My site was only getting 400 visits per day when one of the biggest brands in my industry sent me a cease and desist and ordered me to hand over my domain.
By pure chance, I’d picked a brand name very similar to a major company in the space. And it really was an honest mistake; when I first started my site, I literally named it after my own dog.
Needless to say, the lawyers were not nice. And I was freaked out.
But it really wasn’t that big of a deal (of course it would have been more painful if I’d done a ton of marketing under that domain, but I’d only been marketing for a few months).
I just rebranded (using the strategies in this article) and 301’d everything to my new domain, herepup.com. Traffic dipped for about two weeks before bouncing back stronger than it was before.
Along the way, I learned a lot about coming up with good blog names, and that’s part of what I want to share today. However, because it’s so tightly interwoven with a few key aspects of niche selection–specifically, how narrow or broad you should make your site–we’re going to talk about that, too.
Let’s get started.
Broad vs. Narrow Niches
Before branding or angling, you have a very important decision to make: should you go broad or narrow?
It’s an important question for new site owners, but even if you have an existing site, you should ask yourself, “Can I go broader than I am?” You might be able to. But before we can really decide, let’s unpack what each of those means.
Broad = covering more of a bigger market.
In other words, broad niches are more general and more inclusive. A broad niche might also cover lots of sub-niches.
Easy examples of broad niches might be: cars, health, dating, or home improvement. These are all massive markets, and a site covering these markets in general would certainly be a broad site.
And it can certainly work. Hell, we even own a couple; they’re the first two in our list of examples of broad sites:
Pros of Broad Sites
The biggest benefit of going into a broad niche is that the potential is usually much greater, and that’s simply a function of market size. Bigger markets = more people, more topics to write about, and more products.
Broader sites also tend to be easier to brand and easier to market.
And that just makes sense, right? If your site is just about dogs, you can come up with a more general doggy-type brand, and you’ll likely have many more marketing opportunities than if your site covered, say, dog beds only.
Cons of Broad Sites
In my view, broad sites have one glaring con: low site-wide relevance.
Now, this is a bit tricky. When people talk about relevance, it’s typically in the context of a single page. I’m referring to the relevance of the entire site’s theme. And while there’s not much hard data on how the “broadness” of a site affects rankings, there’s plenty of evidence about how siloing can boost rankings by giving google more tightly structured themes.
After learning about siloing, I started to notice that narrowly focused sites functioned like silos. Un-siloed broad sites did not.
Here’s an example of an un-siloed broad site:
And here is a heatmap for a site in the same market but narrowly covering a specific sub-niche.
Here’s the crazy part: in the examples above, the narrow site has much fewer links (and generally of lower quality) than the broad site does. We I noticed this and started looking for it, I saw it everywhere.
So, in my view, this is a major con: broad sites have a more difficult time being relevant and therefore require a lot more links to succeed in the SERPs.
I’d say going broad is a good idea if you are aiming to make it BIG. Like 6 figures, maybe 7 a month. But it’s true, the first years of these sites are usually not very glorious so be ready to put a lot of work in before you reach the niche’s potential.
Narrow niches = covering a sub-niche of bigger market in greater detail.
Narrow sites are specialists who are good at one thing.
If health is a broad niche, a narrow niche might be: gut health, back pain, or paleo diets.
These can also do well, and there are lots of examples (and it’s no coincidence many traditional “niche sites” fall into this category):
- bestcrossbowsource.com (subniche of hunting)
- coffeemakerpicks.com (subniche of appliances/cooking)
- paintballpursuit.com (subniche of outdoor sports)
Pros of Narrow Sites
The primary benefit of narrow sites is the opposite of the biggest drawback of broad sites: narrow sites have very high relevance.
And because they have such high relevance, they usually take much fewer links to rank, often a major plus for newer site builders who are just learning to build links
Cons of Narrow Sites
The principle drawback of narrow sites is, of course, the low potential. There’s only so much you can write about water filters, for example.
They also tend to be more difficult to brand and market.
Should you go broad or narrow?
Whether you go broad or narrow is going to depend on the context of your skills, resources and where you are in the site development cycle, but the general answer is mostly the same: start narrow and slowly go broad.
We’ve found this is the best way to leverage the advantages of both narrow sites and broad sites.
Let’s expand that briefly for a few contexts.
New Site Builders
For new site builders, we recommend starting with one or two sub-niches. Get them working; then, as the site starts to earn, create another silo with the next-closest related sub-niche.
For example, you might start a site by focusing on paleo content. Because all the content on the site is hyper-relevant to each other, you’ll be able to rank with less marketing effort. If that starts working, you could then expand into related areas like keto, raw diets, and veganism.
Because these sub-niches are all related, it shouldn’t be too tough for Google to understand the relevance.
If you want to grow further and decide it would be a good move to go even broader, you might expand into related fitness topics, like yoga.
This is why we recommend to pick branded, broad domains even if your site is only going to cover a narrow topic at the start: you’ll leave yourself room to grow.
In short: brand broad, write narrow at first then expand when you’ve gained some traction without a need for rebranding.
Existing Narrowly branded Sites
If you have an existing narrow site–and if that site is working and earning money–you can essentially treat it like it’s simply the first silo of a broader site.
Of course, the most common obstacle is that your narrow site may already be branded narrowly.
If that’s the case, it often makes sense to rebrand.
In other words, if you’ve got a site reviewing blenders–bestblenderreviewhq.com, let’s say–you could simply rebrand into something like happykitchen.com, use blenders as your first silo, and then build out others that cover other kinds of appliances or recipes or whatever you thought looked like a good opportunity.
This is not a big deal.
I was actually forced to rebrand my site because (as mentioned above) I’d accidentally picked a brand name nearly identical to a major company in my space.
I went through to process of rebranding a whole site, and I honestly think the new brand suits the site much better.
You Can’t Do this Without Good Technical SEO
Whether you’re starting a new site with a narrow focus and slowly going broad or you’re taking an existing narrow site and expanding it, good technical SEO and proper siloing is critical.
Narrow sites win on relevance because of their tight themes.
So, if you’re going to have multiple themes on your site (multiple subniches), you must silo them to retain relevance. If you don’t, the process of going from narrow to broad (and taking advantage of each) becomes more or less pointless.
This isn’t an article on siloing, so I’ll just point you in the direction of a few good resources:
Let us know in the comments if you want a blog post on that topic :).
Of course, if you’re a veteran who understands SEO already and has a bigger budget, it’s certainly possible to start big and go broad out of the gate; you just need to create tightly themed silos from the get-go. You’ll just need a lot more content to start off (so you can adequately create those themes). This is what Gael does on Health Ambition with juicing, for example
Angling Your Niche to Enter Large Markets
Angles = tackling a market from a specific point of view or for a specific audience.
Health for moms. Cars for new drivers. Gaming for women. That kind of thing.
Most of the time, taking a good angle works best when tackling bigger markets and starting broader sites. If you do with with sites that are already narrow, it usually just seems kind of silly (e.g. blenders for single dads).
The best angles usually cover underrepresented areas of a market. Here’s an example:
That’s one of the reasons our first example was such a massive success…
Example #1: Nerdfitness.com
Angle: Fitness stuff for nerds.
The fitness industry is massive and notoriously difficult to break into. It’s also full of muscled-up fitness model types. Steve Kamb (the owner) noticed a big gap in the market:
And he really did make it for nerds. He even hired a bunch of them. Here’s his team.
And this angle was tremendously successful. According to SimilarWeb, NerdFitness gets around 2,700,000 visitors per month.
Example #2: Bulletproof.com
Market: Personal development, mind/body.
Angle: Nutrition for high-powered professionals.
As far as I can tell, BulletProof started as a weird hybrid of nutrition and personal development for high-powered professionals.
They write about lots of stuff…
But they really lean into the angle of being a “bulletproof” person, which, in my understanding means “renaissance person.”
They leveraged this clever angle into a series of products, starting with something they call bulletproof coffee.
In other words, this is about as broad as a site can possibly get, but because of a clever angle, they were able to grow into a business that generates over 2,000,000 visits per month (and probably millions of dollars in revenue).
Example #3: Examine.com
Niche: Health & fitness.
Angle: Extremely detailed meta-analysis of scientific studies to provide the best possible answers to the layman.
I love Examine.com. Mostly because it was started by a Redditor (Sol Orwell) who wanted to write information for Redditors.
And if you didn’t know, Redditors are the single most fickle, pickiest group of people on the planet. They’re ruthless fact-checkers and they’ll bust your balls over any mistake.
The result was Examine.com: perhaps the most ridiculously exhaustive analysis of the most common questions in the health and fitness world. And it’s not because the content is overly long; it’s because they find, read, and analyze the best possible primary sources.
Yep; this very blog is an example of making a big market small by taking an interesting angle.
When Authority Hacker was founded, “niche sites” were all the rage. I can vouch for that because I was right in the middle of that rage, working at Niche Pursuits, talking about how to build a bunch of grey-hat niche sites.
Gael and Mark realized there was a serious gap in the market: independent site builders who were focusing on BIG, white-hat sites.
As people started to realize their sites were going to be slapped and/or would never grow, the market trended to blogs like this one, and Gael and Mark were already out in front of that trend.
Needless to say, this site has grown alot since then, is a successful business, and has an awesomely active and tightly knit community.
Pros of Picking a Good Angle
Picking a good niche can, in some cases, have a similar effect as starting in a narrow sub-niche and slowly going broad: it effectively makes the niche smaller.
It also creates freshness. Examine.com, for example, did something no one else was doing, and because it was so fresh, they were extremely marketable.
Possible Cons of “Angling”
First, it’s hard to find a good angle. You can’t really just pick one willy-nilly. There has to be an actual need (or gap) in the market.
Secondly, it’s risky. If you’re going to spend time picking an angle, it’s probably because you’re planning to go broad, and if you go broad and your angle fails, you’re likely going to meet all the resistance broad sites usually face; in other words, a failed angle is about as helpful as having no angle at all.
That said, if you can find one, it can be immensely powerful.
I REALLY like angling new sites these days. Mostly because you can create that small community feeling but also give a real mission to your site that’s not overly generic.
For example Nerd Fitness can say they want to fix people’s posture and arthritis issues and get brands on board with that because of their angle, get investment, build products etc. It would be a lot harder to do with Health Ambition that is admittedly more general.
All of that PLUS you get the opportunity to cover any product in your large niche from your angle so the affiliate opportunities are excellent.
Picking a Name for Your Site (without Getting Sued)
With a market and/or an angle, we need a brand name. And a good brand name includes the following:
- Something short and catchy
- Something general enough for us to “grow broad”
- An available domain
- Not infringing on a trademark
- I’ll cover how to search for available domains and check trademarks at the end, but first, let’s cover how to come up with catchy, general brand name ideas.
You’ll need ONE thing to get started…
Before you can use these tactics, you’ll need to brainstorm a list of core words. Core words = words central to your niche. They might include:
- Verbs from the niche
- Product types
Let’s suppose we’re starting a hypothetical fitness site and our first narrow silo is muscle building. We’ll use this as our example throughout and see if we can pick a brand name by the end of the article.
A list of core words might look like this:
A good way to find these kinds of words are to search for niche terminology in Google.
You find lists like this one from Bodybuilding.com:
You can brainstorm or find as many as you want, but usually 15-20 does the trick.
Also, if you’re the type of person who likes to check domain availability as you go, check out InstantDomainSearch.com. It lets you check domain availability quickly without page loads.
Tactic #1: Purposefully Misspell Stuff
Purposefully misspelling words is a cheeky way to get really popular terms into your brand while still having a chance that the domain name will be available.
Here are a few examples:
You can misspell words any way you like as long as you retain the meaning. A few good ways to do it include:
- Dropping a vowel (e.g. Flickr)
- Adding a vowel (e.g. Fliicker)
- Adding a consonant (e.g. Flickerr)
- Replacing a consonant (e.g. Flikker)
- Any combination
Let’s brainstorm a few for our weightlifting site (notice I’m taking the liberty of adding some words if it makes sense; I’m just trying to be creative):
In the real world, I’d probably come up with a lot more of these, but for the sake of our demo here, this will do.
Tactic #2: Wombo Combo
Wombo combo = mashing up multiple words.
You can combo your core words with each other, or you can combo them with other words (related adjectives or totally random words seem to work best).
I particularly like wombo-comboing the misspellings I came up with.
To do this efficiently, my favorite tool is CleverClick’s keyword multiplier. You’ll want to put your core words in one column and your combo words in the second column.
Run it, and you’ll get a big list.
Then, I usually run it a second time with the columns reversed.
You’ll get even more results.
Here’s another great tool that will do this automatically: Shopify’s brand name generator.
Just type in one of your core words, and click “Generate Names.”
The tool will combo your core word with a bunch of other words. The coolest part is that it only returns .com domains that are available.
Tactic #3: Move Away from .com
You’ve probably heard that you should never, ever pick any TLD other than a .com.
While that might have been true several years ago, and while you want to stay away from TLDs associated with spam (e.g. .info, .biz), it’s becoming less important to have a .com domain as web users become more savvy.
And it certainly doesn’t matter from an SEO standpoint. Here’s a site doing extraordinarily well in the SERPs (beating one of my own sites for lots of keywords, in fact):
If you click that, and then click “search these extensions.” You’ll be able to see all the TLDs and gTLDs available for registration.
You can search for some combos directly while you’re there, but I usually just browse the list and jot down some ideas.
Here are a few I came up with for weightlifting:
But there are loads and loads of combinations possible, and some of these are super fun.
Get more: Chosing Your First Domain Name (Podcast)
Before you pull the trigger…
Before you pull the trigger on any one of your brand names, we need to check two things:
- Domain availability
- Registered trademarks
Checking Domain Availability
Remember the Namecheap.com bulk domain checker? I use the very same tool to check the availability of large lists of domains.
When I sit down to brainstorm a new brand, I’ll have hundreds of ideas, so I’ll have to run multiple sets of 50.
Namecheap will then tell you what’s available and what’s not.
Check for Trademarks
Before we actually register a domain, we want to check for trademarks. Why? Because we don’t want to have to go through the trouble of rebranding our entire website if some lawyer hits us with a cease and desist for trademark infringement.
First, head over to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website’s trademark database and search engine. From here, click “Basic Word Mark Search.”
Then, search for your brand name idea in the search box. Search the exact words as well as other ways it might be spelled.
If there are no matches, you’ll see this:
However, if there are matches, you’ll see a list like this:
After reading this…
…I asked my lawyer if it was safe to register a domain if the trademark holders ran unrelated businesses.
He said that if someone has a recognized online service or product, if you use a similar domain name, even if your service or product is unrelated, they can still use domain dispute processes to claim your domain name if they can somehow show that you are attempting to divert business from them.
If your brand name’s domain is available and no trademark is registered, you might just have yourself a winner!
Which brand name did I find?
The brand I liked best was musclup.com, a name I found through the misspelling + mashup method.
However, there were some similar trademarks already registered.
So the brand name I settled on for my hypothetical weightlifting site is: liftmix.com, a short, catchy brand name I found with the Shopify brand name generator.
It makes a lot of sense for a fitness site with a weightlifting focus, but that kind of site could easily expand into nutrition and supplements for weightlifters, giving me the freedom to go broader later on.
There was one trademark, but it’s no longer active, and there were no closely similar domains that I could find.
Over to you…
What do you think? How did you come up with your brand, name, and angle? Let me know in the comments!