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How I Took the Toughest Blog Niche, and Owned It

This guest post is by Dominick DalSanto of Baghouse.

Imagine you are called into your boss’s office and presented with the following assignment: head a new marketing initiative for your entire company.

You are to do so using a medium and associated technologies that you have absolutely no experience with, and the plan you are going to follow is one that a great many other companies have tried/are trying to do, only to see failure. You are to do all of this without any training or instruction of any kind.

A tough industry

Image copyright Cowboy in the Jungle

Needless to say, you might a be a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the task assigned to you. I know I sure was when this very thing happened to me a few years ago. I found myself tasked with running a new online marketing strategy for our company, with little experience, and hardly a clue on how I was going to do it. Quite a daunting task for the new guy at the company.

Our company, Baghouse.com, which sells industrial dust collection systems (a type of air pollution control technology), had decided that we needed to exploit of the overall lack of internet presence in our industry, and use that to our advantage by initiating a new online marketing strategy. This new strategy included a redesigned website with a focus on useful, practical content that would increase our company’s reputation as a industry leader, and bring in new customers.

My job was to figure out how we were going to do it, how to do it for a reasonable price, and then put it into action. Some of the challenges that lay before me included:

  • a lack of experience in both blogging and web marketing
  • my competition was fierce and included a Fortune Global 100 corporation with nearly endless resources
  • a very small potential audience/target demographic (industry professionals who deal with air pollution control equipment, and specifically dust collection equipment).

Where was I even to begin?

I found advice, but it wasn’t quite what I needed

As with most people in my generation, I figured that I would be able to learn all I needed about blogging by reading about it online. I did manage to find a number of great sites, such as Problogger and Copyblogger, among others. I also managed to run across Darren’s book about blogging, which also was an immense help.

Over the next few months, I read more articles about blogging than I can even number. Most of them had excellent tips for starting, maintaining, and promoting blogs for success. While some of these articles were very helpful (such as ones about SEO, design, software, etc.) I began to realize that a lot of this advice was not quite as applicable to my blog as it was to others with a more mainstream niche target.

For just one example, many articles talk about the importance of using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to promote your articles, and to engage your readers. Here’s a cold hard fact: middle-aged industrial engineers (a large part of my target audience) looking for ways to decrease static pressure drop across their pulse-jet dust collector at the advanced manufacturing plant where they work are not the types that sit around and go looking for articles on Facebook while they are at work.

I quickly realized that while there was a wealth of valuable information on these sites, I needed to adapt it to my unique market, and combine it with more traditional industrial marketing methods to have any success.

Fast-forward to the present day, we rank #1 for five of the best keywords in our industry, and have increased overall traffic, traffic quality (more focused), and conversions (contacting us for a quote). Here’s what I did to take my blog from its beginnings to where it is today.

1. Learn your topic well enough to teach others

One problem I encountered was that to be a successful blogger, you need to know your topic well enough that your writing offers something valuable to your readers. Your articles can inform, they can teach, they can warn, they can do a lot of things, but you as the author need to know your niche well enough to identify what stories will fill these roles for your readers.

Despite working in the industry from a young age (it’s the family business), I, as the simple high school graduate, now needed to know enough about dust collection technology to write something with appealing value to guys with engineering degrees from MIT.

I needed to learn everything I could about the industry, but you can’t just go to Barns and Noble and buy a book on dust collection. I needed to find other ways to educate myself. This lead me to asking people at our company with decades of experience, finding other professionals on LinkedIn and asking them specific questions, and devouring whatever reading material I could get my hands on from websites, to trade publications, etc. In such a specialized niche as mine, tracking down this kind of information often proved exceedingly difficult.

In the end, my education did not happen overnight, but little by little I learned more and more and right away I started to use my still growing knowledge to write. Initially my writings were a little simpler, and harder to do, but I always worked hard to use what knowledge I had to prepare interesting, informative, and useful content for my readers.

Two years on, I still have a lot yet to learn, but I have gone from writing simple news stories to being featured in major industry trade magazines/blogs, and large environmental advocacy sites among others.

2. Do what you can for SEO, and recognize that pros can do the rest better

One of the most valuable of the many things I took to learning about when I started was search engine optimization (SEO). In many ways the potential SEO benefits to our main site were the driving force for establishing a blog in the first place. I learned quickly, however, that simply adding a blog to your site, and filling it with a few articles is not all it takes to shoot straight to #1 on Google.

As with the technical aspect of my niche, I made sure to subscribe to several of the best SEO sites out there, as well Website Magazine to learn all I could about SEO. After a while I became pretty knowledgeable about SEO and our site saw a marked improvement.

However, it is very important to avoid becoming overconfident in your own newly-acquired abilities. In time I began to realize that there was a limit to what I could accomplish with SEO, while still devoting sufficient time to content research and authoring, webmaster duties, as well as other marketing endeavors.

So we made the decision to hire an outside SEO firm to help us. After doing extensive research (well over 20 quotes) we settled on a smaller company out of Idaho that impressed us with their knowledge and vision for our site. We managed to negotiate an innovative agreement with them that would see us pay a reduced rate upfront, and then pay a higher total price only if we obtained a set number of goals (in our case, a first-page listing on Google for each of our five target keywords).

This allowed us to make the initial investment even with our tight budget. If we then should we see success from the campaign, we would be able to afford the higher rate. (I find it utterly laughable that SEO companies claim that they cannot offer any sort of promise that you will rank well after they take your money. What other business in the world could get away with such a brush off of responsibility for their work like that?)

The results that have come from this partnership are astonishing. With their skilled staff, they were able to correct several technical errors on our site that I had endeavored in vain to fix on my own (still working on learning web programming). Additionally, since they were taking care of the mundane SEO tasks (technical tweaks, press releases, etc.), I was able to focus my attention on higher value SEO initiatives (guest posts, high quality link exchanges, recommendations from other sites, etc.) which required more effort, more time, and an actual expert knowledge of the industry.

All of this has lead to us in less than five months improving three out of five of our target keyword rankings from an average of 60 to between #1 and #3 on Google.

3. Find creative ways to network

With such a tight focus, and a niche that in general has almost no internet presence, finding networking opportunities was by far the most difficult part of developing our site. To say it required extensive research to find other sites in our niche online is the understatement of the year. Besides other competitors, the number of directories that include our industry is limited to around five. After you get a listing there, there is really not much else out there for us to go for.

LinkedIn proved itself deserving of the accolades it frequently receives, by filling in the gaps in business marketing like it has. By creating a custom profile for myself, and for Baghouse.com, we were able to introduce ourselves to others in our industry. Along with that, LinkedIn groups provided us with not just one, but a number of different forums to post our articles, find help with technical questions, and introduce ourselves as industry problem solvers to potential customers.

In fact, the most visitors we ever received was when I posted a link to an article on five ways to increase dust collector efficiency to one of the LinkedIn groups, and then asked for everyone to share their thoughts on it, and let me know what if any additional items I could cover in the next article in the series. It resulted in a traffic increase of over 200%, and brought me to the attention of several major players in the industry, which then lead to several offers to write for several important trade magazines.

4. Guest post like your life depends on it, and expand your topic’s reach

Of all the SEO/web marketing tactics out there, few provide as many benefits as guest posting. Guest posting simultaneously provides means for direct marketing relationship building, and immense SEO value.

Yet I had an extremely difficult time locating sites with a similar focus to mine that allow guest posts.

My initial efforts to post on the few larger, directly related industry sites (industry trade magazines, pollution control equipment directories, etc.) ended in failure because no one would take me seriously as I did not have an established record of content that was up to their standards, and more simply because I was a nobody. So this again forced me to adapt my methods.

I started looking for ways to broaden my articles’ reach, and make new connections between what we do at baghouse.com and the rest of the world. I then began seeking out a wider range of sites that I could then guest post on.

I began to write articles that focused on the environmental aspects of our work, how our equipment is playing a part in protection the environment (environmental advocacy sites), how it protects workers from health hazards at work (workplace safety and workers’ rights sites), and how the recent legislative developments (stronger governmental pollution regulations) would soon require upgraded dust collection equipment (political blogs, environmental and corporate law sites).

Keys to success in industrial blogging

It was not easy, it did not happen overnight, and the battle to be and stay #1 will be ongoing. Nevertheless, I believe that we owe our success to these four points:

  1. Study your topic enough to be able to inform, educate, and motivate your readers: You can do this by reading trade magazines, subscribing to blogs and sites, and asking others in your field and learning from them.
  2. Learn all you can about SEO, but find a pro to help, allowing you to use your time pursuing the most valuable things: You can do this by: Reading, and studying about SEO online, and in print. Find an SEO firm that fits your company size and scope, and that can provide their services at a reasonable price with reasonable expectations.
  3. Find creative ways to network with other industry professionals and potential customers: you can do this by digging deep to find directories, news outlets, and other sites that deal with your niche. Utilize LinkedIn to the full, by creating complete profiles for both personnel and the company, and by joining Groups that fit your niche.
  4. Use guest posting to increase your prestige, improve SEO, and attract new visitors: You can do this by identifying all blogs and content publishing websites in your niche, and broadening your scope of your content as much as possible to take advantage of “nearby” niches and their blogs.

Whether blogging about industrial dust collection systems or other less common niches, you will find success if you are willing to be adaptable, insightful and creative enough to take methods that have guided countless others to blogging success, and use them to find success yourself.

Dominick is a dust collection systems expert and author, having published numerous articles, whitepapers, and news pieces covering the benefits of baghouse filter technology in controlling industrial air pollution. California born, Chicago raised, in his spare time, he writes about travel and life abroad for various travel sites and blogs from his current home in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Comments

  1. Knowing your stuff is the key, if you don’t and you try and fake it, at some point you will get called out, either on your blog or on a blog you’re guest posting, it’s okay not to know everything, but don’t pretend to know more than you do.

  2. Thank you so much for the great read, Dominick. And a huge thank you to including the need for experienced SEO professionals after you’ve had a chance to implement the basics on a website yourself.

    When potential clients ask why they need a SEO “expert”, when they have a web developer, I like to give them an example in human terms. There is a huge difference between being a American history expert and being a Civil War expert. The former knows a little of everything whereas the latter has honed their passion and experience to a specific niche in order to give people the most refined and detailed information.

    Generalities don’t work in the search engines world and definitely don’t work for success online. The search engines are blind and you need to be their guide to give them exactly what they are looking for online. This is where the true SEO “experts” come in.

  3. Excellent inspirational post, it’s nice to read a success story like this.

  4. Rahul Singh says:

    Hi Dominick,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and insight about blogging. I have just started blogging and such posts help me a lot in taking the right steps.
    I underestimated the power of LinkedIn, but after reading about your experience i realized its important to connect with industry professionals who have same interests as you.Thanks again for the tip. Going to LinkedIn now to create my account :)

  5. David says:

    I’ve read a lot of stuff about niche blogging and how to do it BUT this post is the best. In my opinion, Dominick does an outstanding job describing how he went from A to Z in the creation of his site and then “owning” his niche.

    Plus, he made a very good point about Facebook, “middle-aged industrial engineers (a large part of my target audience) looking for ways to decrease static pressure drop across their pulse-jet dust collector at the advanced manufacturing plant where they work are not the types that sit around and go looking for articles on Facebook”.

    Meaning, that despite Facebook’s popularity and assumed potential, there are some things that just don’t get done via Facebook.

    Anyway, I think this is a very good post with lost of valuable information.

  6. Recently I had a writing project (I am a freelance writer) writing the blog posts for a company in facility maintenance. I had absolutely no idea what that was, well, a really vague idea. So I had to research like my life depended on it. I read industry journals etc until I got to really understand the twists and turns in facility management. I now run an internet marketing blog and though I am just a few years old as a marketer, I am using the same approach; becoming an expert so I can teach.

    Thanks for this unique angle on blogging. So much to learn from it.

  7. alain says:

    The post title is misleading. How can this be the toughest blog niche when you said: “.. had decided that we needed to exploit of the overall lack of internet presence in our industry..”.

    I hate overstating titles…

    You did all the right things in a easy to own niche, so of course it worked. Try something a little harder, like insurance/weightloss and report back on your results.

    • The reason I termed it “the hardest niche” was because how many people do you think want to read about industrial dust collection equipment? How many other sites are out there that deal with a topic that is related? How many of those sites are willing to link to you? How many sites can you guest post on about your topic? And how many people have to go up against the combined might of GE in terms of edging out your place in the blogsphere?

      I would say thats rather hard…

  8. Brad Olson says:

    What a great post! I finally feel like I’ve heard from a blogger that’s really in the same situation as I am. I too run a small business with a very narrow market. Many of the tips for expanding your reach using SEO and other classic social media tools just don’t work in our market either. Your four points really hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve been doing most of these (except for guest blogging, I’m still encountering the same hurdles that you mention.)

    I’d like to add that posting to educate allows you to create an online library that can really boost your credibility. It can also save you time too. Most of our customers still only communicate electronically via email – no Facebook, no tweeting, or any other social media involvement. Quite often we’ll include a link to one of my relevant posts in our email reply. I know it sounds simple, but once you have a library of posts to reference, you’ll really see a benefit.

    Also, even though the turnover in your niche is slow, there is still a new crop of engineers (analysts or whatever) being educated and entering the field (however slowly). If your blog is the largest presence in your niche, it is highly likely that this new blood has read your stuff. This new generation lives on the web!

    • Brad,

      Thanks for the support. I love you idea of including a link to a post in emails to business contacts. I never thought of that before. I think I am going to start doing that myself.

  9. congrats on your success. I am just starting out as well and trying to get guest posting spots on sites this month and having a hard time as well. Going to try and get 2 more out today and see what happens. Thanks!

  10. 99% Economy says:

    Very good tips! Since my blog is still pretty new, I’m focusing mainly on #1 right now – sharing the expertise I have and learning as much as I can about other aspects of my niche (personal finance with a political activism twist). I also agree with #3 – a little creativity and flexibility with social media goes a long way. My target audience is more social media savvy than the average middle aged engineer, but I’ve been cursed with a dislike of Twitter, so I’ve been working on building up a Reddit presence instead, since that is another popular hangout and the discussions and other interactions there are much more to my taste.

  11. You’ve really got to love blogging to write about industrial dust collection systems!

  12. Mike says:

    I think these were the essential steps that you took. This is something that is a source of inspiration for the rest of us to be able to aspire towards being able to get started on our own paths. Your path seemed to be a source of great amount of learning and personal development not only for your boss but for yourself as well.

  13. Gene says:

    Its amazing how you knew nothing, did not complain and did all you can to make sure you pulled through. That is a sign of greatness, making something out of nothing. Your article and success is not only proof that if you want it bad enough and you work really hard, nothing is impossible. Whether is a non existent niche or an over crowded one you have got to be creative and come up with new tactics.

  14. Fletch says:

    You’re on the right track. There are obviously some best practices in marketing, SEO, etc. but a lot of this space is just test & see so if you have the bandwidth, runway and imagination – you should do well.

    I’ve always found that success is more likely when you don’t do what everyone else is doing. When they zig, if you can make a calculated zag, you’re golden.

    Some unsolicited advice… since it is a testing environment and you’re new, if your current search results don’t show any improvement by February, you may want to double check what words you’re trying to win and make sure your site is optimized appropriately. I couldn’t find your site on the first page of any normal search a normal potential customer would do so I did a topline review and your site is missing a lot of baseline SEO elements and even has mixed messaging.

    On the positive side, you have a really great site map which is important, but without some basics, the site map is less effective.

    The “zig” for SEO folks over the last couple of years has been a laser focus on the site map, often at the expense of other elements.

    Good luck and cheers

  15. Dwayne says:

    That’s kind of the same way I’m starting out. I was a little hesitant to do any guest posts because I didn’t have a lot of content on my blog but when I realized the content that I did have up was very good I figured I’d give it a shot. I think it’s great how you found others in your niche especially being that it doesn’t have that wide of an internet presence. Good work, Dominick.

  16. Sonia Byun says:

    I was in the exact position that you explained in the beginning of your article. Then, actually our company just launched a blog, and I know it is the very, very beginning of this new marketing initiative. I am very happy to see this article, because it is really relevant to me. Thanks a lot for your honest and valuable post, and check out: blog.toth.com if you have some time. Thanks!

  17. Glen Cooper says:

    Snashing post Dominick. Greatly enjoyed reading about how you rose to success. I am trying to establish my own blog in a technical profession. Luckily I get to practice my job skills everyday. I chose to follow the less technical approach to blogging in order to involve a niche set of Engineers who enjoy conversing about the softer side of our industry. Business ownership, motivation, status and collaboration.

    Good luck with the future.

  18. Thanks everyone for the great comments…I really appreciate the kind words about my work.

  19. I like the title. You ventured into a relatively unknown and less popular niche and amount of guest post as you say, you have written is surely credible. Keep up the good work

  20. Tim says:

    Working in the bag houses was one of my first jobs out of high school. Cleaning out those dust collectors was always either too hot or too cold (depending on the season), dirty, and always came with at least a moderate chance of injury such as being at heights, working in cramped spaces, potentially hazardous situations with air jets and a screw at the bottom of the building.
    All that being said, I look back at those days and remember them fondly. The people I worked with were great, the company was fair and easy to work for and it gave me a chance to get an inside peak of how many of the manufacturing companies I visited, worked.

    I used to see the trucks of the company I worked for around once in a while but since the downturn of the economy and the resulting shut down of many of our areas factories I believe they were forced to close. Just another one of the many related business effected by the loss of so many manufacturing jobs I guess.

    I am glad you wrote this post as it shows that there are many people out there that work in traditional, offline businesses who are now trying to bring those businesses into the “brave new world” of online marketing and a new form of global commerce.

    A question though about the filter bag industry, with the way things in the economy have gone recently, have you found yourself looking to countries with a growing industrial base such as China or India for new business or is this something you have always done but just increased your focus on recently?

    Thank you for a great post and for showing us that you can find a successful topic even in an offline, industrial setting.

    TIm.

    • Tim:

      As the youngest of 5 kids, in our family business I have spent many a day working in feet of collected dust , changing out baghouse filters. So I can understand your comments about somehow looking back fondly on those terribly hot, dangerous, and yet lively days of work in the hole.

      As for expanding into other markets, while places like India, and China are certainly growing, and more than the US are in desperate need of industrial dust collection technology, the reality is that many of those countries do not have governments that have placed a high value on keeping their air, land, and waters free from pollution. They fail to see the importance of investing in a health population, which in the end is the greatest resource we have.

  21. Drewry says:

    Internet leadership by way of strategizing your content marketing effectively brings out the best in any blogger or affiliate marketer :-)

    http://www.drewrynewsnetwork.com/f9/build-twitter-followers-effectively-free-creative-online-marketing-tactics-2519.html

  22. Carsten says:

    This was a real inspiring post to me as I face a similar problem with my main business. My business niche is rather technical, but people working in it are not real internet fanatics at all. The advantage of it is that I’m a bit ahead of others in the business concerning SEO and such things. In the last 8 to 10 months I made some improvements to my site and still go ahead to improve our service and the information I offer online to my target customers.

  23. Brandi says:

    You say:

    “(I find it utterly laughable that SEO companies claim that they cannot offer any sort of promise that you will rank well after they take your money. What other business in the world could get away with such a brush off of responsibility for their work like that?)”

    First off, it’s not a brush off of responsibility. I always tell my clients, “if I could control Google, I wouldn’t be working for you. I’d be off on my private island somewhere, enjoying time with my 5 children.”

    Fact is, I can only do what I can do. What works now, may not work tomorrow. There’s no guarantees. The only guarantee I offer (and anyone with half a brain should offer) is that I will implement the strategies which I know that currently work. If it changes tomorrow, I’ll adapt.

    You ask what other business in the world could NOT guarantee something would work and still take your money… let’s see:

    1. Doctor. Have you ever had to have your medicine changed because the first one “didn’t work”? Have you ever had to have multiple surgeries due to the fact the first several didn’t work? (Check on both of those for me.)

    2. Lawyer. What lawyer takes your money and guarantees you are going to win your lawsuit? Or get what you want for alimony or child support? Exactly zero.

    3. Dentist. Ever had a procedure go bad? I had a root canal done in August of last year. Still hurts. No guarantees!

    4. Insurance companies. I shouldn’t even need to expound upon this one.

    There’s no guarantees in life… you do the best you can with the most up-to-date information at hand. If your client expect differently, then you’ve picked the wrong client!

    Also, in terms of a “hard niche”- SEO professionals base it on competition. If there’s no one competing in your market currently, it’s not a hard niche. That’s not saying it can’t be a hard niche eventually, but if you’re the only one running the race, you’re obviously going to win it.

    • I would counter firstly, that while I understand why SEOs preface their work with such concerns (I can’t control Google), which are indeed very valid, I think its ridiculous to push all of the responsibility unto the clients for success or failure.

      I also take issue with your comparison of a doctor/dentist, who is not really a businessman. Also, the really best lawyers get paid only when they win…whether they take a case or not is their prerogative.

      Also regarding the hardest niche comment, I agree that in terms of competing for SEO rankings, and the like, SEO is probably the hardest if not the hardest… But what I was referring to when I titled the article was not only that the SEO aspect, but also finding success in the field itself would be difficult, since there is little to no expectation of online content in our industry. Add to that the fact that we have a very narrow niche, a very small worldwide audience, and very technically complex content to write about, and you will have my reasons for terming it the toughest niche.

  24. Peter Palme says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I am surprised how many company especially if they are in a niche still leave money on the table. I observe in my work as Learning & Development Manager. Most employees go to search the internet first if they encounter a new challenge in their work. Luckily your company had the insight to start blogging. Since a few years I write about continuous learning and development at http://ppalme.wordpress.com and see what searches people do. Hope more company get to see the value of blogging especially if they are niche. It is so effective but instead they invest in traditional marketing channel with less and less sustainable return.

  25. ehmud says:

    Starting is also a tough decision but sustaining is the toughest I think. I, personally, have changed niche four times and now a days again thinking to ……………

  26. Nahyan says:

    Very insightful article on blogging in an unusual niche.
    Thank you.

  27. Jim Lauria says:

    Dominick,
    Thanks for the really good tips. I am in the water technology field and have had similar success blogging in a highly technical industry. I conducted a webinar for Mindjet on how to use mind mapping to write articles and blog posts in order to establish yourself as a thought leader in your field:

    https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/239862360

    I thought this might be of interest to you and your followers.

  28. Chris M says:

    What an inspirational post! Thank you Dominick :)