Diversify or Specialize?

Stephen Yagielowicz
In an industry that has pounded a steady drumbeat of "niche, niche, niche," over the past few years, it's no wonder that many webmasters have fallen into one of two camps: those who embrace diversity — attempting to satisfy fans with ever-smaller micro-niche content — and those who focus on specialization, striving to perfect the presentation of content that targets one specific market segment.

There are of course pros and cons to either approach. For the specialists, what they gain in focused expertise they lose by having all their eggs in one basket. For the fans of diversity, what they gain by casting a wide net, they lose by never mastering the needs of any one market.

While adequate staffing and capitalization can mitigate some of the drawbacks and maximize some of the opportunities of adopting either approach, neither staffing nor capitalization is the hallmark of the solo operator or individual webmaster. The choice then remains whether or not to focus on pursuing refined excellence or broader opportunities.

Sometimes the choice isn't so dramatic, such as an amateur site operator who delves into sub-niches such as amateur MILFs or amateur teens. Sometimes it's quite dramatic, as when a straight webmaster experienced in producing and promoting straight websites tries to enter the gay market — or vice versa.

In these extreme cases, basic misunderstandings about the wants, needs and sensibilities of the various markets can adversely impact your profitability. For example, adding a bunch of pink triangles doesn't make a site "gay" anymore than using a black background makes a site "fetish." Yet, many of those adopting a "more is better" attitude often fall into these stereotypical traps, simply because they failed to devote the time and energy required to fully understand a market at the level of a specialist.

Vagaries of fad and fashion often dissuade operators from being specialists, however, since they may fear that today's "hot niche" might be passé by the time their website actually goes live. This is often an unrealized fear, however, as the volume of users online ensures a substantial market for all but the most obscure of micro-niches and a core market that is not only knowledgeable about the product they seek but intolerant of half-hearted attempts to satisfy their desires. Many segments of the true fetish market, for example, are quite notorious in this regard.

In my opinion, producing and marketing what you personally enjoy as a consumer offers a far greater chance of realizing financial success than does posting a message board plea asking competitors "what's the hottest-selling niche?" Sadly, this happens all too often — and with predictable results.

Think about it: what better product, for you as a salesman, than that which you would buy yourself? Conversely, how can you expect to sell something that you don't understand or enjoy? Simple questions to be sure, but very few in this business actually consider themselves to be salespeople — an error often reflected in their website's traffic stats and (lack of) substantial commission checks. But I digress…

With rampant talk of sales being harder to come by and the increase in competition, it amazes me that the most common response seems to be to open more websites, as if a new front-end on the same old content or an attempt at marketing a product you don't understand will pave the way to riches. Doesn't it seem more sensible instead to abandon your other less-productive properties and instead focus more time, energy, capital and resources on perfecting what works? This might not make sense to some newbies, but for those who have been around long enough to experiment far and wide it may be the only remaining profitable course of action.

On the other hand, if what you've been working on isn't rewarding you at the level you had hoped for, perhaps giving it some much-needed attention is all that's required, or perhaps you need to break out of a rut and move on to something new and completely different. Yep, diversity can be a life (or at least, business) saver, but that doesn't mean the "more is better" approach is the way to go.

I know this goes against the grain for some, especially those who remember me saying "more is better" any number of years ago, when establishing a wide footprint was needed in order to be competitive. Then you could get away with building site after site, niche after niche, throwing as many sites out there as possible, without giving them another thought afterward, because you had already moved on to your next project. Diversity was indeed the name of the game, but the times have changed — and dramatically so.

If I was uncertain at the beginning of this article as to which of these two paths to take given the realities of today's marketplace, I'm convinced now more than ever that you need to focus on something meaningful to you and develop it to the best of your ability, rather than waste resources chasing the next big thing.

Diversity has its place, but perhaps today's savvy operator should adopt a more focused diversity, broadening opportunities without straying too far from his or her core area of expertise and as such enhancing revenue while lessening risk and wasted efforts. Some will doubtless see this as counterproductive, but for others, it will be their last chance.

So my best advice for the solo webmaster is to choose a niche that you understand and personally enjoy, then develop a world-class product that satisfies other devotees of this niche — building a site that you yourself would pay to become (and stay) a member of — then diversify your offerings by adding sub-niche content to your main site, thereby benefiting from both diversity and specialization.

The choice is yours — and that of your customers.