Photography: The Crowd Watches the Fireworks by Waldo Jaquith
Many bloggers and webmasters struggle to decide what topics they should cover. In this post, I want to answer some common but very important questions.
- What kinds of things should I write about?
- Should I focus on one topic, or many?
- What kind of topics should I choose?
- Are some topics bad for making money?
Working with your interests and expertise
There are things you like. Things you know a lot about. Things you find interesting and would like to know more about. These are all potential topics you could write on.
The next, crucial step is to work out who you will be writing for. I’m convinced that many bloggers and webmasters are not yet aware of how important this step is.
The dangers of ignoring a target audience
Let’s say you’re interested in cooking. You previously stumbled across a blog called Mark’s Thoughts and read an amazing post on making better ratatouille.
As a result, you’ve never made it the same way again. You subscribed to the blog eagerly awaiting more cooking tips.
The next post, however, was on running an eBay business. You thought: “That’s alright, perhaps the cooking stuff will come later.”
But it didn’t. You waited a week, skipping over posts about domain name selection, a movie review, and the author’s favorite breed of dog. Finally, you unsubscribe, disappointed.
The author obviously has a passion for all of the above: cooking, domain names, movies and dogs. But how many others have the same configuration of diverse interests?
Our friends, for example, are unlikely to share more than a few interests with us. My best friend is an Elvis fanatic, but Elvis has always left me lukewarm.
If she consistently tried to discuss Elvis with me, I’d probably get annoyed. But she doesn’t. We’re both aware of our mutual interests and focus on discussing things we both enjoy.
It might be useful to think of a blog without a target audience like a friend who will discuss all their interests without fail, regardless of who’s listening.
I might enjoy talking about sport with that person, but want to knock myself unconscious when he begins to discuss the virtues of a particular political party, or real estate prices, or chess, or country music.
Before you decide what to talk about, you need to know who you want to speak to.
Selecting topics with an audience in mind
To illustrate this with an example, let’s use a fictional person with a fictional set of interests: Shelley. She has brainstormed topics that interest her and the results are below.
I’d like you to think about the cloud above for a moment. Do you share some interests? Do some of Shelley’s interests bore you, or even slightly offend you? Would you subscribe to a site that wrote about all these topics?
Conscious of this, Shelley has linked up topics likely to be of interest to certain audiences. The result looks like this:
The blue line is likely to be of keen interest to a socially and environmentally conscious Christian audience with liberal political views.
The yellow line will consistently have something to offer environmentally conscious outdoorsy types. The green line is likely to be of interest to web designers and web developers.
Would you read one of these sites, if the writing was good?
Do the topics covered on your site connect up in this way?
One topic, or many?
More topics can mean more competition, though you might stand to receive greater traffic in the long-run.
Focusing on a specific niche often results in a smaller, more focused audience. Neither is worse than the other from a money-making perspective.
If Shelley decides to write only about kayaking, she might make a small fortune selling kayaking equipment on her blog, because her audience is so well targeted.
On the other hand, broader sites have a larger target audience and, therefore, the potential for higher visitor numbers.
If you have aspirations of cracking the Technorati 100, however, a specific niche is unlikely to get you there. The approach you take will depend on your long-term blogging goals.
I love __________, but there’s no money in it
Any popular or well-targeted site can be profitable, as long as you’re willing to look outside AdSense. I strongly believe that if you create a great site and employ money-making strategies suited to that site, any niche can be profitable.
I’m a little like the guy on the left, below:
Before you have the same reaction as the man on the left, I want to site some examples of unusual sites that proved to be profitable.
- A site featuring homemade postcards with confessions written on them has been turned into a book.
- A blog about captioned photos of cats is one of the highest earning blogs in the world.
- Chris Garrett, whose blog contains no advertising, makes his living online through consulting and freelance work.
If you create a fantastic and well-loved site you will find ways to monetize it. Sometimes you will need to seek them out. At other times, opportunities will present themselves.
Your focus shouldn’t lie solely on picking a niche you think will be profitable — unless it also happens to be a niche you love.
There are so many monetization options around these days that you will find one that suits you, no matter what you write about.
Five reasons to focus on target audience first
- Your readers will be consistently interested in the topics you cover.
- It will give you guidance in deciding what to write about.
- Target audiences are social networks: they may help your content go viral.
- You will be able to build a profile amidst an influential group.
- It will ensure your site maintains focus on presenting the reader with content that is valuable to them.