Beginning Bloggers: Don’t Niche Yourself Down

If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you’ve likely read my post on making the transition from academic writing to writing for a web-based audience.

In that post, I briefly touched on the idea that, as a blogger, you’re no longer assigned topics to write about; it’s all up to you.

As a fledgling freelance writer and blogger, I’ll admit this is something I’ve struggled with over the past year. In fact, I still feel some of my best work has been for Lifehack, which provides a list of topics to choose from rather than having writers start completely from scratch.

When I first started writing for Lifehack, I excitedly chose pretty much any topic I felt comfortable writing about. I wrote about successful habits. I wrote about anxiety and depression. I wrote about working from home. I wrote about the dangers of stress. Whatever topics came across my dashboard, that’s what I wrote about.

I’ll be honest: If those topics weren’t listed, there’s no way I would have been able to come up with all of those ideas on my own. At least, not as a rookie blogger.

In the Beginning

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You want to start a blog. You have literally thousands of ideas swimming around in your head. You have a ton of interests. You have experience in a variety of areas.

But:

You have absolutely no idea where to start.

You would love to write about sports one day, politics the next, and, I don’t know, your experiences as a shrimp boat captain the day after that.

But what kind of blog would that be? It’d be like the Internet version of the mixed-up chameleon.

Start broad and find your niche later.
Pictured: An actual, not mixed-up, chameleon.

However, instead of picking one of these topics and running with it, your brain pulls you in all three directions until you’re stretched so thin you don’t want to write about any of it.

So what do you do?

That A-Ha Moment

There are a ton of articles out there on the Web telling you to immediately choose a niche and start writing. The ones I’ve read all have one thing in common:

They are all focused on the monetary value of your blog.

If your goal is to start making money from your blog right now, then yes, I would advise that you figure out exactly what you want to write about before you get started.

But if making a living from your writing is your goal for the long-term, you’ll be relieved to know that you don’t need to have a niche right now!

Not only should you write about everything that interests you now, but you should continue to write about everything that interests you as you progress in your career as a blogger.

In fact, when you begin your freelance career, you should even write about topics that are completely outside of your wheelhouse. The first article I wrote for Lifehack was a short description of a YouTube video about how to fix a stripped screw with a rubber band. Anyone that knows me will tell you, I’d never in a million years be the go-to guy for handiwork. While that quick article got me started on my freelancing journey, it only gained about 40 shares on social media. Not my best work, for sure.

(Shameless plug: My second article, which was right up my alley, has over 13,000 social media shares to date; Clearly, writing about your area of expertise has its benefits).

The point is, the more you write, the more you’ll see what works, and what doesn’t.

If you’re unsure of what to focus on in your writing, don’t hesitate to write about whatever’s on your mind at that specific moment in time. At the end of your first week of blogging, wouldn’t you rather have a blog with three seemingly random posts than a blog with no posts at all?

Working Your Way Toward a Niche

Obviously, you’ll eventually want to narrow down your blog’s focus if you want to be considered an expert in a specific field. But there’s nothing wrong with testing the waters to see what your best course of action is.

Build Up Your Skills

If you’re a beginning blogger, you have a lot to learn.

I’ve said it before: You may have been a great writer in college and grade school, but this is a whole new ballgame. If your content is anything less than excellent, your readers aren’t going to stick around very long.

So, before you even start targeting your audience, use your first few blog posts to hone your skills.

Experiment with different forms of writing.

Dive into different topics, interests, and areas of expertise.

Cast a wide net and see if you can snag a few audience members early on in the process.

Keep your portfolio growing with every piece you write.

Above all else: Use every moment spent writing as a learning experience. If you want to make a living writing for the web, you have to come to terms with the fact that you need to always be learning.

Start to Carve Your Niche

So you’ve gone a few weeks, maybe months, and maybe even a year writing on various topics, and you still don’t really know which of these you’d like to focus on professionally.

But now, instead of having a blank canvas and being completely unsure of where to start, now you have dozens and dozens of articles under your belt to help you figure it out.

Take a look back through your blog’s content. And prepare yourself to run a gauntlet of questions:

  • Which topics have you written about most?
  • Which have you most enjoyed writing about?
  • Which have come most naturally to you?
  • Which have you learned most about – and would you like to continue learning about?
  • Which articles have engaged your audience the most?
  • What have your readers had to say about these articles?
  • Which topic are you sure they’d like to read more about?

One more question for you: Isn’t it going to be much easier to answer these questions using hindsight than it would have been to predict the answers before you started blogging?

Still Can’t Decide?

If, after this experimental time period concludes, you still can’t figure out which topic to focus on: Don’t.

However, I’m not saying you should continue writing general-knowledge or interest pieces. In fact, quite the contrary.

If you’re so dedicated to each of your topics, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming an expert in more than one field.

But notice what that statement entails:

At some point, you’re going to have to separate your interests completely. You wouldn’t sell lures and fishing poles at a hardware store, would you?

It’ll obviously be incredibly time-consuming and intensive, but if you’re up to the challenge, you can run more than one successful blog, each with a completely different focus. Doing so will net you (sorry, still thinking of fishing) audience members from a variety of industries which you never would have reached if you stuck to a single topic.

Just make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin. You don’t want to lose audience members on both ends because you couldn’t make up your mind and burned yourself out.


The main thing to take away from all this is that you shouldn’t let your indecisiveness when it comes to finding a niche keep you from actually writing. If it comes to it, use the old “throw it at the wall” approach: Whatever sticks is worth looking into, and whatever doesn’t won’t be remembered, anyway.

 

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Blogging Consistently, Part 1

Okay, it’s time for another round of Full Disclosure:

I suck. It’s been almost two weeks since my last post on here, and I have absolutely no excuse for being so lax in my writing. Guess I haven’t been living up to my blog’s name, have I?

What follows may sound like a list of excuses, which you should know I’m completely against. So, please know this next part isn’t meant to excuse me from my writing. It’s meant to be a quick summary of my past month of blogging: where I succeeded, and where I fell short.

I started the year optimistic and enthusiastic about where I’d be taking my blog. Within a week, I had five detailed posts under my belt, grown a small following of other students in The Daily Post’s Blogging 101 course, and connected with established bloggers through backlinks and comments. Things were going great.

I believe I kept up the pace for the first two weeks of the course. I know I missed one assignment that was fairly inconsequential to my needs and goals, and I was okay with that. It didn’t seem like a big deal – especially because I had otherwise remained consistent in my posting.

But then, as it is want to do, life threw a few things my way that needed my immediate attention. I put my blog on the backburner for a few days, knowing I could come back to it when I was ready and able to focus on my writing.

Right there is where the problem began. Saying I’d come back to it “when I’m ready” was such an ambiguous statement that I started rationalizing not blogging by saying I “wasn’t in the mood” or “would get to it soon.” Ahh, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

But enough about my sob story. Like I said, I made excuses to myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to slack off. I’ll bite the bullet, fess up, and move on.

At least it gave me something to write about today…


Today, I’ll be talking about blogging consistently, and why it’s important to audience retention and growth, as well as SEO rankings.

Audience Retention

Imagine a new store opens up in your neighborhood advertising state-of-the-art electronics, gadgets, and gizmos at prices that blow the nearest chain store out of the water. You take a walk downtown during an afternoon off to check it out, only to see a “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign in the window. Confused, you look for a sign telling you the store’s hours of operations, but there is none. You call the next day to get more info, and are told “Well, we might be open for the rest of the day, but we might not be. I’m not sure if anyone will be in tomorrow, either. On Friday, we’ll definitely be closed – we want to enjoy a long weekend.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

When will you "be back"? Your audience needs to know!
What, exactly, is your idea of “shortly”?

No matter how awesome every other aspect of the store is, if it only operates whenever the owner or manager “feels like it,” it’ll never succeed. Customers will just end up going elsewhere, even if it means spending a little extra money – as long as they can be sure they’ll actually get what they want.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I’ve said it before: A blog is not created for the sake of the blogger; it’s for the audience. And audience members will only stick around if they can rely on the blog’s creator to provide valuable content on a consistent basis. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of other places to get similar information on the Internet. If you’re not providing what your audience wants, they’ll find someone else who will.

This isn’t to say you should hit the ground running and never stop.

Let’s revisit the store metaphor. What if the owner started out by keeping the store open for forty hours a week, before it had built a large customer base? The amount of wasted electricity and manpower would likely be enough to sink the business before it ever got moving. At the very least, he would immediately have to scale back its operational hours – which, to its customers, would appear to be writing on the wall symbolizing problems with the business in general. They wouldn’t be able to trust any guarantees or warranties given by the store, and would end up choosing a more reputable place to do business with.

Again, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

If your blog’s audience sees that you haven’t posted in weeks (after getting used to reading something new every day), what are they going to think? They’ll believe you’re getting lazy, or you ran out of ideas, or simply don’t care about whatever cause you “dedicated yourself to” in your initial blog post. They’ll end up finding a more reliable source of information, and will leave your blog behind.

Audience Growth

Of course, you want to do more than simply retain the readers you already have. The ultimate goal of any blog is to see its readership grow.

The more you post, the wider your reach becomes. A blogger who consistently comes up with new topics to write about will reach a wide variety of audience members – all individuals looking to fill a specific need.

As your blog – and your audience –  grows, you’ll gain the momentum needed to keep pushing. And it will become easier and easier to sustain an intensive blogging schedule.

When you only have a small audience base, creating post after post can be draining (side note: I love you guys, your comments have been amazing, but I can’t dedicate two hours each and every day to something only a handful of people are reading!).

If my audience consisted of thousands of individuals – which may result in contracted freelance work, or more – I’d be more than happy to dedicate a huge chunk of every day to creating engaging content for my own blog. But if my blog posts aren’t paying the bills, it simply can’t be my top priority

Like with any other business, as I said, a blog should grow with its audience. Find a balance. Create enough engaging content that your audience slowly but surely increases in numbers. But don’t dive in so fast that you get burnt out and let down the people who gave you a chance in the first place. Do that, and your initial efforts will all be for naught.

Search Engine Optimization

Sure, your audience can grow through word-of-mouth (your own, or your current audience members’). But you can also make Google and other search engines work for you – if you’re consistent.

As you gain a deeper understanding of SEO, you’ll start to see it’s not all about keyword stuffing and cloaking. Google’s algorithms are getting smarter and smarter, and can see through these spammy techniques right away.

Search engine rankings go even deeper than calculating the amount of visits a page gets, too. Google now records how long a visitor stays on a specific site or page, as well. It uses these data to calculate a site’s dwell time, which Neil Patel calls “a critical, but often overlooked facet of search optimization.”

(Side note: Finish reading this article before you check out that link. I’ll give you the basics, and let Neil dive deeper afterwards)

Anyways, what does this have to do with consistency?

The answer to that question is two-fold:

  1. Consistent content = consistent pageviews = higher SEO ranking
  2. Fresh content = more crawling done by search engines = higher SEO ranking

The first part of this is just common sense. Much like the shop that maintains steady business hours, your blog will be visited by readers during the times they would expect to see new content. And as your audience returns, they’ll end up spending more time on your page in the process (perhaps checking out other posts they may have missed, or articles full of information that supplements the new post). All of these actions performed by your reader while logged on to your site make you look beautiful in the eyes of search engines.

But, if you’re inconsistent with your posting, your audience won’t know when to expect something new, and may not come back at all.

***

The second part of that answer – search engine crawling – is a little more technical.

I’ll try to keep it simple (for myself as much as for you!). Search engines are programmed to “crawl” web pages as they are updated. If your blog lays dormant for long periods of time, it stops being noticed by these search engine “bots.” (I really want to make some sort of “cob-World Wide-web” pun, but I’ll spare you from that torture)

A deserted blog will end up collecting virtual cobwebs.
What, exactly, is your idea of “shortly”?

Think of it like this: a restaurant reviewer isn’t going to go back to an eatery he’s reviewed in the past and order the same meal, right? He wouldn’t have anything new to say, and would only be wasting his time.

On the other hand, if the restaurant adds something new to the menu, the reviewer will be more likely to go back and try it out – knowing he’ll have new material to work with.

The more you update your blog – with valuable content, mind you – the more attention you’ll get from search engine bots. Every time you update your blog, you’re virtually raising your hand above the horde of other websites out there, saying “Hey! Check me out! I got some new stuff to show you!” 

Again, the “new stuff” you have to show off better be good, or it won’t matter how often you update your site. Don’t be like the kid in class who answers every question the teacher asks incorrectly just so he gets noticed. You’ll only gain the ire of the virtual Raymond Reddington’s of the World Wide Web.

 


It really is that simple.

Just kidding, it’s really not. But I’ll explain more about that in future posts. For now, just know that if you want to retain and grow your audience, whether through human or computerized recommendations, one of the most important facets to keep in mind is providing valuable content on a consistent basis.

But how, exactly, do you keep the ball rolling? How can you stay consistent in such a busy, hectic world?

We’ll discuss that next time. I’m sure you’ve had enough of me by now =)

In the meantime, I want to know: What are your experiences with starting and maintaining a blog? Have you had any trouble staying consistent? What have you done to stay motivated? Have you changed your routine at all to accommodate your blogging? Let’s start up a discussion down below!

Getting Started

***Full Disclosure: I’d posted this on a previous blog that, unfortunately, I didn’t follow through with. I could offer up the excuse that I was backed up on the 101 course (I didn’t discover it until the last one offered was already in full swing), but I don’t want to start out by making excuses.***

Now, a little about myself:

I’ve tried dozens of times over the past years to start a blog, but never could get off the ground floor for one reason or another. I’m realizing that, despite what I had thought each time I sat down to write, I never really did have a focus or a plan for where my blog would start, and where it would head from there.

I realize now my biggest problem was I had always tried to reinvent the wheel with no help from established bloggers. This ridiculous sense of hubris put up a wall between my potential and my actual accomplishments. Unfortunately, it took me years to figure out what the problem was.

I’m starting this blog after having built a decent portfolio, and will be using The Daily Post’s Blogging 101 and Writing 101  crash courses to guide me and keep me on track throughout my journey.

The Daily Post suggests I answer the following questions in this post:

Why make my blog public?

First of all, I want to share my ideas with the world. Having begun writing for Lifehack in early 2015, I’ve been amazed at how quickly some of my articles have been spread throughout the Internet by various Twitter users and bloggers. It’s been a huge shot in the arm to know my ideas are worth being shared tens of thousands of times over. Putting myself “out there” has done more for my self-confidence than writing privately ever could.

I’ve also started networking with professional writers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs who I never would have contacted had I not been published on Lifehack. Not only have I felt more comfortable reaching out to them, but others have actually come to me to express their interest in my writing. Having a personal blog will allow me to get more of my own ideas out there for others to see, and hopefully I can continue to expand my network by doing so.

What topics will I be discussing?

I’ve found quite a niche for myself in writing self-help articles dealing with relationship issues, personal problems, and finding a path to success. Through my personal blog, I’ll aim to link content to some of the articles I’ve had published on Lifehack and expand on ideas that have piqued my interest that I hadn’t able to dig deeper into.

As this is my first serious foray into blogging, I’ll also take time to discuss the process of creating a sustainable blog in order to perhaps one day act as a guide to those who are just setting out on their blogging expedition. It’s only fair that I pay it forward, right?

Who do I hope to connect with?

You! I’m open to communicating with anyone willing to listen and offer advice. I’m working on my self-confidence that has, in the past, prohibited me from stepping outside of my comfort zone. So I truly would appreciate some guidance as I continue this journey. Whereas I used to shut down after receiving criticism that was supposed to be helpful, as of late I’ve seen such critical comments as they’re meant to be: help and guidance in order to grow. If the only thing you have to say is “This blog sucks,” keep it to yourself. If you think “this blog sucks because x, y, and z,” by all means, let me have it.

I also want to connect with those who might find my ideas helpful, intriguing, or otherwise worthy of being read. I’ve definitely been surprised by the positive reactions I’ve gotten to many of my Lifehack articles, and want to use that success as a springboard for creating an interesting and worthwhile blog for the world to read.

What do I want to accomplish?

I’m starting this blog knowing that everyone was a beginner at one point. I see all these established blogs and am simply amazed at the fact that they all started from one single post. I’m going to keep this in mind as my blog continues to grow on a weekly basis. I’ll be posting at least three times a week, with hopefully one longform post each week as well.

While I do hope to continue growing my audience and network, that comes second to creating great content. There’s no point in networking if you don’t have anything to offer. On the other hand, as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll just write write write and expect an audience to show up at my virtual doorstep; but I won’t feel the need to gain a mass following until I’ve established my blog.

Finally, the wrap-up

If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much!

This entry was meant to get my ideas out there, and to give you a good idea of what to expect. But more importantly, it was meant to set a foundation for myself as the author of the blog. Now that I’ve put myself out there, and completed Day 1 of The Daily Post’s Blogging 101 crash course, I feel ready and willing to take on Day 2! See you tomorrow!

Making the Transition from Academia to Web Writing

So you’ve decided to start a blog. That’s absolutely awesome! The world needs people like you to share their ideas and knowledge rather than hoarding it all for themselves. Go you!

But the party is now over. To put it bluntly: no one cares about you. I mean that in the nicest way possible. The general population does not have the time, and does not want to put in the effort, to celebrate you just for existing. It’s better you learn that now, while your blog is still in its infancy, rather than months or years from now when you have hundreds of posts under your belt, but only a handful of daily visitors.

It sounds harsh, but people don’t care about you as a person. They only care about you in terms of what you can do for them. If you’re not providing valuable content for your audience, they’ll quickly move on to the next blog that does—there are hundreds, if not thousands, more to choose from.

I know, I know. You want your voice to be heard. And I’m not saying it can’t be. I’m saying no one will listen if you’re not doing something for them. If you want others to listen to you, you have to do so on their terms.

This can be incredibly hard to wrap your mind around when you’re just getting started. But take a second to realize why that is:

In grade school and college, why did you write all those essays, papers, and speeches? It wasn’t for your audience; you knew they couldn’t care less. It wasn’t even for your professors; you weren’t teaching them anything they didn’t already know. You wrote them for yourself. So your classmates and teachers could see just how much you know, so you could get a good grade and move on with your life.

academic writing
Those long-winded assignments weren’t doing you any favors

That’s not what you’re here for anymore. No one is clicking through the Internet thinking “I wonder what Jane from Minnesota thinks of [insert hot-button topic here].” They’re clicking around searching for information that’s valuable to them. Your opinion does not matter. All that matters is whether or not you can provide something valuable to your readers. If you can’t, there’s someone else who can.

So now the question is: how can you transition from the egocentric academic writing you’ve been used to your entire life to community-focused, informational pieces that are valuable to thousands, perhaps millions, of individuals throughout the world?

Throughout the next few days, I’ll be rolling out some more information about how to make this transition as seamless as possible. The first step you’ll be taking is to eliminate the million-dollar words from your vocabulary. Focus on keeping your writing as simple as possible throughout the rest of the day, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more.