is very referral-only. The vast majority of the yearly audits I do in the niche are the result of referrals from other, past, audit clients. That has certainly given me a competitive advantage.
I’ve also been fortunate to have been recruited to be the on-staff SEO expert for Food Blogger Pro. As the largest and most active blogging community platform devoted to food bloggers, it provides a level of exposure that reinforces my own demonstrated expertise.
Next, I contribute regularly to two of the largest Facebook groups targeting food bloggers. I answer questions when time permits and that further raises my profile.
Next, I have spoken at several food blogging-specific conferences over the last couple of years including the IACP National Conference, Everything Food Conference, Food Bloggers Canada, TechMunch, and others. This has allowed me to network with other bloggers, interact with ad companies and tool providers, and see what issues are most on-mind for potential clients so I can adjust my offerings.
Finally, I never turn down a podcast. Food bloggers love podcasts and are thirsty self-starters who soak up SEO advice wherever possible. My recent Chopped Academy, Dishing with Delish and Food Blogger Pro podcasts have generated thousands of plays and add to my demonstrated expertise and authoritativeness within the niche.
Before specialization, I was booking audits no more than one to two months in advance.
In 2018 alone I am fully booked six months in advance with work. This has also allowed me to competitively price my services and significantly expand my business while resulting in practically no increase in advertising expenses.
Back in 2008, I was asked to speak at a legal marketing mastermind group in Atlanta, Georgia, about SEO.
Having been a vigorous student of SEO since 2001, I was very comfortable with the topic and presentation.
After I got off stage, I had a group of attorneys come up and hand me their business cards, and that was the genesis to my agency.
I became an expert by speaking at legal trade shows and showcasing our successful case studies to a captive audience that were looking to get the same results for their law firms.
I always lead with education and transparency in my presentations, that builds trust and the trust makes me more credible as an industry expert.
Having worked in the legal niche for over a decade, we spent a lot of time developing and executing strategies that get results.
We also build relationships, leverage our contacts in the industry, and start to speak the same vernacular as our clients. It is much easier to get new clients when you have a portfolio of respected lawyers who our prospects admire.
We chose the dental industry because focusing on an individual niche allows us to communicate directly to a group of clients with specific needs and pain points. This makes our marketing more effective, efficient, direct and also allows us to understand their specific needs so we can serve them better.
We chose the dental industry in particular because of its large footprint and overall financial health, extreme need for reliable, effective, and ethical web marketing services, and the extensive experience my co-founder (Michael Lambe) has in the sector already; having built websites specifically for dentists for the past six years.
Our business is still quite young, so I don’t think we have established ourselves entirely in that regard yet.
That said, we are focusing on great content, a clean and attractive portfolio, case studies (almost done!) as well as incredibly informative no-obligation strategy sessions with prospects.
Last, but not least, we are promoting my co-founder’s design experience and my 20 years of SEO experience as a selling point.
Focusing on the dental niche provides us with the rare opportunity to become intimately familiar with our prospect’s pain points, needs they don’t even know they have, and the various marketing strategies that have been proven to reliably deliver new business to our dentists.
That advantage, alone, is extremely worthwhile and puts us above the average firm pitching to one of our prospects.
When competing with similar niche dental marketing companies who have more commonalities with First Dentist we leverage marketing efficiencies we hone regularly.
For example, building and improving incredibly detailed processes used by our team that increase efficiency; ultimately allowing our services to be competitively priced while offering great results.
International SEO/SEM with a focus on Japan and Asian markets.
When I started the search business back in the ’90s, Japan was the second largest country on the Internet.
To me, it was the natural next step for many businesses already online to expand the market to Japan. There were some search agencies in Japan at that time, but none of them could communicate in English with foreign businesses.
As a bilingual who grew up in Japan, I saw that as an opportunity and decided to work with the businesses outside Japan.
While bringing the results to my clients, I’ve invested the significant amount of my time and work to help grow the industry.
For example, I was a chairman of SEMPO Asia and SEMPO APAC for 10 years. I was a member of SEMPO board of directors, I speak and share my experiences and knowledge at industry conferences around the world, and I write articles published online and offline.
It helped to establish me and the company as the trusted go-to place for the international search projects especially when they wish to improve the performance in Japan and Asia. Also, thanks to referrals from people I’ve met and worked with, the business has been growing continuously over the past 20 years.
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