There’s a Difference Between Vertical and Niche

The terms are used interchangeably but there’s an important nuanced distinction between the two. Birds of a feather so to speak.  However there’s something important to understand that goes beyond the difference between vertical and niche. In fact, having that understanding may be the difference between the success or failure of your business.

 Here’s why.

Think of a vertical market as a bird aviary. It’s for people who want to discover, see, and experience birds in their natural habits. Aviaries consist of a many different kinds of birds and can contain as many as 500 species from all over the world. A niche market is actually a sub-niche that would be aviaries specifically for people who are interested in or love parrots.

Let’s say you stared out in a niche market and decided to sell aviary building kits for bird enthusiasts who want to have their own aviaries. Your business becomes wildly successful until Birds R Us steps in and makes aviary building kits part of their product line. Birds R Us is an example of a vertical market. In this case, they operate within the pet category and have staked a highly profitable territory selling products (including bird aviary kits) for bird lovers. As a result, they’ve become an online store for one-stop- shopping for a wide range of bird products. 

 Is it tombstone time for your aviary kit business?  Not necessarily.  You have three choices.

  • Go vertical
  • Go sub-niche
  • Fold

Before you accept the idea of folding as an obvious option, you should explore options 1 and 2 first before throwing in the towel.

Go Vertical
Your aviary kits were selling like hotcakes until Birds R Us arrived on the scene. You built a business with a loyal following that was based on trust, respect, quality, and your own personal touch. Perhaps your history and hard-won reputation is an opportunity to grow as a business that specializes in aviary-like kits for reptiles, amphibians, and terrariums. In other words, you offer a high-quality personalized product for people who want to create their own enclosed natural environment for a certain species.  Now you’ve expanded into a vertical niche market from a niche market because while you still specialize in enclosed natural environment species for one specific species to enclosed natural environment for different types of species. Do your SEO right and you could become an online one-stop shopping store with a line of enclosed natural environment kits for different types of species.

Go Sub-Niche
Okay, you’ve lost your niche market for high-quality kits for bird aviaries. But then you discover that there’s a sub-niche market for a specific type of bird aviary that’s worth pursuing.  Maybe it’s in a specialized sub-niche of aviaries for parrots or finches lovers. Now you’re still offering the same type of product, but it goes one step deeper into niche market territory.

Make An Informed Decision
Being informed on the subtle difference between vertical and niche is important if (and unfortunately most likely when) you should find yourself in a similar competitive situation. Don’t shoot from the hip. You need to make a critical next move decision that will have different implications. For instance, whether you decide to go vertical niche or sub-niche, each one requires different strategies.  If it comes down to option 3, don’t forget the fun and excitement of your niche market success.  Not only that, but now you know the ropes of what it takes to succeed. Remember those things and they will fuel your enthusiasm to look for another niche market to call your own.

The Importance of Accessibility

According to the CDC, 25% of adults in the United States have some form of disability.  A good percentage of disabilities are those with hearing and sight impairments. When it comes to using a website, products or service descriptions, online videos, purchasing, and navigation, your content should optimized for accessibility.  And because niche markets have specialized interests,  the markets sizes will be smaller that larger segments of the population. That means for a niche business, every sale counts.  So, optimize your website to include those with hearing or sight impairments, or you will lose out on online purchase opportunities from those potential customers.

Accessibility is equally important for informational and educational websites. Perhaps you are providing information about cancer treatments, parenting, or protecting the environment. Make your website accessible for those with hearing and vision impairment so they too can learn what they want to know.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the standard for fully compliant website accessibility. There’s a rather long list of requirements. While full WCAG compliance takes some time, there are easy adjustments you can make now. It’s also helpful to use an accessibility checker.  There are free ones, and websites like assiBe provide accessibility checking. Microsoft 365 software also includes an accessibility checker.  So what can you do to make your niche website more accessible?  Read on.

Ways to Make Your Website More Accessible

In order to read your text Visually impaired people need high contrast between text color and background color.  High contrast is especially  important for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts.  You can easily check your contrast colors for accessibility for free on the Accessible Web website.

Alt Text
Seeing images is difficult for people with visual impairments, and some can’t see them at all.  They depend on alt text to tell them what the image is about.  Alt text is written copy that’s read aloud by a screen reader.  It’s also indexed by search engines and appears when an image fails to load. Alt text does not appear on a computer screen. Instead it is contained in the HTML code. Many theme templates do the coding for you, and all you have to do is write the words. There are websites that offer free alt text checkers to make sure your text is accessible.

Descriptive URLS
For visually impaired people, descriptive URLs (also known as descriptive links) give context of a URL, and make it easier to skip to the right content.  However the descriptions need to be meaningful for them to be of use. For example, a meaningful description that gives some context for a URL is the “About” page.  Instead of, it’s better to use a URL such as

Structured Headings
Visually impaired people use screen readers. While software is required for a screen reader, there is screen reader software that’s completely free. Screen readers are used for understanding the nature of content.  That’s why it’s important to use structured headings so that your main heading (H1) identifies the topic and then the subheadings group topical information into a logical order. In addition, screeners in general are widely used by the general population. Think of structured headings like an outline for writing a paper.  

Adjustable Font Size
Those with low vision often need to resize text to read it.  Thankfully the ability to enlarge text is done in a browser’s setting. However, every now a website may truncate or overlap the text when a user enlarges text.  Websites that are built with predesigned theme templates are usually coded to prevent that problem.  Make sure you go on your website and view it at various font sizes to make sure the text is resizing properly.  WordPress Mobile-Friendly Themes are quite good ad building websites that not only can adjust text/, but also create responsive text.

There are two kinds of captions.  There are called open and closed captions. Open captioning appears at the bottom or top of a video with words that are the same as the audio. Open captioning is always on and can’t be turned off.  Closed captioning can be turned on or off by the viewer. Video captioning is highly important for people with hearing impairments.  Your website videos will be of little use if they can’t access audio.  Rev is a a preferred caption service for creating open and closed captioning. On a side note, over 50% of viewers with unimpaired hearing watch videos with the sound off and use captions instead.  

Keyboard Navigation
Visual and physical disabilities make using a mouse difficult if not impossible, and a keyboard is necessary for those with disabilities to use the internet. In addition there are many people with conditions like arthritis, hand tremors, and carpel tunnel syndrome. Providing keyword navigation can be complicated. It’s possible to do it yourself . But, if you find implementing keyboard navigation is confusing, you may have to find a website designer to help you.

Make Optimizing for Accessibility a Priority
Just because someone with a disability wouldn’t use your product or service, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it accessible.  People with hearing or sight impairments buy gifts for people who don’t have an impairment. Gifts for birthdays anniversaries, Mothers and Fathers Day, bar mitzvahs, graduations, and wedding presents are all commonly purchased by people whose hearing or sight are impaired.

Optimizing your niche website for accessibility makes good niche business sense.  Your sales will be higher if people in your niche market can use your website. It’s not hard to do and you will reap the purchase rewards for doing it.

The Art of the Question

In qualitative research, we depend on the answers from study participants to gather important information for forming accurate insights.  Asking questions about what we want to know seems pretty straight forward.  Truth is, how those questions are asked has a significant impact on the quality and accuracy of the responses.  In other words, question-asking is not as simple as it seems. There’s an art to it.

People in niche markets have unique and specific perspectives.  That’s what niche markets are all about.  Which means everything about your product, messaging, and channels of communication have to be spot-on.  When your target is that small, your aim better be good if you want a bull’s eye.  

Here are some question-asking pitfalls to be aware of:

Don’t Ask Why 
“Why do you like candy?’  “Why do you go to movie theaters?”  Obvious responses lead to obvious insights.  Do you really want to spend money on learning things like, “Because candy is sweet” or “Because the screens are big”?   In addition, people often don’t really know why they like, feel, or perceive something.  Those answers tend to lie beneath the surface of our awareness.  And even if there’s an awareness of a deeper resonating reason, it’s often difficult to accurately explain it.  Ever had trouble finding the words to capture what you think or feel?  Welcome to the club.  

Keep the Focus Off the Participant
Generally speaking, we don’t like drawing attention to ourselves in front of others.  We also don’t want to answer a question in a way that risks portraying ourselves in a bad light. First questions often have responses that stem from that question.  “What do you typically give your children for dinner?”  Good chance a mother is unlikely to say “McDonald’s” or “Chef Boyardee with a Coke”.  She may worry a response like that would make her look like a bad mother.  It’s more likely the response will be geared to a dinner that sounds healthy.  Unfortunately for accurate data, the real reason might be that getting her child to eat anything even slightly resembling a healthy food usually ends in a tantrum and tears.  After a long day, what parent has the energy for that?  It would be better to ask, “What do your children typically want for dinner”. It takes the focus off her as a mother, and shifts it to her children as children. It also won’t take her responses down a path that continues to avoid being seen as a bad mother.

Show Don’t Tell
Because of the Curse of Knowledge, we forget that other people may not know the same things as we do.  For instance making oatmeal. “Tell me how you make oatmeal.”  Someone who has made oatmeal many times, will unintentionally give vague or incomplete information.  In addition, because  we can’t unlearn what we know, it’s  difficult to fully explain how we do something.  To get a response that fully captures certain kinds of information, have people show you how they do something.  You’ll find that showing is infinitely better than telling.

Avoid Yes/No Questions
Do you like dogs?  “No”.  “Are organic foods good for you?  “Yes”.  Not very revealing, is it?  Nothing wrong with a Yes/No question for starters.   Just make sure you ask follow-up and probing questions.  And, when it comes to those follow up or probing questions, remember – avoid asking “Why”.

Don’t Expect Words to Capture Feelings
It’s difficult to for us to explain our feelings to others.  Sometimes it’s hard for someone to go beyond “it makes me feel good/bad”.  Feelings usually aren’t that simple.  For example, “Describe your feelings when you finally lose those last 5 pounds”.  Don’t be surprised by a simple answer like “It makes me happy”.   There’s more to those feelings than meets the eye, and you’ll need to dig a little deeper to discover them.

Don’t Be Uncomfortable With Silence
It’s called “holding the space”.  It means giving someone the time they need to answer.  He or she may need a little to think.  Thoughtful answers translate into thoughtful insights. Of course fill the space if someone displays discomfort with silence.  But sometimes you might be the one that’s uncomfortable with a few moments of silence while the other person is busy thinking about what he or she wants to say.  Either way, avoid peppering study participants with questions one right after the other. Give them time to think.

Some Helpful Solutions to Common Question-Asking Pitfalls

  • Think about questions in terms of who, what, where, and how. Also, think of action words for the beginning of your question such as “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?”  Make list of those words so you don’t have to search your mind for them later. Bear in mind most of these words begin with, for example, give, describe, show, etc. Inn other words, unless you want a yes/no response ( however there are times when that’s exactly what you want to know), ask a question in a way that can’t be answered with a simple “No”.  
  • Pictures say a thousand words, so there are times when responses are expressed better visually.  This technique is particularly well suited for questions that involve feelings.
  •  If you’re uncomfortable with holding the space for an answer, practice in every day conversation.  Train yourself to wait a few moments in silence.  For those us who find conversational silence difficult, here’s a helpful exercise. Place your index finger vertically across your lips and nod your head in a way that looks like you’re listening. Placing your finger across your lips will help to you keep from filling those few moments of silence with your words.  

Practice Makes Perfect
For people who are passionate about shooting bow and arrow, when those niche enthusiasts hit a bullseye, they say the same thing to each other.  “Money”.  So, when it comes to a niche market research study, pay attention to how you ask questions.  Practice your question-asking skills in everyday conversation. Learn to do it well, and you’ll be saying “Money” too.