Ever seen an archer shoot an apple off someone's head?
It's a chilling sight, but the best archers do it without batting an eye.
But what if they had to demonstrate the same expertise in a dark room?
Would they still be so confident?
I bet they won't be getting any volunteers for the act.
Starting a niche site without researching your target audience is exactly the same as shooting arrows in the dark.
You have no idea of what you're aiming at (which makes the rest of your skills pretty useless)
No matter how good a writer you are or how easily you can rank sites in Google Search, if you don't know your audience you'll NEVER be able to understand their problems and find the right solutions for them (and make money online).
This is the biggest reason why most aspiring marketers fail.
They fail to develop any real understanding of the niche they're targeting.
And just in case you're wondering, knowing the age, gender or country of your audience doesn't even qualify as "scratching the surface" when it comes to market research.
It's common knowledge that all of your competitors already have.
And when you know only as much as your competitors, do you think you can outperform them? Pretty hard, in my opinion
You need to dive deeper to not only understand the real needs of your audience but also to get a grip on the emotions, the fears, the pains, and the experiences that shape and impact the decision making process of your ideal customer.
Not sure what that means and how it happens?
Keep reading with an open mind.
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What You'll Learn In This Post
- Why you've been doing research all wrong till now
- Why it's so important to understand the decision-making process of your prospects
- How you can use competitor analysis to understand your niche
- Why it's important to learn from the failed products in your industry
Audience Research: Go Beyond Demographics and Ask the Right Questions
As I said, knowing the age or the location of your target customers is great. But it's the most basic information that all of your competitors already have.
You have a lot more to research and understand.
For example, a typical buyer goes through multiple psychological states and faces several mental barriers before making a purchase decision.
Are you aware of the objections or the biases of an average buyer in your niche?
Without in-depth research, you can't figure out what's holding them back from buying from you.
To identify the problems that your target audience faces on a daily basis, to find the right solutions for those problems, and to find the right angles to pitch those solutions so that your audience considers your offer a favor rather than a greedy sales pitch, you must dig deeper.
You need to think from every angle possible and ask more specific questions about your audience.
Understand their beliefs, cognitive biases, fears, pains, desires, hopes, aspirations, and their ideals in life.
But I'll share just one lesson here (sshh! I'm giving out premium stuff here, don't tell Stuart)
When trying to understand your audience, ask probing questions from the following angles
Pains and Problems
Status Aspiration (Power, Prestige, or Possessions)
Wants and Desires
The more you know about your audience the more they'll trust you because they'd feel that you genuinely understand their needs and have the right solutions for them.
You'll be able to mold your language, your content angles, and the tone of your sales pitches to match their needs.
So how do you find the answers to the questions I've listed above (and many other relevant questions) that'll help you get a grip on the needs of your audience?
Here are a few ways to get you moving.
1. Define the Problem (Opportunity) That You've Identified
Every profitable business is built by solving a key problem of a well-defined target audience.
The bigger (and more urgent) the problem, the more money you can make by solving it.
But problem identification has several stages.
At first, you don't have all the details of the problem. But you know that it exists and have a vague idea of who your target audience is.
It's a great starting point for more research, but it's not enough to build a strategy on its own (newbies, take note please)
At this point, you need to define the problem as you know it. State your current understanding of what the problem is, who is it affecting, where is it affecting them and how is it affecting them.
With this limited info, create a loosely defined sample profile (buyer persona) that you can focus on and start learning more about.
Based on some of the questions I mentioned earlier in the post, here's a sample buyer profile
Here's another example of a buyer persona template you can use.
Source: Digital Marketer
Of course, any information that you enter at this stage will be based on your assumptions and existing knowledge of your niche.
But it will give you a starting point for more in-depth research and help you stay focused
As you start learning more about your audience, you'll need to keep updating your personas
In the next point, I'll show you how to take your research process to a completely new level by using competitor analysis.
So keep reading.
2. Analyze Your Top Competitors and Their Best Performing Content
Competitor analysis is a great way to piggyback your competitors to understand how your target audience is responding to different types of content and what topics you should target first.
But your competitors are not limited to the blogs or websites that are promoting the same products or targeting the same topics as you are.
Any sites that are targeting the main problems and pains, plus any of the desires of your audience, are your competitors.
Let's take the example of the buyer persona I created in the last point.
One of Eric's (our sample buyer) desires is to wear fashionable clothes.
Most weight loss blogs don't write about obese fashion.
But it's a topic your target buyer wants to read about.
If you focus solely on the topics related to healthy eating and work out techniques, you won't be able to address this particular desire.
You need to somehow connect your main topic with the supplementary topics that your audience is interested in
So the right way to identify your competitors is to target the sites that are writing about any of your audience's desires or problems
If you can't immediately think of any competitors, use SEMRush to get recommendations
Simply enter your website URL (or any other site) and SEMRush will give you 4-5 other sites that have similar audiences.
For example, here's the list of competitors I got for NerdFitness, a popular fitness blog.
These are the sites that are ranking in the top Google Search results for closely related keywords.
You can also simply search Google to find the competing blogs using search queries like "Top Blogs [Your Niche][Year]", "Best Blogs [Your Niche]", "[Your Niche] Blogs You Need to Follow" etc.
Once you have a decent list of potential competitors, start analyzing their content and the reader comments on each article.
In between the useless "Great Post!" comments, there are some real hidden gems that can tell you a LOT about what your audience really wants to know.
For example, look at this comment on a blog post published on NerdFitness sharing success tips for weight loss.
This comment must've given the blog owner plenty of content ideas for the future.
The commenter is essentially saying that she has already tried all the tips the article shares but she still hasn't seen the required results. She goes on to share specific needs and asks the author to write something on it.
Isn't that great info for you as a competitor?
Usually, the most popular posts of any blog have the most comments.
So it makes sense start your research from the top performing posts of your competitors.
You can either look for the top posts manually in the "Most Popular Posts" sections that most blogs have these days.
Or you could use BuzzSumo, search for your topic, and find the most popular posts on it.
For example, I searched for the topic "weight loss tips" on BuzzSumo, and here's what I got.
In my personal experience, this single technique can help you find amazing insights with regards to the needs and the problems of your audience.
But it does require some manual work and can take a lot of time.
In the next point, I'm going to show how you can use search trends and keywords to learn more about your audience much faster.
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3. Study Search Keywords and Trends To Find What People Want
Whether they're looking for a good restaurant or tips on potty training their kids, most people simply search for it on Google.
So naturally, it's the best place to learn more about your audience and find out what they're looking for.
First off, you can simply type your main niche keyword in Google Search to get keyword suggestions based on what the other users are searching for.
For example, let me type "how to lose" and see what comes up
You can see that people are searching for very specific weight loss tips like losing face fat, hip fat, belly fat etc.
Gives you some idea of what your audience wants.
But let's take this step further and search for one of these suggested keywords, "how to lose face fat", and see what comes up in the related searches section at the bottom of the screen.
The related searches tell you a bit more about your audience.
- They're looking to lose face fat quickly
- They're trying yoga to lose face fat
- They're looking for natural and home remedies to lose face fat
- They're also looking for different exercises to lose face fat
But let's use Google Trends to see if this is a topic that people are really interested in or if it's just a temporary trend.
Here's the search trend for "how to lose face fat" for the last 5 years according to Google Trends
Source: Google Trends
As you can, it's a pretty steady trend and people have been searching for this topic on regular basis over the last 5 years.
If you scroll down this page, you'd find the regions and cities where this term is searched the most. This would give you further insights on your audience and where they're located.
Source: Google Trends
Scroll further down and you'll the section titled "Related Topics".
This is really important information because these are the broad topics that Google thinks your target audience is interested in.
Source: Google Trends
When you click on any topic in this list, you'll be able to see the search trends and the related topics for it as well.
All these topics connect in some way with the search query "how to lose face fat" (which, of course, directly represents your main niche topic)
Right next to this section, you can find "Related Queries" that people are searching for
Source: Google Trends
"How to lose face fat and double chin" – very interesting search term which shows you a more common term that people use to describe face fat
You can keep exploring these related topics to find SO MUCH about your audience and its interests.
Google Trends really is an amazingly useful tool.
But you can make this whole process even faster by using Ubersuggest, a great tool that gives you a detailed analysis of any topics or keywords you want.
Here's what I got from Ubersuggest when I searched for the term "how to lose face fat"
If you're wondering why there's a picture of Neil Patel in that screenshot, it's because he purchased Ubersuggest a few months ago and actually made the tool even more awesome.
As you can see, the tool not only shows you the monthly search volume and trends for a keyword but also tells you how easy or difficult it is to rank for.
If you scroll down, you'll be able to see a list of suggested keywords and related topics (just like Google Trends)
If you click on the "Related" link on the top-right corner of the screen, you'll get a list of closely related topics that your target audience is interested in.
All this data, of course, is fetched from Google but it's presented in a much more user-friendly manner specifically for internet marketers.
Remember, our objective with this exercise is not to find keywords to rank for.
We're trying to find the broad topics that our audience is interested in and the questions they're asking.
Which is why we won't stop here.
YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest etc. are all great places to learn about your audience.
YouTube, in particular, is a goldmine for marketers due to the sheer volume of content uploaded to it every day.
See if any of your competitors have YouTube or Instagram profiles.
If they don't, simply search for your main niche topics to see what content is performing the best
Use search filters to sort the results by popularity
Watch some of the top performing videos on the topic to understand why they're so popular.
Also, keep a close eye on the comments to see the questions people are asking.
The objective of all these activities is to save time and learn from the mistakes of your competitors so that you can create even better and more useful content that's specifically targeted towards the needs of your audience.
In the next point, I'll show you how to learn about your target audience using Facebook (because, literally, EVERYONE uses it)
4. Use Facebook Audience Insights To Understand Audience Preferences
Facebook is any marketer's dream platform (I know I say this a lot but it's the truth!)
According to Statista, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users as of June 2018.
So basically most (if not all) of your target customers use Facebook as well.
And you know why that's a great thing for you?
Because studies show that people love to share their likes/dislikes, preferences, and opinions on Facebook.
The more they share, the more you can learn about them.
A study by the University of Arizona found that people who frequently updated their Facebook status and shared their opinions openly online reported lower levels of loneliness as compared to those who rarely shared anything about themselves on Facebook.
Source: SAGE Journals
This is why a person's activities on Facebook can tell you a lot about them.
Fortunately, Facebook offers tools that you can use to learn about your audience.
It's called Facebook Audience Insights and it's located in your Facebook account's Ads Manager.
Once you get inside the Ads Manager, you can find Audience Insights under the main menu
Once inside, search for your main niche keyword in the Interests section.
Again, I'll take the weight loss niche example, plus a few other topics related to this niche.
Here's what Facebook Audience Insights shows against the search filters I applied
Around 90 million Facebook users are interested in the topics I searched for, out of which 64% are women and 36% are men mostly between the 25-34 years age group.
Here are the top brands and pages they follow on Facebook
Pay special attention to the Relevance and Affinity scores in the screenshot above.
The pages with a high Relevance score are closer to the interests of your audience. The Affinity score indicates the likelihood of your audience following a page.
Both the scores will help you shortlist the most relevant brands or pages that your target audience follows on Facebook.
But don't stop here.
Remember the competitors you identified in the last point?
Go to their Facebook Pages, analyze the content they're sharing, and look at the engagement level of their posts.
Do you see any trends? Can you learn something from the comments on their posts?
The engagement level on most Facebook Pages has gone down in the last few years. But analyzing the pages of your competitors can still give you lots of cues about your audience and its preferences.
There's one place on Facebook, however, where audience engagement is at its peak.
Facebook Groups (you guessed it right!)
Let me show you how to use Facebook Groups to get audience insights.
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5. Use Facebook Groups To Engage With Your Audience
It's no secret that the engagement level on most Facebook Pages has been on a downhill slope for the past few years.
Earlier in 2018, Facebook officially announced that it aims to make the News Feed of its users more personal by promoting meaningful interactions between actual people instead of branded content from different Facebook Pages
A recent study by Buffer found that the average Facebook Page engagement has gone down by more than 50% in the last 12 months – much more drastic than what most of us first thought
But that doesn't mean people have stopped using Facebook.
The loss to Facebook Pages has resulted in a huge gain for Facebook Groups.
Millions of people are participating in different discussions in closed Facebook Groups.
Which is why your audience research cannot be complete without having a good look at the most popular Facebook Groups in your niche.
The faster way to look for really high-quality Facebook Groups, in my opinion, is to search for them on Google.
You'll find list posts in every niche about the best Facebook Groups in terms of engagement and discussion quality.
Simple use any of the following search queries.
"Best [Niche] Facebook Groups"
"List of the Best [Niche] Facebook Groups"
"[Niche] Facebook Groups You Must Follow"
Here's what I found when I searched Google for the best weight loss groups
The first result is an article with a long list of strictly moderated weight loss groups on Facebook.
However, in case you can't find any such posts in your niche, you can directly search Facebook for the relevant groups in your niche
Narrow your search down to closed groups only because most public groups are bombarded with spam posts.
Once inside a group, start analyzing the most popular posts and discussions, and see if you can find any particular trends in the way people are asking questions.
Do you see any question being repeated again and again?
Are people asking the same question from different angles?
Can you find the top 5 questions that are being repeated all the time?
The great thing about Facebook Groups is that people feel can express themselves more openly because their activities aren't visible to people outside the group.
This often results in casual and detailed discussions in which people share some of their deepest concerns on different topics and are way more expressive than other public platforms.
But Facebook Groups isn't the only place where people open up and speak their heart out.
In the next point, I'll show you a platform that's almost as useful as Facebook Groups (sometimes even more) for audience research.
6. Dive Deep Into Quora, Reddit and Niche Specific Forums To See What People Are Discussing
In many ways, Quora is an even better place to learn about your audience than Facebook Groups.
It has discussion threads on almost every topic in the world with detailed answers that can give you unbelievably useful insights on your audience and their thought process.
Unlike surveys where people are more cautious about their responses, forums like Quora, Reddit etc. allow you to study your audience when they're speaking with their own free will and expressing their inner feelings openly.
Your job is to look out for such emotions.
Here's the gold to look for:
- Notice the things your audience fears, dreads or hates, and would do anything to get rid of.
- Find things they love, crave for, or hope to achieve in life.
- Discover the things they want to change about their lives.
- Uncover the beliefs they hold about their current state, the pains/problems they experience, and the emotions associated with those problems that they feel every day.
Because each of those emotions and feelings points towards problems that can be converted into content ideas later on
And here's how to find it:
- To start your research, simply visit Quora and search for your main niche topic in a question style.
- If you're researching a niche like weight loss or any other condition that can have a negative impact on people, try rephrasing your search queries to find emotional threads.
- For example, here are a couple of really long and useful threads I found on Quora by searching "overweight destroyed my life"
Both these questions have generated a lot of comments from people who're overweight.
In response, many fitness advocates also jumped in with a completely opposite point of view.
As a result, both the thread turned into long heated discussions.
Goldmine for a marketer, really.
By reading just a few of the responses in these threads, I was able to identify more than a dozen excuses, mental blocks, and reservations that obese people have with regards to their appearance and the different weight loss programs available in the market.
Reddit is another place where you can find such threads and discussions.
Here's a thread that alone can give you enough information to start a weight loss blog (just kidding, but you know what I mean)
And in case you can't find any in-depth discussions about your niche on Quora or Reddit, try looking for any niche specific forums on Google Search using any of the following search queries.
Here's a really sad (but useful from a marketing perspective) forum thread on a weight loss forum
Source: Beyond Blue Forum
Why are such threads useful to you?
Because they give you a direct understanding of your audience's emotion, their needs, and their aspirations.
Using these insights you can create content and products that can actually trigger emotional and impulsive reactions from your customers.
But to give you even more actionable insights, I'm going to share a research technique that newbies rarely use (but the experts love it)
7. Learn from the Negative Customer Reviews and Failed Products in Your Niche
Smart marketers learn from the mistakes of their competitors.
This not only helps you avoid those mistakes but also gives you an opportunity to learn what the customer wants.
But there's one more reason why negative reviews matter.
According to Groove, unhappy customers are a lot more vocal about their dissatisfaction and tell around 26 (on average) about their negative experiences.
Clearly, you don't want negative reviews when you launch a product, do you?
So pay close attention to what your target audience is saying about the existing products in the market.
The best place to start your research is Amazon (since it has every product under the sun)
Simply search for your niche products and sort the results by Average Customer Reviews
Taking the same weight loss example, I searched for the best weight loss recipe books and sorted them by customer reviews
On the product page, scroll down to the reviews section to read customer feedback.
In my experience, 5-star and 1-star reviews are mostly to biased to give you any real insights, so leave them out.
Click on the 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star reviews one by one to see what the customers are saying
Here's an example of a great comment from a researcher's perspective
The commenter doesn't seem biased at all and shares some really good information about what she actually expected from the product.
For example, she says the book has a lot of non-scientific claims and had no substantial impact on her thought process about food
Very actionable learning that you can use while creating your own product or even when writing content for your blog.
Here's an even better comment that shares both the pros and cons of the product
Pay special attention to the part when the commenter shares the things he doesn't like about the product.
All of these are potential gaps in the market that you can exploit and consider for further research.
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Turn the Problems of Your Audience Into Content Ideas
Now that you have gathered enough information about the needs, wants, fears, hopes, desires and the aspirations of your target audience, it's time to turn this useful knowledge into highly actionable, in-depth and attention-grabbing content ideas that not only send you loads of traffic but also make the readers fall in love with your site.
Let's look at the same Quora thread that I shared earlier, as a example
Notice the kind of emotions expressed in this post.
You can turn each emotion into several blog post ideas.
For example, look at this sentence at the start of the post
"….people in my family all have the tendency to eat more than they need."
Here's what I gathered from it
Problem: Belief that my family eats a lot which is why I eat a lot.
Emotion: Helplessness ("I've been raised this way")
What he wants: To control his eating habits
There's a lot for us to work with here.
Here a few titles that I came with from the top of my head.
- 11 Proven Ways To Control Your Eating Habits Even If You Thinks It's Impossible
- Feeling Helpless About Your Eating Habits? Here Are 3 Ways You Can Conquer Your Diet, Lose Weight and Feel Confident Again
- Who Says You Need To Stop Eating? Science Shows You Can Eat Your Favourite Food and Still Lose Weight
- Scientific Studies Prove You Can No Longer Use Your Family As An Excuse For Your Own Weight Issues
Do you think readers would be interested in this? I think so
Here's another sentence from the same thread
"I hate putting on clothes in the morning becuase everything makes me look fat becuase I AM FAT"
Problem: Feeling embarrassed at being fat
Emotion: Disgust, self-hatred, and the fear of being ridiculed by others
What he wants: To be able to confidently wear fashionable clothes, go out, meet people and be happy about his looks.
Here are a few ideas
- Overweight and Feeling Ashamed? 11 Ways You Can Become Confident and Happy About Life Using Simple Hacks
- How To Love Yourself [And Feel Confident] Even When You're Far From Perfect
- 11 Obese Fashion Tips That'll Reignite Your Passion to Look Good in the Mirror (Even If You Don't Believe It's Possible)
Are you getting my point?
I bet I've got your creative juices flowing
But these are just a couple of examples I highlighted from that Quora thread.
There so much more you can do here.
In fact, if you think hard, I bet you can create a complete 6-month content calendar from this one thread
There are many more advanced techniques and methods in Nichehacks Insider that'll help you turn the problems of your audience into engaging content ideas.
It's Time To Turn Your Research Into Action
There you go.
If you follow the research methods and steps I've shared in this post, you'd certainly know your audience a LOT better than most of your competitors.
Trust me, very few newbies take the time to research their niche in this depth.
But all this knowledge is useless if you don't take advantage of it by taking action.
So go ahead, learn more about your audience and put that learning into action and see your sales explode.
Seriously, lack of understanding about their target audiences fears, emotions, problems, hopes and dreams are the reason most aspiring marketers struggle to sell a single item and make money online.
However, if you carry out this research process and use your audiences fears, emotions, hopes and dreams in your content and marketing you'll explode your sales and change your fortunes.