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How To Know Exactly What People Want (And Will Pay For) Using Your Most Powerful Research Tool

By Yaro Starak
47 Comments

When I started teaching people how to build blogs that could potentially make money, I faced a difficult challenge, a big question that begins the entire process of blogging that had to be answered –

How can I teach people to pick the right blog topic or niche?

It’s the hardest decision to make and the place where everything can go wrong right at the beginning.

No one gets this 100% right from day one, but as long as you are heading in the right direction you can adjust as you move.

However if you get the fundamentals wrong from the start, you will spend a lot of time and hard work creating something that will never succeed, no matter how much adjusting you do along the way.

How I Taught Topic Selection

When I created Blog Mastermind, my course to teach people how to build a profitable blog, the early lessons that focused on topic selection where heavily influenced by my previous experience as an entrepreneur.

Watch this video and you will see some of my early teachings on how to pick a profitable blog topic…

My early entrepreneurial experiences taught me that passion was the most important ingredient behind the success of a project.

Every business I have ever come up with has its roots in my own interests and ideas, and that includes both the successful and not-so-successful projects.

My first successful website came about purely from my passion for playing and competing in Magic: The Gathering tournaments as a teenaged boy (a competitive card game).

I wasn’t passionate about the subject of my next project, an online proofreading service, but I was passionate about the business model it followed, the many-to-many model.

This blog was created as an experiment to tell stories from my life as entrepreneur, a subject I enjoy immensely.

As I have connected with more successful bloggers, every single big success seems to come from someone who has their heart set on a passion or changing something about their lives.

Mitch Wilson loves college football.

Alborz Fallah loves cars.

Will Hamilton loves tennis.

Fran Kerr had to solve her acne problem.

Pat Flynn had to pass an exam.

Sean Gallagher loves electronic music.

David Risley loves computers.

These are just a sample of people I have interviewed over the years.

There are countless more examples online of people who have started with a passion for a subject or to change something in their life, which have grown into fully functional, stable, long term income producing businesses.

But Wait! What About Market Research? What About Keywords?

If you go to business school and study how the corporate world determines whether to create a new product, you will learn all about the different market research steps.

They don’t just think of an idea, manufacture the product and put it on the shelf to sell it, no, they have formalised processes and checklists based on proven formulas to help increase the chance of success.

Note that only increases the CHANCE of success, it doesn’t guarantee it by any means.

Companies can draw upon survey and statistical data, they can conduct focus groups or even test in smaller markets before entering big ones (Australia is sometimes a test market for products before they are launched in America because we have similar demographics).

Most of these steps are either not possible or not realistic on a large scale for a new blogger, seller of information, an e-commerce store owner or software start-up. However we certainly have options when it comes to conducting our own research.

The most common advice for market research suggested to anyone who wants to start an online business, is to conduct keyword research.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is fantastic because it can show you the words people use to find things, the demand for those things based on how many people search for them and the competition faced to get in front of that audience.

Here’s the thing though… I’ve never used keyword research before starting a new project.. In fact all of the successful bloggers I know never worry about keywords, as this video explains…

All The Successful Bloggers I Know Never Worry About Keyword Research

Now I might actually be foolish, and I have enough failed projects to point as evidence of that, but I have successful projects too.

So what’s going on here, what really matters?

Do we simply need to look at our passions to find subjects to focus on, can we ignore keywords, and what kind of research is right today?

The Rise Of Keyword Research

Let me state the obvious.

The internet is more crowded than it used to be.

The result is a need for more specificity when launching a business online.

Gone are the days when you can take educated guesses and see what happens, unless you have time and money to waste. You can’t just assume other people like what you like and that’s enough for a business.

As a result, there is greater emphasis on keyword research. Everyone talks about the need to know where the search traffic is before doing anything. You need to write articles that target the right keywords or you will fail.

That’s true, but the problem with this kind of thinking is that it makes keyword research the defining factor, and it shouldn’t be.

Keyword research is a technique that tells you how people use Google and other search engines. It’s great for numbers and words, but it starts to become less reliable when you look at those intangible human characteristics, like emotion, motivation and psychology.

Keyword research is a narrow view of the internet and of people in general.

Search engines after all are merely tools to connect one person with the work of other people. They don’t actually define why the work exists in the first place or why another person has an interest in it. They react to these things and attempt to connect the two groups who share the common interest.

What Is Market Research Really About?

The true essence of market research is gathering as much intelligence about your target customer to understand why they do what they do.

If you could enter the persona, the framework, of your target audience, including all the drives, emotions, hang-ups, capabilities, limiting beliefs and variables that they focus on when making every decision in their life, you would become the ultimate marketer.

Of course this level of intimate knowledge is impossible, unless you believe in God, who apparently knows everything about us. God is one heck of a marketer after all.

Since we don’t have all-knowledge, we turn to tools to help us learn about other people.

Keyword research is one tool that shows us an interpretation of human behaviour on the internet, but there is a much better one.

The best tool to learn about other human beings is YOU.

The more direct contact and communication with other people you have, and the more personal experience of their behaviours given certain conditions, the closer you will be to understanding what drives them.

This is why I never needed keyword research when I started my businesses.

I was a passionate Magic card game player. I knew what motivated me. I spent many a weekend surrounded by other Magic players and I immersed myself in the online community of Magic players as it grew.

As a result I had some pretty solid research on what drives a Magic player. It was what drove me to create my website in the first place.

Before launching my proofreading business I experienced many group assignments as part of my university studies.

My groups often contained international students, who struggled to write academic English, since English was not their first language. I experienced this first hand when attempting to weave together one of my team member’s English into our group report.

As a result of this and understanding what situation the international student was in (eager to impress their parents with good grades to justify them spending all that money to send them to Australia), I saw a human need and went after it with an online business.

This blog was an expression of my drive as an entrepreneur, and continues to be so. I know what entrepreneurs face and how they think because I was one for seven years by the time I started EJ. I’ve lived the problems and the motivations of entrepreneurs, and interview and network with them all the time. This is a group of people I intimately understand.

Of course none of my projects were guaranteed to work even if I knew what problems people faced. I had the advantage of understanding the needs and I could see an angle that lead to profits, but without actually creating something and putting it in front of these people, I would not know if my ideas worked.

Hence market research for me has always been about following these two steps:

  1. Learn as much about the people and the problem as you can, especially the emotions involved, and then formulate a business model to solve it.
  2. Test that model on real people.

I’d much rather build something and put it in front of people to see if it works, because then I can gather much more tangible feedback.

Don’t Confuse Traffic Analysis For Topic Selection

Here’s an important point: Keyword research is just a traffic technique.

It can be a component of topic selection when you are analysing traffic potential, but it’s one of many different traffic techniques you can apply.

If you understand your audience, which as I stated is the true key to topic/niche selection, you will have many options when it comes to finding traffic.

All you need to ask is…

Where do my people hang out?

I found my Magic card game customers in newsgroups and forums, at events, and through word of mouth. I participated in the online communities and created content that people shared. Then I captured their attention by offering a place to trade cards online via my own forum, which they came back to on a regular basis.

My proofreading business started out primarily through one advertising technique. I put up posters on university campuses.

This was a 100% offline method of marketing for a 100% online business. Later search engine traffic and keywords became equally important, but posters remained one of the top two ways people found my service.

Take a trip down memory lane – here is a video from years ago to explain how I did poster advertising to promote my proofreading company.

This blog you are reading now benefited immensely from Google traffic, but during the entire first year I never once looked at keywords. I spent my time connecting with other bloggers and creating content that helped the entrepreneur community. My articles were linked to and naturally I was rewarded with search traffic, but there was never a coordinated strategy behind this.

With each project I went to where the audience already was and put myself in front of them. Before I could do this, I had to know what drives them.

When you know what people want and where they hang out, all you need to do is offer something of value to them, using a communication medium they understand.

There’s a process I outline here that you need to see clearly -

  1. Understand the psychology first (what motivates people)
  2. Find out where that psychology is experienced or expressed and go there (where do they communicate about this topic)
  3. Finally, use the right words or message to match that psychology, delivered in the medium appropriate for the venue (contribute using the right language)

There is one thing I haven’t included in all of this, which is passion.

How exactly does what you personally care about come into the picture, if it does at all?

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Does Your Passion Matter?

I was raised an only child.

That sort of upbringing tends to result in a very “me” focused universe, especially when you are very young.

As I grew into an adult I came to realise that understanding other people’s motivations is more important than dwelling only on what I wanted.

In fact, if I spent more time on what other people wanted, I was more likely to get what I wanted eventually.

I’ve used this insight in every business I have ever started by combining a unique dichotomy. Let me explain…

I start selfishly. I look at what I want and what I want to spend my time doing.

I then see how I can make what I care about into something of value for other people, to solve other people’s needs, and of course make money from it somehow too.

This is not unique to me of course, we all look inward first, even if the outward expression of an inward need is to help others.

This is why I believe every topic or niche selection decision must begin with YOU first.

Hence, I still consider passion the most important ingredient if you want your blog or business to succeed.

You must look inwardly, then see if the outward expression of your interest can work given the process I outlined earlier in this article.

This is vital because if you don’t have a selfish drive at the heart of what you are doing, you won’t stick to it long enough. Without some kind of personal reward mechanism, motivation wanes quickly.

This is a really key point…

Exploring your passion by involving other people combines the two most important ingredients to success –

  1. What you care about, and,
  2. Learning what other people care about.

The best market research comes from experimenting with your target audience. Intimate knowledge comes from intimate experience.

Start with your passions, create something, then give it to other people and see how they react.

If you get a good reaction, build on it, if you get a bad reaction ask people why. If you get no reaction, then create something else until you get a reaction.

Start With Your Passion

This article has been a long winded way of stating a fact:

Your success online begins and ends with your passion.

Without passion you won’t do the work to learn about your audience and see what they want.

If you don’t discover what drives your audience, you won’t have an audience.

Once you discover what they want, you can create based on your assumptions about them.

Next you can take your creation and go to where your audience hangs out and see if they like it.

If they do, you keep building, if they don’t, you go back through these steps until you find something they want.

This is a process of discovery to learn about what you want and what your audience wants, how those two things can intersect and culminate in a mutually beneficial and profitable relationship.

Keyword research is one tool to assess parts of this process. It can provide you with empirical data to back up your assumptions, from which you can then test.

However, keyword research cannot provide you with the answer to what topic you should choose. Only interacting with other human beings and giving them something can lead to an answer to that question.

Hopefully, especially for you not-so-analytical people, that comes as some relief.

Remember as always, it’s a journey and a process, which you will never master perfectly.

The most important attitude to have is that of an explorer. The more questions you ask, the more answers you find, the greater your awareness becomes.

Greater awareness gives you clarity to make better decisions, and that’s ultimately the most important thing to strive for as a human being. Continuous improvement, or your own personal Kaizen.

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I hope you enjoyed this first lesson on mindset. Stay tuned, I have a lot more coming up.

Yaro Starak
Always Improving

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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47 Comments

  • I think passion is way more important than SEO and keywords – you can have the best niche on the market, good keywords but when you lack passion it will be torture to write anything… :)
    Best regards

    • I agree with you Siegfried. If you don’t enjoy what you do, it is hard to want to keep doing it – whatever it is.

      When I was writing my forthcoming blogging book, someone asked me if the title fit SEO guidelines. That thought never occurred to me because my book title was selected to solve a problem, not fit SEO guidelines.

  • HT

    Yes, passion is the fuel that keeps everything moving in your online business. Readers can feel what you care (or don’t care) for in your writing. I certainly felt yours, Yaro. :)

  • Love the perspective here Yaro. I started out building niche sites just based on keyword research with no real interest in the topic. It was fine for the first couple sites but I’ve got dozens of domains and part-done sites that have great search potential, but I’d rather stab myself in the eye than build out those sites. Let’s not also forget that the importance of keyword research gets massively promoted by IM blogges with an affiliate commission on whatever research tool they favour in mind…

  • Passion is a must, try doing something that you don’t enjoy that isn’t bringing money, it won’t happen, you cannot get motivated. Earning money is often the reward for the work you do, the effort and time you put in is what will reap the rewards. The more effort and time the better the rewards will be and without a passion or an interest in the subject matter you really are going to struggle to get motivated and put in the effort.

    If you do not have passion then you are not going to write great long, helpful in-depth posts like these. :-)

    • Tom Southern

      Passion is a must, yes … matching your passion to what your readers want to know is vital (if you ever want to keep them coming back).

  • This article is perfectly timed for me, has clarified things beautifully and has made me realise that I am doing the right thing as I’ve had so much self-doubt because of the lack of keywords.

    My blog is still new (built loads over the years though) but this blog is based on my passion and seeing the need for it on moms/mums networks and forums. The keyword research shows not many searches but I KNOW that the market is out there for me.

    Thanks!

  • Marie

    Thank you, Yaro! Your words are the usual delicious mix of inspiration, common sense and experience. I was waiting for your post on this, and as usual you did not disappoint. Best.

  • Yaro, I think this is one of the most important posts you’ve ever written. Without passion both for your niche AND for serving other people, your online business can’t thrive. You’ll burn out or your followers will smell your disinterest or disconnection from them. I’m a life passion coach, and my online work is devoted to helping people uncover and live their passions. I know firsthand what a huge foundational piece it is for success. Thank you for reminding us of the power of passion!

  • Yaro: Great and timely article. Write what you are passionate about and that passion, knowledge of the subject, and sincerity will show clearly. I really appreciate your reminding us of this.

  • Do what you love, rest will follow.

  • Ken

    Very inspirational and motivating post. I’ve learned the most valuable lesson not only in my blogger career, but in my entire life. Yes, you’re right, without Passion, you’re nothing. Thanks for your words Yaro.

  • This post gives me energy, and a good reminder of what writing a blog is all about in the first place. Thank you!

  • Have enough Passion and people with listen!

  • Totally agree! If you’re not excited about any aspect of your website besides making money what makes you think other people will find it exciting?

  • Yaro, I struggled in and out of niches that I knew nothing about with no success at all. I would start a niche and eventually give up because the passion was just not there to continue. Finally, the light came on. Why not do something that I know something about. My day job consists of working with computer systems including mail systems. Since I knew something about this area, I decided to create a technology blog about email systems. This cuts down on the research process tremendously. Sometime I do not need to do any research on my topic because it is within me already.

    The keyword research process only comes about after I find a topic to write about. I only do this step because I want to know that there is someone searching for what I was about to write my article on. Passion is really first, then research.

    Andrew

  • Hi Yaro,

    Excellent. I really like this post and agree completely. For some time I have investigated myself if a focus on keywords and not my personal interests can lead to a great source of income. This was in parts inspired by Pat Flynn’s success in the niche-site challenge. But I found that it did not work for me because it is so hard to learn enough about a completely strange topic really fast in order to turn a niche site into a source of income (and have fun on the way). It’s like taking a job you don’t like only for the money.
    It was Pat Flynn with his niche side again who showed that it is much better to write about topics that interest you without doing much keyword research. When you look at his website traffic then you see that a lot of this traffic is coming from related keywords (long tail). This means that when you start blogging for a defined keyword over time you touch on other topics as well that add traffic outside your original keyword audience and really help to grow your audience. Then you can ask the question if it really matters how much traffic is in the primary keyword. It is much more important you produce great content, which is linked with your knowledge and passion about the topic.

  • I totally agree with you Yaro about passion but what if your passion is already a highly sought out topic? And the internet is loaded with bloggers on that topic already. Do you still pursue it? Or try to narrow it down even more?

    • Hi Lynn, You can definitely still pursue it, especially if you have a unique story or experience to share. There is a strategic question you can ask yourself when it comes to drilling down a niche (the “specificity” I mentioned in this article) – is there a certain type of person I want to focus on from day one, or do I want to just throw something against the wall based on what I know and see who shows up.

      Being strategic always makes things clearer, but you might need to do some research before you are ready to decide on whom to target.

  • Great article!
    It is really true. When we really work on our passion, we try to find new ways to help others and to enhance the quality of our work. Money do inspire an action but it can never replace passion. Really an awesome article!

  • I always appreciate the amount of detail and wisdom you put into your posts, thanks heaps. It’s interesting how you talked about non-direct passions; how you were passionate about the business model, but not the actual work itself.

    I’m in a similar situation – I’m passionate about achieving things, and although the writing I do isn’t my main passion, it’s still do-able. Again, thanks!

  • Help Yaro!
    Fabulous article – thank you. With me you are preaching to the converted. As I sought to establish myself online I discovered the problem you outline in people all around me so I created a product out of my own past business development experience (how I helped others offline) – to guide people through exactly what you are speaking of.
    But…..I have gotten myself stuck at your point number 2. (Test that model on real people.) I just don’t know how to find those real people before they get their mind set on a direction that lacks this passion. (A direction that will likely burn them out because of a lack of passion.)
    How do I find your people online – the ones you talked to in January?? (I have no list!)
    I hope you can offer a suggestion as I have been in this stuck place for way too long. (I simply won’t launch because I know it needs tweaking to how people respond to the steps – which is exactly how I built my offline business).

    • Where do these people you want to reach currently hang out online?

      Go where they are and become someone they need to pay attention to. Building a list after that is simply a case of showing them where the optin form is.

      • Yaro, Thanks but have you got any suggestions how I can find people online who are still trying to work out what niche to target – most people ‘chatting’ online seem to have already chosen their niche (even if they are banging their head against a brick wall they are fairly set on their path!)

        • Tom Southern

          You’re right. Finding a niche that’s right for you is important. It can also be difficult to know if a particular niche is right for you, or will get traffic.

          A good way to start finding the right niche for you is to find a group of people who want to know, do or have something that you already know, do or have.

          Even if you’re just a couple of steps ahead, people will want to know what you know. Be honest, say this is what you know, you don’t know everything, but you can all do it together.

          Incorporating this kind of niche into something you like doing, having or knowing helps a lot.

          A lot of people make the mistake of only going for niches that look like big money-spinners. Money is good. A hungry crowd of people who really want to know how to do something is
          better because it leads to ongoing streams of income.

          Let me know if I can help you find this kind of niche for you.

  • Frankly speaking SEO and keywords just makes me busy, confuse and then bore.
    I’m happy to read your tips above.
    Thank you
    Warm regards

  • Hi Yaro, another great article. The roots of driving your blog is indeed passion, from here on everything else will follow or evolve. Cheers

  • You are right. Electronics repairing is my passion that is why even after so many years in the online business I still have the fire and this fire would not go off. Beginners look for an expert to learn and if they found that they can learn from your blog, this means you will have a lifetime customer.

  • I completely agree that you should start a business or write about you are passionate about. I do pay attention to traffic every once in awhile just to see what keywords are bringing people to my site. Also, when I get writer’s block and need ideas for a blog post, I’ll turn to keyword research, but other than that I just write from the heart and share my experiences, thoughts, and inspiration from others.

  • I absolutely love this post! I think if you write well and with passion, you will almost automatically have the right keywords…if that makes any sense! I have gone both routes, doing advance keyword research before building a site and not doing it, and can’t say that not doing it or doing it made a huge difference. Thanks for a reminder to all of us to remember the “passion” first.

  • Tom Southern

    Pause for thought here Yaro. I guess it all comes down to how you match your passion to what your audience wants to know.

    It’s easy to get lost in passion. A simple solution is to become passionate about knowing what your audience wants to know, and then giving them that knowledge.

  • Hi Tom,

    You are right. I often gave free email support even though they still not my buyer yet. From the emails, I can know what are their problems. Many times, after telling them how to solve a problem they replied “Jestine I just bought your ebook”! It seems like they wanted to test out our knowledge first before they purchase something. Sometimes one just has to give some and take some and not taking from them all the time.

    • Tom Southern

      That’s it Jestine. Giving is a great way of creating customers. Keep giving and they’ll become more than just customers. They’ll become your fan-marketers and tell their friends about you. Endorsements always create the most loyal customers.

  • Hi Tom ,

    You are absolutely right!

  • Rochan

    Hi Yaro,
    I’m a little confused about some of the things you’re saying in your post.
    For example, in the first video you talked about eben pagan’s niche criteria. So what do you think about them now? there is no relevancy to apply them? What was your point with this video?
    And the next question is…how to find where is your passion? :)
    Another issue is to give permission to oneself to follow her passion and also to be able to not listen to what others are saying about your passion.
    Passion can be perceived as “dangerous” by the subconscious mind and family culture
    So it’s not always easy to have access to the passion inside.
    Secially when you are catholic lol :)

    • Hi Rochan,

      What I talk about in the video is relevant from a strategic point of view when looking for a money making niche. It focuses a lot on other people though, not so much you. It’s not the answer to the question, rather another tool, like keyword research, you can use to figure out where your passion and the passion of your audience overlaps.

      As for figuring out your passion, that’s a tricky one. For some people it’s obvious, for others who are not sure, you need to get out there and do things, experience things, and you figure out what you enjoy.

      One of the simplest questions you can ask yourself is what do I spend a lot of time thinking about – that can lead you to your passions.

      Yaro

  • Hannah

    A HUGE thank-you for this. it is very clear. I have been so confused by the messages I’ve been getting. It’s for sure that an awful lot of folks online strongly believe in SEO. I guess I am one of those “not-so-analyticals”. So grateful to Yaro to have this laid out in a way I can grasp.

  • Thanks for the great info as always Yaro. Inspirational.

  • Best article ever! so agree re keyword search – you can get so involved and lose site of your audience. Only when I find that topic that inspires me, when I become really who I am when blogging do I get the inspiration to keep going. Otherwise it just feels like an uphill slog.
    I am having a problem on one of my sites with feedback though. I do have a newsletter list but find I get no feedback when asking questions even when offering a giveaway. Also only 49% of people on the list even open the monthly newsletter?? I think that maybe people are just too busy but what do you think?P.S. Loving the short haired Yaro.

  • Lee

    Hi
    Keyword research is important we all know that but like you say it is not as important as drive and being interested in what you are doing I wonder how many blogs there are abandoned floating around now probably more than there are active. This is a great in depth post

    Thanks lee

    • Tom Southern

      Keyword research can send beginners off on tangents that don’t work, or that mislead beginners into thinking a particular niche will make money for them when, actually, it won’t.

      Yes, it might bring them traffic in the short term. But this kind of traffic doesn’t usually stop around long enough to build a relationship with the blogger.

      It’s this relationship that brings real ongoing success.

      • Hi Tom,

        You are right again. As a blogger one has to write from his/her experiences. Readers want to know what is inside your mind, your knowledge and etc. When I write blog post I don’t really care about keywords but I do care about writing my best experiences to them. A good write up will cause you to have ‘sticky community’ and this sticky community will help you to spread your blog post and they are your free marketing personnel. To write a blog post base on keywords would usually made my post look awkward and it will take a longer time to complete it. The reason for it is because it does not have the ‘flow’ as compare to article that came out straight from your mind.

    • 6 years, 2 blogs, 1.7 million monthly readers between the two and I have never researched one keyword. If you have passion you are believable and when people find you they come back. If you write about topics people care about that is your keyword research.

  • I think passion is very important. It drives me on to work hard on my web TV Show and inspire other young people to start something of their own!

  • Great points you have write here, as first when every we are starting any type of business a home business or blogging or any other business in market we need to make a market watch and analysis of our competitors where we can grab ideas of marketing and building strategy of business, but before all these steps I think the points about passion must be on top of this post as you can not start anything if you don’t have passion and you also can not run anything if you have no passion in that so its always most important part of your business start up.

  • For you to be able to stay longer in a job, you need the passion and the drive that will motivate you to come early at work and enjoy every second of it. It’s the same thing with writing contents, you need to have the cravings and the like. Work or business should be like an ice cream on a sunny day. Mouth watering and tempting. That’s passion. You’re working because you want it and you want more. :)

  • Giving is a great way of creating customers. Keep giving and they’ll become more than just customers. They’ll become your fan-marketers and tell their friends about you. Endorsements always create the most loyal customers.

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