Thinking of making a website? It all starts with an idea
For a lot of people (myself included), the biggest obstacle is coming up with an idea in the first place.
This guide will take you through some key strategies you can apply to come up with some great website ideas.
The fact that you’re here on this site tells me that you already have one of the most essential parts, curiosity.
I’ll help you make the most of that curiosity.
The iceberg approach
The Iceberg Approach is divided into two phases, The Idea creation phase, and The Idea validation phase.
The idea creation phase is the part of the iceberg above the water, and covers some key brainstorming strategies (You’ve probably seen some of them before).
The Idea validation phase is the part of the iceberg below the water, and covers some essential steps for verifying the business potential of your ideas.
A lot of people forget about the Idea validation part, which is why I believe it’s so nicely illustrated as the bottom part of an iceberg.
Each chapter in this guide is one step down on the iceberg.
The width of the iceberg illustrates the amount of idea topics you should have at the different stages.
The amount of ideas will increase throughout the Idea creation phase where you come up with high-level topics, niche topics within those, and maybe even niche topics within those again.
With a solid number of topics in place, you start the Idea Validation phase. The amount of ideas will then decrease as you exclude those that does not have a business potential.
In this section we’ll identify high-level topics and narrow down the scope down to a few promising topics.
We’ll also identify relevant website types.
Two tips for this section:
- Don’t think about money (yet) – You would be surprised by how many ideas that actually are profitable. If your mindset is all about money in this early idea stage, you risk missing out on some great opportunities.
- Stupid ideas do not exist – If you thought about it, I’m 100% sure there’s someone else in the world that would like that idea. Whether there are enough people that would find the idea interesting is something we’ll investigate later in this guide.
Let’s get started!
The first step in the process is narrowing down the scope to a few specific topics.
I’ll take you through four different brainstorming categories.
Your job will be to note down five topics within each category.
I’ve added my own lists for reference.
A lot of successful business originates from people solving a problem for personal reasons, only to realize that there are a lot of other people with the same problem that are willing to pay for the solution.
Try to list down questions, problems, frustrations or fears that you have.
If I were to make that list, it probably would have looked something like this
This shouldn’t come as a surprise but writing about or creating something you’re passionate about/interested in, is much more likely to turn into something great.
Write down your interests and passions. You can of course list more than five!
My list would look something like this:
Things you already are good at/have experience from
What a lot of people fail to realize, is that you don’t have to be a world-leading expert in order to create a website about a certain topic.
If you feel that you’re good at something, you already know a lot more than millions of others. There will always be people that know more than you, but you can still be considered an expert by the ones who know nothing about the topic.
List down the things you are good at or have experience from.
Things you want to learn more about
Again, you don’t have to be an expert on something before making a website about it. In fact, in some cases, you might actually be better suited to write about a topic when you’re learning about it.
This is especially true if you want to write a learning resource. You then have first-hand experience of what questions a new learner would have, and also which areas that lack proper documentation.
Once you have (roughly) 5 things written down within each category, it’s time to look at the different types of websites you could connect it to.
Profitable websites types
If this was a competition, I’m pretty sure I could come up with a way too long list of different website types you could create. But, this is not a competition, so I’ve tried to keep the list of website types short and relevant.
The intention is to give you an idea of the most common website types, with an indication of how they could make money (although you don’t want to think too much about the money just yet)
A blog is a website where you can write about whatever is on your mind. It could be a simple travel blog or more comprehensive topics like how to create a passive income business online by Pat Flynn.
Blogs are great for affiliate marketing, paid guides/reviews, and directing visitors to your own products. Since blogs are such a wide type, I’ll also list three popular blog content types.
- Reviews – Whenever people are considering buying a product, they would like to read reviews. That’s why there’s always a demand for in-depth product reviews. The income usually comes from earning a percentage of the sales from the reviewed products (Affiliation)
- How-to guides – What do you do when you want to learn something new? A lot of us will just google “How to …” and then someone has written the awesome guide you were looking for. Needless to say, how-to guides are really popular.
- Comparisons – Similar to reviews, comparisons are really popular among people looking to buy a certain product. They obviously want to find the best product, so it’s essential to see how a product compares to others. Again, the income typically comes from affiliation.
2. Business/company website
Whenever people are looking to buy a service or product, they turn to Google and the internet. That’s why it’s essential for any business or company to have an online presence.
A business website should typically contain all the information a potential customer would require in order to figure out whether the product or service is of any interest.
The source of income would be to turn visitors into paying customers.
3. E-commerce website
An E-commerce website or an online shop is all about selling products online. What better way to reach out to potential customers than through the world wide web.
Source of income is visitors paying for the products you are selling.
4. Portfolio website
A portfolio website is all about showcasing your work. If you’re a photographer, it could be examples of some of your best photos.
The value of a portfolio might not be a direct money stream, but more about building a brand for yourself online.
If you’re a looking for a job, a good portfolio can potentially be a strong addition to your resume or even be your entire resume.
5. Community website
A community website is a website where people with similar interests discuss and share information and experience around various topics.
A potential source of income could eventually be advertisement or membership fees.
6. Web application
A web application is just like an app on your phone, only that it’s accessed through a web browser.
It could be something simple like a tip calculator which calculates how much tip you should leave after a restaurant visit.
Source of income could be an access fee for the whole, or special parts of the application.
7. Directory websites
A directory site is a website that provides searchable lists for a given subject.
It could be a job board that lists available jobs in a given region or a list of restaurants available in a given area.
Source of income could possibly be advertising or paid listings.
Narrow the scope
By now you should have a few high-level topics at hand, and an impression of the most common website types.
This is still too high level to be of much value.
But you should now have enough information in order to start narrowing down the scope a little bit.
At this point, you should focus on interest. Which topics sound interesting? Which website types sounds interesting? Exclude the rest!
You don’t have to be passionate about it, but a genuine interest is key. As Pat Flynn states:
Any sort of mild curiosity or excitement about a topic can help you get started and keep you moving forward—but you don’t have to be completely passionate about it.
Note that a website doesn’t have to be just one type, they can be combined as well (and they often are).
There’s a lot of business sites, e-commerce sites and web applications that also have a blog in order to attract potential customers through blog posts.
Before moving to the next section, your task will be to:
- Exclude topics that you don’t feel are interesting enough
- Exclude website types that don’t sound interesting
- Create a list of interesting topics and website type combinations
The ones I want to take with me as examples are the topics “First-time parent” and “Travel”, and the types “Blog” and “Web application”.
Identifying niche topics
A lot of other guides would probably have ended at this point, leaving you nowhere close to a real idea. Pretty frustrating right?
Not this guide.
Now that you’ve narrowed in on some interesting high-level topics, it’s about time to identify niche topics within those.
What is a niche topic?
A niche topic is a very specific topic that your target customer/visitor would be interested in.
As the niche gets more specific, your potential customer/visitor volume will typically decrease as well.
From a business perspective, it will be essential to find a niche that has sufficient customer volumes combined with a manageable number of competitors.
We’ll look at both those aspects in a bit.
Finding niche topics
If you were very specific in your high-level topic brainstorming, you might actually have a few niche topics already.
I would say that my example “First-time parent” is a niche topic of the more high-level topic “parent”, so I will leave that one untouched.
My “Travel” topic, on the other hand, is a bit too generic, and would most likely have way too much competition.
Just imagine how many companies that would like to be on the first page of Google for the “Travel” search. Airlines, travel agencies, hotels are all businesses that relate to travel and would like to be on that first page.
So, I might need to drill down to some lower level niches in order to have a chance of standing out.
One of the key strategies for finding niche topics is to find websites where your target audience are already present.
That way you can get a unique insight into what they are discussing, what products they are buying, what information they might be looking for, and what problems they might have.
Here are a few approaches you should try.
Forums are basically a large collection of your potential customers/visitors gathered in one place talking about everything that is on their mind regarding a certain topic.
A gold mine for anyone trying to come up with potential business ideas
The easiest way to find these forums would be to search for these strings in Google:
Topic + forum
Topic + board
When you’ve found a relevant forum, pay attention to how the forum is divided into sections. Each of these sections are potential niche topics that you can steal.
Just from looking at the sections, I’ve identified a few travel niches that I realize I know quite a bit about.
- Solo travel
- Traveling in Asia
- Travel gadgets and gear
- Traveling with pets
I can even combine some of them in order to find niche topics within the niche topics.
- Solo travel in Asia
- Gadgets and gear for Asia travels
I could have made a longer list, but I think you get the point.
If you dig even deeper, you can check out some of the threads within the specific sections in order to find other ideas.
Just from looking at the threads in the solo travel sub forum for a few seconds I find a few more topics
- First-time solo travelers
- Travel buddies (Find your travel buddy app?)
Note down all the niche topics that make sense to you.
If you need information on a particular topic, where do you go?
That also makes it a great place for niche topic research.
Go to Wikipedia and type in your high-level topic in the search bar
Once you have arrived at the topic page, the first thing you should do is to check out the “Contents” section. If you’re lucky, there are some great niche ideas already at this point.
The contents section on travels didn’t give me that much, but I found one topic that interests me
- Travel safety
If you take your time to check out some of the internal links, you might come across some golden nuggets there as well.
I found the Air safety niche, which then is a sub-niche to “Travel safety”. I fly quite a lot, so air safety is definitely something I’m concerned about, and potentially could be interested in learning more about.
If I click the “air safety” link I can find even more niche topics on that page again.
Whatever interesting things you might find, note it down.
Reddit is basically a forum covering many topics, also referred to a subreddits.
It’s extremely popular, so there’s a good chance you’ll find your target audience within different subreddits.
Go to Reddit and type in your high-level topics in the search bar.
As you can see, even the subreddits might be good niche topic suggestions.
In this case, it points out topics I’ve already noted down
- Solo travel
- Travel buddies/Travel partners
If you want to dig deeper, you can go into some of the relevant subreddits and check out popular threads.
By looking at the solotravel subreddit, I quickly get confirmed that “first-time solo travelers” might be a really nice niche topic.
Before you leave, remember to check out the “Related subreddits” section to the right. That’s yet another potential source of niche topics.
I notice one topic I would like to note down
Make sure you note down the ones you come across
Quora is another community site worth checking out. It’s a platform where anyone can ask and answer questions.
In the same way as Reddit, Quora is divided into topics.
Head over to Quora and type in your topic, and you’ll see that you get an initial set of topic suggestions.
If these initial suggestions don’t spark any ideas, try going into the ones that sound most relevant.
Check out the threads for any interesting topics.
In my case, I found a new one on the very top of the “international travel” feed.
- Cultural differences
Next, you should check out the “Related Topics” section to see if there are any topics worth digging into there.
And, if the initial topic feels a bit broad, it can also be worth checking out the child topics.
In my opinion, Quora has hidden this feature a bit too well…But you can find child topics by clicking “Manage” under the three dots in the upper right corner.
Where you will find child topics on the right-hand side.
I didn’t get any new Ideas in this case, but hopefully, you will.
Remember to write them down!
If you check out all of the above resources, I’m certain that you will end up with a decent list of niche topics that might be worth pursuing.
In the next section, we will have a look at how we can use Google Keyword Planner to identify potential visitor volumes for the different topics.
This is where you start the process of excluding topics that probably isn’t worth pursuing.
I like to call this the Idea validation phase.
Visitor volume research
By now you should have a decent list of niche topic suggestions.
Now starts the job of identifying which one of them that actually might be profitable to pursue.
The first thing we need to figure out is whether or not there is an audience interested in the topic.
This section will cover potential visitor volumes, search volumes and trends.
Did you get any of your topic ideas based on forum sections, subreddits or Quora topics?
If so, did you pay attention to how many posts, subscribers and questions each of them had?
High numbers? Then you can already tell that there seems to be a lot of interest around the topic.
Low numbers? There’s still hope, so don’t throw away the idea just yet.
There are still plenty of details to uncover.
Google Keyword Planner
When you have a question, big or small, who do you ask?
A lot of us ask Google.
In fact, we ask Google over 40,000 times every single second.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could see how many people that searches for the topics that you have found?
Luckily for us, the Google Keyword Planner does exactly that, and it’s completely free.
Note that GKP is mainly designed for people advertising through Adwords. So, there will be quite a few features that are not relevant to you at this stage.
In order to use the Google Keyword Planner, you’ll need an Adwords account.
If you don’t have one already, it’s fairly easy to set one up, just follow these two steps.
Step 1: Create an AdWords account
Head over to https://ads.google.com and click “Start Now”.
Important! Click Skip the guided setup
The guided setup requires that you have a website, create a new add, and add payment information, and we don’t want to do that now…
If you clicked “continue” you will be forced through the campaign setup process. (You could then restart the process with another email)
Just follow the prompts after that. If the email you enter is not a Google account, the prompts will take you through the Google account creation.
Step 2: Find the Keyword Planner tool
Once you’ve reached the campaign dashboard, click the wrench icon in the upper right corner.
Then choose Keyword Planner.
You’ll be presented with two options, but we are only interested in the “Find Keywords” tool.
Understanding the GKP features
This is where it starts getting interesting
Click Find keywords, enter one of the niche topics you’ve identified earlier in this guide, and click Get started.
You’ll then end up at the “Keyword ideas” page, which looks like this:
There are a few things you should know about the features of this page:
At the top of the page, you’ll see three options, Location, Language, and Search networks.
Here’s what they mean:
This is the country or countries you’re targeting. Since I don’t target a specific country, I always keep this setting at All locations.
This is the language of the topics you want to research. In my case (and for most of you) this will be English.
But if I wanted to write about a topic in Norwegian, I would have selected Norwegian here.
I recommend leaving this set to Google
Let’s direct our attention towards keywords and monthly searches
Here’s what they mean:
This is the list of search terms/keywords that Google considered most relevant and closely related to the topic you typed in.
Additional tip: The related keyword list can also be a great source for new niche topics ideas. So, keep your eyes open and note down any potential candidates.
Avg. monthly searches
Fairly self-explanatory, but there are two things to keep in mind:
- It’s a range, which means that it’s not extremely accurate (I’ll show you how to get a more accurate number in just a bit)
- It’s an average, so if something is searched for 10,000 times one month, and 0 another month, the average will be 5,000 which is a bit misleading. (I’ll show you how to handle this as well in just a bit).
Research all your niche topics
Now that you have an understanding of the most essential features, it’s about time you start digging into those topics you listed down.
Your goal now is to figure out which of these niche topics that have sufficient search volumes to make it worth pursuing.
The topics that you continue researching should ideally have search volumes of at least 10,000
Take one-by-one and type them into the Keyword Ideas search bar.
Note: When researching a topic, remember to also consider keywords that means the same as your niche topic.
When I research “First time parent” I get the range 1K-10K, which doesn’t seem too promising.
But after looking at the suggested keywords, I find several keywords that point to the same topic.
New parents, advice for new parents, first baby are all keywords that are pretty much identical to my starting point first time parents.
If you’re just around the 10,000 point there is a way to find the exact numbers
All you have to do is to tick off all the keywords you want to consider, and then click Add to plan.
Click the Keywords tab on the right and look at the Impressions number. That is Google’s estimate for how many people that will search for these keywords the coming month.
Looks like I cleared the 10k mark by a nice margin, so I’ll definitely be keeping my first time parent topic.
Make sure you note down all the identical keywords you ticked off.
Go through all your topics and exclude those that end up below 10,000 impressions.
You’ve found topics that seem to have a decent amount of searches each month.
Unfortunately, those numbers can be deceiving.
You also have to consider the topic trend, and fortunately, Google has a tool for that as well
Type in your topics and check out how your topic is trending
These are the trends to look out for.
If all of those searches are pilled up in one month of the year, your topic will be pretty much worthless the rest of the year.
Here’s the search trend for Christmas tree, and as you can see it peaks just before Christmas (not a big surprise really…)
If the topic has a decreasing trend, you’ll have to consider that the search volumes possibly will decrease as well. Take that into consideration when you decide on a topic.
Here’s the search trend for Facebook, it doesn’t look too promising…
Note: A downwards trend doesn’t necessarily mean that the topic isn’t profitable in the long run. But you should definitely be asking yourself why it’s going down before you decide to go for it.
A final tip: Try to Google your topic. Are there any adds on the top of the search rankings? If so, that’s a clear sign of a profitable topic.
Do you still have a few topics on your list with more than 10,000 searches and an even or rising trend?
Let’s move to the last step of the process, competitor evaluation.
At this point, you’ve probably found a few niche topics that look promising with regards to search volume.
The only thing left is to check out who you’re up against, your competitors.
The easiest way to do that is to see who appears on the first page of Google for your topic.
So, in this section, I’ll show you how to quickly evaluate your competition, just by looking at the Google search for your topic and by utilizing a great little tool called the MozBar.
Competition, good or bad?
Keep in mind that competition is not necessarily a bad sign. In fact, it could actually be a good sign.
- Someone else has seen the potential in this niche, which means that you’re probably on the right track
- Competitors can be a valuable source for learning because they let you:
- Get insight into what content that seems to be popular in the niche
- Figure out which SEO strategies that work in the niche
- Figure out which business strategies that work in the niche
But if the first page in Google is crowded with well-known big brands, you might want to think twice about pursuing that particular topic.
Let’s get started!
The MozBar is a free Google Chrome extension developed by Moz, a company you’ll hear more about when you start looking more into Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
What’s great about the MozBar is that it allows us to size up our competitors directly in the Google search result.
Here’s how you install it:
Click “Add to Chrome” in the upper right corner of the extension install window, and you’re done.
You should now see a blue Moz icon in the upper right corner of Chrome
If you now do a Google search, you should see the additional information from the MozBar below each result.
Let’s look at what the different numbers mean.
Page Authority (PA)
Page Authority is basically a SEO metric created by Moz that tries to predict how well a given page is going to rank in Google, based on link data.
This is not exact science, because nobody really knows exactly what makes a page rank high in Google (except a very limited number of Google engineers).
Google does occasionally give us a few hints. Like in this Q&A where Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said that the two most important rank factors were links and content.
I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site.
But we will never know all of it.
That’s why Moz (and a lot of others) creates these predictions, and Moz is one of the best ones.
What should you look for?
You’ll quickly notice that most topics with a medium or high search volume, will also have a few high PA pages on the first page of Google.
A high PA doesn’t necessarily mean that you should discard the topic, it just means that you’ll have to work harder to make it rank high.
But what you’re really looking for are those low PA pages, and then I’m talking about those below 25. That’s topics that are just waiting to get knocked off the throne.
If you see a lot of those, that’s very promising.
Domain Authority (DA)
Domain authority is very similar to Page authority.
The only difference really, is that it looks at the site as a whole, and not just one particular page.
A high DA will typically indicate a well-established brand that has earned Google’s trust over time.
So, if a page belongs to a well-established and authoritative domain, it will quite often get a solid bump up on the rankings.
That’s why it’s also important to evaluate the sites you’re competing against, and not just look at the pages.
Needless to say, pages with high PA and DA can be tough to compete against.
If your topic is crowded with high authoritative domains, you might want to check out the next topic on your list.
Links should be seen in relation with PA since the Page authority metric is based on these links.
The links number tells you how many links that link back to that particular site.
This number does not tell me how many links that come from the same domain, so it could, in theory, be one site that has linked to this site 6080 times, but that’s not very likely in this case.
Either way, the links will give you an indication of the popularity of the page, but it could also be spam links, so you should take the number with a “grain of salt”.
Did you find any?
You’ve now had a fairly detailed look at your competitors.
Didn’t find a niche with low competition?
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it.
As I stated earlier, you can learn a lot from your competitors. So, by doing the research you’ve done now, you understand what it would take to rank in that niche.
Do you think you can manage? Then keep that topic!
If you’ve managed to follow this guide all the way through, I really hope there are still some topics left on your list.
Found your perfect idea? Great job!
Did all your topics get excluded? Then I need to tell you one more thing.
You’ve been through quite a long process by now, and you probably had quite a few topics, but they all got excluded because of low volumes and high competition etc.
Review excluded topics
Have a second look at the topics you excluded
Because the truth is, there are probably many great profitable ideas that don’t fit into the guidelines I’ve described above.
Maybe the topic that had 100 searches this month becomes extremely popular in half a year.
Maybe you’re able to create content and add value for your visitors that outperforms all the well-known brands by a long-shot.
There is no magic formula to find the perfect idea.
The essence of the Idea Validation phase is not necessarily to find the idea that fits the guidelines. It’s about going through the necessary research step to ensure that you know what you’re committing yourself to.
I see way too many people making the mistake of blindly diving into a project, only to realize that they’re in over their head. By the time that happens, they’ve already wasted both time and money.
But that’s not you!
You’ve done your research, you know the competition you are up against, you’ve investigate the search volumes.
Now, have a second look at those topics, forget about the ”rules” mentioned in this article, and follow your gut feeling.
Coming up with a good website idea is not an easy task, but hopefully the strategy outlined in this article made it a bit easier.
Do you have the perfect idea? Get started with creating that website right away!
Do you have any additional suggestions on how to come up with website ideas?
Do you know any additional idea resources that would be worth reading?
Let me know in the comments below