PI Niche Method 401

The essence of our strategy can be summed up in one sentence:

Design all your marketing media solely for the unique needs of your target customer

This strategy means if you have a one piece of media that outlines one service, you are practicing the strategy and will be perceived as a specialist. You want to be known as a specialist. Specialists can demand top dollar for their services. Who demands more a general practitioner or a orthopedic surgeon?

The pre-employment screening company that started screening nannies for their customers was able to charge 30% more per applicant because they were viewed as “specialists”. The biggest mistake new investigators make is to declare themselves as a “full service agency”.  We do everything. To do everything correctly, you must have a full staff with full capabilities. It is so tempting for the new investigator to want to appeal to as many prospects as possible in the beginning stages of business. Resist this temptation, and focus on your target customer, you can always add services if the market needs them. But most PIs don’t take this advice because they want to copy what established businesses are doing.  This is akin to a young adult seeing a successful person driving a BMW.  As soon as the young adult gets a good job he goes out and finances a similar car for 8 years thinking they too will be successful. This type of thinking is extremely flawed, but a lot of  business owners do it subconsciously and inadvertently when they try and act like well established businesses with revenue, clients and possibly connections.

When you appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. Test this yourself, send 100 general brochures to a list of attorneys in your area and see what your response rate is.  Our experience is when you send a very targeted piece of media (i.e. brochure to specialist attorney) targeting their specialty, your response rate increases substantially.

Here are the results of our unscientific experiment:

100 Brochures (outlining 10 services) sent to 100 random attorneys:  Response Rate: 2%

100 Brochures (1 service only) sent to 100 matching specialists: Response Rate: 27%

While there are many variables to consider with this sample data, the quality of the media, the study does support the theory of Product-Market-Fit.  When you target the right customer with the right media your response rate will increase.  An attorney who specializes in business law will respond much more positively when they receive media that is speaking to them directly.

Targeting the right customer at the right time with the right product is also very important and affects buying decisions. Who is more motivated to buy a home security service, a person whose neighbor just got burglarized or a someone whose neighborhood has no report or known crime? Find the customers that are already interested and motivated to purchase your services and your business will increase.

Savvy investigators understand this principle and implement the strategy even if they have several specialties. Lets say you are a insurance fraud investigator and just received a computer forensics certification and you want to expand your business. You need to develop all your media directed to your target customer which you have determined as family law attorneys. Family law attorneys are much different than other attorneys. To property target them, you need a separate website and separate media geared toward the target customer. This is especially true now if you plan on generating leads online.  The algorithms and search engine ranking systems are looking for expertise and authority.   Its easier to be found when your keyword density (% of keywords on the webpage) is matching what the prospect is searching for.  If you have 20 specialties listed on your home page it is very difficult to rank high in the search engines. Most customers use specific keywords when searching for something online, like “workers comp investigator in Seattle”. If you are high in the organic rankings and the prospect clicks on your website you get this lead for free.

Match all your media to unique needs of your customer to attract and acquire customers:

Website (Paid/Organic)

Direct Mailing

Advertising (Radio)





Yellow Pages

Any marketing campaign you employ must be measurable so you can determine the effectiveness and ROI (Return of Investment).  If you spend $1,500.00 on internet advertising you must know how many clicks and conversions your $1,500.00 dollars yielded. You can monitor your web traffic statistics and adjust your spend for any online marketing campaign.  This type of monitoring and continual evaluating must be done with ALL your marketing media.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”

Edward Deming

Lets take a brief look at overall marketing effectiveness for some media based on the Direct Marketing Assoc. data:

1.28% average response rate to direct mail

8.21% average response rate to telemarketing

.22% conversion rate for paid internet search

Clients buy more easily than prospects

While these numbers are not impressive, you can increase the rate by targeting your prospects who are already to buy.  Who is more motivated to buy dental services a person with a painful toothache or person with no pain?  Find your prospects who have immediate investigative pain points and target them.

Internet Advertising

For now, we will focus on internet advertising because most new PI’s are curious about its effectiveness. Internet advertising is not the best lead magnet out there unless you can organically rank your site.  As previously stated, word-of-mouth is a lot more valuable when a third party recommends something to someone than any paid advertisement. While it is very common for new PI’s to spend thousands of dollars on a website and then thousands more paid advertising and not receive any high quality leads.  The web is now such a crowded place take a look at what happened every hour in 2016 then scroll down and see the updated version.


New for 2023:  Comparison

This is where proper SEO (search engine optimization) comes in.  SEO allows your site to be found by customer who is searching for a specific term. According to Techblog in a 2013 article, there are 54 million websites launched per year and 80 hours of video is being uploaded to YouTube per minute! The latest stats are posted above.   It’s getting real !*(&^*(@! crowded out there.  Business that have been online for 20+ years have seen an unbelievable surge of “internet noise” from early 2000’s.

Search engines algorithms now are favoring aged domains (domains registered years ago) for organic ranking criteria. Good luck attempting to organically rank a competitive search term or a new domain/website in the today’s environment. It is so much more difficult to rank a new business than ever before because the marketplace is so over-crowded.  To mitigate this, a business may be able to utilize social media for some advertising or a mix of paid/organic advertising. However, only rely on social media if that’s where your prospects are.  Most PIs prospects are not hanging out on social media.

Internet advertising is based on being found by SEO (search engine optimization) which is basically designing the site to have the search engines find your site based on keyword searches.  Some new companies won’t have to worry too much about SEO because they use word-of-mouth exclusively or they drive traffic to the site from some offline technique like direct mail. The PItrainingHQ.com website is reliant on zero SEO because 99% of the leads come from word-of-mouth. We have an extremely targeted audience that is further niched down by occupation. If you are not familiar with the way search engine advertising works here is a quick guide to learn:

Beginners – SEOmoz-The-Beginners-Guide-To-SEO-2012

A PI prospect generally searches for what they need by “keyword”:  The keyword below is “New York Private Investigator”.  The search engines return their results based on the optimization of the site along with other factors.  Ideally, you want your website to be in the “organic” section.  If you cannot rank in the organic area you can also establish an account to pay for advertising with the search engines.

You shouldn’t just arbitrarily select keywords that you think people are searching for, you use the “keyword tool” to determine how many people are searching a specific term and what the cost/competition is.  Here is a screenshot from the search term “New York Private Investigator”.

As one can see, this term is a competitive search term that gets minimal searches per month.  People are over-valuing this term and paying too much for the keyword.  The term “private investigator” gets over 60,500 searches per month but the avg. cost is 6.50/click.  This search term is very general and may not result in good targeted leads.  It can draw in people who are looking to become a PI, people just interested in the field, people trying to sell PIs their BS, on an on.  The search term “New York Criminal Defense Investigator” is a much better and is more targeted.  The “long tail” keywords are now much more desired than general search terms.  When a prospect types in long-tail keywords for a investigation service they are usually typing in the city and/or service, i.e. (Chicagoland process server). The search engines will then automatically return the search terms based on their algorithm ranking.

When you  have a site that is dedicated to one service as opposed to 20, you are better able to manipulate the organic rankings, draw more targeted traffic and be viewed by the search engines as an expert/authority.

The search engines ranking systems are constantly evolving so you have to continually pivot your strategy to accommodate what they require for high organic rankings.

If you obtain a high ranking organic position it may be worth thousands of dollars in free advertising, In fact, other businesses may attempt to sabotage your rankings by employing black hat techniques such as back linking your site to sites that have been blacklisted or spam sites (it has happened).  So you have to be aware and realize organic rankings are valuable, extremely valuable. Here is a screen shot from a business plan for a niche private investigator business that was divested with a very competitive search term. The business essentially “owned” the first position search term for over a decade and was able to attract several business buyers based on this alone. This search position resulted in an estimated two million dollars in free traffic over 10 years.

This illustrates why it is so important to rank high in organic search results.  What could you do with over a million dollars in targeted quality free internet advertising?  Its a lot easier to become profitable when your customer acquisition costs are low and your competitors are engaged in never-ending bidding wars with each other for paid advertising positions.  Even long-tailed search terms can draw in quality targeted traffic.

If you have a well funded marketing budget you may want to experiment with the paid internet ads.  Just use caution.

The good thing about the system is you can limit your daily spending amount and you can turn it off and on at will.  When business is slow, you can increase the spending amount to meet your needs.

The bad thing about paid internet listings is, it is now (2018) very expensive and click fraud is still rampant. The search engines will tell you “we have something in place” to prevent fraud but they won’t tell if your competitor is clicking on your links from 5 different computers attempting to deplete your daily spend. It will also increase the number of cold call sales calls you will receive from businesses trying to sell you something.  Yes, it is very common for the people to click on your paid ad (which costs you $) and then call you to try to sell you their BS, all on your dime!  These nuisance clicks are what turns many people away from paid internet ads as they cost time and money. Some investigators acknowledge this and write if off as the cost of doing business. If you plan on spending money on paid traffic it is wise to carefully watch your traffic reports to see where your clicks are originating from and ban certain geographic areas or IP (internet protocols) addresses from clicking.  Carefully examine your ROI and determine if it something you want to continue.

As previously stated, it has become a lot more difficult to rank for a competitive search term. General search terms like “Weight Loss”, “Insurance Quotes”, “Attorney” are costing advertisers $30.00/click and upward.  These advertisers are well funded with multimillion dollar marketing budgets.  They are the businesses who also buy 30 second super bowl ads for 4M/slot.  A new PI business should not even compare themselves to these businesses just like they shouldn’t compare themselves to established competitors.

Many of our website split-testing results have always resulted in the niched website outperforming the general services (full service) website just like our brochure test. This is due to the “one key word” emphasis search engines are now looking for.  (Click on the icon then magnify the image)

The Google algorithm change in 2012 delisted several sites that were non-authority sites or sites that tried to “game” the system.  Many private investigators hired so called “SEO experts” that used black hat techniques which got their websites completely banned.  Techniques like:

  • Title Stacking
  • Tag Ripping
  • Description Tricks
  • Placing Links in the Descriptions
  • Back linking Schemes
  • Spam Bots
  • Keyword Stuffing
  • Affiliate Linking

HubSpot.com graphic.
history of google algorithm changes

If the SEO expert used any techniques the search engines thought was inappropriate, the site was permanently banned. There was no appeal process. Investigator “A” could not call Google and say “I didn’t know my web designer was stuffing keywords in my footer, could you please relist my site?”  So it is very, very important to hire experts that comply with the guidelines set forth by the search engines.  You will be deemed guilty even if you had no idea what was going on.  Google does not care if your site is 10 years old and you spend 5K/month on internet advertising, they are the judge, jury and executioner.

Now lets say you do not have the budget to have 3 websites for the 3 services you offer. At the very minimum, have a separate webpage for each service your offer. As previously stated, we have personally tested “one website-one service” over one website with many services and the one service site consistently out performs the multiple service site in all facets. Its easier to be an expert and an authority when you focus on one service.

Now be aware, a website alone is not a business unless it is a true eCommerce business.  Most PI businesses are not true eCommerce sites, they are simply another piece of media designed to attract leads.  Again, the more services you offer the harder it is to rank for them all of them.  The one exception is if you have a 15 year old website with an aged domain and an excellent back-linking structure you most likely will be able to rank high organically.

Ideal – New PI Biz: 1 website for 1 service

While you may think it will be expensive to design separate websites and separate marketing materials for each service you offer, you may be surprised. Website costs have come down significantly in the past few years. You may even be able to teach yourself how to design a website or outsource it for a reasonable price. Over the past several years it has become very inexpensive to design a website. Word Press (CMS) has become very popular and it is now the number 1 platform for design. These niche business are so much easier to divest if they become successful.

If you have no desire to learn word press that is fine too.  But learning the basics such as blogging and updates are wise because you won’t be at the mercy of your web designer to change or update the site.  A static website that hasn’t been updated in years will not rank well organically as the search engines are considering the frequency of updates as another critical ranking factor.

We have have simply touched the surface on the marketing techniques available to new PIs. Running a investigation business is much different than running any other business.  There are so many subtleties that you may want to reach out to someone who has been there before.  Some of the biggest problems new PIs have are:

  • Customer Acquisition
  • Dealing with Customers
  • Selling
  • Business Management
  • Accounting
  • Sales/Copy
  • Strategy

Some new PI’s that come from law enforcement tend to have a difficult time in dealing with private sector customers.  This may be because prior to being a PI the government was signing their checks, not the client. The public sectors worker’s salary came out of a government budget and his investigative results are not tied to compensation or future work.  This creates a separation between the parties.  When a private client funds a retainer with their funds and they are also the victim, there is no separation. Paying clients act much differently than public sector victims/complainants. 

YOU NO LONGER HAVE A MONOPOLY  and your customers know it

If the private sector client is not happy with you, they go to the next company.  In law enforcement, if the victim is not happy they may go above your head or try another agency that may have jurisdiction, to take the case.  The difference between the public sector and the private sector is like night and day. There now is competition a business owner has to deal with.  You must adapt to these changes and realize you are no longer the only game town.  Many former LE have a difficulty acknowledging this and breaking some of the bad habits they are so accustomed too.


Even something as simple as the tone you use to answer the phone, if you even answer the phone.  If a potential client calls you and you answer the phone the way you did in law enforcement you may be giving off the wrong message especially if your tone is such that you are too busy at the present moment.  We’ve witnessed and supervised many former officers whose brash tone in the law enforcement worked for 25 yrs., however, in the private sector, it wouldn’t last for 1 day.

In the private sector you only get one chance, and if your blow it, the customer will move to the next PI.  If they do not like your tone, your business name, the way your webpage displays on their mobile device, they’ll go somewhere else.  You could be hands down the best and most experienced investigator in a 100 mile radius but if the customer sees something they don’t like, they may not even call.

Thank you for taking this mini-marketing course designed for the transitioning law enforcement officer.  Hopefully you can apply some of the techniques to assist you with your business.

Remember, do all the research possible before getting into business.  Some of your research may even be tax deductible.

One of our PI surveys reveals over 90% of licensed PI’s regretted and wished they consulted with someone who had started and sold an investigation business in their jurisdiction and specialty.  For more information if and how PITrainingHQ.com can assist you during the different phases of the business cycle please contact us.  Thank you for viewing our e-course.

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