Different niches can be very different to rank in the same location depending on competition. For instance, real estate is going to be tough almost anywhere you want to rank for it. Used appliance stores selling used washers and dryers and other appliances don’t have that much competition and don’t seem to be that internet savvy, making it much easier to rank quickly.
How to Read Search Results
How do you know how much competition there will be? Do a search in Google or Bing or Yahoo. (Granted Google is the dominant one and has more searches done on it than probably the second and third place search engines combined.) What shows up on the first page of searches? Are there any companies that show up on the map?
Mix of Organic Listings Important
Don’t bother to look at the ads, but look at the organic results. In Google there are usually 10 results. What is the break down of these 10 results? Is it mostly local businesses? If so, there will probably be a lot of competition. If there are a number of national companies or directories, that is much better. At least currently, (it can always change) the search engines would prefer to show local companies. There are some companies/websites like homeadvisor and angieslist that list companies all over the US and sell leads based on the response they get on their website. Then there are directories like Yelp and Yellowpages.
If the 10 results are mostly things like this, it means the local companies in that niche haven’t done a very good job of search engine optimization.
Social Media Sites Filled Out?
Then do a search in Google+ for the companies that do show up. Have they filled out their Google+ page and have they claimed the site? Do the same for BingPlaces. If they aren’t filled out and aren’t claimed, that is another indication that they have not done a good job of optimization and that there isn’t much competition in this area for this niche.
Number of Citations?
Then you can check to see how many citations the top local websites have. If they only have something like 10 or 20, that is yet another indication that little has been done to get the website seen.