The approach I’ve taken to build a business around blogging has been to build multiple blogs around niche topics. I describe the reasons for this in my post One Blog Many Categories or Many Blogs? but I regularly am asked about how I choose my niche topics to blog about. In this post I’d like to outline a few questions that I tend to ask myself when considering a new topic. I hope it helps:
Are You Interested in the Topic?
A friend of mine explained it this way recently:
“Probably the best place to start thinking about what your blog should be about is to consider what YOU are about.”
Perhaps that’s a slightly awkward way of saying start by identifying your own interests, passions and energy levels for topics. While it might be tempting to start blogs based on what other people are interested in or what makes commercial sense there is little logic in starting a blog on a topic that you have no interest in. There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly if you want to grow a popular and well respected blog it can take considerable time and you’ll be needing to take a long term approach to building it up. As a result it’s well worth asking yourself ‘can I see myself still writing on this topic in 12 months time?’ If you can’t I’d suggest finding another topic.
The second reason is that you readers will quickly discern if you are passionate about your topic or not. Blogs that are dry and passionless don’t tend to grow – it makes sense really as no one wants to read something that the author doesn’t really believe in.
Is the Topic Popular?
While the blogger’s interest is important it’s not enough on it’s own to build a popular blog. Another crucial ingredient is that people WANT to read information on the topic you’re writing on. The law of Supply and Demand is what most business students are taught in their first semester of of studying economics and it comes into play here also. You might be interested in your topic but unless others are also you’ll always have an uphill battle in building a highly read blog.
Of course keep in mind that you are writing in a medium with a global audience of many millions and as a result you don’t need a topic that everyone is searching, just one that some people are searching for because even it’s something that even a small percentage of people have an active interest in it can be a lucrative area.
Is the Topic one that is growing or shrinking?
Also keep in mind that popular topics change over time. Obviously it’s great to get on a topic before it becomes big rather than when it’s on the decline. This is not easy to do of course but predict the next big thing that people will be searching for and you could be onto a winner.
Get in the habit of being on the lookout for what people are into. I constantly ask myself ‘what will people be searching the web for in 6 to 12 months?’
Keep an eye on what people are into and what the latest trends are. Do this online but also keep an eye on TV, magazines, the papers and even the conversations you have with friends.
What competition is there?
One of the traps that some bloggers get sucked into when choosing a topic is to go for the most popular topics with no regard for the competition that they might face in those markets. The chances are if you have identified a niche that you think is ‘hot’ at the moment that someone else will have also. It’s demand and supply coming into play again – for any level of demand for information on a topic there will only be a certain number of sources of that information that will be needed on that topic.
The web is becoming a more and more cluttered place and sometimes it feels that there are no niches that are left open to blog about. While this is true in some of the more popular topics – remember that you don’t have to go for the topic that everyone is searching for. In fact sometimes it’s some of the less popular topics that have little or no competition that are the best earners.
I have one friend who after years of attempting to do well writing about gadgets swapped to ‘ride on lawn mowers’ (a topic he’d been researching for a purchase he was making). He was amazed to find that after just a couple of months of writing on his new topic that it was doing significantly more traffic (and making quite a bit more) than his gadget websites ever had.
As I’ve said many times before on this blog – become a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond.
What is the competition neglecting?
This is a great question that is obviously related to the last one on number of competition. It attempts to find ‘gaps’ that are not yet filled. While your competition might have the advantage of an established audience, you have the advantage of flexibility and can position your blog very quickly to fill a gap in the niche that you might observe – in doing so you create a sub-niche within the larger topic.
Will you have enough Content?
One of the key features of successful blogs is that have the ability to continue to come up with fresh content on their topic for long periods of time. Conversely, one of the things that kills many blogs is that their authors run out of things to say.
Answering the question regarding whether there is enough content can be done on two levels:
- 1. Do YOU have enough content within YOU as an author? This really comes back to the question we asked above about your passion, interests and energy for the topic (so I’ll leave it at that).
- 2. Do you have access to enough other sources of content and inspiration? There are many web based tools around these days that can help you in coming up with content. Some places to check out on your topic to see what news is about include Google News, Topix, Yahoo! News, Bloglines, Technorati and Blog Pulse (among others).
Are there Income Streams on the Topic?
Not everyone will need to ask this question if their intention is not to build a blog that has an entrepreneurial edge to it but as this blog is on the topic of making money from blogs I’ll address it.
If you are interested in earning an income from blogging you will need to also factor in some investigation of whether the topic that you’ve chosen has any obvious potential income streams. As I’ve written previously, there are many ways of earning money from blogs – however the problem is that not every topic is going to be suitable for every potential income stream. For example, contextual ad programs like AdSense and YPN work really well for some topics but hardly earn anything from others (you might like to read my post on finding high paying ads on AdSense to explore this topic). Similarly some blogs do fantastically out of affiliate programs (the key is to find affiliate programs that match your topic closely) and others are better suited to impression based ads (those with high traffic levels).
Choose a Niche
At this point it’s time to choose a topic for your blog. It’s probably unlikely that you’ll find the perfect topic on all of the fronts above. While it’d be great to find a topic that you’re passionate about that just happens to have massive demand and no competition – but the reality is that most topics topics that you come up with will have at least one weakness to them. Don’t let this get you down – there comes a time when you just need to make a decision and start blogging. The key is being aware of what the weakness is so that you can work to overcome it.
PS: An Example
ProBlogger.net itself is an example of the process I’ve outlined above. While blogging is a topic I had (have) a real interest in and which is quite popular the weakest link of this blog is the fact that so many other blogs write on the topic of how to blog better. The other problem was that there were not too many lucrative income streams on the general topic of blogging. There are lots of AdSense ads for different blog tools, but they pay very little.
As a result of this I narrowed my niche slightly to focus upon making money from blogs (something I didn’t see many others writing about a year ago). This narrowed my potential market slightly but meant I could carve out a niche and potentially make a name for myself in the area. The other side benefit of narrowing the topic was that it also increased the income potential of this blog. Contextual ads on this topic pay a little more and there are other potential income streams (like consulting work) that a more general topic of blogging might bring.