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Solve a Problem – 7 Ways to Identify Reader Problems [Day 16 – 31DBBB]

Posted By Darren Rowse 21st of April 2009 Writing Content 0 Comments

Today’s task in the 31 Days to build a better blog project is a ‘writing’ oriented task and it is all about solving problems.

Your task is to write a post that solves a problem that your readers (or potential readers) have.

This is a task that most successful bloggers build into every single day of their blogging. Here’s their motivation:

If you’ve solving problems:

  1. you’ll make an impression upon people
  2. those people are more likely to return to your blog
  3. those people are more likely to tell others about your blog

How to Identify Problems to Solve:

For some bloggers identifying a problem that their readers will have is easy – they have a lot of readers and have their finger on the pulse of their needs. However it isn’t that easy for many newer bloggers with smaller and less vocal readers.

7 Methods for Identifying Problems to Solve on Your Blog

1. Solve Your Own Problems

My favorite way to identify needs and problems of others is to take note of my own. In my experience, when I have a problem I’m not likely to be alone. So instead of just solving your problems for yourself and moving on – why not capture the solution and add it to your blog so that others can benefit from it.

I was recently asked by a Twitter follower how she should start her blog. She was a little apprehensive of getting going and not sure how to start out. My answer was to write about a problem that she’d had and how she solved it. I can’t think of a much better way to get a blog going – right from day 1 it signals to readers that you’re interested in solving problems.

A great exercise to do to identify your own previous problems is to sit down with a notepad and pen or a laptop and text document and simply brainstorm all of the things you’ve learnt, overcome, discovered or solved when it comes to the topic that you cover on your list. Also list questions that you remember asking others about or problems that you might have researched yourself privately.

Having done this you should end up with a good list of potential posts to write on your blog.

2. Look for Questions in Search Referrals

Once your blog has been going for a while there are ways to tap into your readership and discover the problems that they have. One of these that is particularly useful when readers don’t verbalize to you their needs and problems is to look at how and why they access your blog (and what they do when they arrive).

One way to do this is to look at the terms that people are typing into search engines to arrive on your site. Sometimes the most common keywords can illuminate a topic that people have a need or problem in.

For example on my Twitter Tips blog I have the WP stats plugin installed. While not as advanced as some stats packages it does show me the most commonly used keywords that people arrive on my site having typed into search engines. Here’s a screenshot of part of the list of keywords:


These are just 7 of many hundreds of terms that people have typed into Google to and there are a few potential problems that people obviously have. Some way to know how to make a background image for Twitter, others want to know about twitter badges, others are looking for suggestions on who to follow on Twitter while others are tossing up between Twitter and Facebook while others are looking for information on how to customize Twitter.

From those 7 search terms I’ve identified 5 problems that people have on Twitter!

The same information can be gleaned from most web statistics packages such as Google Analytics.

Another great tool for identifying such terms and honing in particularly on ‘questions’ that people are asking when they arrive on your site is 103bees. To use it you need to be able to add a little javascript code to your blog’s footer or header – but once you’ve done that it’ll show you what keywords people are typing into search engines but also particularly highlight the questions people are asking.

So here on ProBlogger people have arrived on this site in the last few minutes asking:


Again – there are some real life ‘needs’ and problems that people have.

Keep in mind that with both of the above techniques you’re relying on your site ranking well for certain keywords that you’ve already used. So the reason I have people arriving on my blog searching for ‘how to be lucky‘ is because I’ve already written about that exact topic (so I probably don’t need to write another post on that exact topic). However you will find in the mix that people ask questions that you’ve not written specifically about.

3. Analyze Internal Searches

Another related way to find information on what your current readers problems and needs are is to watch what they search for when they are on your blog. This will show you what those arriving on your blog are still searching for once they’ve arrived. This is great because it shows you questions that they’re asking that you’ve often not already written about.

There are a few tools that show you internal search keywords. One I’ve is:

Lijit – Lijit is a search box that you put on your sidebar or in your navigation area instead of your normal search box. In many ways it performs the same functions as far as your readers are concerned in that it allows them to search your blog – however it also gives publishers a large array of useful information on what those searches are for. For example Lijit shows me that people on ProBlogger have searched for:


Not only that – it also produces a list of searches that people have done on your blog that you have NO RESULTS for:


While that list includes some rather ‘odd’ results it also produces some very useful information at times also and gives a snapshot into what readers are looking for information about!

4. Ask Readers for Questions

Another method that can be well worthwhile is to directly ask readers for their questions or about the needs and challenges that they face.

This of course assumes that you have some readers (it might not be for those just starting out) and assumes that they are comfortable in giving you a response.

There are a variety of ways of doing this:

  • Write a post asking for questions
  • Email a handful of most recent comment leavers asking if they have anything they need help with
  • Set up a contact form that acts as a ‘question box’
  • Run a Survey for readers
  • Set up a sidebar and/or in post poll that gives people a set of options to show you their most pressing needs (this allows some anonymity)

I’ve done each of these and all can be well worth your time to do.

5. Look for Problems on other Sites

This one can be particularly good for those just starting out who don’t have current readers to ask. It simply involves finding a forum, blog or social networking site that is relevant to your niche and surfing through threads of conversation looking for the type of questions that people ask.

You’ll probably want to concentrate on doing this in larger sites that get the amount of comments needed for this but once you spend some time on most good sized forums you’ll see a range of questions that are asked over and over again.

6. Use Social Media to Gather Questions

A place that I personally am getting more and more inspiration for posts is Twitter and other social networking sites.

Twitter is a great place for collecting questions from real people with real needs and problems. I mainly do this in two ways:

  1. Asking for Questions – every now and again I simply tweet that I’m looking for a few questions to base posts on.
  2. Watch lists – I have a few keywords that I particularly look to track and monitor the use of on Twitter (I do this through my Twitter Client TweetDeck). I’ve written more about setting up watch lists earlier in 31DBBB but many of the times I see keywords used I see questions being asked. I try to answer these questions on Twitter but also often use them as inspiration for longer blog posts.

7. Ask ‘real life’ Friends and Family

Lastly – don’t forget your real life friends, family and work colleagues. Many of the conversations you have in day to day conversation reveal the types of struggles and challenges that people face. While you’ll want to keep private conversations private they could be a great source of inspiration for posts.

I actually find that family gatherings with extended family are a great time for me to tap into what people think about the topics that I write about. For example at one family gathering a family member asked me if he was holding his digital camera right. He was almost a little embarrassed to ask it as it was such a basic thing but as I was answering I realized that other beginners in using cameras would have the same question – hence How to Hold a Digital Camera came into being.

Update! Join the discussion and share ideas over at the forum, at Day 16 – Solve a Problem [Writing Challenge]

Want More?

This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.

Join over 14,000 other bloggers and Get your Copy Today.

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 and LinkedIn.
  1. Very nice post Darren – I’m learning so much from your “Course”!

  2. This method is already being used a lot. Identifying a problem and then solving it.

    But its not the problem that you present that will make an impression but the way you present it.

    There is nothing secret on Internet now, everything has been revealed. But its the way you present your ideas that matters.

  3. Depending on the type of forums you joined for the previous 31DBBB challenge, you can get a lot of questions to answer. Tech support forums especially are gold mines- write a post that answers a frequently asked question and then link to it in your signature.

  4. I like the community on twitter. It’s a great place to ask and illicit feedback on the type of content people might be interested in reading.

    Another pretty cool resource is the Skribit widget. Darren, I think you’ve used this one before no? It’s essentially a form that allows readers to leave a comment on the type of content they’re most interested in reading.

    Thanks for the tips on how to go about developing some content ideas that’ll solve problems our readers are facing.

  5. A wonderful insight, yes it is always better to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their feeling.
    This sure is one way to understand what your reader wants.

  6. This is very useful indeed. I’ve been using 103bees to keep track of what readers have been looking for in my blog for two years now.

  7. I’m hearing a lot of mums talking about toddler tantrums at the moment on Twitter, Facebook and in real conversations (ok, so I think mums are always talking about this issue). It’s not a problem I can “solve” but perhaps one I can offer some resources for. I’ll give it a go this week and see what happens!

  8. Solving problems is what my blog is all about. I started writing it after thinking about all the problems I had to solve to get through walls in life.

    As it stands I’m trying to identify problems and struggles in almost all my blogposts and write about how I handled them.

    I would really appreciate more input from my readers on their problems though, even though I’ve asked about their experiences no-one has presented me witha problem they are having.

    Maybe I should open up a “mailbag” or something where people can send me their problems and I’ll write about it.

    Thanks for another thought provoking exercise Darren

    Gr, Christiaan @ mindthebeginner

  9. This is a great post. Some of my favourite books of all time are in a question and answer style format (‘Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle being one). :)
    I love your ideas for finding questions for topics.
    I actually get 10-30 e-mails a day from past clients and random people asking dating and relationship advice and I always personally respond to each one (takes up a large chunk of my day but is very rewarding). I was thinking of posting some on my website as a ‘question and answer post’. Are there any problems with privacy in doing this… ie: should I ask the person whos question it is for permission to post it? Obviously I would omit personal details anyway. :)
    Great article Darren,
    Sam x

  10. Since my blog is about how to save in small ways this is probably one of the most important lessons for me. It is all about solving problems for the reader.

  11. This is great for blogs in a certain niche, but it doesn’t really apply for sites which deal in news or entertainment. Not all blogs are about problem solving.

  12. Actually for last few days I was searching on internet for free OS and finally i planned to write about it on .

    I was able to gather 15 free operating systems and the links.

    this is was exactly Darren says, provide the solution to the readers (he reads my mind….)

  13. This was actually what my blog started out to be. It was originally how to incorporate the foods we don’t typically eat into our diets. I probably need to get back to that, because I think it is difficult to eat healthy. More people are eating at home, but not necessarily more healthfully.

  14. Darren- Solving problems is good… BUT You don’t always even need to “solve” the problem. Sometimes addressing the issue exists and sharing your own struggles with the problem will resonate just the same.

    I wrote a post this week on “Finding your Ceiling”. Many people, including me, struggle with knowing they can do more in many areas of their life… but don’t know just how good they can be. Thus they just get by with “okay” performance.


    People like to know the blogger is human and shares the same issues. It is not always about showing you have the answer.

    the post has prompted several positive comments and RT’s etc… So much so I have not written anything new, as I hate to push the topic further down the page.


  15. Whenever I get reader feedback in the form of an e-mail, I try to think of a way to incorporate that into a post.

    Chances are if one reader has a question, concern, or comment, so do the others!

    Great advice!

  16. Ravi Ahuja says: 04/21/2009 at 9:51 pm

    If you are able to know our visitors probles then you have won half battel. Great post Darren.

  17. Very good post Darren – This is so true.

    Most of my traffic comes out of How-to and problem solving posts.

    I have a set structure for these posts:
    1) Overview: short description
    2) The problem: short description
    3) The solution: simple and clear.


  18. Hahaha,

    it’s good to sell them solutions, but I think selling them the problem is much more better, as you are educating them and at the same time letting them know of the consequences of not doing the preventive measures.

    As solving problems are the usually normal way.

    Website Creation For Beginners

  19. I like the idea of taking time to try to remember my questions (before, of course, I thought I knew all of the answers)! Making that list is going to be really helpful for me.

    I’m always grateful that you adapt your assignment for those of us who are just starting out. Thanks for finding the various levels of your task.

    We’re often so busy looking for answers, it’s a nice perspective to be heading off to look for some questions.

  20. Solving problems and giving suggestions based on my personal experiences is the reason why I started my blog.
    If my readers do post questions to me I do post about my solutions on my blog.

  21. Great idea. I’m all about attempting to solve problems and I use many of my own personal struggles with trying to lose weight as examples to build from. Can’t wait to try out some of your strategies and see how they go.

  22. If you are not solving problems then there is no reason for you to be blogging! I read a lot of blogs so I usually get a lot of ideas from the comments people leave…

  23. I think solving a problem is the only way to blog. That what the internet is for, it is for people looking to solve a problem.I wouldn’t write any other way.

  24. Thanks for the excellent advice today.

    I took a unique approach to the project today and posted an article and video on a tool that solves the problem of managing email, IM, and social media accounts.



  25. Hi Darren

    Great post. I am already using most of your techniques for my both websites.

    Just recently a friend told me that she received a law suit asking her to pay lots of money because she included images without permission on her website.

    It made me realize that many people are probably not aware about creative commons, and the next day I posted an article about creative commons.

    So, you are right you have to be attentive all the time

    I just love your 31 DBBB I am learning so much



  26. No doubt that solving problems or answering questions for my readers is one of the most popular type of content I write about. I think readers look to certain blogs to insights into how they can improve their situation or gain a new perspective.
    Excellent post!

  27. Hi Darren

    Great post. I am already using most of your techniques for my both websites.

    Just recently a friend told me that she received a law suit asking her to pay lots of money because she included images without permission on her website.

    It made me realize that many people are probably not aware about creative commons, and the next day I posted an article about creative commons.

    So, you are right you have to be attentive all the time

    I just love your 31 DBBB I am learning so much


  28. My gosh Darren… You made it again… When I read the title I thought “But I’ve been doing that for 4 years with my blog!” It only took me a couple of paragraphs to realize there’s always something new to learn! (encore!)

    Thanks again… You nailed it man!

  29. Hm.. GOod idea..
    Maybe I’ll blogging about how to make my boss love at me….

  30. Great idea. I found some great ideas for new posts among the analytics for search engine traffic. Thanks.

  31. Excellent summation. I also find good ideas by looking via Twitter Search and seeing what questions show up in my hashtag searches.

  32. Interesting that this is the task today, as the post I already had scheduled for the day answers a reader question!

    Activating Your Core in an Abdominal Curl or “Crunch”

    Since my blog is educational in nature, designed for teachers and students of dance, most of my posts have to do with problem-solving of some kind. There’s so much to talk about in dance. I’ve spent most of my life learning and teaching so it’s easy to draw from experience. When I need a fresh idea, though, I visit dance forums and see what kinds of things people are asking about. I will check out Lijit, that’s a new one for me and looks like a great tool!

  33. Thanks Darren. I wasn’t entirely sure what to write about today because my time was limited. And now I’ve got an extra post saved over from my weekly-planned schedule.

    I’m learning a lot of new tips from this course and enjoying seeing how others learn from you too.

  34. Hello people! This article was very usefull to me. I will come back frequently.

  35. Great post my friend!

    It helps a lot to be reminded of the small things that make a difference. Often time we get so knowledge hungry and never take the time to really input the those simple steps that really bring the bucks!


  36. Darren thanks for all these tips. I’ll definitely try 103bees. I must have been psychic; I wrote a new post in response to friends and colleagues who have emailed me that try as they might they weren’t “getting” Twitter. Hence, was born: Twitter: it’s all in the following (http://maistrategies.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/Twitter-its-all-in-the-following)

  37. Good post! I am currently asking Twitter for questions :D

  38. I find stats programs really useful for post ideas, and also respond to readers’ questions. In fact one of my best series came from answering questions readers had raised. Today, though, I’ve written about an issue that faces writers who write for people divided by a common language ;)

  39. I can not believe this is already day 16. You made it informative, challenging, and very helpful. I started out with a problem that has been on my tasklist for a while: to find a replacement for Google notebook. Now I finally got around to solve it for myself, and maybe give some helpful hints for others.

    Thanks for getting me on my way.

  40. Love the idea of both finding a problem to write about, and finding solutions that work in your life and sharing them.

    Some of my favorite content online is about simple solutions for problems we all face.

  41. Awesome advice, Darren. It reminds us of what we’re there for: our readers.

    Although we may feel the urge to communicate something specific, unless we’re happy with a zero readership, we need to target our posts to meet a particular need.

    H :)

  42. I have noticed the posts in which I really focus in on a problem are always most read and searched for.

    I get my main traffic by finding out how to create backbone articles around solving their problems.

  43. Great post, quite informative! Thanks for the great advise.

  44. I agree. Solving someones problems by an article written by you is the way to go.

  45. Great idea. I found some great ideas for new posts among the analytics for search engine traffic. Thanks.

  46. I think a genuine problem moms have is trying to carve out time each day for themselves, and for my readers, consistent time in the Bible. I’ve been working on a couple of posts to give them some ideas and inspiration.

    I will try to apply this more often, I like that it keeps the readers fresh in your mind as you’re writing!

  47. The course continues to be excellent. I actually spent most of last week (and some of the weekend) on this very thing.

    A lot of readers are family and friends that are less than tech-savvy. So I put together a how-to article (three really) on Facebook, Twitter and RSS. Hopefully, this helps me up my subscription numbers and allows for greater interaction with my readers. Check it out if you are so inclined.


  48. I have had tremendous success with this method and I cannot recommend it enough.

    One of my earliest posts was a recipe for hummus where I noted a problem with olive oil occasionally turning it bitter. I noticed from my stats that many people were finding my page by searching what makes their homemade hummus bitter, but I realized I hadn’t really answered this question.

    Recently I wrote a post specifically addressing what makes olive oil turn bitter and it is by far my most popular post (partially because of the pic too, which has done well on food photography sites).

    I have also had success answering a question more in depth in a post series.

  49. I’ve put up a page http://wordpress2go.com/how-to-design-your-own-blog/ which tells readers how they can design their own blog theme.

    (There is an affiliate link on that page which means I earn five bucks if anyone buys the software!)


  50. In my interviews with women about their greatest accomplishment since getting divorced, I always ask what helped them, what resources they used. Often times it’s a particular book or seminar. I’ve been including that in the ‘story post’ which I feel sometimes makes these posts too long. This assignment makes me think I should write a separate post about the resource and then I could include some other resources, maybe links to posts on other blogs – might make it more meaningful and helpful to other people. I have an interview I’m working on right now that this might work for …..if there’s a life coach blogger participating in this challenge, then please contact me …. Thanks

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