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Email Publishers, Define Your Own Vertical Niche!

By: Azriel Winnett

Azriel Winnett is senior staff writer at Sling Shot Media LLC, which offers a wide range of hosting solutions for email lists of all types and sizes, as well as many other services for email marketers and list owners. Visit our site at: or e-mail us at:

For those who have the time, studying the origin and development of words can be an intriguing pastime. Particularly fascinating is how some everyday words have been adapted to describe concepts in economics, commerce - and marketing on the Internet!

Take the word "portal". My dictionary defines it as "a door or gateway, particularly of an imposing structure, like a cathedral."

Nowadays, of course, when *we* speak of a "portal", we mean quite something else - notwithstanding that the basic idea of a "gateway" has not been lost.

In the culture of the Web, the term "portal" evolved out of the desire to provide free content with mass appeal, in order to justify the sale of advertising space at the highest possible prices.

As the word was originally used, a "portal" is a mammoth website that strives to provide its users with so many different kinds of information and services, that they could theoretically satisfy all their Internet needs without leaving the site. Many of the biggest names on the Internet adopted this approach.

But in this last-mentioned fact, lies the crunch.

If you want to be all things to all things to all people, you have to be a big name. At least, this is the first prerequisite, and even then it's not so simple. Surely, there had to be another path, some way that the smaller guys - or the big guys who arrived on the scene too late - could also claim a share of the action?

So was born the "second generation" of portals on the Web - the so-called "vertical portals".

The term "vertical" in this context has long been familiar to economists. If an oil producer has a vertical monopoly, he has exclusive control over all operations from the drilling of the oil to the distribution of the finished product. Pharmaceuticals and electronic goods are vertical markets, whereas accounting and computer services are horizontal ones.

Thus, somebody who wants to create a vertical portal, chooses a single topic and begins to build in a "vertical" direction - that is, he will develop a supersite with content covering all aspects of the chosen subject, from top to bottom. Now, should that developer be the sole purveyor of info on that topic, or if there aren't too many others, he's got a straight ticket to the fast lane, and more!       

And if only one percent, or less, of the Internet users of the world have any interest in that topic...well, so what? One percent of many millions is still a pretty big number. By contrast, if all but a very small fraction of your city's citizens have a distaste for Turkish coffee, you might come a cropper real quick if you're paying a high rental to tout the beverage in your main street - particularly if the few people who love the stuff live on the other end of town.

"Niche", of course, is another relevant word that has acquired a niche ( unwitting pun!) of its own in marketing parlance. If I'm specializing in ultramodern, expensive, pest control equipment, I would be working in a certain niche market. If my technology were intended specifically for cockroaches, that niche would be narrower.

And if I were directing my marketing efforts solely at medical institutions, my niche would not only be narrow, but vertical as well. The universe of realistic prospects for buying my products is now much smaller. On the other hand, it's a group that is far more manageable. And of course, provided I do my job properly, my success rate ought to be much higher.                              

When embarking on the adventure of creating a new mailing list - when planning content for a newsletter, or determining the parameters of a discussion group - we would be smart to bear all the above in mind. Even if your list is already well established, it might not be too late for some constructive fine-tuning. 

If one of your goals is to generate revenue from advertising or from affiliate programs, the advantages of having a tightly focused, highly targeted list are obvious. Numerically,you may be restricting the size of your list, but that becomes almost irrelevant. What you lose in quantity, is being more than compensated for in quality.

Yet, in my opinion, to think of "going vertical" as purely limiting or restricting is a mistake. Take a given quantity of children's modelling clay, and press it hard against a wall. Your ball of clay becomes thin and flat, but it's now much taller than it was before.

In "niche" publishing, similarly, while you may be confining yourself to one well defined subject area, your focus  will extend to all facets of the chosen topic. You will examine it from all angles, thoroughly and purposefully. A wide range of mini-topics - all spinning off from the central, core subject - will come under your purview. 

And your final product should be richer, not poorer, for it all.

© Copyright 2000, Azriel Winnett, Sling Shot Media, LLC

Other Articles by Azriel Winnett

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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