“We are turning from a mass market back into a niche nation, defined not by our geography but by our interests.”
~Chris Anderson (the man behind TED Talks)
If you’re going to survive in ecommerce, you have to understand the battleground. The model for brick-and-mortar retailers doesn’t work online; they’re trying to fulfill the needs of everyone within driving distance, while ecommerce deals with everyone on the continent, or even the world. That kind of range favors the niche.
We’ve written about the benefits of selling niche products before, but to recap, here’s a shortlist:
Less Competition. The more specific and defined your product become, the less competition there is. Look at the category of Wedding Dresses below; the amount of competition drops off as the searches get more specific.
Improved SEO. Less competition means your SEO efforts have more impact. Niche keywords fall under the radar of bigger online stores, but the online searches are still large enough to build a successful business on. Niche vendors can also target long-tail keyword searches more effectively, another SEO opportunity that falls between the cracks of large enterprises.
Better Customer Loyalty. By definition, niches are always smaller markets, and therefore have a limited supply. Customers are more grateful if you offer products that are hard to find elsewhere. On top of that, niche customers tend to be more passionate about their specialized interests. There’s a much stronger emotional attachment with sports memorabilia from your favorite team than a more commonplace product like, say, a toothbrush.
Lower Marketing Expenses. Niche marketing costs less than general marketing, plain and simple. For starters, you’re targeting less people, so you cut costs on reach. But niche marketing is also more effective, i.e., it has a greater return on investment. That’s a win-win; you spend less on exposure, and each dollar yields more results.
We could talk about the theory behind niche products all day, but it won’t help until you put it into practice. There’s plenty of ways to reveal new and lucrative ecommerce markets, but today we’re going to talk about a useful one that often goes overlooked: Google Trends.
What Is Google Trends?
Let’s pause for a second and talk about Google Trends. If you’re unfamiliar with this Google app, think of it like a public and free-to-use analytics database of all Google searches between now and 2004. This handy app graphs out the popularity of any given search term, suggests related keywords, and shows a keyword phrase’s performance by geographic location. Let’s take a look at the specific features:
- Interest over time — The number of searches graphed by time. You can easily customize a timeframe, from years to minutes.
- Interest by region — Comparison of where searches originate from. Geographic areas are organized by proportion, so smaller countries may score higher than larger countries that technically produce more searches. The 0-100 score is relative compared to all searches globally.
- Related topics — “User who searched for your term also searched for these topics.” What else are the same people interested in?
- Related queries — “Users searching for your term also searched for these queries.” A more specific variation of “related topics,” this one revealing specific keyword searches instead of general topics.
- Top vs. Rising — “Top” refers to the most popular related topics/queries of all time. “Rising” refers to the most recent increases.
- Breakout — If Google Trends deems a topic or keyword “Breakout,” it means it is currently receiving an “tremendous increase” in searches. These could be either a fly by night search or the early stages of a new trend, so be careful.
The practical benefits of Google Trends have made it a favorite tool of digital marketers, especially those whose budgets preclude paid SEO tools. However, it may seem off-putting if you don’t know how to use it, so we share some guidelines below.
How to Use Google Trends to Find Your Niche
Don’t let the raw data fool you; Google Trends is easy to use, once you know what you’re doing. Follow our three guidelines below to start using Google Trends like a professional.
Trial and Error
Much of Google Trends works by trial-and-error. You type in a search term, see how it performs, then type in another one and compare. Repeat the process over and over until you find the perfect niche for you.
To start, you may want to make a list of potential search terms/product areas. These could be data-driven queries based on your own sales experience, or nothing more than a hunch. They could be products you’re personally passionate about, or products you have overstocked. It’s best to start with a full and open-ended list, and then narrow it down based on what you find.
Another tactic is to use the Related Topics and Related Queries features to see what the same users are also interested in. This is most effective when you already have an established customer base and want to offer them new products that they’ll like. Simply search for products you already know they like and check the “related” sections to see what else those same people are searching for.
The Two Things You’re Looking For
Aside from breakout and rising topics/keywords, you should also pay attention to the shape of the time graphs. Namely, you’re looking for two graph types that signify commercial viability:
Slow and Steady Growth. These are your more stable niches, good for long-term strategies. The good news is that you can rely on a steady stream of business; the bad news is the competition grows with time (you’re not the only one with access to Google Trends).
Steep, Sudden Growth. On the other end of the spectrum, you have products and topics that have suddenly become famous, perhaps because of a news event or PR stunt. If you act quickly, you can capitalize on the trend before other competitors latch onto it, but there’s no telling for how long the trend will remain popular.
The Google Trends map may not help with new product ideas, but it’s invaluable for finding new markets and fine-tuning your shipping options. Knowing where the searches come from lets you:
- craft customized marketing campaigns for individual regions
- create shipping deals and promotions for individual regions
- optimize the locations of fulfillment centers, suppliers, and warehouses
- plan out strategic expansions into new locations/markets
Sometimes niches follow strict geographical boundaries. For example, if your niche is original edition Stephen King novels, the market in Maine is twice as large as any other state.
You can also use the map for reverse searches: what do people in a certain area search for? This comes in handy if you have your heart set on a location and need to know what the people there are interested in.
One last note: don’t forget about language differences! Your product might be a hit in Mexico, but Google Trends won’t tell you unless you search for the Spanish name as well.
Conclusion: Expect the Unexpected
Spend enough time on Google Trends and, sooner or later, it’ll surprise you. For example, we mentioned Stephen King novels above; did you know that searches in Hungary ranked higher than in the U.S.? Just another typical surprise.
When using the app, it’s best to check your presumptions at the door. Theories and hunches are a great place to start, but the deeper you go, the more you realize just how unpredictable people’s searches really are. And that’s the point of Google Trends — learning something new about what your customers want.
Another great way to stay on top of trends is to follow various blogs and publications that specialize in trends. Here is our list of the top ecommerce trend publications.
Do you use Google Trends for product research? Let us know in the comments below.