The Definitive Guide to Choosing a Topic for Your New Blog

picking a nichePhoto by Pink Sherbet Photography.

Many things go into building a house before the first drop of concrete hits the soil, and before the first brick has been laid down.

Surveyors pore over a prospective construction site and take measurements, confirming that there’s enough space for the construction, and that the ground is steady.

They consider the surroundings, the views, and other environmental factors long before the building tools leave their pouches.

If you’re thinking about launching a new blog (or your first ever blog) I want to suggest that you should approach choosing its niche in much the same way.

The niche you decide to join will play a significant role in shaping the content you create, the people you communicate with, the readers you gather and how you reach out to your target audience.

If you want to start a blog in a very small (or possibly empty) niche, you’re going to have a very different experience to someone starting a blog in a big niche, like gadgets – a very popular blog topic.

It’s worth being mindful of this before you start transporting your blog from concept into reality. Like a surveyor at a building site, carefully testing for firm ground and acceptable surroundings, it’s essential that you start to think about the space your blog is going to occupy.

It’s a Tough, Important Decision

Here are a few reasons why it’s important to think about the interplay between your blog and its niche:

Blogs in small or empty niches are challenging to get going. This is because, in the beginning, it’s very difficult for people to find your blog.

Search engines are unfamiliar with it, so they’re unlikely to send much traffic your way. Because people haven’t found it yet, they can’t go on to link to it.

Furthermore, if people aren’t visiting, you won’t receive votes from visitors on social media services like StumbleUpon and Digg. Links, search-engines and social media are the three ways a new visitor can find your blog.

Obviously, it’s essential to get links, appeal to search engines and receive social media votes, but if nobody can find your blog to begin with, there’s nobody around to create links, or share social media votes. Except, of course, you.

It’s Up to You

When you first launch your blog, expect to be a one-person promotional army. You’ll need to find inventive ways to start directing visitors to your blog – usually by laying down links on other blogs, websites and forums frequented by people in your target audience.

Sometimes, though, it seems like there are very few such websites. Self-promoting in a very small (or possibly empty) niche is tough.

There are few places where you can create links, and they may not be frequented by many people. A link doesn’t count for much if nobody ever travels through it.

Before you toss away your small niche blog concept and let out a sigh of disappointment, be reassured that launching in a small/empty niche is not an unbeatable obstacle.

Better yet, if you do succeed, you may be up for some incredible benefits. Just because there are few quality blogs targeting the same audience doesn’t mean that there isn’t an audience to be found.

You might find that there is an audience, that they’ve been waiting for a blog just like yours, and that when they do discover it, they’ll come in droves.

One thing to be mindful of, though, is whether your blog’s concept is going to be self-limiting. If you’re writing a blog for yodelers, you may only be able to grow so big before you reach a natural ceiling: that there are only so many yodeling blog readers out there.

This doesn’t matter so much if you enjoy blogging for a small community, and want a stronger connection with a smaller group of readers.

But if your goal is to build an insanely popular blog by anyone’s standards (not just the standards of your niche), it’s worth considering whether your blog’s focus will limit you in that goal.

Potential Rewards, Potential Drawbacks

In a crowded niche, it’s easy to start, but hard to stand-out. A new blog in the marketing niche would have no trouble gathering an initial rivulet of visitors, for example.

It’s easy to spot your target audience, and there are plenty of highly-trafficked places to create enticing links for them to follow (most bloggers start by leaving comments on other blogs, with links back to their own blog).

A blogger’s first challenge in this situation is finding a way to be something other than ‘just another new marketing blog’.

If visitors who come to your blog perceive it as having nothing new to offer them, they won’t stick around – and if you’re losing as many visitors as you gain, you can’t grow. It’s like pouring sand into a funnel at the same rate you let it spill out.

But, just like the experience of founding a blog in a small niche, the initial challenges can give way to some impressive rewards. The fact that your niche is crowded means that there is a big audience available.

If you can establish yourself as one of the best in your niche, your audience may end up bigger than you could have imagined. That being said, the more competition you have, the harder it is to be the best.

To help you decide whether starting in a small or crowded niche is the right choice for you, I want to provide some advice on what you can expect your day-to-day promotional routine to look like, depending on which path you choose.

I’d also suggest that you read the routine twice. The first time, when you’re still finalizing your blog concept and want to be clear on what you’re getting yourself into.

The second time, when you’ve debuted your blog to the public and published your first batch of posts. At that point, I hope the list will help you optimize the way you promote to best suit the niche you are in.

How to Grow Your Blog in a Crowded Niche

Starting strongly in a crowded niche will involve emphasizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses. You can use the other blogs and websites in your niche as footholds to growth. Here’s how:

Let your peers provide a platform.

Let’s begin with the obvious: your target audience is reading other blogs in your niche, so that’s where you should try to attract them: by commenting, guest-posting, pitching links or becoming a contributing writer on one of your niche’s most popular blogs.

A crowded niche indicates a strong demand.

Make the most of this. If no-one is doing quality blogging on a particular topic, it might be because the target audience for such a topic is incredibly small. An empty niche does not automatically indicate an under-served niche.

A crowded niche, however, suggests that it’s serving an audience hungry for information. If you think about your own behavior, you might find that you’re subscribed to a number of blogs in the same niche.

A crowded niche would be a death-trap if readers were only ever going to subscribe to one blog in that niche, but that’s simply not the case. Some do, but a lot don’t. Make this decision easier for them by offering something they can’t get anywhere else.

People talk about you

Have you ever noticed that most of the blogs in the Technorati Top 100 exist in crowded niches? Technorati is about links, and crowded niches make it easy to gather them.

If a blogger is looking outward, they’ll link out only to content that is relevant to their target audience. If you share a target audience with a lot of blogs, this means that a lot of blogs also have the potential to send a link your way.

This is one area where a crowded niche has an edge over smaller counterparts.

It’s a party – make friends.

A crowded niche is full of peers with skills you might not have yourself. Starting an email dialogue with another blogger can lead to co-operation and mutual benefit in future. Bloggers in empty niches don’t have as many options in this area.

Crowded niche = crowded audience.

With so many voices trying to be heard, a crowded niche can be overwhelming. To stand out, you’ve got to provide something radically unique compared to everyone else.

Alternately, you’ve got to fill gaps your peers have been unable to fill. Shouting louder won’t work. You’ve got to sound different.

Your audience is waiting

Other blogs in your niche are places where potential readers hang out. There’s no neuroscience involved, you don’t need to puzzle out where they’re hiding: they’re right in front of you.

Not having to search out your target audience is a luxury many bloggers in a crowded niche don’t appreciate. Every time you guest-post, comment or get a link, you’re building doorways for potential readers to move through.

Follow, but don’t shadow.

Other successful blogs in your niche give you a blueprint to follow. By studying them, you can see what your target audience likes, and what it doesn’t like. If you’re blogging in an empty niche, however, you’ll need to learn everything from scratch.

Benchmark yourself against your peers.

There’s nothing like other runners in a race to make you run faster. When trying to become popular in a crowded niche, you need to edge ahead of already established blogs.

To do that, you’ll need to match the level of usefulness they provide (and then some). Competition breeds excellence.

Becoming an Innovator in a existent Industry

The best aspect of launching in an under-served niche is access to an undivided market. If you’re the first quality blog on a topic a lot of people have been searching for, you’ll generally become the biggest blog in that niche because you were the first — as long as you stay consistent., arguably the first blog about blogging, is still the biggest. FreelanceSwitch, arguably the first blog dedicated to freelancers only, also continues to remain the biggest in its niche.

While it’s increasingly rare to find a blog that is the only one of its kind, it’s still possible to find yourself in an under-served niche (meaning there aren’t enough blogs to meet demand).

Because there’s less competition, it’s easier to stand out as one of the best. As long as your leading position in the niche is unchallenged, you’ll grow at a rapid rate.

Tapping into an under-served niche is what many bloggers dream about when brainstorming blog topics.

While the potential gains are great, surviving in an under-served niche can present a host of difficulties.

Though the challenge is a tough one, it’s certainly not unbeatable. In this post, I’ll show you how to succeed in a tough, frontier niche.

If we’re to think of things metaphorically, imagine an Oak seedling in a rocky clearing. If the seedling can thrive where others couldn’t, there’s plenty of space for it to grow into something grand.

Before that can happen, though, the seedling has to contend with a lack of soil to grow from. It sounds cutesy, I know, but I think it’s a useful encapsulation of the potential difficulties and rewards lying before any blogger hoping to engage a previously neglected audience.

Growing From Nothing

Ever heard that old (but good) advice: comment, guest-post and get links from other blogs in your niche? I suggest you throw it out for now.

If your niche is under-served, there’ll be nowhere to do these things, or if there are, the other blogs will probably be so quiet that it isn’t worth your time.

Rather than looking for other blogs which slot neatly into your niche (of which there are likely to be few), source-out blogs which non-exclusively write for your target audience.

If you run the only blog for fans of a small college basketball team, try to get links or guest-posting gigs at big blogs about college basketball, for example. If the blog’s audience is big enough, you’re bound to reach a sizeable pocket of people interested in your niche.

Some niches are also friendlier than others. For every niche that’s open to guest-posting and sharing links, there’s another niche where trying to do these things is almost impossible.

One unfortunate result of a wide and varied blogosphere is that some niches have a much stronger community than others.

Let’s assume that nobody will let you guest-post, nobody wants to link to you and your comments elsewhere don’t bring in any traffic.

What do you do?

The good thing about search-engine optimization, often called SEO (the practice of optimizing your blog to gather more search-engine traffic), is that it doesn’t care much what the rest of your niche is doing.

If there’s less competition and your blog is cleverly optimized, you stand to net a lot of traffic. Search for SEO on Delicious to access some great tutorials you can use to learn more about this.

The self-sustaining nature of social media is also perfect for growing a blog in an under-served niche. If your niche is under-served, you’re most likely blogging on a topic without widespread appeal.

For that reason, I’d suggest putting most, if not all of your efforts, into StumbleUpon. Its highly refined category system makes it much easier for niche content to succeed.

You can start using StumbleUpon to build your niche blog by voting up articles you see as high quality for your target audience.

StumbleUpon users with consistent taste in a certain type of content tend to attract like-minded followers and ‘fans’.

If your blog is about money-box collecting and you consistently vote up articles on money-boxes or similar collectibles, you’re going to attract the attention of other Stumblers who’re also interested in those things.

Another useful StumbleUpon tip is to erase all your previously selected interests until you have none at all selected, then pick just one: the category which most narrowly suits your niche.

As you stumble, many of the sites you come across will appeal to your target audience. If you view the reviews page for the site, you can click through and ‘Fan’ the person who discovered it — a person who’s very likely to be interested in your blog’s niche.

I’d suggest doing this with as many people as possible. Not only does having a wide network enrich your StumbleUpon experience, but it also allows you to send your best content to mutual friends.

Once you have a steady stream of targeted SU traffic arriving at your blog it’s entirely possible to grow and thrive almost on that source alone.

Under-served vs. Not wanted

That there are few blogs on a particular topic does not necessarily mean there’s an information-hungry audience waiting to pounce on your new venture.

Some shopping strips are empty and dilapidated because nobody wants to shop there, and some niches are empty or lackluster because very few people are interested in reading blogs on the topic.

Notice the difference: very few people are interested in the topic, vs. very few people are interested in reading blogs on the topic.

Thousands of people might be searching for the keyword ‘wheelbarrows’ each day, but that doesn’t mean they want to read an entire blog devoted to them.

Sure, people might want to buy them — and a blog on the topic might make a few dollars from AdSense — but how many people want to read about wheelbarrows on a regular basis?

If you’ve ever done research on potential niches with the AdWords keyword tool , next time, compare the search volume for one or two keywords describing your blog concept with the search volume for your blog concept + the word ‘blog’.

The difference can be quite remarkable. It’s possible to have a thousand people searching for ‘wheelbarrows’ each day, and only one or two a week searching for ‘wheelbarrow blog’.

Under-served niches are the riskiest and possibly most rewarding settings in which you can start a blog.

The space can help your blog grow quite rapidly, but you’ll need to overcome a lack of firm foundations first.

You’ll need to make your own soil to grow from.

  • Guest post, get links from and comment on blogs which touch on your topic, rather than being solely devoted to it.
  • Learn the basics of SEO and apply them to your blog. Focus on keywords your target audience are likely to be searching for.
  • Use StumbleUpon to meet and greet your target audience.
About Skellie

Massive nerd who just happens to enjoy anything related to blogging, creativity, and online marketing.

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