Why You Should Break Out of Your Niche

USPI used to love the word “niche.” It was so obvious to me that if you wanted to succeed with limited resources, you needed to find a sector of the market with few competitors. You needed to find a unique topic that you could be better than anybody else at. That way, you would be fighting a downhill battle.

Over time, I’ve learned that that’s not quite the case. It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s more of a “meh, yes and no” kind of thing.

The real issue is that the word “niche” can put us in the wrong frame of mind. It takes a good idea and pushes it to the extreme.

Worse, it puts the focus in the wrong place.

Why “Unique Selling Proposition” is Better than “Niche”

Alright. “Unique selling proposition” is a bit of a mouthful, and even “USP” takes longer to say than “niche.” But “niche” emphasizes the wrong thing.

When you think “niche,” you think about:

  • A specific subject matter
  • A specific corner of the web
  • A specific group of influencers

And those are too limiting. When you think “USP,” you think about:

  • A specific problem that people need solved
  • A specific mindset or subculture that would motivate people to solve the problem your way
  • A specific set of values

You might think that the word “niche” isn’t interfering with your ability to keep those things in mind, and might be right, to some extent.

But I’m willing to bet it’s having at least some influence on the way you approach building linkable assets and performing outreach.

Here’s why.

Most “Niche” Content isn’t Very Useful


It’s true though. A niche is, by definition, a limited subject. There’s only so much you can say about it. On occasion, maybe you’ll actually be able to say something entirely new about the subject. When you do, you’ll be able to get some attention.

But, usually, most of what you say has been said before in that niche. Sure, you can repackage it, recombine it, give it a different flavor, infuse it with a different emotion, and make it more fun to consume. Still, at the end of the day, what you’re saying isn’t new.

It’s Dumb to Pitch to Your Niche

The argument that “everything’s been done before” isn’t entirely off base. It’s okay to say things that have been said before, as long as you’re saying it in a new and interesting way, or combining it with other ideas to form intriguing connections.

The issue, though, is that if all of the ideas are coming from your niche, and then you’re pitching those ideas to your niche, you’re not going to get a whole lot of traction.

It’s easy to see why, too. You’re saying the same thing to the same people.

This is making your outreach very hard, and much harder than it needs to be. You are reaching out to experts who know almost everything there is to know about your niche. You are trying to convince them to take a look at a piece of content that probably doesn’t say anything they don’t already know. Something that is probably going to make them bored, and roll their eyes.

Granted, if you truly have something new to say in your niche, that’s different. But, again, that’s hard to do.

Why USP Content is More Useful than Niche Content

When you start thinking about your USP instead of your niche, you stop thinking about what subject you need to be writing about, and you start thinking about what audience you are writing for.

This audience doesn’t need to be united by a common interest in a specific subject. They only need to be united by a common type of problem, a common mindset, a common set of values, or some mixture of those three elements.

This gives you the freedom to explore a wide variety of subjects. With a virtually unlimited body of knowledge to work with, you’re free to find information that will actually surprise and delight your audience.

You won’t bore them by saying the same thing as all the other people in your niche, because you will have no niche.

Think about it. Shopify doesn’t promote their cloud-based POS software by writing a bunch of blog posts about cloud-based POS software. They blog about absolutely anything that is helpful for an ecommerce business owner. That’s not a “niche,” because it includes marketing, distribution, software, hardware, production, manufacturing, inventory, and on and on.

When you focus on a USP, your content is almost always also going to be more useful, creative, and novel than anything from a specific niche. New ideas almost always originate when you combine two or more ideas to arrive at something completely novel. There’s only so many ideas to combine within a niche. There’s an unlimited number of ideas to combine when your focusing on a USP.

Why a USP Makes Outreach Ten Times Easier

When you focus on a niche during outreach, you limit yourself to contacting experts on a specific subject, making it very difficult to reach out to them with anything useful that they don’t already know.

When you focus on a USP during outreach, you open yourself up to a much wider body of influencers.

Put another way, when you focus on niche, you end up contacting influencers who are probably your competitors. When you focus on your USP, you contact influencers who could become your customers.

Needless to say, it’s much easier to surprise and delight influencers who resemble your customers, as opposed to your competitors. It’s also not at all damaging for them to mention you on their site.

Stop looking for subject matter experts, and start looking for people who would actually find your content personally useful. There are far more influencers who will find your content useful than there are influencers in any specific niche.

All it takes is changing your mindset.

It’s that easy.

The MyBlogGuest Penalty: What It Means for You

Matt Cutts, the head of the Webspam Team at Google, has spent a lot of time the past couple years gunning for link networks, sites that exist solely to manipulate search engine rankings. But Cutts’ crusade isn’t stopping with penalizing the link networks, which are considered a seedy practice by most search engine optimization companies. Cutts recently struck at a different sort of network: the leading guest blogging platform, called MyBlogGuest.


The community had been a haven for SEO specialists and bloggers where they could upload content they had written and field offers from bloggers to publish those posts. While participants were required to pay a fee to upload content, it was by no means a textbook link network or even a paid link scheme, in the traditional sense. It served to connect content providers with bloggers.

Google’s decision to penalize MyBlogGuest appears to have hurt many legitimate sites that accepted or benefitted from the site’s links. The search giant’s action is yet another reminder that there are no shortcuts in search engine optimization. Links must be high quality, and any outbound links should be carefully considered. Here’s what the takedown of MyBlogGuest means for business owners and webmasters.

Expanding Their Target Zone

Google has been going after link networks for some time, with Cutts leading that charge. For years, what mattered to Google in determining its search rankings was the quantity of links that a business received on the web. But the past several years, Google has become more focused on the quality of those links, and it’s begun punishing sites that essentially serve as an artificial ranking inflation service, putting up nothing but low-quality posts full of links to shady SEO company’s clients.

Google even reconfigured its search algorithm last year to value high-quality links over low ones, and every minute it’s working toward rooting out the link networks that, it argues, devalue legitimate mentions of businesses that should be determining which sites come up first in a search. For instance, if you’re looking for a plumber, the listings that comes up first should be those with good reviews and a great track record of success, not the one that paid the most for its SEO program. In essence it boils down to this: Google doesn’t want to run a popularity contest; it wants to run a talent contest.

Real Problem or PR Scheme?

Many businesses have employed these SEO tactics simply because it was the only way to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. With other companies employing link networks and seeing their search rankings soar, their competitors had little choice but to do the same. Once Google decided this was no longer a legitimate approach, these companies had to look for a new way to get their business out there, and MyBlogGuest seemed to be a happy compromise: A more straightforward approach to guest blogging.

After Cutts teased the penalty against the site, MyBlogGuest’s Ann Smarty took an interesting approach. She accused Google of targeting the site not because it poses any real threat to Google’s preferred way of search optimizing but rather to put fear into other sites. As she told Search Engine Journal: “Matt Cutts is using us for the PR game: To get more people scared. We are the hugest guest blogging brand out there: He could not have got more publicity by hitting anyone else.” Others agreed:

It’s an intriguing accusation. Certainly Google did get a ton of attention for going after MyBlogGuest, because it was a departure from the link networks it’s been targeting of late. It could be that, after months of laying out the same types of sites, Google wanted to generate headlines by going after a site considered more “legitimate.” And if that was its aim, it seems to have worked. People are now questioning what is and what isn’t considered a Google-acceptable form of search engine optimization, and they are worried about ticking off the powerful company by using even white-hat tactics that have become commonplace.

Learning Google’s Lessons

Confusing as the MyBlogGuest penalty may seem, there are some lessons to be gleaned from it, and here’s the most important one: Don’t try to cut corners. The smartest SEOs know that in the end, the only thing that will fuel a sustained traffic supply and ultimately, conversions, for their clients is using proven, Google-approved tactics that don’t put your client in any danger of penalty.

Here are a few things you can pursue without worry:

  • Focus on a human audience. Don’t worry about search engines and search engine optimization all the time. Think about how your copy reads and whether it will resonate with real people, rather than trying to get it picked up by the search bots. It’s still possible in this day and age to build strong traffic based on word of mouth.
  • Value quality over quantity. Invest in content marketing, secure in the belief that smart, useful information will help your business more than tossing a few keywords onto a site that may or may not be run by a legitimate blogger. For instance, a motorcycle lawyer might start a blog with news of interest to bikers, not simply promoting his business but providing a real service to riders.
  • Target smart keywords. Ethical SEO does not mean abandoning all search tricks; it simply means targeting the right ones. Have a few keywords that you target throughout your site for consistency’s sake, and use them in all your branded content. But make sure you’re not speaking “search-ese” (i.e., talking like a human Google search). That doesn’t read well on the page.
  • Pursue legitimate guest posts. There’s a reason why link networks thrived. The idea behind them, pumping up the number of links to your page, worked. But don’t use a link network to distribute your guest posts. Be selective and hook up with high-quality blogs that you’re proud to see your name associated with. Always be straightforward and honest in all your dealings.

As Google seems intent on teaching us, your mother was right. Honesty is the best policy, whether you’re in kindergarten or trying to generate more page views on the web.

Quit Pooping On The Page And Make UX A Priority

Husky With Pooping In A Dog ParkRecently, during a meeting hosted by our CEO where we discussed do’s and don’ts of web design for Advice Interactive, I couldn’t help but go ranty.

“Don’t put poop on the page,” I said, which was met by raucous laughter. “No seriously, we wouldn’t put poop in the page and expect it to convert, so don’t use stock images, don’t over-power pages with piles of text, don’t use the main nav as a trash bin. User experience is a priority I think many of us tend to forget.”

I couldn’t help but “go in” on UX (or lack thereof), a topic I think content marketers as a whole give short shrift. Yeah, we say we care about conversions, but the road we travel to get there is convoluted, messy and winding. It’s as though UX, IA and content strategy are nice-to-haves, thrown in to add flavor to an otherwise bland, inedible dish.

We don’t recognize the fire we’re playing with, a fact laid bare in a recent piece on Portent.com.

“UX is the new way to optimize sites for search engines because Google said so,” writes Marianne Sweeny, senior SEO strategist for the company. “Yes, that benign search giant has decided that links are no longer as important as they once thought. Out of deep concern for its users that click on the search ads, Google has decided that user experience (UX) is a much better determinant of relevance. This left the entire SEO is gob-smacked and floundering, at least those that have not already stepped off the ledge are.”

Sweeney’s point is not that algorithms are the best judge of useful content. Rather, she smartly suggests that by taking an interdisciplinary approach to SEO, IA, UX, Interaction Design and content strategy, we effectively prove that humans are perfectly equipped to handle the task of assigning value to content.

For the moment, however, let’s place aside the notion of whether or not Google should be the final arbiter of UX. Instead, let’s focus on how we can take advantage of this reality, rescuing our blogs from the clutches of mediocrity in the process:

  • Stop it with the thin, too-long content. Come on, people, we all heard of Google’s Panda updates, and how they slaps sites with thin content. Why are you still slapping up pages, then, that do nothing but drive prospects away from your site without converting? I’ll tell you why: We all know how to game the system to get people to the site; the best SEOs keep them there with engaging, inviting content that is quashes objections, answers questions and reinforces the brand as the go-to resource in the category.
  • Keyword stuffing—Don’t do that! I’ve analyzed client’s sites and found so many keywords on the page that I wanted to congratulate the writer for being so talented. How about 87 exact match keywords in a 376-word document? I witnessed that recently. It was neither pretty nor effective. Google gave savvy content marketers a gift with the Hummingbird algorithm, which rewards content that speaks to user intent. Why not use this to your advantage. Instead of thinking “keywords,” think “language of the user.” For example, some with a computer issue is likely to type “Why is my Mac screen blank?” not “Where can I find a computer technician in…?” See my point? While you’re thinking keywords, those SEOs welcoming semantic search are eating your lunch.


  • Reward, not punish, your site visitors. I hate to keep highlighting the Google menagerie, but when Panda slammed sites for a poor user experience, it provided a great opportunity for content, SEO, UX and IA folks to work together to drive value to site visitors, rewarding them with rich design, content and navigation. Many of us ignored the “mandate,” preferring to focus more on appearance than substance—i.e., recency of content with blogs, well-placed social buttons and content folks would find useful. Join the game by making site speed, site readability and content layout priorities. Simple steps that can have an immediate impact include doing away with the main page slider in place of a large static image; breaking up blocks of text with “other related content” sections; linking to similar pages on tour site; and making it easy for visitors to share your content by making social share button obvious, not hidden at the bottom of the page. rsz_meme_home_page_slider
  • Lose the graphic-vomit. We all received the memo to “cut it out with the Infographics.” Apparently we listened, for there are fewer of them showing up on sites. However, now everyone apparently thinks it wise to make the home page a depository for every bad image in their Dropbox account. The key to stellar web design is simplicity. Visitors came to your site for a reason. Make it simple for them to complete their desired task. Instead of you listening to me “go in” on the topic, here’s a screenshot of a whiteboard presentation detailing what successful website design looks like from Moz’s Rand Fishkin:
  • Stop hiding relevant content. I’ve said in meetings that, “Few website visitors know what an IA is, but they sure as hell know when one has not been involved in the layout of a website.” It’s like finding the toilet in the sink: testimonials hid in the footer, calls-to-action (CTAs) all but impossible to find, blogs obscured by layers of tabs in the main navigation, and no discernable strategy to the content offered. I know many web design projects do not have an IA involved, but you can still ensure that your website features a layout that mirrors your goals by following these three steps:
    • On a large whiteboard, identify the four to six categories that must go in your main navigation using Sticky Notes
    • Under each one of these categories, add the secondary and tertiary categories that should fall underneath each using Sticky Notes of a different color
    • Look again at the items in the top level—can any of them be combined?

A good place to start on this journey is Centerline Digital’s Content Planning Jumpstart Guide:


In my experience of “grading” small business sites for redesigns, the top level in the main navigation is where things go awry. If we can keep the wheels on there, things seem to fall into place more naturally underneath, which can have a cascading effect on the rest of the site.

In case you haven’t noticed, I was tickled pink at Sweeney’s blog. User experience must take greater prominence. By placing users first, we worry less about disciplines, approaches and put the focus on helping our audiences attain their goals.

What do you think?

Top Pubcon New Orleans Presentations Day 3

Pubcon New Orleans actually began on early in the week down in The Big Easy with Masters Group sessions beginning on Monday. Since not everyone attends the Masters Group sessions, we are calling Tuesday-Day 1, Wednesday-Day 2, and Thursday-Day 3. If you missed any of the events from Thursday, don’t worry we’re giving you some of the top presentations below! Several topics, including Organic SEO, Social Media and much more were covered Thursday with it being just as action packed as the rest of the week!

Here is a list of the top presentations:

Organic Search:

Paid Reviews on Amazon – NOLA Pubcon 2014 Dwight Zahringer from Dwight Zahringer

Social Media:

Social Pr Therapy – Pubcon NOLA 2014 from MelissaFach

10 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Measuring Social Media from Alan K'necht

Expert Spotlight with James Loomstein:

2014 Pubcon New Orleans – "Getting The Most Out Of Your Agency" from James Loomstein

Expert Spotlight with David Vogelpohl:

Maximizing Affiliate Commissions – Pubcon NO 2014 from David Vogelpohl

6 Things Anyone Managing Social Media Should Do

Everyone thinks managing social media for a brand is easy, but it really isn’t. I think it can be made easier if you do a few things first. The ideas in this article were inspired from my presentation at Pubcon NOLA 2014, Social PR Therapy.

Choose the Right Team Members

Fitting togetherTo have an effective social media team you really need each person to have the same values and beliefs about people and a drive to do things right.

The team needs to function as a true team. This means that each person should be the type that wants to back up and help other team members. They should be genuine about supporting one another. And everyone needs to agree on how everyone that reaches out will be treated.

A team that believes in & wants the same things = a strong team. 

Set Guidelines for Yourself

Every company that really understands social media has guidelines in place for social media management, but I suggest you set some of your own guidelines as well. If you have expectations for yourself you will be better able to handle any situation.

  • What professional standards would you abide by?
  • What do you want the person to walk away with?
  • How do you avoid causing harm?
  • How would you want to be treated?
  • How can you make people reaching out brand advocates? (responses and conversations can do this)

One of mine – avoid causing harm.

You never ever know what is going on in the life of the person speaking to you via social. They could be having the worst month or year ever. I personally do not want to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I want to possibly be the one interaction that didn’t suck in their day.

Tip – See everyone that speaks to you as an individual that deserves respect and kindness, no matter what they say to you or the brand you represent.

You Have to Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Put-Yourself-in-their-shoesIf you are going to manage any kind of social media account you have to be able to see every situation from every angle. What is right in front of you is not always a good perspective.  Before you reply to a negative comment you have to try and put yourself in their shoes. What would you want to hear? Be helpful and understanding.

Do they have a right to be upset? If yes, you have to find a way to validate their feelings and find a way to help them.

What if they don’t have a real reason to be upset? You have to find a way to validate their feelings and find a way to help them.

No matter what the situation is you have to validate feelings and help the person reaching out to you. That is your job. If you allow yourself to see things from their perspective their anger might make sense to you. Then you can find a solution to help them.

Tip: Don’t take anything that is said personally. It isn’t about you it is about the brand they are reaching out to.

Protect the Brand

Your job is to be there for those reaching out to the brand on social, but protecting the brand you work for should be a very high priority. To protect a brand you really need to go beyond just looking at your feeds and really take the time to read conversations.

There are times that I will go read long conversations about Moz that are not attached to our Twitter feed. I try to determine if there is something we need to know about, something we need to work on and also make sure that I protect the brand if the things being said are incorrect.

To be good at social you need to know how to protect the brand and serve the people as well.

Have Plans in Place

Proper planning can make all the difference during the good times and the bad.  If the brand has not anticipated potential issues that might arise then the social media manager should. Create some scenarios that could come up and create plans for the different situations.

Example 1, your website goes down (it happens).

  • What steps does a social media manager take?
  • Who to they contact within the company?
  • What procedures need to be followed?
  • What do they say to the community?

If plans are in place it takes a lot of pressure off of whoever is handling social media, and the entire company. Everyone knows what to do and how to handle it.

Example 2, someone openly attacks you on Twitter and others join in.

Situations like this can be intimidating and stressful and it could be handled really well or really badly! So you need to figure out:

  • How should your team handle angry people?
  • How should your team handle someone that is just mean and rude?
  • Is it ever best to ignore a conversation?
  • What notes need to be taken so the brand and the social team can reflect and learn?
  • When does the social media manager reach out for help?
  • Who do they contact?

If there are plans in place for difficult times the stress on the person handling social will be reduced because they know what to do. It is really hard handling tough situations and also having no idea what to do.

Learn and Define Your Audience

Evaluate-your-audienceEvery audience is different. They are comprised of many different personalities and demographics, but if they are a part of your community they have something in common. What is that? As you are working and communicating with your community? Get to know who they really are separately and as a whole.

I work as an associate on the community team at Moz and we have taken the time to really assess who our audience is, what differs based on location and what commonalities our diverse audience has. One thing is for certain, our audience tends to be on the cool, trendy, intelligent and geeky side of things.

By understanding the audience we know how to speak to the audience no matter what the situation is. In times of crisis we know what the audience expects. We recently had a DDoS attack at Moz and because the community team knows our audience well we knew what to say and how to say it. We knew what the audience expected, and we understood and validated their feelings.

Recommendation – Get to know your audience on a deeper level because it gives you great insights in how to help them, how to speak to them and what you need to do during the hard times to meet the needs of your community.

Top Pubcon New Orleans Presentations Day 2

Pubcon New Orleans actually began on St. Patrick’s Day down in The Big Easy with Masters Group sessions beginning on Monday. Since not everyone attends the Masters Group sessions, we are calling Tuesday-Day 1, Wednesday-Day 2, and Thursday-Day 3. If you missed any of the events from Wednesday, don’t worry we’re giving you some of the top presentations below! Several topics, including Organic SEO, Paid Search, Local Search and much more were covered Wednesday with tons of great speakers which I won’t even begin to name because there are so many good ones!

Here is a list of the top presentations:

Organic Search:

Social Media Signals and SEO from Eric Enge

Paid Search:

PUBCON 2014: Hacking AdWords – Winning at PPC the Weird Way by Larry Kim, WordStream, Inc. from Internet Marketing Software – WordStream

Local Search:

< Local SEO – It's No Laughing Matter from Greg Gifford

The "Big Easy" Guide to Google-Friendly Link Earning from Casey Markee

Building a Future Proof Plan for Organic Local Search Rankings by Mike Stewart PubCon New Orleans 2014 from SMB SEO

Social Media:

Google Authorship Kidnapping: Why Authorship Photos Disappeared from Search from Mark Traphagen

Expert Spotlight with Michael King:

Personas: Understanding the User Behind the Visit from Michael King