Authority Site Case Study: Niche Brainstorming, Analysis, and Selection

Niche selection is one of the single, most important aspects of developing a new authority website.

No joke. 

Choosing a niche that is too competitive could exhaust your budget before you get any traction.

If you go with a niche that has low-paying affiliate offers, or a general lack of monetization opportunities, it’ll be pretty hard to generate significant revenue. 

A lack of passion around your niche may cause you to abandon your project out of sheer frustration.

There’s a lot to consider. 

When you know what you’re looking for and uncover a gem, it’s a beautiful thing. 

A solid, viable niche can decrease start-up capital requirements, as well as the amount of time it takes to generate traffic and revenue.

Let’s take a look at the process we went through to identify the niche for our new authority site. 

Niche Selection Criteria

I want to start by sharing the criteria we use to evaluate potential niches.

There’s a good reason.

Niche brainstorming and analysis require a metric ton of raw data to sift through.

Having an idea of what you’re looking for before you start will allow you to disqualify bad niches on-the-fly. This will make shortlisting easier later on and will save you valuable time. 

Here are the criteria we used to identify viable niches for our site: 

Passion Level

First and foremost, you need to be passionate about the niche.

An authority website is a multi-year endeavor (at least). You need to be honest with yourself and ensure you’ll still be interested in the topic several years down the road.

There’s nothing worse than dropping a bunch of cash on a project only to abandon it because it feels like pulling teeth to create new articles or interact in the community.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way! 

Enthusiasts 

Outside of your passion level, it’s really important to make sure the community around the niche is filled with enthusiasts. 

You know the type of person I’m talking about. You’re looking for a community that associates the topic with their identity.

Good examples of this include: 

  • Vegans
  • Parents
  • New Yorkers 
  • Yankee fans 

In other words, the niche you select should have a demographic with a high degree of loyalty toward the topic. 

Evergreen Niches

Evergreen niches are those that exhibit a consistent level of interest from the audience year after year. 

If you’re going to spend your time and hard-earned money developing an affiliate site, it’s in your best interest to ensure there will be sustained interest in the topic. 

I like to pose the following question when determining if a niche is evergreen:

“Did this niche exist 100 years ago, and is it likely to exist 100 years from now?” 

If you can confidently answer “YES” to both parts of the question, then you’ve found yourself an evergreen niche. 

Google Trends

Google Trends is a fantastic tool for evaluating interest in a niche over a period of time. 

Here are a few ways I use trends to evaluate potential niches: 

  • Niches with clearly declining trends can be disqualified
  • Niches with very low interest on the trend charts probably aren’t viable and can be disqualified
  • Comparing multiple niches against each other provides invaluable insight when trying to decide among several niches with high potential 
  • Seasonality. I’m looking for niches that have consistent interest instead of those that have a few spikes throughout the year

E-E-A-T & YMYL: 

I avoid anything that requires a high level of Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T)

Typically, these are “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) niches. Topics related to personal finance, safety, or health fall into this camp. 

This is a purely personal preference. In my view, I want to reduce or eliminate as many barriers to entry as possible. 

Every niche will require some level of E-E-A-T. At the end of the day, you do need to provide a good deal of value to your audience.

But, if Google is telling their Search Quality Raters to evaluate YMYL websites with a higher degree of scrutiny, I’m taking that as a sign to run the other way. 

Competition

Looking at the various competitors in a niche can speak to its viability.  

I’m looking for two things: 

  1. Big sites that are dominating the niche, and
  2. Small sites under 2 years old that are showing signs of success

The idea here is that the presence of big, dominant competitor sites more than likely means the niche is profitable. If a website has spent the time and money to develop its content and link profile for years, you’ve got to assume there’s money in it for them.

On the flip side, younger sites with low domain ratings and a decent amount of traffic indicate that the niche isn’t too competitive. If those newer sites were able to carve out “market share” in under 24 months, it’s likely that I can too!

So, it’s important to identify niches that have both. Big sites indicate profitability, and younger sites indicate a lower barrier to entry.

The Authority Site System course includes a really solid framework (and templates) for this type of competitive analysis. It made life easy for me. 

Keyword & Topic Availability 

If there’s a minimal amount of keywords and article topics to cover in the niche, your profit ceiling will likely be low.

I want to be in an industry that has seemingly unlimited topics to cover for years to come.

So, if you’ve “niched down” so far that the topic can be covered in totality within 6 to 12 months, it’s probably not a good option for an authority website.  

Active Communities

Similar to ensuring the market has plenty of enthusiasts, it’s a good sign if there are active communities around the topic you’re evaluating.

Solid, active communities are great for article research, traffic generation, and networking with thought leaders. 

You can find niche-specific communities on Reddit and Facebook. It’s also worth it to dig through Google to find forums, message boards, slack groups, and other online communities.

If you can find at least 3 to 5 active online communities on the specific niche topic you’re evaluating, you’re in good shape. 

Monetization Options

There’s not much of a point in going after a niche if you can’t generate revenue from it. 

Here’s what I need to see, in regard to monetization options, for the niche to be viable: 

  1. One or two big, general affiliate programs (Example: Amazon, Walmart)
  2. Five to ten product-specific affiliate offers
  3. At least 5 info product offers (Clickbank)
  4. At least one high-dollar offer for a specific product or service 

Beyond that, I want to make sure that I can also earn revenue through display advertising. Make sure the niche isn’t a banned topic on Adsense (or your preferred ad network). 

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Niche Brainstorming

Now that we have an idea of what makes a solid niche, we can get into the actual brainstorming process.

Here is the framework we followed to come up with a master list of potential topics for the authority site:

Make a List of Personal Interests

I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on topics that you’re personally passionate about. 

Your overall chances of success with your revenue-generating website will increase if you have a connection to the topic. 

Begin by creating a list of your interests.

Personal hobbies are a great place to start. Examples of hobbies include:

  • Sports you participate in
  • Sports teams you love
  • Food and dining out
  • Music genres and artists 
  • Travel
  • Affinity groups and clubs
  • Fashion
  • Outdoor activities 

You can also look at your routines; the things you do regularly to maintain your lifestyle.

Examples of personal routines may include:

  • Exercise
  • Personal Finance
  • Cooking
  • Career
  • Family
  • Pets
  • Home Decor

After going through these two brainstorming exercises for an hour or so, we were able to generate a list of 67 personal interests that could be potential niches for our website.

It was a fun process for us to do as a team. David, Tommy, and I realized that we have a lot of shared interests. It’s probably why we work well together! 

Niches Within Niches 

We’re not finished yet, though.

You’ll probably notice that a lot of the topics you listed were rather broad. 

There could be subtopics within those broader categories that would be viable for your website. We call this “niching-down.”

Let’s look at “Personal Finance” as an example. 

Keeping our criteria in mind, we can assume that there probably aren’t many young websites gaining significant traction in the broad personal finance category. All the big-boy brands and publications own that niche, and it would be hard to compete as a new website.

But, if we look at the subtopics within personal finance, we start to see potential opportunities.

Topics like:

  • Budgeting
  • Retirement planning
  • Taxes
  • Insurance

And, believe it or not, you can drill down even further. 

Subtopics within insurance, for example, may include:

  • Car insurance
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Long-term care insurance

You get the idea. 

After tediously going through each of the 67 items on our initial list, we were able to niche down in a lot of areas.

Our final brainstorming list yielded 108 potential niche topics! 

Niche Shortlisting

Paring down our master list was as easy as evaluating each niche against our set of criteria. 

We used Google Sheets to create a basic matrix that listed all 108 potential website topics and the criteria data for each of them. 

Then, we highlighted all of the “passing” criteria in green and the “failing” criteria in red.

This left us with a useful visualization. The winners and losers jumped right off the screen.

We were able to eliminate about 70% of our potential topics simply because they did not meet our expectations for a solid niche. 

Metrics, Metrics, Metrics

At this point, we were left with 30 or so potential opportunities on our list that needed to be shortlisted further. 

For the first time in this entire process, we logged into our Ahrefs account to dig into raw data in a significant way. 

Here are some of the metrics we evaluated for each item on our list: 

  • Number of article topics
  • General keyword difficulty 
  • Backlink opportunities 
  • Number of big & small competitors 
  • Ranking potential for short tail keywords

Ultimately, we used this data to determine if we could compete with the resources and budget we have available for the project. 

Revisiting Passion 

After digging into the numbers, we were left with 5 potential opportunities. 

To be honest, all of the remaining niches on the list would be good, viable options for an authority site. 

There were pros and cons for each of them. A few of them were low competition, but had an equally low-profit ceiling. Others had better opportunities to profit but would require more start-up capital to compete. 

The only shortlisting tool at our disposal at this point was passion. We picked the niche that we were the most interested in pursuing. 

Our Niche Selection 

Well, it would be silly of us to reveal our niche selection this early in the game. 

We’d have copycat sites popping up that would throw a wrench in our efforts.

Maybe we’ll reveal the site later on once we’ve gained some market share. We’ll see. 

What I can share are the characteristics of our selection. 

Authority Site Niche Characteristics

  • Total Search Volume: roughly 300,000 monthly searches
  • Topic Hubs: We’ve identified 26 potential clusters so far
  • Potential Topics: Over 1,000
  • Big Competitors (DR40+): 24 sites
  • Young Competitors (under DR39): 60 sites
  • Evergreen Niche: Yes
  • Trends: Stable; no seasonality
  • YMYL: No
  • Enthusiasts: Most definitely
  • Active Communities: Very active; found 27 so far
  • Monetization: 2 general affiliate programs, 34 product-specific offers, 15 info products, 2 high-dollar offers

Wrapping Up…

This was a long, tedious process. 

It’s the first time I’ve put this much effort into picking a niche. We spent a solid 3 weeks working on it. 

It was worth it, though. We feel that we have an intimate understanding of the niche and what makes the demographic tick. 

I’m excited to see how this niche evaluation framework benefits us over the life of the project. Only time will tell! 

As far as the topic for next week’s update; it’s still up in the air. 

We’re expecting to receive our Topical Map from Yoyao at some point next week, so we have a little time before we’ll be sharing anything on keyword research and content plans.

Our logo and branding package is now complete, and we’ve done some initial work on basic website infrastructure. So, maybe we’ll do a post on a few smaller/quick processes. We’ll see! 

If you’re enjoying the case study so far, please make sure to drop us your email in the widget further up this page and we’ll let you know every time a new post goes live. 

Happy Holidays!  

Vincent D'Eletto

Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of WordAgents.com. I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!