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Analyze a Top Blog in Your Niche [Day 4: 31DBBB]

Posted By Darren Rowse 9th of April 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

You task today in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge is to spend some time on a successful blog in your niche.


The purpose of this task is not to promote yourself on the blog – but rather to spend time watching, listening and observing how the blog operates with the goal of letting what you learn help shape your own blogging strategy.

There is a lot that a blogger can learn about spending time on other blogs (particularly those who are doing well). You can pick up all manner of ideas, strategies and tips both things that they do well that you might like to emulate but also things that they’re missing that could help you to differentiate yourself.

Here’s how I suggest you go about today’s task:

1. Identify a successful blog in your niche

You might already know of these sorts of blogs or you might need to do a little research.

If you’re not sure which one to choose head to Technorati’s top 100 blogs or Google Blog search and attempt to find a blog that is doing well on your topic. If you can’t find one that is exactly on your topic don’t stress too much – choosing a blog on a related topic will work too.

2. Take 15 minutes to do some analysis of the blog in some of the following areas


  • What topics are they covering?
  • What topics are they ignoring?
  • What voice/style do they post in?
  • How often are they posting?
  • What level are they pitching their posts at (beginners, advanced etc)

Reader Engagement:

  • What topics generate most conversation?
  • What styles of posts seem to connect with readers best?
  • What questions are readers asking in comments?
  • What complaints do you see readers making in comments?
  • What tools/mediums is the site using (eg: are they using Twitter, forums etc)


  • What first impression does their design give?
  • What have they done well? What have they done poorly?
  • What Options do they give readers to subscribe?

if you’re attempting to make money from your blog this will be relevant as it will give you hints as to how you might make money:

  • what advertisers are targeting this blog?
  • what type of affiliate programs are they promoting?

You might also like to head to a site like Alexa or Compete to do some analysis of the blogs traffic levels. Is it growing, plateauing or shrinking. Alexa also gives some stats (not always accurate) on page views, time on site, sites linking in, bounce rate, where the audience is from (geographically), where people go on the site etc.

If you have some competence in SEO you might like to check out how they’re doing in some of these areas:

  • Who is linking to this blog? (use the command in Google to find out)
  • What does their source code reveal about how they’ve set up their site
  • If they have an open or unlocked stats package what can you learn from their stats? What pages are popular? Where does their incoming traffic come from?

Really the numbers of questions you could be asking is limitless but what you’re attempting to do with this exercise is to identify what is working well on the other site and what opportunities there might be to position your blog in ‘gaps’ that the blog is leaving.

When you do this type of analysis with a number of blogs in your niche you should begin to see some patterns emerging. Things that consistently work on blogs in your niche and things that perhaps you could do that nobody else is doing.

Two quick words of warning:

1. Don’t become Obsessed with what other Bloggers are Doing
A trap some bloggers fall into is spending so much time watching their ‘competitors’ that they spend less time actually building something of value of their own. This analysis is useful to do every now and again – but don’t let it become something that you do at the expense of other core activities on your own blog.

2. Don’t Copy – Be Unique
Another trap I see some bloggers doing is virtually replicating every aspect of another blog. While there’s a lot we can learn from others and lessons we can take from what others are doing – if you simply copy everything another blog does you don’t differentiate yourself and give potential readers no real reason to read you instead of others.

How did you go with your Analysis?

As usual – feel free to share what you learned from this task in comments below.

Join the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge

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Update – You can also share, discuss, and explore this Daily Task over at the forum: Day 4 – Analyze a Top Blog in your Niche

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About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  1. I just completed my list from Tuesday’s task and I wasn’t sure where to post it… here, or on Tuesday’s post, so I’m just wingin’ in and posting it here.

    I’ve never created a list before. Takes a bit more thinking and time in order to be creative and unique, but I’ve had 9 comments thus far, which is definitely better than average.

  2. As a person new to the blogger world with a blog in its infancy I have been doing much of what you have suggested. The questions that you shared were helpul, but the encouragement to be yourself and unique was the best admonition.

  3. I’ve always said it’s a little tough to find someone covering exactly the same niche I do (Midwest US travel), so I took a look at a couple of blogs for analysis.

    The first is a major travel blog that just won a prestigious NatGeo award.
    This blogger is very active, posting daily photos, one or more blog posts most days, running frequent contests (with token prizes mostly). I see him a lot out on Twitter. He posts stats on a separate page for potential advertisers’ benefit (and his # of Twitter followers and feed subscribers is posted prominently on his blog’s home page).
    He seems to regularly check his comments and interact with commenters.
    Of course, the blog is one of the major ways he publicizes his full-time traveling. He’s online far more than I can be at this point.
    Great photography, though, and he gets a ton of responses when he has a giveaway for some token gift he’s picked up in his extensive travels (few seem to resist his “win my cheap crap” pitch :lol:)
    He’s quite explicit about wanting to develop sponsorships that may hinge on more than simple page impressions (like adventure gear companies looking for road testing and review of products, lodging in exchange for honest review). Don’t know how successful he’s been with that.

    The other blog I looked at is by a mother with several children living in, and traveling mostly in the Midwest. She’s a couple of states away, and a her travel is kid-friendly (if not kid-centric) for the most part. But it is my region and she shares the same interest in the types of museums, historical sites and roadside oddities I like to cover in my own blog.
    She’s also active on Twitter and is a regular poster on another travel blog, as well as a travel/parenting blog. Occasional guest posters help her expand her coverage beyond her home state and the few neighboring states she visits regularly.
    One of the posts she drew the most comments on was a post about a less-than-peak experience she and her children had at a well-known candy factory attraction and amusement park. She also participates in the same blog carnival I do (and these posts look like they draw a good number of comments for both of us each week).
    She does have some ads along the right hand side of her pages (mostly from an advertising network).
    She does posts linking to other blogs fairly regularly (a collection of family-friendly posts).
    I like the fact that she has a nice header with photos from her family’s personal travels in the background. But, as someone else pointed out here, fancy design will have to wait…I’m concentrating on content and building traffic first.

    Both of the blogs I looked at have prominent subscribe buttons at the top of their home page. The sites both also have multiple pages devoted to special topics (travel gear, frugal travel tips, etc), in addition to the blogs’ main page.

    If I emulate nothing else from these two blogs, at least in the short term, I think figuring out how to get a more prominent “subscribe” button on my blog and thinking how I might add additional resource pages (plus developing a better bio on my “About” page) might help give my readers a little more reason to stick around my site and an easier way to get back to it.

  4. This is really good advice and is something that I have been trying to do ever since I started my blog.

    It can be very useful to look at what your competitors are doing and see what you can do better. This has prompted me to make some functional changes to my blog and it has also given me some really valuable insights into how I can plug the gaps that my competitors are missing.

    The downside is that you get totally absorbed into reading other blogs and spend a lot of time browsing that you should be spending blogging :-(


  5. I found a blog like mine quite by accident months ago, and by “like mine” I mean that the niche is that it doesn’t fit into one, and was quite surprised when I discovered that it was a “top blog”.

    One thing that struck my right away was that the main page displayed far more posts and links to internal content than mine did. So I changed that. There are now no fewer than 20 links to my content on my home page with 5 of those being featured posts.

    I even added an archive tab so that visitors so inclined could view all of my content in one place. The archive page hasn’t gotten much traffic itself, but overall traffic has improved steadily since I started paying attention to such things.

    Enjoying the 31DBBB!

  6. Believe it or not, since dogs weren’t one of Technorati’s 100 top topics, I found reading other comments just as informative. Great post! I plan on finding more similar dog-related blogs for research.

  7. Very worthwhile exercise. I took the time to look at quite a few two wheeled blogs: I have a lot of work to do. Thanks for the push.

  8. I’ve gotten some of the best ideas for my blog by checking in on the competitors. It can also drive you crazy trying to figure out how they did something you like, especially when you’re a noobie.

    Movie blogs seem to thrive on comments so I’ve been focusing on generating that the last week or so. That plus pillar articles and SEO.

    Monetization has got me weirded out though. I had bad experiences with Adsense in the past and I hope I can find something better that works for my type of site. Wish there was more I could peddle than just Amazon affiliate wares and ads that generate mere peanuts.

  9. This sounds like a great Idea! Dose anyone know any blogs like mine?

    This could be very helpful. I wish I would have thought it up myself.

  10. This was a useful exercise. Most of the blogs that do well in my niche (sex and relationships advice) are magazine-style with many writers, so it gives perspective to look at more direct competition (smaller blog, with 1-2 writers) and see what they are doing.

    One of the takeaways that I got is that it’s OK to write short posts if it means posting more frequently. I always wait until I have a developed idea before I write and post, but the blogs I read that post 2-3 times a day are able to do so because they have shorter posts.

  11. I am a reading and information machine. I read posts/visit blogs on a spectacular scale. So I’ve seen a lot. And envied many. I like to think that my interest has been put to good use and displayed on my own blog in design and content. But there’s always enormous room for improvement.

    I looked at the top 100 blogs (by number of fans) on Technorati and picked several to take a gander at. I noticed these things:

    1. Popular bloggers write with personality – posts are chatty.
    2. There is no accounting for taste – why some blogs are popular I’ll never know.
    3. Things which work for some will not work for others.

    My conclusion – always keep an eye on what others are doing and if you think something of theirs will work on your blog, adapt it. Above all, be yourself.

  12. Wow,
    This is a really interesting. Because the majority of A-List blogs in my niche are actually personal blogs.

    John Chow, Shoemoney etc. So many Internet Marketing blogs are actually based around people’s name

  13. Completed Day 4 of the challenge and posted a review of on my website.

    It’s quite extensive and even has a few snapshots for anyone who would like an example of How To Analyze another blog in their nitch.

    Here’s the link to the post:


  14. I want to know who’s blog YOU look at to learn from!

  15. I want to know whose blog YOU look at to learn from!

  16. This is really great advice. I think when I was first blogging I tried way too hard to copy directly from bloggers in my niche (fashion/design), but I’m getting a little better at adapting and being original. :-)

  17. Thank you for that, great explanation on how to look at sites to see what to do and what not to do.

    I’ve found it hard, in fact next to impossible to find any other blogs on my market. I’m pretty much the only one! Gah.

  18. Could not spend 15 minutes, had to spend much more and review lots of blogs.

    Looks like the longer your one column is with widgets, links, advertisments and tons of other stuff, the better your listing in google.

    There are many submit your blog sites and blogs are these good.

    How many widgets are too many?


  19. Another interesting assignment:

    P.S. Holding a giveaway tomorrow on my site if anyone is interested in blogging books, and gadgets, come check it out.

    Really enjoying the project. I have met some really great people so far thru this endeavor.

  20. Darren,
    Thanks for all the great ideas. i have been learning a lot today reading your recommendations and looking at the blogs and comments in the comment section. This project reflects a lot of hard work and talent in our world.
    I noticed many comments referred to websites but did not see a link to them. Does the link have to be put a second time in the comment section? Like this?
    i am working a light-hearted fun blog to focus on learning the daily lessons.
    I tried to send a comment yesterday but may not have submitted correctly.
    Still learning here. LMc

  21. Hi Darren,

    I have been looking at blogs within my niche for quite a while, but I never went to analyze in terms of traffic, ranking, and popularity. My judgment was (and still is) based on my personal impression of the site, due to design, original idea, and content. Often times, that does not translate automatically into high traffic and success.

    In general, many “successful” sites with a lot of traffic, are very sales pitch oriented, with good SEO and cookie-cutter layout, but these are sites that as a reader I am not interested in. I don’t care how popular they are.

    This is an exciting task, which I will have to do in the morning, due to a very busy and long day…

  22. This information gave me a chance to take a step back and look at how I run my own blog. I can say I am very pleased with how I run my blog because I feel its my own. Nobody else writes like I do and I have created my own identity behind my posts. My writing style interests people and this post I just read gave me the confidence to continue doing what I have been doing.

  23. Good lesson Darren! I have researched other “laid off” blogs in the past, but found a couple that are almost totally opposite. One began covering the how/what/why of being laid off from a personal experience. Another just rambles on as a single dad with a purpose and mission in life and makes some neat observations of himself and others. Nothing is said about his state of affairs.

    The list of things to look for were very helpful and I did write down the answers (for my own sense of organization). It’s nice to know what is important and what to look for when you look at others’ blogs.


  24. We were very inspired by this. We took a look at the Satorialist.
    He is not using any advertising and does not sell anything?hmmmm???
    However his topic and photos are awe inspiring!

  25. Hmm I couldn’t really find any blogs that do exactly what mine does, so I looked at top gaming blogs and I looked at top snark blogs and combined my data.

    Here’s what I gathered, and maybe some of you will find this useful:

    * A relevant image per post. If a relevant image cannot be found, one is photoshopped or doodled. Every post has something to look at, they all have eye candy. They are usually humorous. Adding at least one eye-catching image to your post makes it more memorable. For instance, I remember reading a post about how video games cause people to breast-feed their children very clearly because they posted a photoshop image of Laura Croft with a baby in the post with it.

    * Being active in communities dealing with the topic. I need to hang out more on forums for gaming and all around snarkiness instead of just lurking all the time. This is hard for me because I’m really shy. But if I can say insightful things in forums, people are more likely to want to know what I say on my blog.

    * I noticed the blogs with a simple design and flowing color scheme worked a lot better for me than the ones with cluttered interfaces. People want their content NOW and not all that other stuff. They also want to “feel” a difference between your blog an another, so you need a consistent color scheme.

    * Post every day. This is something I tried to do but I had trouble coming up with deep content every single day. I’ve noticed that the other blogs will do series of posts on one topic, or a small post every day with one big one each week.

  26. It’s funny because I was looking through my google reader this morning trying to find another blog that fits into my niche, and I think that part of the reason why I started writing was because I initially could not find one. All of the female based techie sites were all about gadgets and pink electronics. I wanted a different focus. So far all i have been able to find are links to organizations and foundations for women in IT and Technology related fields. If anyone out there wants to swap links, please let me know.

  27. I was able this week actually when I made my list of Canadian Money Saving Blogs to actually get a real look into some of the blogs that are in a niche I want to look at more.

    I am learning fast as the new blogger on the block I need a cleaner looking blog, and offer unique to my space input, so I am thinking,

  28. Not trying to kiss-up, Darren, but I would have to say you pretty much have one of the best blogs in the world of Photography Education that I’ve seen. Aside from the obvious fact that you are able to push more content out on DPS with multiple writers and you can appeal to a wider audience (all skill levels) because of the skill sets of each of your writers, there are some things that I certainly have learned from in the past. First and foremost, I’ve been analyzing the design of your DPS. It’s not unlike a magazine, in a way. While that isn’t the direct I’d like to take my blog, I think the design certainly teaches a lot. The biggest thing I noticed that already was a cause to alter my own design was that your front page is a nice summary of pretty much everything that’s happened in the last week. I have slowly been experimenting with finding a happy medium between a magazine style site like yours and a traditional blog.

  29. Darren,
    I am very grateful for this exercise, which I found extremely useful. I have to spend more anlyzing websites. Because of what my blog offers I had to look at two different types of blogs and I got some ideas. But more importantly, going through the process got my creative juices flowing and I thought of unique things to add to my blog. For example, many of the book review websites have an Amazon search function, but most of the books I review are over 50 years old so I have to figure out how to have a Gutenberg search.

    Thanks again!

  30. Not really sure what my niche is, yet. Is it possible that I’m niche-less?

  31. Just stopping by today I did this assignment and posted about it on the blog at 31DBBB Day 4: Analyze a Top Blog I will elaborate more later, I am pretty burnt out tonight :)

  32. Darren,

    I enjoy doing this – yet, never really took the time to write about it though…I chose to do a quick review on a new blog that should get some instant attention simply because of its brand and affiliation…

    Also – after these first few days, I’ve already had more comments than the entire previous month.


  33. I do this a lot, actually, in an ongoing way. Ideas I saw today on some awesome personal life blogs that I love and admire:

    1. Putting my blog rolls on a separate page for a cleaner home page.

    2. There’s always the option to go self-hosted, but I rather like Typepad.

    3. Improving my photography would be huge.

    4. Create a list of my favorite posts.

    The thing I’ve most been observing on other personal blogs is how they work their comments. Haven’t quite figured out why some blogs get so so many, while others don’t.

  34. I have trouble finding leadership and performance management blogs in Technorati…

    For this lesson I’ve selected I’m a bit lost regarding how to check their traffic and how that traffic finds them. Help is welcome!

    FYI, my blog ( is fairly new and I’m not sure if anyone would find it, if I was not also on Twitter.

    No one has commented yet on checking out how a blog uses other social tools to attract readers, so I just thought I’d point it out!

    Happy to be here.


  35. I’m using a wordpress blog too. Darren, do you have a list somewhere of all the plugins you use on your site?

  36. Day 4 of a great challenge and I can feel the familiar burn of embarrassed recognition that I am truly a novice on this site. My timing couldn’t be better because I will learn as I grow both my blogs and my knowledge of what it takes to be a better blogger.
    What I have observed from the few blogs I subscribe to and read is that content is key. Some of them have rich, varied topics covered, some great photos, links, ads, guest writers and so on… but I read because they teach me something new.
    I also noticed that they have been around for several years and have a rich database of material to look at … so there is hope for those of us who are new to this.
    I don’t spend a lot of time shopping blogs or even looking for new ones as I want to focus on developing my unique style and not copying others. However, I definitely understand the value of linking to others and adding comments and will do more of that.
    Honestly, I do not spend a lot of time wondering about finding/creating a niche because I want to get into the flow of blogging without boxing myself and my thoughts in…
    I want to keep writing what triggers an opinion in my head and as time goes by, I am completely confident a pattern will emerge.
    For now, I need more content and the renewed discipline of adding new blogs to my two sites. I also need to learn all the technical stuff to do to make my site better… or hire someone to help me.
    I have lots of ideas on how I want my sites to be and will have to seriously consider using a more technically savvy person for that.
    Thanks Darren for claiming not to be so technologically inclined…. or maybe I think that was said years back when you first started blogging.
    Anyhow, I am so happy I signed up for this challenge. What I do have is patience and I believe it will serve me well in the long run. I will grow and get better. I have no other choice.
    Thanks all!

  37. I tried to get my list post on from the other day. Better late than never. Here it is:

    The Three Minnesota Driving Styles Direct from Hades

  38. thanks Darren ,if you want to be the best, you have to follow the best but with your own originality.

    For my blog on tips on dating and relationship, im focusing more on fixing my design and choosing the best topics that people are more keen to respond.

  39. I definitely read blogs in my (somewhat widened niche) everyday. It’s really great to check out what they are doing in terms of:
    – layout
    – content
    – style of writing
    Since I write a more personal blog, one of my challenges is to stick out of all of the other personal/mom/design/life blogs.
    So far, so good! My traffic has been increasing each day :)

  40. My conclusions: For my homeschooling blog (, I need an ethos. An axe to grind. A position that’s political/religious/pedagogical or in some way adversarial to some other position. All the top homeschooling blogs are either hyper-religious, political, or… they’re in some way evangelizing. I did that, somewhat, during the election, and my hits went way up because as a homeschooler for Obama, I was controversial.

    For my other blog (, I need focus. It can’t be today I critique American Idol and tomorrow I critique Pynchon. Unless, somehow, it can.

  41. I hate to admit it, but doing a task like this makes me feel a bit like I did when I was in high school – insecure and a little left out!

    I have to remember that even though my blog is about cooking, it isn’t really a “foodie” blog. It isn’t about sophisticated recipes and food-porn quality photographs. Those are fun for me to read, but they are not what I am trying to emulate. If I compare my blog to theirs, I feel like the outcast from a clique. But in all honesty, it is like comparing apples to oranges.

    I need to keep MY focus – cooking with kids for a healthier body and planet, and a better community. It isn’t about cute recipes for kids. Or cookies and candy. It is about fresh and seasonal ingredients that keep our bodies and planet healthy. It is also about cooking with kids as a way of helping the needy.

    This activity helped me to review the other blogs out there that connect kids and food…but also helped me to remember that I have to focus on what makes my blog mine: Spending time with kids: cooking, eating and helping others.

  42. I found a couple that will be very helpful to study. One uses a language style that is very different from my target market, but the information is great! I’ll be browsing through for a while.

  43. Great tips. Like many here, I’m also in the process of finding similar blogs that privide writing essentials & connections for “Servant Writers.”

    Of course, I found the writing blogs, the publishing blogs, and also the writer forum blogs. But nothing quite close to the focus of

    But with the observation tips you offered, I am able to observe and learn from what they are doing,

    Great lesson that I will continue to apply. By the way, Thanks to this community of learners, I’ve been able to connect to some great blogs and writers!

    Thanks for the community.


  44. It seems funny, there is no health blog that is really great. I mean WebMD is there, but then I don’t think that is much relevant to Prospective Medical and Dental Professionals.

    Its ironic, the first comment talked about the similar problem we face, nothing to compare. The topics we guys choose can never be viral as i see. How many people might be interested in Multiple Sclerosis?

    There should be a Darren for our field in Medical, Dentistry and Health. Can you teach me more Darren? I actually try to talk about all these fields.

    There is no free service for students and I aim to provide that. Ambitious?? May be ;)

  45. Another great exercise – I frequent blogs in my space but this exercise had me really looking at what they are doing. Lots of good ideas sparked in my head!

  46. Just another thing I would like to ask now while I am being really proactive – I ve found some great info around looking at sites and wandering off – understand in principle what RSS, ATOM, SEO is even looked at some of Darren’s stuff on ADSENSE and google analytics. But living where I do I have no regular phone number, so would you believe it I cant use ADSENSE even if I want to….?
    So for bonus points anyone know where I find a simple gadget for counting if anyone goes near my blog? Any help appreciated…

  47. I’m working on developing a new look and feel to my blog and Day 4’s task has helped crystallise what I want from a new blend of two old blogs.

    Here’s the post: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Bloggery:

  48. Whenever I look at the top blogs in my niche, it makes me realize that I need a better look and feel to my blog. I use blogger, so I am not sure how to get away from using the templates. I have limited knowledge on how to alter it myself and have done so to the best of my abilities. It looks much better than most of the lesser blogs in my niche, but I would still like something a bit more eye-catching. After reading this post, I will start keeping a better lookout for things such as topics driving traffic, advertising, etc when I read the top blogs in my niche!

  49. “I try to observe, learn, and still just be myself.” – nice one Thom! I think that that is a great balance. – Darren Rowse

    That is great advice and I try to do that every day. I’ve been observing several blogs for the past few weeks and I performed an interesting experiment with one of my fellow bloggers in the past week. He wrote a ‘negative’ article (most disappointing tourist attractions) and I took that idea and gave it a positive twist (most impressive tourist attractions), and we linked up our two articles. Guess it’s human nature to be more interested in ‘bad news’. No guessing which article received the most responses! :-) We discussed it and another fellow blogger sent me a fascinating graph to prove that ‘bad news’ does indeed sell better! Check out the graph:
    Great experiment and the result was crystal clear. I’m still not going to change my positive focus though. :-)

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