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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. This idea giveis me a idea of having a how to post on the blog. I think How to or xx ways to do something type of posts are awesome, and drive alot of traffic.

  2. Thanks it was a great piece of work.

    Please add twitter in your share this iframe box.

  3. Thanks to the recent emails from readers I have topics flowing. But you are correct, focusing on solving my own problems can generate many postings a day. Not that I have issue, but they are questions I would research and makes sense only to share the information.

    You are absolutely my favortie Pro Blogger. I benefit so much from visitng your site. Thank you :)

  4. This is a great lesson. I’m a consumer journalist and, when I worked for newspapers, I often wrote about a consumer experience or problem I was having. It works well for blogging, too. For example, I just bought new eyeglasses so I’ll be writing soon on “How to Buy Eyeglasses.”

    Some of my most popular articles come from my need for consumer information: “How to Remove the Dandelions from Your Lawn Naturally,” How to Buy a Dishwasher,” “What You Need to Know About the Peanut Butter Recall,” “35 Ways to Cut Your Food Budget,” “How to Keep Your Wooden Fence in Good Condition,” and “Opportunities Abound for Baby Boomers to Cut Costs With Internet Coupons.”

    I blog at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at http://boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com.


  5. That was most definitely very helpful aspects to consider in doing our blogs. I am an internet marketer using Web 2.0 blueprint which I am sure you know, needs s lot of linking. Your tips and advises will be very helpful to me .

    thanks for that!!!

  6. That was definitely awesome. I am into “attraction marketing” and blogging is very important in my business. Thank you for the useful points to consider. Well laid-out. Please see my blog @http://renegadesystempro.com/

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is a great tip! I installed the Lijit plugin, and I am hoping to be able to use that to proactively respond to reader problems. I’ve noticed that the most popular successful search terms on my blog (via the standard WP reporting) are guerilla art, creative process, and occasionally specific quotes from a book or work by a well-known designer. I definitely plan to write more on those topics.

    For today’s post, I addressed a problem I have frequently: distraction. From interruptions to urgent emails, I think the topic is one many of my readers will be able to relate to. Here’s the link to the finished article: Zero In.

  8. I often do question and answer sessions @ my blog. I love your point #2 on looking for questions from search referrals.

    Genius post

  9. I was just thinking the other day that I wanted to do this. I was thinking about this the other day, and realized that a good strategy especially if you feel this has been done a lot in your niche, is to group 10 solutions in a post. That way another follow up could be 10 More Tips etc.

  10. I am horribly behind on these sessions and I apologise to people I owe messages to. Too busy solving problems, I guess, so today’s topic really resonated. Here’s what I did:


  11. Darren,

    Thanks for the great tools you shared in this post. I am going to check them out right away and add to my own blog.

    Am really enjoying this succession of blog lessons.

    You are a very thorough teacher.


    Heidi Richards Mooney

  12. I struggle with the fact that my readers don’t comment.. except for friends.. I have tried asking some direct questions; yesterday’s ( under Mow the Lawn) was direct but probaby too ‘off the wall’. I write first time readers a ‘thank you’ ,did that from the beginning and that has been fun.
    So, I’ll try this and see how I do. I can use one of my own issues; as a personal type blog I have some challenges in connecting w/ a wider array of readers, I think.

  13. Awesome post which point that we should be sensible related ours, niche and reader.

    Uhm.. What a strike simple explanation right here.

    Gonna make it in my blog, The Lifehack Post.

    Thanks alot ProDarren!

  14. In an earlier discussion on my blog this week, my readers commented that they would love to support their local independent booksellers, but didn’t know where they were or how to find them. So, I compiled a list in today’s post: http://sonjafoust.com/2009/04/20/raleighdurham-area-independent-booksellers/

  15. GREAT post. I know I read blogs that help me figure stuff out. I’ve been posting lots of different step-by-step posts lately and have some more coming soon. Thanks!

  16. Great post, Darren.

    I’m always interested in knowing what’s on the minds of my readers. One thing I’ve discovered they don’t care for is polls…no one answers them. So, no more polls.

    As for solving a problem – I had initially written, in this space, that I didn’t think a blog about sports and current events through humor could solve a problem. But looking over a number of posts, I’ve actually gone after some topics here and there that do, in fact, try and figure out something I’ve been wrestling with over a period of time.

    And although I’ve asked readers some questions, I don’t know that I’ve done it nearly as much as I can do it. A little thought should be able to figure a topic, have some laughs and ask questions – solve a problem – at the same time.

  17. Thanks Darren; great post and was good to discover those tools; they sound very useful!

  18. Solving a problem– that shows the great value of pillar & sollution posts that constantly bringing in visitors even after a period of time.

    This morning I was encouraged by a new visitor with his kind comment on finding my tutorial on How To Add Excel Files To Blogger, I was indeed, excited to see that even after 3 months since I wrote it, I still find it’s one of the most-clicked tutorial in my Analytic stats.

    It’s indeed encouraging. It’s a testimonial I like to share, and support this lesson that problem solving can be a win-win situation.

    Social Media/Blogging

  19. Awesome ways to solve a problem! In my experience, I used to post a question in forums, forum has lots of people who are willing to help and answer your question. Most of my questions have been answered in forums.


  20. I got the comment a few months ago that said, “I like Condo, she solves problems.” That’s great put I find when I post a tutorial on a project I don’t get a lot of comments on it.

    Right now, as part of a giveaway entry I’m asking readers to tell me what green living thing they are having difficulity implementing their home http://condo-blues.blogspot.com/2009/04/dr-bronners-magic-soap-earth-day.html. It’s giving me great ideas for future problem solving post!

  21. Thank you…some great ideas for coming up with blog material.


  22. Half way thru – woo-hoo! http://budurl.com/r8vf

  23. I’m using this method everyday and beyond the benefits it generates as you just mentioned, this helps me to have always something to write about!

  24. Thanks Darren. I got some great ideas for posts today by asking my Twitter followers what they’d like to see on my blog.


  25. I am busy setting up my own forums these days, and after reading your post I thought that maybe one could have a forum about what readers want to see on the blog, or post the questions they are seeking an answer to.

    I disagree with a couple of comments above. Not all blogs are about solving problems. Some are just for sheer entertainment, inspirational, and so on. Unless you regard everything as solving a problem, filling the void of boredom, lack of motivation, etc.

    Maybe I should rephrase it. Not all blogs are “how to” blogs.

  26. Great Ideas. I am learning a lot. I would surely apply some of the methods you have mentioned. Method 1 and 2 be be the ones I will be interested in the beginning and others mehods will follow as my blog grows.

  27. @Darren Rowse
    The first point you mentioned is doing and done by lot of blogger ,I too blogged some problems I came across I I have solution I will blog it becuse it save lot of time of my readers as well as visitors coming through search engine.

  28. fantastic idea – I looked at my Lijit stats, and currently have no searches that produced zero results – I must be doing something right ;)

  29. Great ideas and suggestions. This is a terrific series full of great information. Thanks.

  30. Thanks for this one. I forwarded it to all the women writing on my blog int he hopes they follow your advise.

  31. This one I already had in progress. There were so many search terms in my results all saying in effect “how to connect to wifi?” So my next two posts will deal with the different ways to connect to wifi :) Thanks again for the post.

    How to Connect to Wireless Wifi on a Netbook

  32. Interestingly, this is something I’ve already gotten into the habit of at least thinking of when I brainstorm Newsletter articles and some older blog articles. It’s an excellent reminder.

  33. I like the idea of spending more energy looking through the search terms that people typed in to get to my website. Some sure are strange, though…

    Good idea to become “the” place people look for information on our individual topics. Thanks again.

  34. LOL, most of the terms from which people arrived on your site are just weird. :D

  35. Very interesting post…
    I actually discovered TweetBrain while thinking of questions and tried it out. Terrific and useful. I am finding the forum is also a great place to get responses to this and other assignments – All Good! Thank you!

  36. I am so grateful to Darren and all the good people associated with this site. I have used the internet since I was 14, and it’s a very comfortable place for me.

    Steve Pavlina originally convinced me through his essays on the subject to think about blogging for money. I’ve always been a strong writer, and I’m completing college for motion graphic design at a reputable school in Canada.

    I bought Problogger’s book, as well as Blogging Heroes, and haven’t looked back since. This is really ‘do-able’ for me, and my dreams of passive income, self-employment and full control over my own creative work are appealing. (intoxicating and seductive actually ;)

    I even found a relatively obscure niche and am getting decent traffic. These principles are valuable beyond measure… (at least, I’m not going to measure them!)

    Thanks a lot!!

  37. I love writing posts like this and you have provided some great idea for getting inspiration for those ‘help me’ posts.

    thanks for another great challenge; I’m going to trawl through my search results today to find out what people are looking for :)

  38. I hope that I am doing this everyday with my site. It is an educational site after all. But, i am going to do this today staring here. Please go to my website http://jamesfowlkes.com and click on contact. Let me know what questions you have about investing for your retirement or child’s college fund. Thanks

  39. help your reader problems….then your blog will be popular

  40. Thanks Darren, I found this wwas what I liked about other blogs and will be implementing more of it into my own.

    Will we be able to access all of this after 31DBBB? I’m behind on some of my homework. : )

  41. Funny, I started off just trying to write a standard daily post, and it turned into a problem-solving one.

  42. I’ve been working on this post about hiring a Virtual Assistant, and I think it fits nicely with solving a reader problem. While not all of my readers are ready to engage an assistant for their blogging business, it’s good to be thinking about it. I also tried to entice VAs to participate in this post, and made it more appealing by letting them know I am going to be highlighting all the great VAs I learn about in a coming post. Here it is:

    Cheers everyone! So much great work here!
    Suzanna Stinnett

  43. So many people start to-do lists, and then give up on them. So I wrote a post to help people “get back on the to-do list wagon.” It outlines the why, when, and how to create helpful task lists each day, featuring:

    ~ the 2 most important reasons to use a daily task list (they’re not what you think!)
    ~ the 3 types of people who use task lists
    ~ the best times to create them
    ~ the low-tech and high-tech variations
    ~ task lists for the state-of-the-art homemaker
    ~ and, 3 ways to prioritize your list

    Today, I feel in the 31BBB groove!

  44. As I was reading this post, I was thinking – I’m not sure that I know how to solve problems – but as I kept reading, the ideas started coming.

    Problems I can help encourage the discouraged, I can motivate those that feel they can’t make a difference, I can post pictures and show how easy it is to change a life with one simple act, I can tweet positive things, I can inspire others to seek the good, I can share the stories of others who are trying to make a difference.

    I’m sure there are other things. Got to get into the forum!!!!

  45. For this task we had a lot of posts that are not getting much traffic. It’s a great chance to use the forum tasks as a way to get them noticed and hopefully help some people out at the same time by solving their problems.

    We are surprised! Very few people are making use of the forum for this task. It’s another masterful problogger "win win" opportunity created for bloggers.


    If you can’t think of what problems to solve in your niche just go to answers.yahoo.com and in the search box type in some of your niche keywords. You are sure to find a lot of "how do i .." type questions being asked.

  46. Your “7 Methods for Identifying Problems to Solve on Your Blog”, Darren, will surely help me to better understand my blog readers´ needs. The most incentive methods for me are numbers 2 – Look for Questions in Search Referrals, 4 – Ask Readers for Questions, 6 – Use Social Media to Gather Questions. I will try to use them for identifying problems, which could be solved on my blog. Thank you!

  47. Hi
    thanks for great tips…. again,
    i used to depend a lot on tips number one and mosst of my seached topi is that one i wrote and solve my own problem, i also use FEEDJIT.COM

  48. I like talking about auditions on my blog as that is what we are doing most of all (sometimes more than performing!) In two posts, I discuss breath support (http://operamouth.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/friday-fermata-breathless/), and general physical health (http://operamouth.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/top-10-tuesdays/) and ways to help with those issues.

  49. Let me redo my post so the links work:

    I like talking about auditions on my blog as that is what we are doing most of all (sometimes more than performing!) In two posts, I discuss breath support http://operamouth.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/friday-fermata-breathless/, and general physical health http://operamouth.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/top-10-tuesdays/ and ways to help with those issues.

  50. Although I haven’t come up with idea to write a new post for this particular task, I noticed through my webstat that most people typed word : dreamland beach bali to enter my blog, and I realized it is one of the most popular beautiful beach in Bali, I have written a post about that dreamland that has changed into a new ‘tourist disaster’ kuta beach on my latest post Reasons why dislike Dreamland Beach Bali http://www.beeamazing.com/reasons-why-i-dislike-dreamland-beach-in-bali/ , so one problem solved through my blog :)


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