Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Search Engine Marketing and Positioning

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Search Engine Marketing and Positioning: How to Identify Your Online Knowledge Niche

In this article:

1. Overview
2. Strategy
3. Action
4. Mini-tutorial
5. References

I have extracted the best and most relevant part of my new free course on Exposure and Visibility for Online Marketing and I am offering it to you as premier readers of this new content rich initiative I am taking as part of the launch of the MOTO (Marketing of Training Online) web site.

The following is extracted from the first lesson of a 9-week e-mail course I am offering for free to MOTO web site visitors.


1. Identify your niche area of interest.

2. Select your specific target markets.

3. Identify market categories and keyphrases that characterize your institution.

In this tutorial lesson, I will show you the first and most basic step required to effectively develop your visibility strategy online: finding your online market niche.

The main goal of this online marketing phase is to identify your organization's true and unique knowledge-rich assets.

What do you know best?

In which areas has your campus, institution or organization traditionally excelled?

What set of research papers, field projects, books or courses creates the greatest word of mouth thanks to the good quality of its content and to the dedication of your staff?

What "knowledge-assets" does your institution already possess? Is there a demand for them on the global knowledge marketplaces online?

Or, how can you make your knowledge become unique and valuable to a significant, global audience?

The answer lies in a three-step process, which can be used as a "template" to initially define your upcoming path:

1. Customize your knowledge offering to a unique point of view.

2. Promote it to specific and pre-selected target audiences.

3. Design it to solve or contribute to specific-industry issues or industry areas. Do this by converting your positioning from a generic information/education/training service into an EXPERT SOLUTION PROVIDER and VERTICAL KNOWLEDGE HUB.

Your institution should position itself so that it can uniquely provide specific and useful solutions to problems that are posed as normal queries to the major search engines ("majors").

It is certainly possible and possibly desirable to develop and nurture more than one 'knowledge niche' at the same time. However, I strongly advise you to start working with just one.

What I want you to do is to identify a very specific 'knowledge niche', where your institution has unique strengths and know-how.

The motivation to position your organization through 'knowledge niches' is to take advantage of the nature of the Web and of how search engines and major online directories work (Yahoo, ODP, Looksmart).

Imagine the Web as being a gigantic encyclopedia, in which every problem or question has a specific answer. Now, you can start to visualize the direction in which you are headed towards.

People are looking for solutions to their specific needs. When they want to learn or study about something, they go online and they start searching according to their needs.

Often they are not looking to learn everything about a certain topic, but only desire what specifically interests them at that time. The range of their focus and interest is very narrow and they are generally eager to find the specific topic which can solve the problem they are after.

If your organization offers information resources and/or promotes courses that are under broad and generic categories, such as "agriculture", "mass media", "plants", "design", "electric engineering", you stand little chance at being reached by new, prospective customers online.

There are so many development, research, academic or training organizations online providing information or courses in those same areas. In this arena, you have a very slim chance of being visible in a relevant position (say, in the first ten or so results) on major search engines and directories.

Then, why be online?

You may be offering traditional "design" or "electrical engineering courses". You need to make sure that these are uniquely positioned so that they become strategic problem-solvers for one or more uniquely selected target audiences.

In other words, you need to characterize your courses in such a way so that they become specific solution-finders or learning-solutions for very specific target audiences.

For example we could characterize your training offer as follows:

a) Computer Graphics Design course for programmers in Malaysia
b) Fashion design course for international graduates
c) Electronic circuits design course for electrical engineering students in Spanish language


a) Computer Graphics for Technical Illustrations
b) Oriental Silk and Linen Textile Printing
c) Design of Electronic Circuits for PC Video Boards

Each one of the above offerings is uniquely positioned. Each can be found by a specific target audience with a need for very specific information. The goal is not to have loads of traffic coming to your Web site. The goal is to have real, targeted, prospective customers looking for immediate, effective and reliable solutions TO THEIR SPECIFIC NEEDS AND WANTS (as expressed through their queries on major search engines and directories).

If you are doubtful that people will search for key information online by utilizing complex queries like "Electronic circuits design course for electrical engineering students in Spanish language", think again.

More and more people are learning to use complex and rich queries in their everyday surfing online.

Increasingly, just by typing a problem, a concept or even a multiword issue within a URL, one is able to access solution-oriented information.

Consider the fact that all of the single word domains (e.g.:,, etc.) have all been purchased. This mathematically guarantees that for every single word or concept in the English language, there is probably a relevant Web site covering it.

Consider also the following domain names:

Each one of them IS clearly labeled to be a specialized knowledge information resource, providing tools, content and support to its very targeted audience.

Notice also that people are increasingly using multiple keywords when they search on the 'majors', by separating simple keywords or keyphrases with a plus sign. Thus, even people searching for "Computer graphics + Malaysia" or "Electronic circuits + design + India" could be able to reach your site and find it a valuable and immediate solution to their needs.

People are tired of getting truckloads of search engine results pages with irrelevant destinations to sift through. People are getting smarter and searching for what satisfies their needs.

You can try this experiment on anyone of the major search engines for yourself. I particularly recommend you try it on Google, as it is at present (Spring 2002) the online search engine capable of providing the highest percentage of relevant results to almost any query.

Try searching 'generically' for the area in which you provide your specific information, know-how or courses. Let's say 'design', 'agriculture', 'or 'electrical engineering'.

By using those very keyword combinations and searching on Google pay attention to what is displayed on the blue bar on top of the search results page. The blue bar hovering at the top of Google search results will say something like this:

"Searched the web for electrical engineering.
Results 1 - 10 of about 2,000,000.
Search took 0.09 seconds."

That second line is what you have to pay attention to.
"Results 1 - 10 of about 2,000,000."

That tells you how many web sites are relevant for that very keyword combination: "electrical engineering".

See how many results show up for yours. Pay also close attention to who comes up in the first ten results of those searches.

Done? Now look at the results.

Are these your competitors? Or are these organizations so remote and different from yours that you hope you will never have to waste time to compete with them anytime in the future?

Now try to search for "keyphrases" that integrate your basic keywords with at least two or three of your characteristic traits: location, specialization, target audience(s).

See how many results you get. The more you narrow down your search, the less you will be able to find organizations providing the same type of service you are trying to provide or sell.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that there is no advantage of being positioned in a marketplace that is so narrow as to have almost no competition. Though that marketplace will NOT provide the loads of traffic you may have had while targeting broader and more popular keyword combinations, the prospective customers you will be getting when working in a specialized knowledge niche will be much more valuable and ready to partner, download or buy what you have to offer online.

If so, you may say then, why would there be no competition out there? Think about it: there is nobody there YET to reap the benefits of this online 'niche market'. I am showing you the road of how online marketing will work in the future.

Research, development, education and training organizations are slow movers in this arena. You could take a significant lead on all of your competitors by slowly taking on any new opportunities.

Be the first to provide scientifically designed niche marketing to your institution training services. Be one of the pioneers in generating a trafficked Web site with a constant flow of visitors and prospective customers eager to access your valuable knowledge-based solutions.

You can verify what I am saying by seeing for yourself the existing and growing demand for complex keyphrases in any area.

Go to: searchinventory/suggestion/
and type: "design training" (you do not need the quotes) or "fashion design"

In the last month there have been 52 searches for "fashion design school in New York" as well as 81 searches for "fashion design school in Chicago".

See what I mean?

Keep in mind that Overture is a very promising, but small search engine, driving less than 3% of the overall Internet traffic. So, take its results as indicators of trends rather than as absolute indicators of anything.

Click here to go to the top of this page !


Here are some specific suggestions on how you can start identifying variables and traits that can help you uniquely characterize your online 'knowledge niche'.

The niche that will characterize your educational offering can be defined by:

a) The specific type of audience that you normally serve.

b) The unique topics and applications you cover.

c) The method and approach you utilize to deliver this know-how.

d) The specific customer-driven perspective that you can provide.

e) The location or the specific language in which you offer your know-how.

f) The application or specific purpose of your course.


*Knowing your target audience and prospective customers*

You also need to know precisely to whom you are targeting.

This means that you must be able to accurately identify who these target audiences are, without limiting yourself to general assumptions and stereotypes. Spell out the key traits of your ideal students to.

This activity is crucial in creating the premises for a successful knowledge-based business online and it is called "user profiling".

By making effective use of Log Analysis Tools, Live Trackers (see MasterMind issues #9 and #10 at:
Monitoring your web traffic online - Part II log analysis tools
Monitoring "live" your web site traffic
Real time monitoring of users navigating through your site)
and in some cases of actual User Surveys and Polls, you can learn a lot about your audiences and gather enough data to profile them in detail.

Traffic and log analysis tools allow you to see who your online audiences are, including their specific demographics and technographics (demographics about their technology set up and configuration).

Knowing who your prospective customers are is critical to your success for at least three reasons:

1) Your potential customers want to find an immediate and qualified solution to their information, research or training needs. Therefore you should know why and how they look for it. Furthermore, you should know how much of their time you can expect to take to solve or show the solution you have to offer.

2) Your target audience expects you to already know all of the specific problems and issues typical to that specific interest area. Your prospective customers also expect your organization to be able to provide them with timely and useful solutions, which are immediately applicable, and cost-effective.

3) The better you can profile your typical set of customers, the better service you can provide them. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will be able to effectively define and identify what should be offered to them and how.

Read the mini-tutorial "how to profile your customers" at the bottom of this lesson.

Click here to go to the top of this page !


To take final action, I am going to show you how to identify your perfect online knowledge niche by using the IDEAL technique.

I dentify your online knowledge niche
D ifferentiate your keyphrases
E xpand keyphrases
A ssociate keyphrases to official categories
L ist final results

Follow now these specific 5 steps:

1) Identify your institution's 'knowledge niche', which you want to promote first.

It may cover the general interest of your institution if it is very specific. Or it may be a single e-learning course you have decided to market online.

Write down the description of this 'knowledge niche'. It may be something like:

"Development and Financing Training" or

"Mass Media and Interactive Learning Technologies" or

"Marketing and Management of Training".


2) Differentiate.

Use your creative juices to come up with at least five different ways to convey that same message using different terms or approaches. Do not define more your niche, but simply describe it in more ways. For example:

If you had "Marketing of Training" you could jot down also: "promotion of courses" "marketing of courses" "marketing of education" "marketing of higher education" and many others.

You do not need to go deeper at this point.

3) Expand.

Now go again to: searchinventory/suggestion/ and search for those keyphrases that you have written down.

Take good note of the alternative keyphrases that come up as a response that you may want to consider as interesting alternatives.

Select and prioritize the best three keyphrases that represent the knowledge "knowledge niche" you want to be in.

Better yet, read the WordTracker independent review that I have jointly written with Pietro Carubbi and that appears right after this article. WordTracker is an online service which provides a smart, effective and unique tool to identify best keywords for any online niche. WordTracker main focus is in calculating the actual competitiveness of each online niche by measuring the ratio between demand and supply for any keyword combination/keyphrase. This effectively provides a way to measure feasibility and potential profitability of any possible online knowledge niche.

4) Match most fitting keyphrases to official Internet categories.

Now go to: and type in its search box each one of those selected keyphrases.

In the results page, LOOK AT WHICH YAHOO CATEGORIES come up first for each query.

Do the same at

and again at ODP (Open Directory Project)

5) List.

Take good note of those categories. These represent "present-day" official search engine categories that are ideal for your online positioning. Keep in mind, that these may change with time.

So, from time to time, you will want to go through this whole process again and repeat it to fully re-optimize your effective online "knowledge niche" positioning.

You have completed now your IDEAL technique for online positioning.

On paper you should have:

a) A list of selected keyphrases that best represent and describe your knowledge niche.

b) A list of the Yahoo/Looksmart/ODP categories that best match the selected keyphrases.

Dig into each one these categories to see if they actually contain real competition to your institution. If they don't, then those categories ARE NOT good candidates for your positioning list.

Take note only of those categories in which you can find at least two companies offering something equivalent or similar to your own training or educational offering.

See how many sites are listed in each category. You are looking for a unique 'knowledge niche' not for an overcrowded marketplace.

Take from this final list the three best keyphrases and the two most fitting categories on Yahoo and Looksmart. Now, you have your new online positioning.

I expect the nicheing of knowledge topics to reach unexpected heights. Thus, allowing all quality knowledge, content providers to grow in a significant way.

It looks to be not just business, but a fascinating and truly enjoyable game strategy.

Click here to go to the top of this page !


"How to profile your prospective customers"

To profile your typical customers do the following:

a) Create a character sketch of each possible customer profile as if they were real people. Make references to their personality profile including character, education, social status, interests, habits and passions.

b) Visualize the profiled customers with actual photos or illustrations that closely portrays each customer. If you know anyone such customer who has these specific characteristics and traits, do not hesitate in using his/her picture.

c) Repeat this process for two or three key identity profiles that are MOST interested in the product or services you are offering/providing.

d) Identify such profiles by using past sales information and demographic data, or by analyzing technographics data from your Web traffic log files. If you don't possess either of the above, define the profiles yourself by using personal market experience and research data available on the Web. If you have an internal marketing department, they sure could help as well in identifying which your most interesting customer profiles are.

Click here to go to the top of this page !


Customer Profiling

Crossing the Chasm : Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore, Regis McKenna ISBN: 0066620023

"The idea is to create as many characterizations as possible, one for each different type of customer."

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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, April 25 2002, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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