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It’s nice to be niche
Whether your expertise is broad or specific, your organization large or decidedly small, every audience will be made up of many smaller audiences. What works for one may not work for another. Understanding those audiences, and what each of them need, means creating a content strategy that is greater than the sum of its parts.
So while we’re here, let’s examine those parts, shall we?
Earlier this year, we used natural language processing to identify niche audiences. We received lots of feedback from readers who felt validated: “I had a hunch this kind of content would work, I just needed the data to back me up!” Other readers were pleasantly surprised: “So this means our business content performs best when put into a political context? Interesting.” Many were inspired to replicate the analysis using their own tagging strategies.
Once you’ve identified your niche audiences, how do you engage them?
To dig into this, I wanted to revisit niche audiences in the context of referral traffic: how to maximize the niche audience you have, and the growth opportunities you shouldn’t overlook.
Every audience is a niche audience
The goal is ultimately getting an audience to your site. So understanding where your audience over-indexes can tell you where your opportunities lie (and what to avoid). As a primer, let’s look at where audiences discover content for the top 20 categories in our network.
Here are some interesting deviations to consider:
- Tech & Computing and Television over-index in search.
- Legal Issues, particularly of a political nature, over-index on social.
- Pro Basketball and Internet Technology over-index in direct referrals.
- Most of the sports and culinary categories under-index in other external traffic.
- Psychology/Psychiatry under-indexes in everything except internal traffic.
Of these 20 categories, 11 receive more than half their audience from external sources, the likes of social domains, search engines, and other aggregators or syndicators. The rest get a majority of traffic from internal or direct referrals—that is, readers coming directly to owned and operated properties and clicking around.
There are risks and opportunities on both sides.
Since search and social are dominated largely by Google and Facebook, a site that covers categories toward the top half of this list will be most susceptible to algorithm changes. (If you’re one of those, I suspect you didn’t need me to tell you that.) While this content has a strong presence on search and social, it may suffer from high bounce rates. A site covering categories toward the bottom half of this list could have strong internal recirculation, high views per session, or engaging newsletters, but struggle with brand awareness and audience growth.
Most domains are likely to cover content up and down the list, or perhaps a topic even more specific within one of these categories. The success of that content should be measured accordingly.
So to help with that, I’ve revisited the four most diverse categories highlighted our last study, this time in the context of referral traffic. I wanted to understand whether businesses should heed overall patterns, or whether niche audiences deviated from the norm, making them even more unique.
How to optimize for niche audiences
Tech & Computing
Search is the biggest driver for niche categories in Tech & Computing, but internal referrals are not far behind.
- Audiences interested in graphics software, wearables and cameras, and other tech-to-go are going to begin their journey in search.
- Email (the topic, not the referrer!) is small but mighty: most traffic comes from internal referrals, indicating a reader is already on your site, and is eager to dive into all the resources you have!
Content that over-indexes in search may risk high bounce rates, as search visitors are the least likely visitors to stick around. Creating more search-friendly content will not fix this. If you are covering the Tech & Computing space, start with your top posts by search referrals, and ask yourself whether those are the best articles on the topic that you have. If not, give them a refresh with internal linking.
This is one way you can set up your content to become evergreen. Using this and other techniques to work smarter within your archive, you may find you can do more with less..
Health & Fitness
A majority of traffic within Health & Fitness comes from readers already on-site. This also suggests an opportunity to boost discovery on external platforms.
- The science of health over-indexes in search.
- Personal subjects, like mental health, sexuality, and cancer have more substantial audiences on social media than other categories in Health & Fitness. There is a higher potential for a post to go viral within these digital communities.
- Science and Exercise may have better luck building newsletters than other Health & Fitness categories.
We know that views per session maxes out around 2-3 posts, even for the most loyal readers. Rather than chasing pageviews, organizations covering Health & Fitness may want to focus on increasing sessions and building loyalty a measure of success. The data shows that once they’re with you, they’re likely to stick around!
With such strong internal recirculation, the same content creators might consider community-building techniques. Starting with high-performing content on-site and promoting it on social or through a newsletter can help readers connect with one another. Tapping into those networks can lead to more discovery, and in turn, growth.
Business traffic seems to come from all sides, but slightly more from search.
This goes for most content strategies, but for those covering Business, the most important element to consider is intentionality. Reporter Hanna Horvath at Policygenius said it best:
“When I’m thinking of our present and future content, I ask, ‘What is the purpose of this article? Is it going to rank and get organic traffic? Is it for the newsletter? Will a syndicate partner pick it up, or is it just a great piece of financial content that would just live on our site and we can link to it?’”
That kind of segmentation is important: a new visitor from search will need very different financial advice than the reader already subscribed to the Policygenius newsletter. Do your readers need a little information to get started? Or do your readers need more thorough resources?
Consider too that sites covering niche Business topics have a big opportunity to build up content partnerships and newsletters. At Policygenius, Horvath found that helpful lists on budgeting and saving performed well with syndication partners. This happened to be content featured in a lot of newsletters, signaling that these readers would be more likely to say yes to a newsletter subscription.
The data suggests that many organizations probably have a solid SEO strategy, but also a lot of competition. Using data as content would be an excellent way to differentiate your coverage from competitors, and personalized newsletters might be a clever growth hack for Business audiences. To discourage search visitors from bouncing, also make sure you’re providing them with highly relevant content recommendations.
The broader Science category has equal parts of its referrals coming from search and internal.
But Science has more exceptions:
- Geology gets most of its traffic from other external referrers, a category that would include aggregators as well as other sites. The same is true for Astronomy and Physics, compared to the rest of the section. Content partnerships would be a worthwhile consideration here.
- Biology, on the other hand, is mostly direct referrals. This study only looks at posts, so this indicates that these referrals are more likely to be dark sources such as email, rather than direct visits to homepages.
- Astrology over-indexes overwhelmingly in search
The diversity within the science category suggests that each cross-section is a truly niche audience. Perhaps as a first consideration, those covering Science need to segment the interest level of their readers: is this content for fellow professionals, or for a more general audience? From there, break down your priorities for acquisition: organic exposure through search might do well to grow general audiences, while partnered content and newsletters elevate a community for professionals.
Here’s all the suggestions and tips provided above to build out your niche audiences. Tell us what’s working for you!
- Working smarter within your evergreen archive
- Decreasing bounce rate and improving internal recirculation
- What makes a good article recommendation?
- Which referring domains help you build loyalty?
- Finding your tribe: building communities online
- Using data as content: a secret weapon
- 3 stats that prove newsletters create community engagement
- Identifying niche audiences with tagging strategies
Have a niche category you’d like us to dig into? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org