by | Jun 12, 2010

The rise of the internet as a means of commerce and communication has had profound and far-reaching effects on all societies. This is not about those.

No, this is about one particular phenomenon of the internet age, and it has to do with the increasing granularity of expertise.

Forty years ago advertising was revolutionized by the rise of demographics, the use of pieces of knowledge, specific tendencies, traits or physical conditions to group together people into markets that could be addressed separately.

From advertising, demographics moved to marketing and soon made the leap to politics. Demographers split the once-amorphous population into smaller and smaller groups according to common traits.

Demographics and its bastard child, target marketing exploded along with the rise of computational power and the digitization of modern life.

Demographics Meets the Internet

At last count, there were approximately 1,802,330,457 internet users in total, representing about 1 in every 4 people alive.

The advent of search and the computer’s ability to amass statistics on every transaction that occurs online has multiplied the amount of data available to target marketers. Since online, physical distance is irrelevant, packages of demographic qualities that describe people’s similarities can quickly became crucial marketing information.

Today we have a sharper and sharper focus on more and more clusters of people analyzed according to smaller and smaller ways of dividing the population. Each cluster attracts its own specific marketing. It is the age of the niche.

The Niche Expert

And this leads to the age of the niche expert. What does it take to become an expert today online? Surprisingly, it doesn’t take expertise in doing anything specific, like designing book covers, carving totem poles, or building cast-iron barbecues. It takes time to acquire expertise at things that take learning and skill. These particular experts don’t have the time for that.

No, today’s online expertise is often the result of a total of one experience. Maybe you’ve built a brick over in your backyard. You are now entitled to be an “expert” because you can teach other people what it was that you did. Your expertise is actually in converting your one experience into something that other people want.

Obviously, we all start with that first experience, whatever it is. The first book I published didn’t look that good, to be honest. I was a newbie. I made all the mistakes I’m writing about now, so you don’t have to.

But over years, brick oven builders encounter lots of different conditions, different requirements, different environments in which they need to work. A brick over builder constructs an oven, and it doesn’t work the way he thought it would. Or he’s commissioned to build an oven in a space much too small, and has to work out how to adapt his plans to get it done. Or building codes require a type of venting he’s never done before. All these experiences hone and deepen the brick oven builder’s skill and his intuitive understanding of the brick oven craft. He pays with his observed experience for a gradually increasing expertise.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the online experts are truly gifted individuals with an uncanny ability to synthesize information and present it in an attractive way to a niche population. And when they educate people, they have the potential to do a lot of good.

How to Niche

And do you know what their advice is, to those who want to become niche marketers themselves? If you can’t find a profitable niche, subdivide a niche into an even more focused subniche. Of course, this movement will result in even more niches, even more granularity, ever-smaller groups of people connected by ever-more-specific identifiers. Niche dominance.

And how do you do it? You look, the marketers say, for a finely-pointed subject to dominate.
Maybe you’re interested in dogs. But dogs is way too big a category. You wouldn’t have a chance to compete with people like Alpo or Science Diet or Purina. But if you divide the niche, one thing you get is:

Dogs/Small dogs? No, still too big, keep dividing. How about:

Dogs/Small Dogs/Terriers? We’re getting closer. The more specific, the smaller the territory, the fewer the competitors. Keep dividing, see what happens. How about:

Dogs/Small Dogs/Terriers/Boston Terriers? Not small enough, I’m afraid. Keep going.

Dogs/Small Dogs/Terriers/Boston Terriers/California. This might do it. This is a niche you could hope to dominate. You do some backlink checking, you read up on Boston Terriers, or get your Virtual Assistant to help out. You throw up a website, start a blog, toss out 20 or 30 keyword-rich articles, next thing you know you’re on page one in Google and doing Skype interviews with all the breeders.

Congratulations, you’re an expert.

Statistics: World Internet Statistics

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Mayowa

    Hmnnn another unintended consequence of “the Internets.” I call it the “all creator syndrome.”

    Because it is very easy to be a creator of content, everyone wants to be one (regardless of the quality of their content). Very soon the benefits of content democratization are overwhelmed by hordes of mediocrity.

    Quality content always rises to the top though.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mayowa, we see this phenomenon everywhere, but I wonder if what you say is true. Consider this formulation: “Quality content—as long as it’s promoted as well as mediocre content—always rises to the top.”

  2. betty ming liu

    interesting! i think i’ll bookmark this post and share it with my new school class next week. the students will be creating blogs and this might help them brainstorm ideas. thanks for this look into creating niches!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Betty, I’ve really enjoyed the “reporting” blogs your students did last year. I bet your progress as a blogger is going to inspire them even further.



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